What are the benefits of eating organic food?

Organic food consumption shows an increasing popularity worldwide.  In the Asia-Pacific region, the Australian organic market even outperforms other countries.  According to a 2014 report of Australian Organic,  “the organic industry was found to be worth $1.72 billion and is growing by 15% each year…The demand is also found to be outstripping supply by up to 40%” [1].  Organic product exportation was also made possible since “Australia still has the largest area of organic land in the world." [1]

In 2014 alone, 69% of Australian food shoppers reported to buying at least one organic product in the past year [1]. In addition, Oates, et al. also reported that majority of Australians consume at least 65% organic food in their diet [2].  Organic fruits and vegetables remain the most purchased organic product in both 2012 and 2014 [1,2].


However, it is quite difficult to distinguish “true” versus “fake” organic products by just inspecting them. In fact, most Australians (64%) believe that the product is organic if the word “organic” is written on the label [1].  Bruno, et al. of the Australian Organic thus concluded that “these results suggest many consumers do not understand the importance of organic certification labelling, and often rely on unsubstantiated marketing claims. False marketing claims are common in the hair care and beauty industry in Australia and it’s an issue Australian Organic continues to raise with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.” [1]

Nonetheless, there has been an increasing awareness of the 'organic certification mark' by the consumers. For example, an increase of 31% in 2012 to 38% in 2014 of consumers recognise the logo of the Australian Certified Organic [1], making it the most recognised organic certification mark among Australians. This is followed by NASAA and USDA Organic.

The Australian Certified Organic has been known to have the strictest standards in Australia. This certifier further claims that the “high quality of the Australian Certified Organic Standard has earned equivalence with a number of international organic standards, including the European Union, for livestock and wine export, whereas Australia’s national organic standard hasn’t been able to achieve this. Aside from pesticides and weed killers, Australian Certified Organic also prohibits the use of genetic modification or GMOs." [3] To know more about their guidelines, you may download their standards here. Some of the well-known Australian farms/producers certified by Australian Certified Organic includes:

  • Tamburlaine (NSW) -- organic wines [4]

  • The Organic Farm Gate (QLD)—organic fruits and vegetables [5]

  • Inglewood (QLD)—organic chicken [6]

Organic Wine


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What are the harmful effects of non-organic products?

Chemicals and pesticides

As compared to organic products, conventional products use pesticides and other chemicals to protect their crops or livestock. Studies consistently show that pesticide residues are substantially lower in organic food products [7] as also evident by lower dialkylphosphate (DAP) metabolites in the body [8,9]. The DAP is considered as a biomarker for exposure to organophosphate pesticides. In addition, one study also showed that a higher concentration of cadmium, a toxic metal, was found in conventional products [10].  Some of the harmful effects of pesticides to consumers are summarised below:

1. Glyphosate (Trade name: Roundup): most widely used herbicide especially for GM food

Mostly found in: GM corn, soy, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, wheat/flour

Dr. Sneff of MIT presented a video at the Mind International Conference held at Sydney last 2015 showing the possible link between glyphosate found in corn and soy and the occurrence of autism [11]. A new case study was also published wherein 2 out of 3 triplets with elevated glyphosate levels, were found to have autism [12].

2. Pesticide residues: most common residue are endosulfans

Maximum limit set by the Australian government can be found here.

Studies show that dietary exposure to pesticide residues may cause the following:

  • Cancer [13,14]

  • Blood disorders [15]

  • Abnormal birth weight [16]

  • Poor semen quality [17]

Harmful effects of GMO

Due to food insecurity worldwide, scientists initiated the genetic modification of plants and materials to address this concern. However, critics are now pointing out at the harmful effects of GMOs among consumers. Some short-term and long-term undesirable health concerns include allergies, synthesis of toxic components and even resistance to antibiotics [18]. Due to the controversies involved pertaining to health, more studies are required to determine the potential detrimental effect of GMO to health.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Aside from the use of pesticides, antibiotics which are given to livestock or incorporated in poultry feeds have caused some health concerns. This is largely due to the increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance, making it more difficult to treat human infections. In a study done by researchers from Stanford University, it was noted that the risk of isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than organic chicken and poultry by 33% [19]. Similar results were obtained by another study in 2015 that shows antibiotic-resistant enterococci, a common cause of UTI and gastrointestinal disease, was higher in conventional chickens [20].

