You may have read the term "organic" above foods in your supermarket, but is it worth the sometimes higher sticker price to give these foods to your family rather than conventional items? No evidence proves that organic food is better than conventional food, but organic food is void of chemicals and pesticides that are linked to certain types of cancers and may affect a child's developing body and brain.
According to organic.org, the term "organic" means that produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or radiation. And animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs or dairy do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
"Research states that 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used in this country every year, and non-organic produce is four times more likely than organic to contain some level of residue," says Allison Enke, Whole Foods Market registered dietitian. "Organic is a great choice for families looking to feed their children the most environmentally friendly food possible."
Though hormones and chemicals in non-organic food are small, research shows that they can be potentially damaging when people are exposed to it in high concentrations or in low concentrations for an extended period. These chemicals and hormones, such as estrogen, have been shown to cause certain cancers and are suspected of contributing to early puberty in children.
Switching children to an organic diet drastically reduces their exposure to organophosphates, a class of pesticides that includes the common and toxic malathion and chlorpyrifos, which affect the nervous system, according to Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit organization that works to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides. Beyond Pesticides cites studies conducted by Environmental Health Perspectives where children's urine was tested for organophosphorus pesticides to analyze whether eating an organic diet substantially decreases exposure. The results indicated that for certain types of pesticides, such as organophosphates, diet is the primary route of exposure and switching to an organic diet decreases exposure substantially.
While eating organic spares you and your family from chemicals in your food, it is a misconception that the term "organic" means that everything is healthy. And according to Enke, it all depends on your family's definition of "healthy."
"There's organic sugar, organic butter, organic cookies, organic lots of things," she says. "Also, organic is an agricultural standard that doesn't address nutritional factors."
Some families can't afford to purchase only organic foods, but it is the overall diet of the child and enjoying a wide variety of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, that matter the most, says Jennifer Christman, nutrition manager for Medifast Inc.
Beyond Pesticides says it's most important to purchase organic food for products that your children consume in great quantitiy. For example, if children drink a lot of juice, purchasing organic juice is particularly important to reduce their pesticide exposure.
Most importantly, if you decide to make the "organic switch," make sure to check labels. If food is simply labeled "organic," only 95 percent of the ingredients in the product qualify as organic. If the food is labeled "certified organic," 100 percent of the ingredients are organic.
"In general, we want children to eat a well-balanced diet. This includes making half of the lunch and dinner plate vegetables and fruit," says Kristi L. King, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "We want to aim for lean meats and protein sources as well as include three servings of dairy per day to help them meet their calcium and vitamin D needs."