The organic food industry is a booming business, and it’s expected to grow even larger in the near future. While some consumers buy organic because they believe it’s better for the environment, even more do so for health-related reasons, according to one 2016 survey.
What, exactly, are the health benefits of going organic? That depends on who you ask and which studies you consult. But if you do choose to buy organic foods, here are some science-backed bonuses you’re likely to get in return.
Fewer pesticides and heavy metals
Fruits, vegetables and grains labeled organic are grown without the use of most synthetic pesticides or artificial fertilizers. While such chemicals have been deemed safe in the quantities used for conventional farming, health experts still warn about the potential harms of repeated exposure.
A 2014 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organically grown crops were not only less likely to contain detectable levels of pesticides, but because of differences in fertilization techniques, they were also 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that accumulates in the liver and kidneys.
More healthy fats
When it comes to meat and milk, organic products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, than conventionally produced products, according to a 2016 study, organic milk tested in the study also had less saturated fat than non-organic.
These differences may come from the way organic livestock is raised, with a grass-fed diet and more time spent outdoors, say the study’s authors. They believe that switching from conventional to organic products would raise consumers’ omega-3 intake without increasing overall calories or saturated fat.
No antibiotics or synthetic hormones
Conventional livestock can be fed antibiotics to protect against illness, making it easier for farmers to raise animals in crowded or unsanitary conditions. The FDA limited the use of certain antibiotics for livestock earlier this year, but loopholes in the legislation still exist. And with the exception of poultry, conventionally raised animals can also be injected with synthetic growth hormones, so they’ll gain weight faster or produce more milk.
More antioxidants, in some cases
In a recent six-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers found that organic onions had about a 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown onions. They also theorized that previous analyses—several of which have found no difference in conventional versus organic antioxidant levels—may have been thwarted by too-short study periods and confounding variables like weather.
The bottom line
Organic products are more expensive than conventional ones, and whether they’re really worth the extra cost is certainly a matter of choice. If people eat eggs, dairy and meat, it is also recommended buying those organic.