By Nancy Gottesman
Now that you have children, you probably give more consideration to the food you bring into your home. Is it nutritious? Is it kid-friendly? Is it safe? Many moms and dads in the U.S. are thinking along these same lines. Six years ago, only 29 percent of Americans purchased organic foods and drinks in natural food stores. Today, 49 percent do so. According to a prominent 2006 consumer-behavior study, one reason for the boom in the organics market is an increasing number of people like you: parents who are concerned about the effect of pesticides and other toxins on their children’s health.
What’s the difference?
Organic produce is grown without the use of pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetics or sewage sludge, bioengineering or irradiation. Organic meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products must come from antibiotic- and hormone-free animals. A product can be labeled “organic” only after the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects the farm where food is grown to certify that it meets these organic standards. In addition to the lack of toxins, organic foods are produced by farmers who practice soil and water conservation. “From an environmental standpoint, sustainable [organic] farming is better for the earth and improves animal welfare, which will ultimately benefi t all of us in the long term,” says Linda Somers, R.D., pediatric nutritionist at Children’s Mem
Children and pesticides
Although eating organic foods does indeed promote environmental health, perhaps the best argument for going organic is your child’s age and size. Toddlers take in two to four times more food per pound of body weight than the average adult; thus, they have the potential to ingest more pesticides per pound of body weight as well. “When a 20-pound toddler eats an apple, he gets six times the relative pesticide dose of a 120-pound adult,” explains Alan Greene, M.D., a pediatrician and assistant clinical professor, Division of General Pediatrics, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University School of Medicine. Research has shown that eating organic foods can limit that exposure. In one study, children in Seattle, age 2–4 years, were monitored as they ate different types of diets.
While eating the organic foods, the children’s urine samples showed nondetectable levels of pesticides commonly used in U.S. agricultural production. Once the children ate conventional foods (i.e., nonorganic) again, the concentration of pesticides increased substantially in their urine. Yet to be answered by the scientifi c community, however, is how serious a health risk ingesting pesticides or antibioticand hormone-laden meat and dairy products really is.
In the absence of solid evidence, experts recommend that you err on the side of caution, especially since we don’t know how pesticides affect developing brains and bodies. “If you have a choice between ingesting toxins or not, it makes sense to choose not to,” maintains Somers.
A little goes a long way
One hurdle to going organic is the cost. According to Consumer Reports, you’ll pay about 50 percent more on average for organic produce. But to benefi t your family’s health, you don’t need to buy organic everything. In fact, you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90 percent simply by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (see “Best Foods to Buy Organic,” left) and opting for the least contaminated ones instead.
Alternately, you could start slowly and purchase just a few items each week. Right now, only 23 percent of American consumers buy organic products on a weekly basis. “If we can get a lot of people to do a little, it will make a big difference,” maintains Greene. “Make one out of every 10 foods you buy organic. Pick one thing—apples, peaches or milk, for instance.”
Greene recommends joining a new campaign called Mission Organic 2010, in which you pledge to buy just one organic food for every ten items on your grocery list through the year 2010—just 10 percent of your cart! (See organic-center.org/about.join.html to sign up.) Here are two ways to make organic shopping easier— and cheaper—for you:
Think globally, eat locally
Organic products at your local farmers’ markets tend to be cheaper than those in the grocery stores. Visit ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets or localharvest.org to find a farmers’ market or food co-op near you.
Mail-order your organics
You can even shop online for organic meats and produce; some grocers offer next-day delivery anywhere in the U.S. For more information, visit theorganicpages.com.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TODDLER MAGAZINE, SPRING ‘07
Reasons why you should buy more organic food for your tot.