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Going organic - is it worth it?

We look at whether it's spending that bit extra on organic food during pregnancy and beyond.
If you've managed to miss the organic revolution you've either been out of the country for a while or actually shopping at your local farmers market where fresh, natural food is a given. It's become the latest craze and organic produce is everywhere.

Each week I'm astounded (and I must confess, delighted) to see an ever greater range of organic produce available on the shelves of my local supermarket and of course I resign myself to spending that little bit extra and pile it in the trolley because after all its better for us and better for the little ones isn't it?

Well, rather surprisingly the jury is still out on this decision and as we (parents-to-be and new parents) are apparently the driving force behind the recent organic trend it does beg the question - is spending that bit extra on organic food is really worth it?

Going organic - the pros

By its very definition organic food sold in the UK must have been farmed in an ecologically sustainable way that uses 'natural' farming methods such as crop rotation, environmental management and good animal husbandry in place of the genetic modification and pesticides put to practice in regular farming. This is of course the appeal for many as it means that we expose our bodies and our babies to fewer of these 'unnatural' substances which in some studies have been linked to the development of health problems such as allergies and asthma. To illustrate a point, there are over 350 chemicals approved for use in 'regular' farming while only 4 have been given the ok by the UK's major organic associations. The same applies to additives with almost ten times the number of additives used in non-organic foods - definitely statistics that make you think.

Organic food has also been found by many studies to contain a far greater range of vitamins and minerals than its non-organic alternatives; in fact, one study found that food grown organically contains over 40% more antioxidants than regular food. Organic milk has also been well publicised for containing much higher levels of omega fatty acids than conventional milk. All in all there is a large body of research that does seem to suggest that organic food may be better for us.

While taste is a completely subjective opinion I do seem to find organic food more delicious. In all likelihood this is just down to my belief that because the food is more natural (and lets be honest, more expensive) its going to taste better. However, there is something to be said for the enjoyment and slight eco-smugness of cooking a meal completely with organic food.

What's more, as organic farming methods are kinder to the environment going green means that we're helping to preserve the planet for our children and our children's children and, i'm sure you'll agree, there is something very satisfying about that thought.

Going organic - the cons

While i'm sure the information above has just about made up your mind, the choice is not quite as straight forward as it may seem...

Firstly, organic food is significantly more expensive than regular produce which can mean that by choosing organic alternatives you either almost double your shopping bill, or have to cut down on the amount of food you buy - neither of which are particularly tempting prospects! However, while this is the case for organic supermarket shopping you can often get a much better deal by shopping at a local farmers market or signing up to an organic box scheme - both of these options also share the advantages of supporting your local community and reducing the distance your food travels to get to you.

Secondly, its a sad fact that most supermarket-stocked organic food would have journeyed a fair distance across the globe to find its way to your local store. In terms of both air miles and carbon emissions, this means that going organic isn't necessarily as good for the environment or our children's future as we may think or hope. Again, buying locally grown organic food overcomes this problem and also means extra freshness!

Finally, research by the government's Food Standards Agency has found little in the way of support for the organic food craze. They maintain that there is little additional nutritional benefit available from organic food as a whole because, just like conventional food, the nutritional quality of any organic produce is so varied depending on where and under what conditions it was grown or reared. Additionally, they fully support the use of approved pesticides and other chemicals in conventional farming with each having been rigorously tested and deemed non harmful to both adults and children. As the FSA continually monitor the research conducted in this area their confidence in conventional farming does perhaps suggest that organic food isn't that much better for us after all.

So...

It's a tricky one, when it comes to the health of your body throughout pregnancy and of your children thereafter shopping organically can seem worth the cost. However, if the FSA are to be believed and it isn't actually that much better for us, there is a chance that we're just wasting our time and money on the latest food-fad?

Unfortunately, there still doesn't seem to be an official 'verdict' as to whether organic food is worth the extra cost. However, as long as you're not making compromises with your health or your finances to shop organically, there doesn't seem to be any harm in it for either you or your baby if its what you want to do. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to stick to 'conventional' food and spend your pennies elsewhere, there doesn't seem to be any harm in that either!

Do you believe that we've been duped into thinking organic is best or do you only ever go for organic alternatives? Has being pregnant or having a baby changed your view on the organic debate at all? Share your questions, thoughts and experiences with other parents and parents-to-be on the AskBaby forums.

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after reading the comments above, I have concluded that, for my family, eating organic foods is the way to go. No matter which way I look at it, I believe that lessoning the intake of pesticides that food is sprayed with has got to be a good thing.
by SisuMama 11th Nov 2008, 9:53am

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