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Planning Retirement Online

Organic Future


Jane Sen, Executive Chef at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, shares her thoughts on mass marketing of organic foods


Organics is a very hot topic at the moment, as attendance at a recent  National Conference of the Soil Association testified. There were over 400 delegates with hugely diverse interests, everything from specialist celery growers to government ministers.

It’s the health-related aspects of organic products that are of most interest to me. Are we all in danger of being swept away on a tide of marketeering, hyperbole and bandwaggoning?

Don’t misunderstand me.  I am totally in favour of organic agriculture and avidly support environmentally sustainable methods. 

My concerns are with the increasing misconception that because something is organic, ergo it is healthy.

This simply is not the case. The Soil Association’s organic symbol reassures us that ingredients in a product have been grown by organically approved methods.  It does not, however, magically transform chocolate cream gateaux, high fat cheeses, frozen pepperoni pizza, sugar filled fizzy drinks, baby food or pre-cooked meals into a more healthy food than their non-organic equivalent.

Organically grown refined sugar, for example, although definitely better for the health of the soil in which it is grown, is not any better for our health. Processed and refined products, high in fats and salt, may have had their basic ingredients carefully sourced from organic producers which is great for them,  not necessarily good for us.

“But what about the chemicals?” I hear you ask. It is wonderful that we now have a greater range of vegetables and fruits available without any extra chemical toxins, but freshness is still important .  If your organic apple was grown in California months ago, kept in a cold storage unit and flown round the world to a supermarket packing station, is it really better for you? It’s true that it started well, and our environment has benefited from its clean growing methods (if not the transportation methods), but nutritionally the jury has still not returned a verdict!

Fresh, whole food is still the way to health.

The original aim of Eve Balfour, one of the founders of the Soil Association, was health for people through health for the soil.  With newly launched products like aluminium cans of sugar-filled lemonade bearing the organic symbol, it looks like a losing battle. When it comes to good healthy eating, amongst all the confusion and marketing hype, the simple truth remains just that - simple. Loads of fresh vegetables and fruits; plenty of complex carbohydrates in the form of grains, beans and wholemeal breads and pasta; low fats, gained from plant origin; minimal refined, processed and animal derived foods.

This is a shortened version of a feature published in ‘Centrepiece’, the newsletter of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre.

The Centre is holding a series of seminars on Living with Cancer in June and July. For details, ring 0117 925 7100 or email

 To view previous articles in this series - see the laterlife-interest index page




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