Is organic food worth it?

Organic produce is booming. In Australia alone, the industry is worth over $1.7billion, and it’s more accessible than ever - you’ll find organic meats, fruits, veggies and dairy stocked in most supermarkets.

So why is organic so popular? The perception is that it’s healthier, tastier and more environmentally friendly than non-organic food. But the research tells a more complicated story - there is no conclusive study out there that can truly confirm that organic is healthier. Plus, organic is almost always more expensive than conventionally farmed food, so it’s not always feasible to buy.

Is organic food worth your extra dollars? We’ll let you make up your own mind, but we’ve made this summary so you can understand exactly what ‘organic’ means.

What counts as ‘organic’ food?

There is no set-in-stone definition of organic, but it generally refers to food grown without synthetic chemicals (think pesticides and artificial fertilisers) and without genetic modification. In order to label their food as organic, farmers need certification to confirm it meets the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce. You should see an accreditation on the packaging of any organic meat and dairy you purchase.

Organic produce, however, is not always totally chemical free. Organic certification permits the use of certain naturally occurring pesticides, and chemical residues may still be left in the soil from years gone by. Nevertheless, organic foods will still have far less residue than their non-organic equivalents.

Is organic really healthier?

Unfortunately, there is no conclusive answer!

But what do we know for sure? The nutritional value of organic and non-organic foods is similar, but research has found organic food contains lower levels of toxic metals and can significantly reduce pesticide levels in adults.

Therefore, the question is: do we ingest risky levels of pesticides by eating non-organic food? Research suggests not—these chemicals usually appear at safe levels in non-organic food.

In any case, there’s nothing wrong with eating organic, and it’s a safe bet in case pesticides do turn out to be more dangerous than previously thought. But the most important thing at this stage is eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies! Washing them will remove the bulk of the pesticides.

How about taste and sustainability?

It’s currently up for debate whether organic food is tastier than non-organic food. Decent research is hard to find, and most organic-eaters claim it tastes better probably because they enjoy the ‘Moral Satisfaction’ associated with eating organic.

But maybe taste isn’t the point - organic produce is usually ethically produced and sustainable because organic certification demands that animals are free range and not treated with artificial hormones. By avoiding excessive use of chemicals, organic farmers also preserve the fertility of the soil.

One more thing - remember that organic certification does not regulate ‘food miles’ - that is, the distance that your food travelled (and the fuel used to transport it) to arrive on your plate. Always buy locally for the most sustainable option.

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