Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Having come to the Costa del Sol and investigated some of the best resources for where to buy organic food, I have decided to put together a short guide on why we should eat organic, some resources where you can find out more information and where to buy organic produce in the local area of Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol.
What is 'organic' food?
According to the 'Soil Association' all organic food is:
'fully traceable from farm to fork, so you can be sure of what you’re eating. Unlike non-organic food production, which makes wide use of manufactured and mined fertilisers and pesticides, organic food is produced with natural fertilisers from plants, less energy and more respect for the animals that provide it'.
Standards for organic food is strict and organic farmers and food producers must undertake a 'rigorous, independent inspection and certification' process which explains why organic foods tend to be more expensive.
Is it worth the extra expense?
The 'Soil Association' states that organic food certified by them has:
• Fewer pesticides
• No artificial colours and preservatives
• Always free range
• No routine use of antibiotics
• Better for wildlife
• Better for the planet
• It's nutritionally different
• No GM ingredients
According to PAN UK (Pesticide Action Network UK) pesticides are routinely used not just during growing but in post-harvest, in transportation, storage and even aesthetics. Some new types of pesticides are systemic which means that they are contained within the entire piece of produce so not just on the skin. Therefore peeling or washing isn't perhaps as effective as we may think in removing pesticide residues. Multiple residues from many different types of pesticides can potentially have unknown health implications. We just don't know what these are doing to us.
The real concern about pesticides
Our modern life is full of toxins, unfortunately they are everywhere, but you can avoid a large amount of toxins by simply making more educated food choices and buying organic when you can. Reducing your toxic load has also been shown to be beneficial in helping you lose weight naturally and safely. Many chemicals are know to be endocrine disruptors, meaning it can negatively impact our hormone function. There is very strong and increasing evidence that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals contribute to the development of obesity and related metabolic disorders including diabetes.
A recent study by Kim and Lee 2017, states that organophosphate pesticide exposure can cause hyperglycaemia in experimental animals. Exposure to certain pesticides are linked to greater diabetes risk and one particular pesticide called Vacor, a rodenticide, could cause type 2 diabetes by destroying pancreatic beta cells. Atrazine is a herbicide and is also a known endocrine disruptor. Numerous studies have also associated atrazine exposure with an increased obesity risk.
It's not great news for Spain as a report by Pesticide Action Europe (Pan Europe) called 'Ríos hormonados: Contamination of Spanish Rivers with Pesticides' cites Spain as having the highest level of consumption of pesticides, with 78.818 tonnes registered in 2014. This is an enormous use of pesticides resulting in increasing pesticide residues in our food and in the environment. The report says:
The presence of various combinations of pesticides in one single river basin is of particular concern: there were 34 pesticides detected in the Jucar River and 21 in the Ebro. Several studies have demonstrated how the exposure to combinations of endocrine disrupting pesticides can multiply their toxicity.
As PAN UK have illustrated, our foods can have a whole variety of pesticides and herbicides applied to them over the course of their growth and production. It is this cocktail effect of pesticides that is a very big concern today and several studies have linked the toxic chemical combinations to our obesity epidemic. Losing weight naturally and safely and regaining your health could be significantly helped by reducing exposure to endocrine disrupting pesticides and the best way of doing this is through nutritional education and to eat organic whenever possible.
Are 'organic' foods nutritionally different to conventional foods?
There is much controversy as to whether organic foods are actually more nutritious. However a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition of in 2014, carried out by a team of experts from Newcastle University, found organic crops to be up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants, lower in toxic metals particularly cadmium (which is one of the toxic metals along with lead and mercury, cadmium is toxic to the kidneys, can demineralise bones and is a carcinogen) and had lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic crops.
Organic pastured (grass-fed) meat and dairy have been shown to have a better composition of good fats then conventional products. A study in 2016 has shown that both organic milk and meat contain virtually 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than those that are conventionally produced. There are numerous studies citing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and how these good fats are linked to decreased risk in cardiovascular disease, better neurological development and function, and more effective immune function. However of greater concern is the prevalent use of antibiotics in conventional animal production and is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance in the population. Antibiotic use in organic farm is much less intensive therefore eating organic foods is likely to reduce exposure antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well as pesticide residues.
Therefore for me, there is good evidence to try and buy organic as much as possible, particularly fruits and vegetables as there is too much unknown about the use of combined pesticides and their long term effects on our health. With regards to meat, it is wise to choose the meat from animals that have been reared in as natural an environment as possible so they are likely to be more healthy, have better welfare standards, have a better fatty acid composition and have a reduced need for antibiotics and potentially have been exposed to and accumulated less toxins. Opt for grass fed beef, lamb and dairy, and pasture-raised pork, chicken and turkey.
Organic certification does give you a certain amount reassurance. Organic foods do seem to be nutritionally different to conventional foods with evidence to suggest they are also beneficial for health as well as having less toxins (and potentially worth the extra expense).
Spain does seem to have a largely unsustainable industrialised farming system so it's wise to find out as much as possible where the vegetables and meat you eat comes from.
How to reduce your pesticide exposure
Find out about your food, where does it come from? How was it farmed?
Buy from the local organic farmers markets, see my articles where to buy organic produce in the local area of Fuengirola
Buy from your local butcher, fishmonger and grocer. You can talk to them about what they are selling (it helps tremendously if you can speak Spanish but it is easy enough to learn the basic words for what you need). It is so much better to see your meat minced or cut in from of you or your fish filleted.
Go to the supermarkets that have specialist counters and make sure you spend your time in the fresh food isles. The larger supermarkets now have very good organic food ranges.
Teresa is a nutritional therapist who graduated from the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM, UK and International) having gained her Diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition. Teresa creates personalised nutritional based plans designed to restore health and vitality by offering the very best possible nutritional advice and support. www.eatflourishlive.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @eatflourishlive or on Facebook.
Barański et al, 2014. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses British Journal of Nutrition
Dominika Średnicka-Tober, et al. 2016. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses British Journal of Nutrition
Kim JT, Lee HK. 2017 Childhood obesity and endocrine disrupting chemicals. Ann Pediatr Endocrinol Metab.
Le Magueresse-Battistoni B, Labaronne E, Vidal H, Naville D. 2017. Endocrine disrupting chemicals in mixture and obesity, diabetes and related metabolic disorders. World J Biol Chem
Lim S, Ahn SY, Song IC, et al. 2009. Chronic exposure to the herbicide, atrazine, causes mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance. PLoS One.
London L, Beseler C, Bouchard MF, et al. 2012. Neurobehavioral and neurodevelopmental effects of pesticide exposures. Neurotoxicology.
Mie A, Andersen HR, Gunnarsson S, et al. 2017. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environ Health.
PAN Europe, 2018, Ríos hormonados: Contamination of Spanish Rivers with Pesticides
Petrakis D, Vassilopoulou L, Mamoulakis C, et al. 2017. Endocrine Disruptors Leading to Obesity and Related Diseases. Int J Environ Res Public Health.
This is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice and if you have any concerns please see your GP. Please email for more information about how nutritional therapy can help you.