Organic and conventional food. What is the difference? What about the difference between fresh and frozen food?
These days there is so much information surrounding what we should be eating and what constitutes a healthy diet.
Most consumers want to choose food that is nutritionally beneficial and also affordable, but there remains a lot of confusion surrounding fresh or frozen produce and organic or conventional fruit and vegetables.
There are many varying opinions, so I will try to shed some light on these topics, to assist you in making informed decisions that are right for you, your family, and your lifestyle.
Fresh vs frozen produce
Many people are of the belief that fresh is superior and more nutritious than frozen produce. However, what most people don’t know is that frozen fruit and vegetables can actually be fresher than a lot of the fresh fruit and vegetables available on the shelf. This is because frozen fruit and vegetables are generally “snap frozen”, which means that they are picked just as they have ripened and are then frozen straight away, which helps to preserve all of their nutrients.
Fresh fruit and vegetables can spend days to weeks in transit as they go from the farms to the markets and finally, to your fridges, where they may sit for a further few days. During this transit, the fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutritional value due to oxidation. Whereas frozen fruits and vegetables are snap frozen shortly after harvesting, meaning their nutrients are locked in and are less likely to lose nutritional value during transit.
Frozen fruit and vegetables can also be a helpful way to increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables and meet the recommendations of 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day. This is because they allow us access to our favourite produce year-round, even when this isn’t in season. As we spoke about in a previous blog, we want to be opting for in-season produce as much as we can. However, if we are wanting to try and increase our fruit and vegetable intake and would rather start with our favourite produce which isn’t currently in season, frozen produce can be a good way to increase our intake of produce that has not undergone as much nutrient loss and is more affordable than fresh out of season produce.
No matter if you are buying fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, it is important to remember that how you cook your produce will have an impact on how many nutrients they retain. For example, some vitamins are sensitive to heat or may leach out into cooking water. Steaming, stir-frying, and microwaving our vegetables results in less water being used and the produce being cooked for a shorter period of time resulting in more nutrients being retained.
Other benefits of frozen fruit and vegetables are that they:
- Are a convenient option – they require little to no preparation and minimal time to cook and enjoy.
- Reduce food waste – they can also help to reduce food waste as you can eat and prepare them when you need them, compared to fresh varieties which are more likely to go off in your fridge.
- Are a cost-effective option – frozen fruits and vegetables are usually lower in price compared to their fresh counterpart, meaning they are a more affordable option.
How long do frozen fruit and vegetables last?
Frozen fruit and vegetables last up to 8-10 months in the freezer. I would recommend keeping the bag sealed tightly to maximise freshness. It is also important to create a system of first in first out and rotating your freezer items, to ensure you are using the older products first and reducing food waste.
Ultimately the most important thing is that you are consuming enough servings of fruit and vegetables per day. We want to be aiming for 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day. Frozen vegetables shouldn’t be feared as they contain just as much, sometimes even more nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Purchase what works for you and when opting for fresh produce try to buy seasonally and support your local farmers.
Should I be opting for organic produce all of the time?
The next common question I get asked a lot or a topic that also causes a lot of confusion is the need to buy organic. Should we only buy organic? Are there certain products that we should be buying organic? Is organic worth the money? What does organic actually mean?
What does organic actually mean?
- Fruit and vegetables: organic fruit and vegetables are grown without any chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Organic fertilisers, including compost and manure, are used to nourish the soil instead. Pests and diseases are also controlled in a natural way with the use of species selection, crop rotation, and insect predators. Organic vegetables have also not undergone genetic modification.
- Meat, dairy, and eggs: these animal products are free-range and have access to organic feed. They have also not been exposed to any genetic modification, growth hormones, or synthetic chemicals/ supplements.
- Bread and baked goods: these products must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. They are also cooked in the most natural way for example using enzymatic and biological methods. However, it is important to note that organic bread is not fortified with important nutrients such as iodised salt, thiamine, or folic acid which are all mandatory in conventional bread.
How to tell if a product is organic.
The term “organic” is not actually regulated in Australia which means that any company can label their product as organic. This is why it is crucial that if you are opting for organic you choose the products labeled “Australian Certified Organic” as these products are protected by consumer law and undergo random audits to ensure they meet the Australian Organic Standards.
Is organic more nutritious?
Research has shown that there is minimal nutritional difference between organic and non-organic produce. There are only a few nutrients that have been shown to be statistically higher in organic produce, such as carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that is 50% higher in organic fruit compared to their conventional alternative. However, a large proportion of our carotenoid intake actually comes from vegetables, which have the same amount of carotenoids no matter if they are organic or conventional. Vitamin C is only 6% higher in organic produce and organic produce has been shown to be richer in antioxidants, however, this is mainly a result of the high levels of carotenoids present in the produce.
The nutritional difference between organic and non-organic produce is quite slim according to the research.
Conventional produce has significantly more herbicide and pesticide use than organic produce, however, these levels are way below the maximum amount enforced by FSANZ. Another consideration to take into account is that it has been found that the antibiotics used in conventional produce may impact public health by aiding in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
I think it is important to remember that organic and conventional produce contains a very similar nutrient profile. If you are wanting to opt for organic produce for other reasons such as pesticide and herbicide use, I have provided a list below of which produce undergo the most vs least herbicide/pesticide use, to help you make informed decisions and provide you with a starting point.
The produce exposed to the most amount of pesticides include:
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas
The produce exposed to the least amount of pesticides include:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
So what should I opt for?
Opting for organic may be beneficial if you can afford it, however, it is not crucial in order to have a balanced and nutritious diet. At the end of the day, it is more beneficial to ensure you are including a wide variety of natural and unprocessed fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, dairy products, meat, and alternatives into your diet. This will help to ensure you are providing your bodies with the nutrients they need to function optimally.