The marketing of organic foods to pregnant women is on the rise.
Organic foods are increasingly available in many grocery stores, and even in some convenience stores. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), when foods are labeled organic, they are produced through methods that protect the environment, they are not genetically engineered or grown with the use of pesticides, and they arrive at the market preservative-free. The organic foods most commonly consumed are organic eggs, fruits and vegetables.
However, the scientific data to support claims that organic foods are healthier — whether you are pregnant or not — are not based upon much scientific data. In fact, organic foods may not be any more nutritious as far as their vitamin and nutrient content than other fresh foods that are grown by conventional methods.
Scientific analysis of the benefits of organic foods in pregnancy is scarce. Many of the studies on organic foods in the diet have been confounded by the fact that individuals who tend to consume organic foods also tend to have healthier lifestyle habits — including exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and making sound choices regarding nutrition.
This makes it unclear if the better health associated with eating organic is related to organic foods themselves or all the other benefits of leading a healthy life — or both.
It is known that pesticides in foods that pregnant women consume do make their way to the growing baby in utero.
However, the effects of these chemicals on the growing fetus’s future health are unknown. Be aware that organic foods can still be contaminated with bacteria that can harm a growing pregnancy, so whether you buy organic or not you should wash all fruits and vegetables well, especially those that are eaten without first cooking.
Organic foods are generally more expensive than other foods, but they are often more delicious as well! Because they go from farm to market without any preservatives, they tend to be fresher. If you can spare the extra money for them, there certainly is no harm, and there are environmental benefits.
Going organic may provide some health benefits for you and your baby, but these benefits are not yet proven. What is proven: Having a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is important in pregnancy — and you should eat foods in their most natural and unprocessed forms.
The best advice: Don’t let eating organic foods limit your choices or the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume, but do enjoy organic foods if you are able to include them in your diet.
Hope Ricciotti, MD, is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, and practices obstetrics/ gynecology at the Dimock Community Health Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. She is the Interim Chair in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where she is also the Residency Program Director.