Organic: If you're a parent or you're expecting, this word likely passes your lips regularly. It describes produce that is grown without potentially harmful pesticides. Sure, many experts insist such chemicals are safe. But with a baby in the house or on the way, you're probably more vigilant about what goes into your body and your child's, and with good reason. "Babies eat more than adults, pound for pound, and are more vulnerable to environmental toxins," says Alan Greene, MD, pediatrician and author of Raising Baby Green.
To lower your chemical load, you don't need to take an all-or-nothing approach. Start with a change or two based on what your family regularly eats. These seven staples are a good beginning.
Organic milk can cost about 50 percent more than conventional milk costs. But, Dr. Greene says, "If you want to make just one change, this is it." Conventional milk contains antibiotics and artificial hormones, as well as pesticides. Experts worry that all these hormones could kick-start early puberty, considering how much milk kids drink on a daily basis. Plus, recent research from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom found that, compared with conventional milk, organic milk contains significantly higher levels of heart-healthy fatty acids and antioxidants.
Potatoes make the Dirty Dozen list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit devoted to food safety, meaning that potatoes are one of the 12 most pesticide-contaminated fruits or vegetables (see slide 9 for the complete list). The EWG also found that 81 percent of potatoes still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled. Kids take in plenty of spuds as french fries -- another reason to limit their consumption. Adults, too, love the taters: According to one survey, they account for 30 percent of all veggies eaten by adults.
If PB&J sandwiches are a lunchtime favorite with your kids, it may be time to try an organic spread. "The pesticides used on peanuts are found to be especially toxic," Dr. Greene says. What's more, since 1996 there's been a dramatic rise in peanut allergies. Genetically modified soy may cross over into the peanut crop, he adds, which could account for this upswing.
"Our body and brain grow faster from birth to age 3 than at any other time," Dr. Greene says, adding that "if you're going to pick only one time to go organic, it should be from conception to age 3." Kate Clow, of Chatham, New Jersey, adheres to this rule: "I try to give Owen, my 10-month-old, all organic because he's so young, but for the older girls, who are almost 3 and 5, I avoid just the Dirty Dozen."
The average American consumed 94 pounds of tomatoes in 2006, mainly in the form of tomato juice, tomato paste, and ketchup. Kids love this condiment: It makes the perfect dip for everything from veggies to eggs. It's superhealthy, too, as it's the number-one source of lycopene, a nutrient that helps to lower the risk for cancer and heart disease. Research has found that organic ketchups are 57 percent higher in lycopene than their conventional counterparts and dish up double the antioxidants. Also notable is what most organic ketchups don't have: sugar and artificial flavors -- which is why Erica LePore, a Kingstown, Rhode Island, mom of three, buys the organic variety.
If yours is like most American homes, the fridge is stocked with apples, applesauce, and apple juice. This fruit is the most commonly eaten after bananas and the second most commonly used in juices after oranges. However, apples are second on the Dirty Dozen list. What's more, the organic version has been found to have higher levels of disease-fighting polyphenols and other phytonutrients, Dr. Greene says.
Antibiotics are used to promote growth in livestock, and those drugs may make it into your system too. And most American beef comes from cattle that is corn- or grain-fed, which is not healthy for us. Organic, grass-fed beef tends to be leaner and has five times the omega-3 fats, which are good for the heart. Organic beef can be tough to find. To locate organic beef in your area, visit organicconsumers.org or your local farmers' market.
The Dirty Dozen
These earn the distinction as the most contaminated by pesticides; buy organic when possible!
* Sweet bell peppers
* Grapes (imported)
Source: Environmental Working Group
Be a Savvy Shopper
You can stay on budget and feed your family purer foods. "If you shop the sales and buy store-name brands, you can really keep costs down," says LePore. While she's loyal to some specific organic brands, she also stocks up on items from the Whole Foods Market 365 line. "Some of their products cost less than the nonorganic versions," she says, "and they taste very good." Other grocery stores are recognizing consumers' demands for more affordable options, and stores like Albertson's, Shaw's/Star Market, and Cub Foods introduced the Wild Organics line this spring. It features items ranging from milk, eggs, meat, and fresh produce to cookies, crackers, and juice.
Originally published in the September 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.