Is going Organic Worth it?

Fruit1.jpg

The benefits of organic foods versus the expense

Sales of organic food are growing fast in Australia and organic produce is endorsed by many of our top chefs, including Kylie Kwong and Neil Perry. But, what does organic mean, what are the nutritional benefits of organic food and are they worth the extra expense?

What makes food organic?

Organic fruit and vegetables are free from added chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, which reduces the amount of unwanted chemicals on your plate and likewise in the soil and air. Organic meat, milk, chicken and eggs must be produced in farming systems in which animals can roam freely in open air and are given organic feed themselves. Also, they cannot be treated with antibiotics or routinely vaccinated.

What organic foods are worth buying?

Organic produce might not look as pretty or blemish-free as conventional produce, but I believe it tastes better, and is better for you. You don’t have to go completely organic to reap the benefits. Here are a few organic foods that are proven to be more nutritious than their standard supermarket counterparts and provide great value for money.

  • In a recent European Union funded project, researchers reared cattle on adjacent organic and non-organic sites. Analysis showed that the levels of antioxidants in the milk from organic herds were up to 90% higher compared with the conventional herd.
  • According to the Australian Consumers Associations, CHOICE, conventionally grown strawberries were found to contain the highest levels of chemical residues; at least 1 residue on two-thirds of strawberry samples. Some studies also suggest organic strawberries may have more antioxidants.
  • The findings of a recent survey looking into the nutritional content of organic food were announced at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). One finding was that, "organic apple production systems can lead to measurable improvements in fruit nutritional quality, taste and storability."
  • Tomatoes. The survey findings announced at AAAS also claimed that, "organically farmed tomatoes have significantly higher levels of soluble solids and natural plant molecules, including flavonoids, lycopene and vitamin C."
  • A study of 27 cultivators of organic spinach found it to contain higher levels of flavonoids and vitamin C and lower levels of nitrates, which are thought to be detrimental to our health.

Phytochemicals

The one key area where organic fruit, vegetables and grains have an advantage over their standard counterparts is phytochemicals (the natural compounds found in plants).

There are hundreds of these and they are often referred to as polyphenols, flavonoids or isoflavones, among other easy-to-remember names.

They are the plant’s natural defence system, which is why they confer on us some protection against health problems. The theory is they are naturally more abundant in organic produce because it is grown without artificial fertilisers, and the plant has to create more in order to defend itself against microbes.

How do I know it’s organic?

If you want to buy organic, look for a ‘Certified Organic’ label. Don’t be fooled by claims that the produce is ‘natural’ or ‘chemical free’ as these descriptions do not have a legal definition and are used freely on food packaging.

Can I buy organic on a budget?

Organic produce is more expensive because it takes longer to produce and organic farming is more labour-intensive with lower yields. Here’s how to enjoy organic fare without going broke.

  • Buy seasonal organic fruits and veg.
  • Try growing your own. Just a few simple vegies and herbs will give you some fine organic food for your table.
  • Purchase food from your local organic health food shop, which is likely to have been grown by farmers and market gardeners in your local area. Organic produce that has been grown overseas and has arrived here by air is hardly sustainable.
  • Visit your local farmer’s market for the freshest of the fresh.
  • Try a box scheme. Some local companies deliver fresh, seasonal goodies to your home. Take a look at www.organicfooddirectory.com.au.