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Unearthing the connection between farming, nutrition and gut health

Unearthing the connection between farming, nutrition and gut health

From high levels of antioxidants found in organic food, to long-term health problems related to pesticides, there’s growing evidence linking the way we farm to our health.

This piece explores the fascinating connections between farming, nutrition and the organisms living within us and the soil.

We’ve highlighted the emerging research that shows how transitioning to a nature-friendly farming system, such as organic, may not only benefit the environment but also have a positive impact on our health.

The roots of organic

Inspired by Ayurvedic wisdom, organic pioneers in the 1930s started advocating for a food system in the UK that values the interconnectedness between soil, plants, animals and humans. As Albert Howard, a key figure in the organic movement, once said: “the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.”

Lady Eve Balfour was also a firm believer in this philosophy when she founded the Soil Association in 1946. She argued that “agriculture should be considered the UK’s primary health service”.  

Today, we are in a climate, nature and health crises. It’s time for a radical rethink of our current food system.

Organic is a holistic system that works in harmony with, rather than against natural systems. Overlooking the complexities of nature by farming intensively is showing to have detrimental effects on our health and the environment.

Organic food – a nutritional powerhouse?

We know that organic farms have on average 30% more biodiversity* and more carbon stored in soils but we are learning more about the nutritional quality of organic food.

Newcastle University published some great research on this. Here’s what they found:

  • Organic fruits and vegetables pack a nutritional punch: Levels of certain antioxidants called polyphenols in organically grown fruit and veg were found to be nearly 80% higher than in non-organic equivalents. These vital compounds are related to a reduction in the risk of conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The theory? The absence of synthetic pesticides used in organic farming is leading plants to produce more of these compounds to naturally repel pests.
  • Omega-3 advantage: 50% more omega-3 fatty acids were found in organic food, essential for brain and heart health. This is due to the diverse, grass-based diet containing high levels of clover that organic animals enjoy. Whereas, on intensive farms, we see animals fed with more grains and cereals, leading to a high level of omega 6 fats in the meat, eggs and dairy. Getting the balance of these fatty acids in our diets right is crucial for our health and there is evidence to suggest that in the UK we are not getting this balance right.

No pesticides – better for our health?

Pesticide Action Network found that long-term pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease; asthma; depression and anxiety; attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and cancer, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. One way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is to eat more organic food. Certified organic food, including fruit and vegetables, processed food, as well as diary and meat and products have been found to contain less pesticides than food produced through conventional farming methods.

The Soil Association organic logo provides reassurance for shoppers and represents a commitment to producing quality food and drink to some of the highest available organic standards.

Studies have also shown that pesticides can be harmful to our gut microbiome, which we are learning is crucial for maintaining overall health. Research conducted in 2023 showed that the herbicide glyphosate, can alter gut microbiota composition in a way that is associated with a pro-inflammatory response.

The living earth and its relation to gut health

Did you know that one teaspoon of healthy soil holds more microbes than all the people on Earth? This hidden world beneath our feet is vital not only for growing our food, but also our health.

There are surprising similarities between the microbiome in both the soil and our gut. They act very alike, and studies are increasingly showing us how ingesting soil -bound microorganisms can strengthen our immunity and make nutrients more available to us. Just like a healthy and diverse gut microbiome protects us from health problems, thriving organisms in the soil can potentially provide protection from detrimental pathogens.

Holistic view of food and farming

Understanding the impact of farming practices on our health requires a whole-system approach. We need to recognise the interconnectedness of everything involved, from the organisms living in the soil to the food that nourishes us.

It is difficult to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between a specific farming system and long-term health outcomes. However, the emerging evidence is showing a clear connection and there is scope to investigate this further.

Interested in learning more?

Watch our recent webinar

We brought together four nutrition and agroecology experts to unpack this all-important question of how transitioning to more nature-friendly farming systems can have positive outcomes for the environment and our health.

We were joined by:


Book onto one of our organic experience days

Join us this summer for an immersion in all things organic at Yeo Valley Organic to help grow your understanding of organic.


*Biodiversity = the variety of different plant and animal species including wildflowers, soil microbes, beetles, spiders and birds