Should You Buy Organic Food?

Over the years, you’ve likely heard mixed messages about whether it’s worth it—financially, nutritionally or from an overall health standpoint—to choose organic over conventionally produced foods. As going organic has become a popular trend and big business—the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reports the US market for organic foods and beverages continues to grow and reached $29.22 billion in 2011—it’s likely parents often wonder if they should replace some or all of the conventionally-produced foods they usually buy with organic versions. If the answer were that simple!

While the health and environmental effects of organic and conventionally-produced foods will continue to be researched and debated among health experts, a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  suggests the following, as outlined in a press release:

  • While organic and conventional foods have the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients, organic foods also have lower pesticide levels, which may be significant for children (who are especially vulnerable to their effects);
  • Organically raised animals are less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria; that’s because organic farming rules prohibit non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics;
  • Because no large human studies have been performed, we don’t yet know whether long-term consumption of an organic diet improves health or lowers disease risk.

According to the AAP report, the bottom line when it comes to kids’ overall diet is that they should aim for a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat or fat-free dairy products, whether organic or conventional. Dave Grotto*, RD, author of “The Best Things You Can Eat” agrees. He says, “I usually spend my time talking to parents about what foods are most important for kids to eat rather than how they were grown.” Grotto says that, in fact, most research on the health benefits of fruits, vegetables and whole grains used conventionally grown—rather than organic—produce and grains. When asked his advice to parents about buying organic versus conventional foods to feed their kids, Grotto says, “It’s a personal choice. Either way you go is great as long as your kids are fitting in nutrient-rich foods to meet their food group and nutrient needs.”

Another registered dietitian, Melinda Hemmelgarn, who consults with Organic Valley, a cooperative of organic family farmers based in LaFarge, WI, says that while she fed her now-grown children conventional food, thinking there was no difference, she would have invested in organic food if she knew then what she knows now. When asked why, Hemmelgarn says, “As a consumer, buying organic food is my best guarantee that the food I put on my family’s table will be free of genetically engineered ingredients (never tested for long term safety on humans or the environment), artificial hormones, antibiotics and significantly reduced pesticide residues.” Her extensive experience as member of two organic farming boards taught her that organic farming can protect children today and in the future by helping to preserve functioning antibiotics, protect soil and water quality, and reduce the impact of climate change.

When asked if any foods were more worth it than others to buy organic, especially for parents who have budget constraints, Hemmelgarn says it’s most important to choose organic options for foods higher up on the food chain like meat and milk—especially because kids tend to drink a lot of milk.  “But fruits and vegetables matter too.”

When it comes to produce, registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak* recommends following the advice of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and to buy organic versions of fruits and vegetables that are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen PlusTM list (produce that contains the most pesticides). Kuzemchak says, “Because kids’ bodies are much smaller than ours, chemical pesticides become more concentrated.”  This list includes apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines (imported), peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, kale/collard greens and summer squash. Kuzemchak also says parents can feel comfortable choosing produce from the EWG’s Clean 15TM list (produce that contains the least pesticides). This list includes asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet peas (frozen) and sweet potatoes.

Do you feed your kids organic food? Why or why not?

Image of organic food via shutterstock.

Disclosures: David Grotto is a current spokesperson for California Strawberries who represents both organic and conventional growers; Sally Kuzemchak is a current spokesperson for ALDI and serves on the Applegate Meat & Cheese Board; and I am a current spokesperson for Got Milk?.

 Get healthy finger food recipes your tot will love, here.

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