The organic debate is a heated one:
Is it really any better?
Does it really make a difference?
Is it worth the money?
Yes, yes and yes.
But, don’t take our word for it. Let’s talk numbers.
A groundbreaking meta-analysis found organic produce to be:
~20-70% higher in antioxidants (depending on type of antioxidant) than conventional produce [The observation of higher antioxidant levels in organic produce has been replicated in other multi-year studies as well].
4x lower in pesticides than conventional produce
Lower in heavy metals (cadmium specifically) than conventional produce
In terms of organic animal products:
Organic milk was found to have a more desirable fatty acid composition than conventional milk, including higher omega 3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid
Both organic milk and meat contain ~50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products
Organic meat and dairy also cannot contain synthetic hormones (e.g., rBGH), which have been associated with an increased risk of breast, colon and prostate cancers (though the research is inconclusive to date)
Basically, organic produce and animal products are higher in antioxidants and omega 3 fats and lower in pesticides and heavy metals. Why should you care?
Aside from the broad health benefits of antioxidants and omega 3 fats and the potential health detriments of pesticides and heavy metals, these factors are particularly relevant for fertility and pregnancy because...
Antioxidants boost egg and sperm health: Both egg and sperm quality can be improved by key antioxidants (e.g., CoQ10, vitamin E), which reduce oxidative stress.
Omega 3 fats support cardiovascular, immune and neurodevelopmental health: Omega-3s are linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk as well as an improvement in neurological and immune development and function. They also support a baby’s brain development during pregnancy.
Pesticides are linked to low sperm parameters: One study found that “...men who ate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residue...had 49 percent lower sperm count and 32 percent lower percentage of normal sperm than men who ate the least...”. In addition, several studies have found elevated rates of infertility among farm workers exposed to high amounts of pesticides.
I hope it’s clear that the benefits of organic food are substantial.
Beyond that, I think it’s important to recognize that the “organic” distinction is relatively new one. A few hundred years ago, EVERYTHING was organic. Our ancestors were all eating organic produce and animal products - that’s all there was. Their food was unadulterated by pesticides and antibiotics and hormones and genetic modification. Food was just..food. No distinctions, delineations or labels.
In fact, there is nothing “conventional” about conventional produce and animal products. We didn’t evolve eating pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and GMO’s. These are all relatively new to our system...and we aren’t assimilating them so well.
So, I’d invite you to reframe this discussion about organic. It’s not really a question of whether organic is better for our bodies or not. It’s a question of public policy (how our agricultural standards and subsidies will evolve) and a question of personal choice (how you choose to spend your agricultural dollars).
And, until we have more widespread policy changes, it’s up to you to decide how much of a priority organic food will be in your spending budget. This will be different for everyone and will depend on several variables (e.g., access to organic food, price constraints, health status). It's not about being 100% organic 100% of the time...but it is about being an informed consumer and making proactive choices with the information and resources that you do have.