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Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The benefits of organic food

Buying organic – is it worth it? Well, we’re so glad you asked!

We believe that yes, if it aligns with your goals and lifestyle, buying organic is worth it. Ultimately the decision is yours, and we can break it all down so that you can make a well-informed choice.

What does organic actually mean?

For a product to be labelled as ‘organic’, it has to be:

  • Produced in an environmentally sustainable way
  • Free-range and cruelty-free
  • Free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, hormones or antibiotics
  • Produced without impact on native animal habitats

Pro tip: Look out for the ‘Certified Organic’ sticker or label – there are six certification bodies in Australia.

The facts

It’s clear that buying organic exposes us to fewer chemical pesticides and more antioxidants. However, if we buy an organic kiwi fruit from Italy, will it be healthier for us (and the environment) than an apple from a local farm? Probably not. It’s travelled a long way, adding to food miles. On top of that, vitamins in foods begin to deteriorate as soon as produce is picked. Research indicates that within 7-10 days, some 70% of the nutritional value of the vegetable is lost. So, by the time that kiwi has reached us, there’s probably little Vitamin C left. Take a look at some other facts about the organic food industry below:

  1. 56% of all shoppers purchased some organic food in the past 12 months
  2. 37% of shoppers increased their household food allocation to organic in the past year
  3. There was a 29% net increase in organic products purchased
  4. Until the 1940s, synthetic chemicals were not widely used in agriculture, and most of the food we ate was organically produced.
  5. Top destinations for our organic food exports are the US and China
  6. Highest growth sector is organic fruit, vegetables and nuts (up 17% since 2017)
  7. Global sales of organic products for babies and children are amongst the most recession-proof
  8. Although climbing, the Australian production of organics is still only 3% of the total farm-gate value

Source for 6-8: The Australian Organic Market Report (2021)

The benefits

Everyone has different goals, therefore the benefits of buying organic will differ from person to person. We’ll dive into the wider-reaching benefits below, but there’s plenty more beyond this list!

Buying organic means:

  • Reduced exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Increased antioxidants
  • Meeting organic certification standards
  • Environmentally sustainable and friendly

Cost-saving tips

Yes, sometimes organic produce costs more than regular produce – however, there are several ways that you can buy organic and stay within your budget!

  • Farmers' markets: Local farmers' markets often sell mixed produce boxes, bulk cartons of eggs and more, for a great price. On top of that, you’re supporting local farmers!
  • Buy in bulk: Bulk buying is one of the most cost-effective ways to shop. Instead of buying per piece, buy a kilo*.
  • Subscription boxes: Subscription boxes are a great way to save both time and money, but make sure to do your research (prices definitely vary).
  • Imperfect picks: Certain supermarkets offer discounts on ‘imperfect’ produce, including organic.
  • Split the cost: If you want to buy a produce box, splitting the cost with a friend, colleague, neighbour, family etc. is a great way to save money.
  • Join your community garden: Becoming a member of your local community garden is a great way to contribute to your neighbourhood AND gain access to organic produce.

*If you want to buy in bulk but are worried about food waste, why not split it with someone? Or cooking in bulk then freezing some meals? Or making juice, a stir-fry, healthy snacks, or any other recipes that you can throw a heap of ingredients into.

Buy vs. don’t buy organic

Prioritise buying organic for foods that you eat with skin (apples, berries, tomatoes, leafy greens etc.) – typically, this is the produce that retains the most pesticide*. Buying organic when it comes to meat, poultry, and dairy foods is also worth a thought. Why? Because chemicals accumulate up the food chain, meaning you end up consuming chemicals that your food sources consumed.

*The Environmental Working Group in the US releases an annual guide to pesticide residue on fresh produce (see below). Foods with the least pesticide residue are often those foods with inedible thick skins – such as mangoes, pineapples and avocados.

Choose organic: Apples, capsicum, celery, cherries, grapes, peaches, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes cucumbers
The best non-organic choices: Asparagus, avocados, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwi, mangoes, onions, pineapples, sweet peas

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, only you know whether buying organic will suit your lifestyle – but we believe that the benefits add up and ultimately, it’s about eating in a healthier and more environmentally-friendly way. Who doesn’t love that?

Interested in Nutrition?

Discover more about how the food we eat affects the environment through Food and the Environment: from farm to fork, one of our Nutrition Short Course offerings.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Health Survey, 2011-2012.

Australian Organic Market Report, 2021.

Barański, M. 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.

Rickman, J. et al (2007) Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Średnicka-Tober, D. 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.

The nutrition course was all about circling back to the science. It wasn’t fluffy. It was full of excellent case studies and amazing resources.

- Nikki Auckland