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Organic food - is it worth the cost?

Friday 20 February, 2015 by Alison G

Organic foods are increasingly available in greengrocers, specialty stores, supermarkets and cafes. Foods that we know and love – as well as weird and wonderful items – are being labelled organic. But what does organic really mean and is it worth the extra dollars? Cancer Council Victoria's resident dietitian Alison Ginn takes a closer look.

What is organic?

A product that is labelled organic must be certified by one of the seven Department of Agriculture approved certifying organisations in Australia. Organic food must meet a range of criteria at each stage of production in addition to the food safety and labelling regulations which all Australian-sold foods must meet.

Why do people choose to eat organic?

There are several reasons why people may choose organic over regular foods and these include perceived environmental benefits, health benefits, better taste and sustainability.

What are the actual benefits of organic?

Organic foods may be better for the environment as less pesticides and herbicides are used and when locally grown they take less fuel to transport. Organically grown foods may taste better too. Blind taste tests have shown that many people prefer the taste of some organic foods, although these findings are not consistent. Some reasons organic food could taste better is because it may be fresher (if grown locally), there are more interesting organic varieties of fruit and vegetables and organically raised animals may have a more varied diet.

What about my health?

Choosing to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains and low in processed foods is the best way to eat for health. Although there may be differences in the amount of minerals or antioxidants in some organic foods, these are not consistent. Whether you choose organic or regular food, choosing whole and unprocessed varieties is the most important thing.

If I can't afford the price tag what are some other options?

  1. Eat seasonably. Fruit and vegetables in season are the most affordable and tastiest. http://seasonalfoodguide.com/australia-general-seasonal-fresh-produce-guide-fruits-vegetables-in-season-availability.html
  2. Eat your colours. Fill your plate with a range of colours every day rather than shades of beige (think bread, cakes, biscuits). The more colours of fruits, vegetables and beans you eat the more antioxidants you'll get.
  3. Try vegetarian more often. While lean meats can be part of a healthy balanced diet we often eat too much and they can be pricey. Try recipes based on eggs, lentils, beans, tofu or include nuts or yoghurt to try some new and affordable meals. http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/recipes/Pages/welcome.aspx?mt=All&cs=Vegetarian
  4. Shop local. Your local markets are likely to stock seasonal produce and can be cheaper than larger stores. If you don't have time to go every week, share the trips with a friend or neighbour.
  5. Grow your own. You don't need much room, even a pot will do. Herbs, rocket, chillies and tomatoes all grow well in small spaces and add colour, taste and flare to even the most basic recipes – without the organic price tag.

Alison Ginn has been working as an Accredited Practising Dietitian for 6 years across Australia and the UK. She is currently the Campaign Manager of LiveLighter, a public health education campaign delivered by Cancer Council Victoria and Heart Foundation.


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