Attempting Organic September? All the benefits of eating organic, plus how to do so on a budget

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  • Plus, two experts share which foods are worth buying organic, and which, well, aren't

    If you didn’t already know, September marks Organic September, an entire month dedicated to celebrating organic food, beauty, clothing, and more. Unsure on what the benefits of organic food actually are? Sit tight – we’ve asked the pros, plus picked their brains about how to do so on a budget.

    Consumer demand for organic food and drink is booming, or so says Clare McDermott, Soil Association Certification’s Business Development Director. “The organic market is thriving and now worth £2.79bn having grown by 12.5% in 2020, which is significantly higher than non-organic at 8.9%.”

    She reckons this year’s Organic September will be the biggest and boldest ever. “The organic food and drink sector is celebrating unprecedented growth as more consumers are looking for assurances about the provenance and quality of their food and drink,” explains McDermott.

    Keen to known which organic foods are it worth paying extra for and which ones aren’t so important? Keep scrolling – and don’t miss our guides to greenwashing, sustainable living and fast fashion, while you’re here.

    So, what is organic food? 

    The Soil Association defines organic as: “Food production that aims to produce sufficient quantities of high-quality food using methods that deliver a breadth of benefits across our entire food system, from people to planet, plant health to animal welfare.”

    As per their website, a food can only be certified as organic if the farmers don’t use the following:

    • Synthetics (human-made substances)
    • GMO’s
    • Sewage for fertiliser
    • Radiation.

    The farmers must also:

    • Use natural fertilisers
    • Rotate produce plots
    • Only use non-toxic pesticides.

    “Non-organic foods, on the other hand, are farmed and produced using methods which could be considered unethical,” explains Simone Thomas, leading nutrition consultant at Simone Thomas Wellness.

    Do note here: There is currently no legal framework that governs organic beauty and wellbeing products as there is for food and drink, explains McDermott. “It’s important to look for the logo when shopping for products to ensure what you choose has been certified organic.”

    Benefits of organic food: A woman's organic food shop

    Why is eating organic important?

    Because, in short, research shows that consuming primarily organic foods can be beneficial for both your body and the environment.

    • Organic foods contain less pesticides: “It’s the best way to reduce your exposure to pesticides,” explains Thomas. “Some pesticide residues do remain on food despite washing and cooking.”
    • Organic foods respect animal welfare standards: When it comes to eating meat, some people opt for organic meat due to the high animal welfare standards and vastly reduced use of antibiotics in organic farming. “Organic farmers only use antibiotics as a last resort,” shares McDermott. “The Soil Association’s higher standards also ban the use of certain antibiotics entirely, such as Colistin, which is critically important to human health.”
    • Organic foods are minimally processed: To state the obvious, organic foods are far less processed than their non-organic counterparts and contain no harmful additives or preservatives.
    • Organic foods contain more antioxidants: According to Thomas, a six-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organic onions had approximately 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown onions. Not bad.
    • Organic foods contain more healthy fats: Similarly, a 2016 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic meat and milk have around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, shares the nutrition consultant.
    • Organic foods are better for the environment: Organic farming helps to fight climate change, shares McDermott – it’s known to be more energy efficient, and its carbon footprint significantly lower than more intensive farming, meaning that less CO2 lands up in the atmosphere. “Not only that, but organic food and drink is produced in a way that benefits nature – for example organic farms are, on average, home to up to 50% more wildlife, and 30% more species of wildlife, meaning shopping for organic products is like casting a vote to support nature and biodiversity“, she continues.

    Benefits of organic food: Directly above shot of fresh organic vegetables in basket on table at farmers market

    18 foods that do need to be organic

    Many of us question whether switching to organic is better – particularly when considering the cost of organic food, which can be expensive for a growing family. “Where possible, I say always eat organic,” shares Thomas. “Non-organic produce is likely to have been sprayed with pesticides, leaving toxic by-products that often can’t be removed by washing, scrubbing, or peeling.”

    However, if you simply can’t afford to buy all-organic, do favour the following:

    • Strawberries – ‘these are one of the most pesticide contaminated foods,’ explains Thomas.
    • Spinach — another one that contains lots of pesticides, so should always be bought organic,’ she continues.
    • Greens — think kale and mustard greens
    • Fruits — think nectarines, apples, pears, grapes and cherries
    • Peppers
    • Celery
    • Tomatoes.

    McDermott also recommends opting organic with:

    • Carrots
    • Bananas
    • Tea
    • Eggs
    • Yoghurt
    • Milk.

    Benefits of organic food: Person holding a handful of tomatoes

    9 foods that don’t need to be organic

    Keen to save a few pennies? While the above are the most pesticide contaminated foods, the below aren’t – that is, they are known to not contain as many pesticides, and therefore can provide peace of mind for you knowing that you’re not consuming shedloads of the bad stuff.

    • Avocado
    • Sweet corn
    • Onions
    • Asparagus
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
    • Pineapple
    • Mushrooms
    • Melon.

    Benefits of eating organic: Young woman holding pan with vegan pasta dish

    Where can I buy organic food? 

    You can find organic versions of most products nowadays, and all major retailers have a good selection of organic products, so it’s easy as anything. “Organic vegetables and staples like rice, pasta and milk are often the same price or not much more than non-organic, in reality,” explains McDermott.

    Try this: Opting for an organic box scheme, advises the pro. “It be a very cost effective way of getting delicious, seasonal and organic veg delivered right to your door, which is convenient, too.”

    Do note here: Buying any organic food really makes a difference, or so says McDermott. “Whats important is that you don’t have to swap to an 100% organic diet,” she stresses. Her advice? “Choose the things you buy most of, carrots for example or bananas, milk or yoghurt, all of which are readily available. Every time you choose organic, you are making a choice that is better for the planet and for health.”

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