September is National Organic Month, which aims to raise awareness of what organic food actually is, the benefits of eating organic food, and how you can incorporate it into your diet. Here’s an introduction to how organic food can help you maintain a healthy diet, especially as you get older.
The importance of a healthy diet
A healthy and nutritious diet is crucial at every stage of life, but it’s particularly important for older people. Research shows that a diet rich in nutrients can decrease the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. It can also help to manage any existing chronic diseases you may have.
A good diet full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes can also help prevent cognitive decline, and protect your dental, bone and joint health.
As we age, our ability to digest and absorb some nutrients can decrease, which means it’s even more important to ensure your diet is rich in nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes and fortified cereals.
What is organic food?
While there is no universal definition of organic, it is broadly defined as food that has been grown without using any artificial fertilisers, synthetic pesticides or other chemicals, including meat from animals that aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones.
Farmers growing organic food use organic pesticides, such as manure and compost.
In the UK, organic food must meet strict criteria around how it’s grown. Retailers can only label pre-packed foods ‘organic’ if at least 95% of the ingredients are organic.
The benefits of organic food
Even if we rinse conventional food with water before we cook it, pesticides can still remain. These chemicals have been deemed safe in the quantities farmers use them, and pesticide residue is checked through the food supply chain as it goes from farm to your plate. However, some health experts still say they could still pose potential health risks if we consume them regularly.
Research has proven that organic food is much less likely to be contaminated with pesticides. Furthermore, bacteria found in organic meat is less likely to be resistant to antibiotics.
But the lack of chemicals is far from the only benefit of eating organic food.
Organic meat and milk has been found to contain around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids (unsaturated fats that have many health benefits) than conventional produce.
Research has also found that organic crops are not just lower in pesticides, but also are half as likely to contain cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that can build up in our liver and kidneys.
This could partly be because animals are raised with a better diet, spend more time outdoors and are less prone to infection and therefore in need of antibiotics.
Some studies have found that some types of organic food, including some fruits and vegetables, have higher levels of beneficial plant chemicals polyphenols, which are antioxidants that could help prevent harmful activity in our cells that could lead to cancer.
Organic food may also have higher levels of antioxidants, which have also been found to bring health benefits and help prevent disease. One study, for example, found that organic onions had a 20% higher antioxidant content than conventional onions.
Aside from our health, buying organic food can also help support local agriculture and protect the environment, as organic farming is kinder to soil and local ecosystems.
How to incorporate organic food into your diet
There is one downside of organic food. It can often be more expensive than non-organic food.
That said, if you choose to buy organic, it doesn’t mean you have to completely overhaul your entire grocery list. Some foods are worth getting organic as they generally contain more pesticides compared to others.
For instance, it’s best to opt for organic foods where you eat the skin. This includes peaches, grapes, strawberries, greens and apples. On the other hand, avocadoes, passion fruits, kiwis and bananas, for example, have thick skins that helps to protect the fruit inside from chemicals.
Best organic snacks
There are plenty of organic snacks on the high street and in supermarkets, so you can snack throughout the day knowing you’re avoiding consuming pesticides; just look out for ‘organic’ on the labelling.
Organic snacks are generally healthier than their alternatives, as their ingredients are generally healthier. The only downside is that these products can be more expensive.
Whether you eat organic is down to you and your personal food preferences. What scientists do know for sure is that, whether you’re eating organic or non-organic, the most important thing is that you have healthy eating habits, especially as you age.
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You may also be interested in our article about senior nutrition.