What are the benefits of eating organic food?

Majority of Australian shoppers reported that they buy organic food products because it is free from chemicals, additives and is environmentally friendly [1]. Aside from the fact that it is free from harmful toxic products such as chemicals, several studies have already provided evidence of the beneficial effect of eating organic food in improving overall health by lowering the risk of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and skin disease [21,22,23,24]. In addition, pregnant women who often consume organic vegetables have 20% lower risk of pre-eclampsia and prevent hypospadias [25,26]. Some of these beneficial effects may be due to the following:

High antioxidant levels

Compared with conventional produce, organic products are richer in polyphenols, especially flavonoids, which are known for each antioxidant activity [10]. In fact, organic fruits and vegetables have “greater antioxidant activity, are more potent suppressors of the mutagenic action of toxic compounds, and inhibit the proliferation of certain cancer cell lines” [27]. One example is beetroot and a stronger anticancer activity was found in organic fermented juice compared to conventional ones [28].

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are important in preventing various diseases. According to Crinnion, an Environmental Medicine professor, “organic varieties do provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods” [27].

Other benefits

A current meta-analysis also revealed that organic dairy products contain “significantly higher protein, ALA, total omega-3 fatty acid, cis-9,trans-11 conjugated linoleic acid, trans-11 vaccenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosapentaenoic acid than those of conventional types” [29].  Similarly, organic meats were found to have a higher level of good fats (PUFA and omega-3) [30].


Recommended organic food products

Based on the amount of pesticide residue, the Environmental Working Group produces a list known as the “Dirty Dozen” every year depending on the results of the tests done by the USDA [31]. Switching to organic counterparts of the following food products would be a viable option:

1.     Strawberries

2.     Spinach

3.     Nectarines

4.     Apples

5.     Peaches

6.     Pears

7.     Cherries

8.     Grapes

9.     Celery

10.  Tomatoes

11.  Sweet bell peppers

12.  Potatoes

Note: only the 2017 top 12 food products were shown. For a more comprehensive list, click here


Dr. Jason Barritt,


1. Bruno Mascitelli A, Antonio Lobo A, Hong Thi Phan D, et al. Australian Organic Market report 2014. 2014. http://austorganic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/AO_Report_2014_web.pdf. Accessed December 7, 2017.

2. Oates L, Cohen M, Braun L. Characteristics and consumption patterns of Australian organic consumers. J Sci Food Agric. 2012;92(14):2782-2787. doi:10.1002/jsfa.5664.

3. Australian Organic. Australian Certified Organic Standard. http://austorganic.com/consumers/australian-certified-organic-standard2/. Published 2017. Accessed December 7, 2017.

4. Hunter Valley Wineries. TAMBURLAINE ORGANIC WINES. http://www.huntervalleyonline.com.au/tamburlaine. Published 2017. Accessed December 7, 2017.

5. The Organic Farm Gate. Who We Are. http://www.theorganicfarmgate.com.au/who-we-are/. Accessed December 7, 2017.

6. Inglewood Farms. The 6 Reasons. http://www.inglewoodfarms.com/about-us/why-inglewood-farms/. Accessed December 7, 2017.

7. Załęcka A, Bügel S, Paoletti F, et al. The influence of organic production on food quality - research findings, gaps and future challenges. J Sci Food Agric. 2014;94(13):2600-2604. doi:10.1002/jsfa.6578.

8. Curl CL, Beresford SAA, Fenske RA, et al. Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environ Health Perspect. 2015;123(5):475-483. doi:10.1289/ehp.1408197.

9. Oates L, Cohen M, Braun L, Schembri A, Taskova R. Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a week-long organic diet. Environ Res. 2014;132:105-111. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2014.03.021.

10. Barański M, Średnicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, et al. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014;112(5):794-811. doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366.

11. Pietryka J, O ’hara N, Kartzinel J, Tran J. MINDD 2015 Conference Review Day 1—Gastroenterology in ASD. In: ; 2015. http://www.allnaturaladvantage.com.au/home/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/MINDD-2015-Review.pdf. Accessed December 7, 2017.

