There’s a growing interest in eating organic, especially among parents concerned for the health of their family. But you might be wondering if, compared a diet of conventional foods, choosing organic packs anything more than negligible benefits.
New research from Sweden’s Coop and the Swedish Environmental Research Institute put the effects of eating organic to the test. For the study, the scientists recruited a family that closely resembles those found in many modern households, consisting of two adult parents, and three kids ages 12, 10 and 3.
The family started by eating a conventional diet for one week, followed by a fully organic diet for the next two weeks. During the testing period, each family member provided morning urine samples to be analyzed for 12 known pesticides or metabolites — you can watch the details in the video, above.
The family’s exposure to pesticides drastically dropped when they switched from conventional to organic eating. “A change in diet from conventional food to organic food made an average decrease in human exposure to the investigated pesticides by a factor of 9.5,” lead researcher Jörgen Magnér tells Yahoo Health. “The largest decrease was observed for the children.”
Even he and his colleagues were surprised “that the pesticides left the body rapidly after the participants change to an organic food diet,” according to Magnér. “If you are the least worried about what these chemicals can do to your health, you can control it through your choices of food.”
The way any given family eats is a personal decision. But according to Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of New York Nutrition Group, there are at least some known benefits to eating organic:
Unlike conventional farmers, organic farmers avoid synthetic pesticides to protect their crops, opting for natural mechanisms to ward off crop-destroying molds, insects and diseases. “These include insect traps, predator insects, natural selection, and beneficial microorganisms,” Moskovitz tells Yahoo Health. “While organic crops can still carry pesticide residue, it is well under government safety thresholds.”
Beyond that, organic farming is also part of the “go green” movement. “It helps promote the environment by protecting soil quality, water supply, and reduces pollution,” Moskovitz says.
If you’ve been following all the GMO buzz lately, and are now a bit worried about genetically-modified ingredients, eating organic can eliminate the fear. “The USDA completely bans the use of genetic engineering or genetically-modified organisms when it comes to organic foods,” says Moskovitz. “This means, from the seeds that are planted to the ingredients listed in an ‘organic’ food product, there can be no trace of GMOs anywhere.”
Restricted Food Additives
Nutritional trends are turning away from anything artificial, and eating organic is the essence of that move. Moskovitz notes “the use of preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavoring agents, and MSG are not allowed” to be used in organic food products.
There are some misconceptions about organic eating that everyone seems to get wrong, says Moskovitz. The most common one is that organic foods are more nutritious,” she explains. “Very little, if any, evidence supports this theory. For example, an organic carrot is very similar in nutritional value to a conventionally grown carrot.”
Moskovitz also says that people commonly believe consuming trace chemicals or GMOs can lead to a real health decline – but that’s not a proven fact. “Pesticides and GMOs are not nearly as harmful or dangerous as many people like to believe,” says Moskovitz.
Ultimately, if you want to reduce pesticide exposure and eliminate GMOs from your diet, eating organic is a plenty a good idea; as this Swedish research shows, it can rapidly reduce chemicals in the body. Magnér also says organic foods may help those exposed to pesticides in large quantities, like farmers, cut back on unneeded after-hours intake.
But do we overvalue eating organic? Not necessarily, says Moskovitz. “This statement is true when referring to nutritional value, but it is still better for the environment – which is important.”
All in all, this new research is simply more to consider.