[Originally published 24th July 2017]

So by now you have read all about giving up sugar and avoiding additives, and if you haven’t, well catch up peeps – click on the links!  Clean eating – or getting in touch with my inner hippie – was one of the biggest changes that I have made to my life in 2017!  It was the first year I ever told my parents NOT to buy me an easter egg!  Exploring all the alternative grocery options in my local and not so local area was fun, as was beginning to cook a lot more stuff from scratch.  My kids both love pie and I can make a great family pie that they will gobble up!  Yes of course it takes me a lot more time than just whacking a store bought one in the oven but I know exactly what is in it.

In this part 2 Blog I am talking about buying organic.  This is something, that to be honest, I had always scoffed at before because I had heard all the research about the there being little, if any, added nutritional value in organic produce.  This remains true.  However, even though you may not get more vitamins and minerals by eating a product that is, or is made with, organically grown matter, you can be sure that you will get LESS chemicals.

In order to provide the huge quantities of food required to supply manufacturers and supermarkets within tight timeframes, primary growers generally use copious amounts of chemicals in the process.  They use pesticides, fungicides, genetically modified components and artificial fertilisers.  The human body is not designed to process these chemicals that are added to foods when they are being grown, any more than it is to process chemicals that are added to foods in the manufacturing process.

So once again, I would ask – why would you do that to your body?  Why would you willingly ingest substances that are not meant to be inside your body?  This is no different than deliberately poisoning yourself, except that in this case the poison is building up slowly.  Often the body actually cannot excrete these chemicals and they are instead stored.  Do you want your body to be a Haz Chem storage facility?  I think not, I think you want to Feel Better!

Buying Organic in Australia

So what are organic products in Australia?  If you buy something that is Certified Organic then you know that it has been produced without the use of artificial chemicals, irradiation and fumigants.  It does not necessarily mean that the product is totally chemical free as it may have been produced on land that was previously treated with chemicals and retains traces of this.  Also, certain naturally occurring pesticides, including pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, and some other biological substances are permitted for use in organic farming.  Do be careful however to check for the Certified Organic label as the industry is not regulated so a manufacturer can say that a product is organic without it being certified. Organically farmed animals may have been vaccinated but will not have been given hormones, steroids or antibiotics and are generally farmed in a more humane manner.

Naturally (no pun intended!) organic farming is also better for the environment as it reduces the decline in soil fertility caused by excessive chemical usage, as well as the run off of these chemicals into waterways.

I would encourage you to buy organic products from organic grocers because unfortunately in mainstream stores organic products are always excessively packaged so as to make it clear at the check out that you need to be charged the organic price!  This packaging then detracts a huge amount of the environmental benefit of buying organic, but if that is your only choice then do it, at least you will reduce your exposure to harmful toxic chemicals.

It’s so much more expensive, where should I begin?

Yes, organic produce is more expensive but the organic food market in Australia is growing all the time, with consumer demand increasing by more than 30% each year this will accordingly lead to a gradual but steady reduction in the pricing differential.

If, like many of us, you simply can’t afford to buy everything organic then become aware of which fruit and vegetables are the most susceptible to retaining chemicals and try to at least buy those ones organic.  You may have heard of the list produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the USA called the The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen.  Unfortunately this list is not terribly useful to those of us outside of America however, due to regional differences in the chemicals that are used, how they are used and when they are used in the growth cycle. This is in part due to the fact that climate and relevant pests are not the same across the world.  Pesticide use is at least regulated in Australia.

Dr Liza Oates, a naturopath and researcher who specialises in the health and wellness effects of organic diets, spoke on the Low Tox Life podcast about how there is very limited Australian data to match with the data used by the EWG.  She has even been asked to create an Aussie Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen but says there is just not enough data to compile an accurate list.

Which fruit and vegetables should I definitely buy organic?

If your organic shopping budget is limited focus on produce (fresh fruit and veggies) rather than packaged products.

Dr Oates suggests definitely buying these produce items in organic form;

  • pome fruits: apples, pears, quinces, nashi pears
  • anything that has a large surface area: such as green leafy vegetables and herbs
  • anything that has lots of nooks and crannies: such as broccolli and cauliflower

Chemicals used in farming are very difficult to wash off, even with a specific ‘fruit and veggie wash’ and can also ‘translocate’ into the food.  I think a common sense approach is also useful.  Things that have thin skins that you are going to eat eg. tomatoes, zucchinis I prefer to purchase organic varieties.  Things that have tough inedible skins like avocado and citrus (unless you’re zesting your lemons) are safer to buy inorganic.  If you are going to peel something then you could get away with buying non organic, however don’t forget that peeling also strips away many nutrients so where possible, don’t peel!

Buy from the Farmer

Farmer’s Markets are HUGE now and this is a great place to chat directly to the person growing the food and ask them what chemicals they use.  Often they are not certified organic producers (a very expensive process for small operators) but they are chemical free.

In many places you can buy from the farm gate too.  Or you may find that someone in your local area has arranged a communal produce box system where you get a weekly delivery of fresh, local goodies straight from the farmer.

Grow Your Own

You may like to seriously consider growing as much of your own food as you can – the resurgence of the veggie patch is a thing!!  I remember visiting my grandparents as a child and my grandfather would lovingly tend his veggies in a plot that was half the size of a normal house block!  As I have not yet gone down this (garden!) path myself I can’t be too preachy about it, but it is definitely on my to do list, and would mean having organic, seasonal produce available at your back door, all the time.  You could just start with herbs in pots.  Dr Oates warns to be careful of what is in your soil in urban gardens and recommends having it tested for chemicals before you start growing food in it.

If buying or growing organic is totally not an option for you then you may like to try to reduce your exposure to chemicals by washing your produce in 4 parts water and one part white vinegar (or 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water) – leave them to soak for 5 – 20 minutes (shorter for more delicate things) before you cook with or eat them.