Many of us are inclined to believe that a natural diet is likely to be a healthy diet; that means eating less processed food with fewer additives, and trying to stick to foods that we evolved to eat, and ideally growing them in as natural a way as possible. It is obvious to many (especially gardeners) that the way food is grown affects how it looks, feels, smells and tastes. Indeed, studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition conclusively show organic food to be different; simply put, you get more of the good stuff and less of the bad.
The most recent study, published this week, shows organic dairy products and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (widely understood to reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia) compared to nonorganic equivalents. The nutritional differences are down to organic livestock eating more grass and clover and less grain and soya, i.e., a natural diet that ruminants (cows, sheep and goats) evolved to eat. Riverford cows typically produce 5000 litres of milk a year from a diet which is 95% grass, clover and silage. This compares to an intensive dairy cow producing 8,000-12,000 l/year from a diet with less grass, very little clover and up to 50% of calories from grain and soya. Meanwhile, our beef is almost 100% grass fed; organic grain is just too expensive anyway. Last year, another BJN study showed organic vegetables contained 18-79% higher levels of anti-oxidants, alongside lower levels of toxic heavy metals and pesticide residues. Again the differences are down to being grown in conditions that are a little closer to nature.
So many claims are made around our health and diet that I am reluctant to add to them in this way, especially when I have such undeniable self-interest. Perhaps you should disregard me too, but do listen to your intuition; mine firmly tells me that the closer we stay to the diet we evolved to eat, made up of (largely) plants and (small amounts of) animals, the healthier we will be. Better still if that food is raised in organic conditions, bringing the many benefits to wildlife, the soil and our environment that are intrinsic to this way of farming.
Get involved – Visit www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat to join the debate, take our ‘#dropaday’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.