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Ask Dr. Sears: Organic Baby Food

Q. What is your opinion on feeding babies organic baby food? The produce in my local grocery store is most likely treated with pesticides, and in my area it is difficult to find a variety of fresh, organic produce. It's not convenient for me to make the baby food myself. Should I switch to the jarred organic kind?

A.
Yes. A few weeks ago, I participated in a childhood nutrition seminar at Harvard Medical School where health care providers from all over the country met to talk about improving children's health through nutrition. A main theme of this symposium was that for the first time in history consumers are beginning to look at food not only as nourishment, but as medicine. Over two thousand years ago, one of the first physicians, Hippocrates, advised: "Let food be your medicine." And in my opinion, the old doctor was right.

Pesticides have never been proven safe for children. Most pesticides have been tested only on animals and adults, with the results then translated to infants and children  -- meaning the safety levels are likely erroneous when it comes to the young. Most pesticides have a GRAS ("generally recognized as safe") label, but the use of the term "generally" suggests that the testing agencies are hedging their bets; they likely don't know for certain the specific safety levels for any age.

Exposure to pesticides is particularly harmful to infants because infants have a higher percentage of body fat than adults, and many pesticides collect in fat tissue. Infants also have rapidly growing cells, which are more prone to the toxic effects of pesticides than are fully grown ones. Scrubbing away the pesticides is not always an option, since scrubbing delicate fruits like strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries  -- some of the healthiest fruits for infants  -- is not very feasible. Here are some more issues to consider:

Organic food actually costs less. While you may think that paying the extra price for organic food is too much, it could save you medical costs later on. Pay the organic food manufacturer now, or pay the doctor later.

Could organic foods be healthier? While the jury is still out on this question, some preliminary evidence suggests that organic fruits and vegetables may be higher in nutrients. I especially advise buying organic meats, poultry, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.

Be sure to look for foods labeled "certified organic" or "certified organically grown." These labels have more credibility if they list the certifying agency, such as "California-certified organic." While "organic" doesn't necessarily guarantee that the food will be 100 percent pesticide-free, studies have shown that organic foods had much lower levels of pesticides than similar nonorganic ones.

When possible, try to make your own baby food with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. This shapes your baby's tastes toward preferring fresh foods over canned ones. But when fresh produce is not available, buying organic, jarred baby food is certainly a wise choice. Your baby is worth the extra cost and effort.

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