Organic grocery shopping can be expensive, and for many Australian families, buying all organic is simply not viable. Cash flow is an issue for many, and parents shouldn’t be made to feel as though they are buying food laden with toxic chemicals for their children: a grocery shop of non-organic fruits and vegetables is actually a healthier option than one full of packaged and processed foods.

Benefits of organic

The first and most obvious benefit is that the food is not sprayed with pesticides, therefore there is no chemical build-up in the plants. Eating organic food supports long term health and wellbeing by reducing the risk of hormonal disruption, allergies, and learning and behavioural issues in children. The second benefit is the nutritional and flavour content. Organic food relies on crop rotation for sustainability and pest control. As pesticides are not permitted in organic farming, the process of rotating crops helps control pests and disease that can become established in soil over time. The other benefit of crop rotation is that it maintains a higher mineral content in the soil. Each variety of plant requires a different ratio of minerals to thrive. If you left only one kind of plant in the same soil, over time, the soil would become deficient in the minerals which that particular plant used up the most. Crop rotation allows soil to replenish and not become depleted in any particular nutrient.

The flavour content of organic produce is far superior to that of conventional farming. This is partly affected by the water content in conventional fruits and vegetables. An organic apple, for example, is small and full of flavour and colour, while an apple grown conventionally is considerably larger, with a pale flesh and less flavour. Pumping food full of water is a practice done by conventional farming in both fruit and vegetable produce and meats, to make the food appear larger and therefore create a higher yield for mass consumption. The third benefit of organic farming relates to the environment. Organic farming is sustainable and does not have the same impact that conventional farming places on the environment.

Now, if making the switch to organic is not entirely possible for you, there is a way you can minimise pesticide exposure and still live within your means. Keeping a list of the foods in the breakout box here in your wallet can help you to decipher which foods you should buy organic and which you can get away with buying non-organic. The 'dirty dozen' are foods which contain the highest reside of pesticides; where possible, buy these foods organic. The 'clean 15', as the name suggests, contain the lowest amounts of pesticides, so these can be purchased non-organic.

The dirty dozen (in order of contamination)

1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Nectarines
4. Apples
5. Peaches
6. Pears
7. Cherries
8. Grapes
9. Celery
10. Tomatoes
11. Sweet capsicum
12. Potatoes

The clean 15 (in order of least contamination)

1. Sweet corn
2. Avocados
3. Pineapple
4. Cabbage
5. Onion
6. Sweet peas, frozen
7. Papaya
8. Asparagus
9. Mango
10. Eggplant
11. Honeydew melon
12. Kiwifruit
13. Rockmelon
14. Cauliflower
15. Grapefruit

Diana is a Melbourne based clinical nutritionist.