Your baby’s health and growth are directly related to what you put into your body, so you’ll want to ensure you’re eating the right nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. But is an organic diet the answer? Melissa Kidd of environmental charity the Soil Association says people are turning to an organic diet for many reasons: “Because they believe it is healthier and tastier, as well as better for the environment and for animal welfare.”
Is organic food the right choice?
However, the benefit of organic food is a hotly debated topic. Some studies say it is more nutritious, while other research has found little or no difference in the nutrient levels of organic and conventionally produced food. Dr Joanne Lunn of the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) feels that it can’t as yet be concluded that there are significant nutritional differences, but as long as you’re getting your 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, an organic diet is perfectly viable.
One thing that certainly is true however, is that organic foods contain fewer chemicals. To be recognised as a certified producer of organic food, farmers must meet specific standards, one of which is that they can only use 7 types of pesticide on crops, compared with the 350 that conventional farmers have access to! Instead, organic farmers rely on methods like rotating crops and weeding by hand. Animals are treated for parasites and illness using natural herbal remedies in place of antibiotics too. And the fewer chemicals used in the production of food, the fewer chemical residues we will consume when the food reaches our table – which has to be a good thing!
Reaping the benefits: before pregnancy
Modern methods of farming and food production rob the soil of nutrients, resulting in foods lacking in the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy conception. What’s more, processed and packaged foods are high in sugar, which can upset blood sugar levels and cause an increase in oestrogen – and high levels of this hormone can affect fertility. Certain chemicals used in pesticides can even cause damage to your partner’s sperm, so eating organically together before you try for a baby gives you the best possible start.
Reaping the benefits: during pregnancy
The placenta has amazing filtering properties, shielding your baby from harmful nasties you may ingest. But this doesn’t give you free rein to consume anything. Researchers have discovered that some pesticides manage to slip through the placenta and are passed on to your baby, and a foetus isn’t developed enough to get rid of chemicals. In fact, pesticides have been found in amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood and breast milk. Eating organically while pregnant helps to keep your baby’s world (your womb) clear of chemicals, allowing her to grow properly and healthily.
Reaping the benefits: after pregnancy
Pregnancy and childbirth uses up a lot of energy, and a balanced organic diet can help you recover fast. Eating organic reduces he risk that you pass chemicals to your baby via your breast milk too.
Pound for pound, babies eat more food than adults, so any pesticide residue in baby food may have the potential to affect infants slightly more than adults. Also, babies don’t have the mature immune system to fight off any potential nasties in conventional foods. Certified organic baby foods are made without the use of synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilisers and you may want to consider buying organic fruit and vegetables when making purees too.
How to reduce your exposure to chemicals in conventional foods
- Wash and rinse all fruit and veg well. Special washes and scrubbing brushes can be used to ensure all chemical residues, human handling contaminants and waxes are removed. To make your own wash, try rubbing produce with a little baking soda or vinegar – just remember to rinse very well!
- Peel fruit and veggies and discard the outer layers of food like lettuce, cabbage and onion. Although the chemicals used in conventional farming can absorb into the produce too, removing the outer layer can dramatically reduce the amount you consume.
- Certain foods have higher levels of contamination, so choose organic varieties of apples, strawberries, peaches, grapes, cherries, blackberries, green beans, squash, spinach, pears and tomatoes.
- Buy domestic produce instead of food that’s imported. Other countries have different pesticide regulations, plus buying domestically helps support local farmers, organic or conventional.
- When it comes to meat, remove visible fat and remove skin from poultry: pesticides and chemicals can accumulate in fatty tissues. For this reason, you may also want to buy organic butter, milk and cheese, or choose low-fat dairy products.