Organic. I am sure by now most of us are familiar with the term ‘organic’, but what does organic actually mean in terms of food and why should you be paying those extra few dollars for it? Before I moved up to the Gold Coast/ started my nutrition degree I can happily admit that the term organic hadn’t really crossed my radar and if it had I hadn’t taken much notice of it. As I got further into my nutrition degree, started shopping at the farmer’s markets and had a few lengthy conversations with my fellow nutrition nerds I started to become more aware of the importance of organic produce for not only the health of the environment but for the health of our bodies. Being a university student with minimum income organic food was initially one of those things where I wished I could eat organic but though “I can’t afford it”. Questions such as what’s the difference between organic and supermarket produce? I am still eating vegetables and fruit, what’s the difference? and is it just a hoax to get you to pay more? all clouded my judgement and that’s when I started doing my own research into it. So today I am going to answer all these questions and more so you can make an educated decision about whether you want to swap to an organic lifestyle like I have.
What does the term ‘organic’ mean?
Organic farming produces food of high nutritional quality without the use of synthetic chemicals, artificial fertilisers, genetically modified foods, growth promoters or hormones. In addition to this organic poultry, meat, eggs and dairy products are produced from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. The ethical principles of organic farming also reinforces the importance of sustainable living with its key focus being placed on the environment, the air, the soil, the farmers and of course the consumer.
Why should I go organic?
Over your lifetime you can be exposed to and ingest a couple hundred kilograms of chemicals (crazy right!!). Chemicals can be found in your food, drinks, cosmetics, clothes and the air we breathe, putting us at a greater risk of developing diseases, allergies and other health problems. Conventional farming also places a heavy burden on the natural environment through harming local wildlife, destroying the soil and increasing the toxic load. By opting to live an organic lifestyle you are reducing your exposure to synthetic chemicals, encouraging sustainable farming practices and reducing animal cruelty… sounds like a pretty good idea to me!
One of the biggest benefits of eating organic is all the extra nutrients that you get from your produce! The quality of the soil organic food is produced in is far more nutrient dense than conventional soil meaning that your really getting your moneys worth. Extra nutrients and less chemicals… win win really ; )
I am already eating fruit and vegetables from the supermarket, so why would it be any different?
This is what got me confused at first… I was already eating all the fruit and vegetables of the rainbow so I was healthy right? Except the produce that I was getting from the supermarkets was less nutrient dense than the organic varieties and the toxic load I was placing on my body from conventional produce was contributing to poor liver detoxification and hormonal irregularities. Now, this is not to say if you can’t access organic produce don’t eat fruit and vegetables… eat as many colours of the rainbow as you can!! If you don’t have access to organic food where you live opting for fresh, seasonal and local produce is the next best option so there is no excuses for missing out on your required 2 fruit and 5 serves of vegetables a day!
How do I know what food is organic?
In order for food or a product to be truly organic they must be registered with ‘Australian Certified Organic’ (or a similar governing body) which has this label on it.
By having this certification, it is ensuring that the produce that your paying for meets the requirements of organic and sustainable farming. There are products out there on the market (particularly packaged foods) that say ‘organic’ on the labelling, but check for the certification label to guarantee your getting what your paying for.
I want to eat organic but I can’t afford it?
This is probably the most common thing I hear from friends and family and being a university student I understand that committing to a 100% organic lifestyle can be a bit pricey to start off with- that’s why I adopt an 80/20 principle. Meaning that at least 80% of the food that I eat is organic (priorities are meat, poultry, eggs and fruit/ vegetables from the dirty dozen) and the other 20% is preferably spray free or just conventional fruit and vegetables that I give a good wash before use. Simply place your fruit and vegetables in water with a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and soak for 10 minutes before rinsing.
In all honesty the cost of organic produce is the only disadvantage I can think of, but in saying that the more common and popular organic produce is getting the lower the prices are becoming. The way I see it is you can pay an extra few dollars now for fresh, chemical free food with a higher nutrient density or pay big bucks in 10 or 20-years time on medical bills when your health has fallen of the band wagon from pesticide exposure.
What is the dirty dozen?
When prioritising what produce is most important to buy organically there is a few things to be mindful of such as how thick the skin of the fruit or vegetables are and how many pesticides have the crops been exposed to. For example, a banana which has a thick skin over the fruit is less likely to be affected by pesticides than a strawberry that has no protective skin. Therefore, a list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables that have the highest exposure to chemicals have been compiled and deemed the ‘dirty dozen’.
- Kale/ spinach
- Green beans
So in conclusion, there is much to be gained and little to be lost other than a few extra dollars, by choosing to live an organic lifestyle. Every little bit counts, even if thats just starting with the dirty dozen and working your way up from there. If your still keen to learn more as this is just a simple overview, you can find out more information about organic certification, the rules regarding becoming registered and the importance of sustainable farming on the following websites-