Should Pregnant Mothers Eat an Organic Diet?

Published on 07/14/21

It happened! You’re pregnant! Now, what do you do? What do you eat; what don’t you eat; what do you wear? There can be so many questions, especially for first-time moms! Since what we eat and drink directly affects the baby, what we decide to put in our bodies during pregnancy is of the utmost importance. Nutrition can be confusing, though, right? Even for the regular dieter. Like everything else, there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. Some say an organic diet is the best way to go and some say conventional food is just as good and less expensive. 

So is organic food worth it? Let’s weigh out the differences.

In terms of processing, organic foods are much better for our environment. There are fewer GMOs, pesticides, and preservatives. With that being said, we are exposed to those factors all throughout our lives. Is an organic diet really a better way to protect our babies, and a wiser way to spend our money? 

Here are a few things to note when considering an organic diet during pregnancy.

What does organic mean?

The word “organic” has layers of meaning. For us, it means “natural.” For the USDA, or the U.S Department of Agriculture, it has deeper standards. This has to do with how the food is grown, processed, and dealt with interim. Organic food, by USDA definition, uses only natural fertilizers, organic pesticides, and natural weed killers. It cannot contain any GMOs, and like most meats, cannot be pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. 

To just think organic is always 100% natural and organic… it turns out that’s a bit tricky! If your food is labeled 100% organic, you can guarantee it contains only certified organic ingredients. If your food is just labeled as organic, only 95% has to be organically produced with natural ingredients. This does not include water or salt. If your food is labeled as “made with organic ingredients” the standard is that the ingredients can be made with no less than 70% of organic ingredients. If your food has a label on the side that says organic, but not labeled on the main label as organic, those ingredients only have to be 50% organic.

Layers, am I right?

The benefits of an organic diet

Eating foods void of chemicals helps you reduce the risk of anything harmful passing to your baby in the developmental stage. One of the best pieces of advice is to eat foods, specifically produce, that are in season and that will help you and the baby absorb some of the best benefits that food has to offer. That means potassium, fiber, folic acid, etc. In-season foods, no matter how you buy them, are always going to be fresh in comparison to off-season fruits and veggies. 

Organic foods are thought to have less cadmium. Cadmium is a type of heavy metal that has been linked to cancer and is harmful to the kidneys. In return, they have higher antioxidants than conventional foods, have even fewer preservatives, and are more fresh. 

When you buy dairy and meat products, organic means more Omega-3 Fatty acids, especially in meat and milk.

Nutrition science and organic versus conventional foods discussions are still ongoing and fairly new. However, research has shown the following to be true for mothers who are pregnant and considering an organic diet. 

Antibiotics, Pesticides, and Additives

Organic foods help you avoid certain things that can be considered harmful: antibiotics, pesticides, and additives.

Antibiotics: There’s a lot of research that states antibiotics given to animals make certain bacteria immune to those antibiotics. Therefore, if someone eats an animal that is not cooked properly, they could become ill with this antibiotic-resistant bacteria and it may become hard to cure or impossible. 

Pesticides: One of the main benefits of organic foods is the absence of pesticides. This is also an ongoing study, but there are two sides to the argument. One side deems it entirely safe, and the other side states that people who consume a popular weed-killer called glyphosate, which is used on food, is considered carcinogenic for humans. Decreasing conventional foods means decreasing the exposure to possible carcinogenic pesticides. 

However, just because a food is deemed organic, it doesn’t always mean it’s free of pesticides. They do not use heavy or synthetic pesticides but use naturally produced pesticides. These natural pesticides are linked to fewer health issues than synthetic ones. 

Products labeled as organic are void of herbicides, sewage-based fertilizers, GMOs, and synthetic pesticides.

Additives: Additives are the topic of serious controversy. When eating organically, we’re choosing to avoid artificial flavorings, preservatives, and coloring. Some of these are linked to behavior problems, mostly in children.

The cons of an organic diet

We know the number one con with an organic diet is cost. Organic foods can rack up close to double the price, but there’s more than that. As much as organic is sold to you as a “diet” food, it is not. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthier or more nutritious. It’s a common misconception that organic means less dense calories and are known to not be supportive of a healthy weight. The only way to know is to check the labels and read the ingredients. 

Not only are they sometimes less healthy, but they’re not even as delicious! You’re paying a higher price for the same taste quality. Because they are organic, and most of them don’t contain preservatives, they have a very short shelf life in comparison. 

So don’t buy something just because it is labelled organic. Organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy and may contain other things that are bad for your health. Also, remember to wash everything to remove all dirt.

There are specific foods you should aim for to be organic. When it comes to fruits and veggies, look for dark leafy vegetables like spinach, or tomatoes, broccoli, and bell peppers. Apples, melons, and mangoes are good options for fruits. Look for whole-wheat or grain products and all meats, as well.

What should you look for in certain foods?

Just because fruits and vegetables are, well, fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t mean they are “green”. Yes, they may contain more nutrients than an Oreo, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t stock full of pesticides. Some of the foods known to have the most pesticides in them are:

  • Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Bell and hot peppers
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Green beans

These foods should have you going straight for the organic aisle. For foods that aren’t high on the pesticide list, and can be eaten as non-organic are:

  • Sweet corn
  • Onions
  • Pineapples
  • Avocados
  • Papayas
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Honeydew melon
  • Cantaloupe

Benefits of an organic diet while pregnant

This is a study that is always ongoing, but research has found some benefits even with the limited data we have available.

There have been links to hypospadias if a baby is exposed to organochlorine pesticides through its mother’s food or general environmental exposure. Organic foods reduce the risk of cryptorchidism and hypospadias with less exposure to organochlorine pesticides and cadmium. The exact cause is unknown, but there are many factors that have been deemed responsible. 

An organic diet is also thought to decrease the risk of preeclampsia, which happens in up to 10% of pregnancies. It’s not known exactly why, but the reduced exposure to pesticides seems to change gut bacteria.

Reducing pesticides on our own

The number one way to reduce pesticides is by washing our vegetables and fruits. Washing our foods in water helps to remove most of the pesticides from the food. This is an alternative method for reducing the amount of pesticides on your produce if you cannot grow your own produce or buy organic because it’s more expensive.

All in all, an organic diet while pregnant is ideal

An organic diet while pregnant definitely has its benefits. Some are nutrition-based benefits and some are non-nutritional. In whole, The risk of exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is minimal when you’re buying from a store you trust. 

Pesticides become more of a problem or are more risky if the food is being bought from a farm that is unregulated and does not follow the right protocols for safe use. 

The choice a mother has to go all organic in her diet is her choice alone. Both diets are entirely safe as long as they meet the required standards for consumption, and are washed properly. 

It is always a good idea to go for more organic foods, especially during pregnancy. Take note of suggestions like in-season fruits and vegetables. Go organic when the fruit is known to be inundated with pesticides and make sure all is fresh!

The word “organic” isn’t a safe haven from bad things that may happen. All foods have their own risks. Make sure to follow the rules whether you buy organic or conventional foods. Make sure to wash your produce, fully cook your fish, poultry, and meat and everything will be okay!

If you have questions about an organic diet while pregnant, call Rosh MFM in NYC!

For all your prenatal and pregnancy concerns, the team at Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine can support you through all your pregnancy needs. 

Talk to our team by phone or contact us today to get started. Call one of our six convenient NYC locations or request an appointment today. Come visit your NYC Maternal and Fetal Medicine Specialists for the safest possible care for you.