A Stunning Before-and-After Proves Eating Organic is Best

Last Update: March 9, 2020

In case you needed more reasons to switch to an organic diet, here are five: parents Anette and Mats Palmberg, and their children, Vendela, Evelina, and Charlie.

The family, who lives in Switzerland, used to buy solely non-organic food. That changed when Swiss food distributor Coop studied earlier this year what would happen to the Palmbergs’ bodies if they went organic.

To kick off the experiment, urine samples from each family member were collected and tested to find out what effect the Palmbergs’ conventional diet had had on their bodies. What researchers found was scary: unusually high levels of insecticides, fungicides and plant growth regulators the urine of each family member—even the kids. In several cases, the median level of pesticide residue found was over the detection limit.

According to Consumer Reports, pesticide residue is found in many of the foods we eat—chemicals that invariably end up in our bodies.

“We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,” Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center, said in a statement earlier this year. “It’s not realistic to expect we wouldn’t have any pesticides in our bodies in this day and age, but that would be the ideal,” said Crupain. “We just don’t know enough about the health effects.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. In the Swiss study, researchers analyzed the Palmberg family’s urine for the presence of 12 pesticides.

Following urine testing for two weeks while the family ate what it always had, the family’s conventional food was swapped out with an all-organic diet. (Anette said the family had resisted organic food previously because of the higher price tag, and “we’re a big family.”) Some personal hygiene products and detergents were swapped with organic ones, and the family was told not to buy new clothes or bedding.

After a week of eating organically, researchers began a week’s worth of urine samples as the cleaner diet continued. By Day 21 of the experiment, an incredible thing had happened: nearly all the pesticides had vanished from the Palmbergs’ bodies.

The risk of pesticide residue in our food varies by product and country of origin. To reduce our ingestion of chemicals and the associated health risks, Consumer Reports recommends switching to an organic diet. For at least 10 foods, though, the group warns consumers to always look for the organic label because of the higher likelihood that pesticide residue will be present. Those foods include peaches, tangerines, nectarines, strawberries, cranberries, green beans, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

For the Palmberg family, the simple experiment forever changed their perspective on what they put on their dinner plates.

“When you hear this,” Anette said after the initial pesticides were found in the family’s bodies, “you think about your children. There were a whole number of chemicals removed from my kids’ bodies, and I don’t want them back.”

Photo credit: Chiot’s Run via Flickr

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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