Still, just because an apple is organic doesn’t guarantee the farmer hasn’t piled on the nitrogen, thereby reducing its antioxidant concentrations while increasing its calories, Benbrook says. Some studies, including a 2012 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, have found that organic and non-organic produce don’t vary greatly in terms of nutrients. While, in general, organic crops may be more nutrient-dense than conventional crops, an organic seal isn’t proof they will be. It just proves the crops were grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering or chemical fertilizers.
So, Can Pesticides Mess With Your Weight?
The average American is exposed to 10 to 13 pesticide residues per day, including one to three highly toxic pesticides called organophosphates. Organic production reduces average overall dietary exposure by 97 percent, according to research from The Organic Center, a nonprofit research and educational organization.
Benbrook notes that while research doesn’t show that being exposed to those pesticides as an adult will affect your metabolic health or weight, if you eat conventional produce during your pregnancy or feed conventional produce to your child during his first two years, it may affect his future weight. Research inPLOS One and Environmental Health Perspectives have linked chemical pesticide exposure to increased body mass indexes in children and increased weight, abdominal fat and insulin resistance in rodents.
“During fetal development and then through age 2, humans are sensitive to epigenetic changes,” Benbrook says. “Some pesticides during this time can up-regulate the child’s ‘thrifty’ genes so that [the child] grows up laying on fat.”
Defenders of conventional crops say, however, that any pesticide residue found on produce is too small to have real impact – whether on your overall health or your weight.
“I really don’t think that the levels we are exposed to pose a risk. We can detect pesticide residues in food supply many levels of magnitude lower than what would cause harm,” says Carl Winter, a pesticide and food toxin expert at the University of California–Davis.
Still, if you want to limit your pesticide exposure, the best place to start is with the nonprofitEnvironmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen. The EWG estimates that when it comes to buying the 12 foods on the list, you can reduce your pesticide exposure by 80 percent if you reach for organic varieties.
Either Way, You Still Need More Produce
Organic or not, filling up on fruits and veggies is consistently linked to weight loss.
“Vegetables and fruit are integral for weight loss because they provide volume for very few calories,” says registered dietitian Georgie Fear, author of “Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.” The most important factor in successfully losing weight is how much of them you eat not how they were grown, she says. “I’d rather have people eat larger amounts of conventional produce than smaller amounts of organic produce,” Winter adds.
So how much produce do you need? “Each person’s recommendations are going to be individualized based on age, gender and activity level. However, in general, it will be between 4 and 6 cups of fruits and vegetables per day,” says registered dietitian Kristi King, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Aim to make half of your plate at lunch and dinner fruits and vegetables, and you should be on the right track.”
And if you consume a variety of colors while you’re at it, you’ll score a variety of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, too.