Health Benefits of Organic Food for Children

We often hear that organic, and especially certified organic food is healthier for children, but what are the actual benefits? Overall, the growing, sourcing and handling practices that are used in producing organic fruit, vegetables, dairy and meats are aimed at providing products that are cleaner and closer to the way they were grown before mass (conventional) farming became routine.

Conventional farming aims for consistency and robustness, which means that every single apple or tomato looks identical, perfect on the shelf, lasts a long time without going bad, and there is less wasted during collection.

With organic foods, the opposite is true. Organic foods tend to be more “natural” looking, which means it may not be as perfect or robust as conventional foods, and there is more that doesn’t get used. The upside, as some agree, is the taste.

Free from pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals

One of the biggest advantages of organic produce is that there are restrictions on the use of organic chemicals used in the growing phase, including herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

In conventional farming, these are used control problems such as insect infestations, weeds and plant diseases. But the big problem is that these chemicals leave behind residues that get carried over into the plants and eventually into foods.

For children, pesticide and organic chemical residues are toxic to the brain [1], causing delays in cognitive development, which can impact on their learning progress. There is also evidence of links to cancer formation [2].

Free from synthetic fertilizers

Conventional fertilizers are made in factories and added the soil to accelerate plant growth. One of the problems of these chemicals is that they may not contribute to soil quality, shift the natural biological profile of the soil. They also present a sustainability problem because they use a significant amount of fossil fuels to produce.

Organic growing practices increasingly rely on organic fertilizers. These are derived from natural products like decomposed plant matter, returning to the soil like the way leaf litter in a forest becomes composted over time. They are also released more slowly than conventional fertilizers.

Evidence has shown that tomatoes produced with bioorganic fertilizers had better yields, improved vitamin C levels and the soil they grew in showed improved soil microbes, indicating more optimal soil fertility [3]

Heavy metals and other pollutants

Another advantage of organic farming practices is their control of pollutants including heavy metals and petroleum residues from industrial processes that enter the air and accumulate in the soil. Examples of farming areas that are of concern are places located near operating or disused factories, places with heavy air and car traffic activity, and waste disposal sites.

Heavy metals are well known as having neurotoxic effects. A good example is the correlation between lead and cognitive decline in infants and children [4].

Organic food production aims to minimize the levels of heavy metals and other pollutants in foods, through locating farms in cleaner areas, using sustainable soil and water practices, and avoiding the use of chemicals.

An extensive research review of 343 published studies has found that organic plants and foods that use them are around 60% higher in important antioxidants and around 50% lower in toxic heavy metals compared to conventional crops and crop-based foods [5] .

  1. Council On Environmental Health. Pediatrics. 2012 Dec;130(6):e1757-63.
  2. Alavanya et al. Annu Rev Public Health. 2004; 25:155-97.
  3. Ye et al. Sci Rep. 2020 Jan 13;10(1):177.
  4. Delgado et al. J Public Health Manag Pract. Mar/Apr 2018;24(2):e10-e17.
  5. Baranski et al. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794-811.