12. Shaw W. Elevated Urinary Glyphosate and Clostridia Metabolites With Altered Dopamine Metabolism in Triplets With Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Suspected Seizure Disorder: A Case Study. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2017;16(1):50-57. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28223908. Accessed December 7, 2017.

13. Mathur V, John PJ, Soni I, Bhatnagar P. Blood Levels of Organochlorine Pesticide Residues and Risk of Reproductive Tract Cancer Among Women from Jaipur, India. In: Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Vol 617. ; 2008:387-394. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-69080-3_37.

14. Keikotlhaile BM, Spanoghe P, Steurbaut W. Risk assessment of oncogenic potency of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables. Commun Agric Appl Biol Sci. 2011;76(4):853-861. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22702202. Accessed December 7, 2017.

15. Demur C, Métais B, Canlet C, et al. Dietary exposure to a low dose of pesticides alone or as a mixture: The biological metabolic fingerprint and impact on hematopoiesis. Toxicology. 2013;308:74-87. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2013.03.004.

16. Monteagudo C, Mariscal-Arcas M, Heras-Gonzalez L, Ibañez-Peinado D, Rivas A, Olea-Serrano F. Effects of maternal diet and environmental exposure to organochlorine pesticides on newborn weight in Southern Spain. Chemosphere. 2016;156:135-142. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.04.103.

17. Chiu YH, Afeiche MC, Gaskins AJ, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Hum Reprod. 2015;30(6):1342-1351. doi:10.1093/humrep/dev064.

18. Kramkowska M, Grzelak T, Czyżewska K. Benefits and risks associated with genetically modified food products. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2013;20(3):413-419. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24069841. Accessed December 5, 2017.

19. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):348. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007.

20. KILONZO-NTHENGE A, BROWN A, NAHASHON SN, LONG D. Occurrence and Antimicrobial Resistance of Enterococci Isolated from Organic and Conventional Retail Chicken. J Food Prot. 2015;78(4):760-766. doi:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-322.

21. Bradbury KE, Balkwill A, Spencer EA, et al. Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom. Br J Cancer. 2014;110(9):2321-2326. doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.148.

22. Baudry J, Méjean C, Péneau S, et al. Health and dietary traits of organic food consumers: results from the NutriNet-Santé study. Br J Nutr. 2015;114(12):2064-2073. doi:10.1017/S0007114515003761.

23. van de Vijver LP, van Vliet ME. Health effects of an organic diet-consumer experiences in the Netherlands. J Sci Food Agric. 2012;92(14):2923-2927. doi:10.1002/jsfa.5614.

24. Kummeling I, Thijs C, Huber M, et al. Consumption of organic foods and risk of atopic disease during the first 2 years of life in the Netherlands. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(3):598-605. doi:10.1017/S0007114507815844.

25. Torjusen H, Brantsæter AL, Haugen M, et al. Reduced risk of pre-eclampsia with organic vegetable consumption: results from the prospective Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. BMJ Open. 2014;4(9):e006143. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006143.

26. Brantsæter AL, Torjusen H, Meltzer HM, et al. Organic Food Consumption during Pregnancy and Hypospadias and Cryptorchidism at Birth: The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Environ Health Perspect. 2015;124(3):357-364. doi:10.1289/ehp.1409518.

27. Crinnion WJ. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Altern Med Rev. 2010;15(1):4-12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20359265. Accessed December 5, 2017.

28. Kazimierczak R, Hallmann E, Lipowski J, et al. Beetroot ( Beta vulgaris L.) and naturally fermented beetroot juices from organic and conventional production: metabolomics, antioxidant levels and anticancer activity. J Sci Food Agric. 2014;94(13):2618-2629. doi:10.1002/jsfa.6722.

29. Palupi E, Jayanegara A, Ploeger A, Kahl J. Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis. J Sci Food Agric. 2012;92(14):2774-2781. doi:10.1002/jsfa.5639.

30. Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal C, et al. Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(6):994-1011. doi:10.1017/S0007114515005073.

31. Environmental Working Group. Full List | EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php#.WiitEVWWbIU. Published 2017. Accessed December 7, 2017.