When you’re topping up on your groceries, it’s always tempting to pay a little extra for organic produce. From whole chickens to cookies and vegetables to breakfast cereals, almost every product has its own corresponding organic cousin. But does the brighter, more natural packaging and its of-the-earth properties actually allude to a healthier product, or is your money better spent elsewhere? Below, Registered Nutritional Therapist Stephanie Goold (DipION MBANT CNHC) helps unpack what you need to know about buying organic and, crucially, if it’s something worth investing in. Let’s tuck into the facts.
What is organic food and what does organic mean?
Organic food is produced without the use of man-made pesticides, chemicals and fertilisers and with higher levels of animal welfare and routine use of antibiotics, thereby reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance. It works alongside nature to be more environmentally sustainable to the land and wildlife.
Is organic healthier?
Organic crops often contain higher antioxidant levels. Organic dairy products also contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and, in organic meat products, healthier and less inflammatory fatty acid profiles are found. However, on a macronutrient level (protein, fat, carbohydrate and dietary fibre), there seems to be very little difference between organic and non-organic foods.
More importantly, it’s also about what organic foods do not contain. Organic foods have lower levels of toxic-heavy metals such as cadmium and synthetic chemicals. Long-term consumption of pesticides can cause disruption to hormones as well as other negative health impacts. In fact, a number of widely used pesticides have been banned due to health risks. From a regulatory perspective, as long as individual pesticide concentrations in foods are below the Maximum Residue Level (MRL), then dietary intake of pesticides is not considered a health risk.
Are there ways we can eat organic without breaking the bank?
It’s often thought that eating organic costs more, but this isn’t always the case. Buying organic produce directly from farmers markets or through delivered fruit/vegetable and meat and dairy boxes can be a more economical way to buy organically and to get what’s in season. You could also bulk buy wholegrains, beans and pulses. Eating locally sourced food as well as less meat can be more economical.
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean Fifteen’
If you are concerned about pesticides, prioritise buying the ‘dirty dozen’ – foods typically with the highest pesticide count – organically. Check out the most up to date list of produce affected by chemicals: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php