Organic vs non-organic food: what's the difference?
Here's what the experts say
You probably have at least one friend who sings the praises of eating an organic diet and leaves you feeling inadequate about your bowl of supermarket-bought fruit. Or perhaps you’ve read a bit about the benefits of organic food and you’d like to give it a try, but you’re not sure whether it’s worth the price tag. We asked Bayley Houston, accredited practising dietitian and Allied Health Coach at Honeysuckle Health, to give us the lowdown on organic versus non-organic foods.
What is organic food?
Organic food is grown and produced without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilisers or genetically modified (GM) components that can adversely affect our health. Animal products such as eggs, cheese and meat can also be organic. Eggs that are certified organic come from free-range hens rather than caged ones, and organic meat is free from hormones and antibiotics.
While organic food isn’t grown or produced using chemicals, it may still contain pesticide residues found in the environment.
What is non-organic food?
Non-organic food – also known as conventional food – is generally grown using pesticides and artificial fertilisers. These synthetic chemicals reduce food wastage by keeping pests at bay and increase food production to guarantee adequate supply. Non-organic food may also have GM components, while non-organic meat can contain hormones and antibiotics.
What are the biggest differences between organic and non-organic foods?
“The main differences between organic and non-organic foods are the presence of synthetic chemicals and the price,” says Bayley. “Organic food can cost up to 50% more than conventional foods. This may be due to the increased cost of producing organic food or to help cover for increased crop losses or the cost of getting certified.”
What are the benefits of organic food?
Chemical pesticides have been shown to have a range of negative effects on our health, including increasing the risk of cancer, reducing fertility and affecting the nervous and endocrine systems. Antibiotics and hormones used in animal farming can be equally detrimental, causing conditions ranging from allergic reactions to ovarian cysts. GMO components in food can also cause allergic reactions and other adverse health effects.
While these facts might sound scary, the levels of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and GM ingredients in our food are highly regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
“You can be reassured that both organic and non-organic foods are safe to consume,” says Bayley. “Some people simply prefer to avoid them altogether.”
Another benefit of organic farming is that it protects the environment by conserving energy, water and soil.
“But we also need to consider that organic farming requires more land to produce the same amount of crop compared to conventional farming,” says Bayley.
Regarding the nutritional benefits of organic food, some studies have found that organic food contains higher levels of vitamin C and minerals, such as magnesium and iron.
“However, these levels were not significant enough to demonstrate improved health outcomes compared to conventional foods,” says Bayley.
Does organic food live up to the hype?
“I haven’t found enough convincing evidence to recommend organic foods over conventional foods for nutritional reasons,” says Bayley. “That being said, there’s no evidence to suggest that an organic diet is worse than a conventional diet. If a client is interested in starting an organic diet, I have a discussion with them to help them meet their nutritional needs while doing so.”
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
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Bayley Houston is an accredited practising dietitian at Honeysuckle Health, where his
roles include nutrition counselling around the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and prevention and treatment of diabetes. He’s passionate about combatting stigma and misinformation around nutrition, and supporting and educating people to help them take control of their own health. Bayley’s perfect day would be snowboarding in the morning, eating tacos for lunch, followed by playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends.