Pregnancy and Organic Food

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What is organic food?

Organic food is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as food grown without pesticides, weed killers, or chemical fertilizers, food that is not genetically modified, and food that does not contain added hormones or antibiotics, especially in the case of meat.

Image Credit: Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock

Is an organic diet the best choice during pregnancy?

An organic diet is said to be the best choice during pregnancy as it helps minimize the amount of inadvertent pesticide consumption, which can adversely affect the health of the mother and the baby.

One past study estimate that pregnant women who consumed organic food had a 58% lower chance of giving birth to a boy with a urogenital birth defect called hypospadias compared with mothers who did not adhere to an organic diet during pregnancy.

An organic diet also helps avoid consumption of antibiotics that are used in agricultural animals. Over the long term, bacteria in animals treated with antibiotics can become resistant to those antibiotics. A subsequent exposure to such bacteria may prove more difficult to treat in humans.

Organic foods are also supposed to contain no additives such as artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, which have been linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in kids according to some studies.

However, organic diets are not without disadvantages, one of which is their high cost compared to conventional foods. Organic foods also have poorer shelf lives, as they do not contain preservatives and they may not taste as good to some people compared to foods fortified with taste-enhancers.

Is organic food healthier for pregnant women?

Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study

In a follow-up study of 108,000 pregnant women recruited between 1999 and 2008 as part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, 65,000 women were questioned about their intake of 6 types of organic foods (vegetables, cereals, fruits, eggs, milk/dairy, and meat) during the first 4 months of their pregnancy.

The results showed that 1 in 10 pregnant women regularly consume organic food, including organic vegetables and eggs. Organic vegetable consumption was strongly associated with a lower chance of giving birth to a boy with hypospadias. About half of women reported that they never or seldom at organic foods; these women were more likely to give birth to boys with hypospadias. However, the study found no association between consumption of organic food by pregnant women and the prevalence of cryptorchidism, another birth defect commonly found in male infants.

According to the study, some characteristics of women who consumed organic food included low family income, low weight or BMI, and exercising a minimum of 3 times per week. Interestingly, the study concluded that organic food consumption during pregnancy is not uniquely associated with the most healthy group, which include those with the highest income and education.

Does organic food during pregnancy provide other health benefits?

Several other studies have shown that pregnant women who ate organic foods reported reduced incidence of preeclampsia compared with those who did not consume organic foods. Organic food consumption was also associated with a healthier pre-pregnancy BMI and lower incidence of gestational diabetes. That study concluded that intake of organic food during pregnancy is linked to several blood biomarkers and health-related characteristics.

One final study that aimed at determining the link between organic food intake during pregnancy and macro- and micronutrient consumption. It was found that women who consumed organic food had different lifestyles overall. They were more likely to consume more vegetarian foods including soya, vegetables, fruits, and legumes and less likely to consume animal products including dairy and meat, than those eating conventional foods. These differences in dietary patterns translate into various levels of macro- and micronutrient intake, including higher carotene, retinol, folate, and tocopherol intake, and lower intake of vitamin B12 and D and some trans-fatty acids in the organic food cohort.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 19, 2018

Susha Cheriyedath

Written by

Susha Cheriyedath

Susha is a scientific communication professional holding a Master's degree in Biochemistry, with expertise in Microbiology, Physiology, Biotechnology, and Nutrition. After a two-year tenure as a lecturer from 2000 to 2002, where she mentored undergraduates studying Biochemistry, she transitioned into editorial roles within scientific publishing. She has accumulated nearly two decades of experience in medical communication, assuming diverse roles in research, writing, editing, and editorial management.

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