Are Organic Foods really better for you or just a pricey fad?

It’s a great question, especially when you consider that it’s a billion-dollar industry here in Australia.

Nutritionally, environmentally and economically, the foods we choose to eat today create consequences tomorrow. Perhaps you want to enjoy great tasting food, are seeking to remedy or prevent ill-health, wanting to reduce the impact on the environment, improve animal welfare or want to support local small farmers, then your purchase of organic foods makes perfect sense.

Organic food may sometimes cost more than conventional products, but I believe in that old saying “You get what you pay for”.  Plus if you buy your fresh produce in season and dry goods in bulk you might be pleasantly surprised.

Organic crop farmers use natural fertilisers to feed and build the soil in which they grow their produce as opposed to using chemical fertilisers.  Here we take a look at how organic farming differs to conventional growing methods, which influences the prices of organic fresh products:

  • Natural methods are used to deter insects and the like rather than toxic insecticides.
  • Old-fashioned techniques such as crop-rotation, hand-weeding, tillage and mulches are utilised to combat weeds rather than man-made herbicides.
  • Organically-reared animals  eat food that’s free of antibiotics, growth hormones, drugs, chemicals and pesticides. They also do not eat any animal by-products.
  • It’s common in organic farming for animals to be allowed to get exercise and fresh air, and live a more natural existence.
  • Organic farmers also don’t use chemicals or pesticides on land where animals roam, so they don’t ingest chemicals — and by extension, you don’t either.

But is it really better for you?

  • Higher nutrient content
    • Compared to conventionally-grown foods, organic foods are more nutritious with a higher content of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
    • Less water in organic food so you get more food
  • Additive-free
    • The use of synthetic chemicals as preservatives, colourings, antioxidants etc are prohibited in the processing of organic foods.  These may have a profound effect on your body.  When you think that you might be eating upwards of 50 different additives daily if you live off processed, packaged foods, can you imagine the potential impact on your health?
  • Lower Pathogenic contamination
    • As organically farmed animals are fed greater proportions of hay, grass and silage, there is reduced opportunity for contaminated feed to lead to contaminated milk.(Infected milk may cause health issues in your body).
  • Free from Growth Hormones/Antibiotics
    • The use of antibiotics, anti-microbials, hormones and other growth promotants are prohibited in the organic production of meats and poultry.  Have a think about where the residues of these synthetic chemicals might go!
  • Lower levels of nasty nitrates
    • Soluble chemical fertilisers have resulted in high nitrate concentrations in many conventionally farmed foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Leafy vegetables can have the highest concentrations. Nitrates are known to be detrimental to health.
  •  Absence of Chemical residues
    • Conventionally grown produce may carry a cocktail of synthetic poisons in the form of pesticide and other chemical residues which your body may not be able to deal with. One study showed that as little a one tenth of a part per billion of one commonly used herbicide can damage reproductive systems.  Chemical residues can disrupt the hormone, nervous and immune systems and cause cancer.

AND, organic fresh foods and meats are often more flavoursome too.

However, if you want your organic shopping dollar to go further, the Environmental Working Group have produced this simple guide to help you.  Those fruits and veg in the “Dirty” category are the ones with the highest levels of pesticide residues so you might want to choose organic varieties.  The “Clean” list shows those fruits and veg with the lowest residue levels; note how quite a few of them have thick skins?

How healthy are non-perishable organic foods?
If it comes in a packet, the chances are it has been processed;  a certified organic label on a packaged or processed food doesn’t necessarily equate to a food that is good for you.  An organic muffin is still a muffin and may still have unhealthy amounts of vegetable oils, sugar and refined flour.  The organic industry is listed as one of the top 5 growing industries in Australia and there are a few manufacturers taking advantage of this trend to boost their profits rather than your health!

What about free-range chicken and eggs?
Do you get confused by the “free-range” label?  You’re not alone!  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are eating naturally-reared chicken and eggs but really, all this label means is that the chickens are allowed outside to scratch and forage around; there could be as many as 10,000 chickens in one hectare, so they’re not that “free”!  They are still fed growth promotants, antibiotics, grain, meat and chemical pellitised food; these sources include crops grown with pesticides and herbicides etc.  As consumers, we tend to want our eggs to have vivid yellow yolks, which is generally what you get with organic eggs; conventional chickens’ feed includes a synthetic colour to make their yolks more appealing.

RESOURCES

Environmental Working Group
Australian Organic Organisation
Clean Food Organic Magazine

The information provided in this website is of a general nature only.  It is not intended to replace or substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Any health concerns should be discussed with your medical practitioner or other healthcare professional.