Organic baby food is not necessarily better than traditional brands. Organic baby food can limit your baby’s exposure to pesticides and other potential contaminants in foods. However, most experts in pediatrics – including the American Academy of Pediatrics – say organic food is no safer or more nutritious than conventional foods.
Also, organic foods are significantly more expensive than traditional baby foods.
Organic foods are produced without conventional pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides organic seals for products that contain various percentages of organic ingredients. But the USDA makes no claims that organic foods are safer or more nutritious than non-organic foods.
Many factors may influence one’s decision to buy or not to buy organic food:
• Nutrition: No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food.
• Quality and appearance: Organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods. The difference lies in how the food is produced, processed and handled.
Organic fruits and vegetables may spoil faster because they are not treated with waxes or preservatives, and their appearances may appear less than perfect (odd shapes, varying colors, and possibly smaller sizes). In most cases, however, organic foods appear identical to conventional foods.
• Pesticides: Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and disease. When farmers spray pesticides, residue may remain on the produce. Some believe in buying organic food to limit their exposure to these residues, but most experts agree that the amount of pesticides on the fruit and vegetables poses a very small health risk.
• Environment: Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil.
• Costs: Most organic food costs more than traditional brands. Higher prices are due to more expensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields. Because organic farmers don’t use herbicides or pesticides, many management tools that control weeds and pests is labor intensive. For example, organic growers may hand-weed vegetables to control weeds, and as a result one may end up paying more for these vegetables.
• Taste: Some people believe that they can taste the difference between organic and non-organic foods. Others say they find no difference. Taste is a subjective and personal consideration, so one needs to decide for themselves. Finding the freshest foods available may have the biggest impact on taste.
Whether one purchases organic foods for their baby or not, it is important to shop wisely and handle foods safely and therefore to consider the following recommendations:
• Buy fruits and vegetables in season to ensure the highest quality. Also, try to buy the produce the day it is delivered to the market to ensure that it is the freshest possible. Inquire with the grocer on what day new produce arrives.
• Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it’s organic or contains organic ingredients, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
• Don’t confuse natural foods with organic foods. Only those products with the “USDA Organic” label have met USDA standards.
• Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water to reduce the amount of dirt, bacteria and pesticides. If appropriate, use a small scrub brush – for example, before eating apples, potatoes, cucumbers or other produce in which you eat the outer skin.
• If you’re concerned about pesticides, peel your fruits and vegetables and trim outer leaves of leafy vegetables in addition to washing them thoroughly. Keep in mind, peeling fruits and vegetables may also reduce the amount of nutrients and fiber. Some pesticide residue also collects in fat, so consider removing fat from meats and the skin from poultry and fish.
So, is organic baby food worth the extra expense? It’s up to the individual parent.
Some parents prefer organic baby food because it’s environmentally friendly. Others feel that it’s healthier or simply tastes better. But what’s most important is a balanced diet. Offering your child healthy foods from the beginning – whether they’re organic or not – will set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.