organic food

Organic Foods: Are They Safer For Our Kids?

Walking through the supermarket, you’ve probably noticed more varieties of organic foods than ever.  As parents you may ask yourself, “Should I buy organic food for my family?”  “Are organic foods safer and healthier than their conventional counterparts?” The answers to these questions have be a long standing debate for years with health experts and consumers.  Unfortunately, the controversy continues as research has not provided us with any concrete answers.   A recent study conducted by Stanford University concluded that, “published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”   However, the study did conclude that organic food may have some safety advantages.

Why buy organic?
When determining whether to choose conventional or organic food, it is important to understand what organic means.  In order to be labeled an “organic” product, food must meet the standards established by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA).  These products must be grown without: pesticides, fertilizer made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, herbicides, antibiotics, bioengineering, hormones, and irradiation. Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and be feed 100% organic feed products and cannot be given any growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs.
Consumers often choose organic foods because they feel they are safer due to the lack of additives. Organic foods are safer for the environment as these practices are designed to be more sustainable, emphasizing conservation and reducing pollutants.

Is organic right for you?
Choosing to buy organic foods is a personal decision based on your family’s needs and values.  Organic foods are more expensive than their conventional counterparts.  The higher cost is a result of organic farming practices designed to meet USDA standards.

If price is a concern, you can buy organic without overspending by being “selective” on the types of organic products you buy, such as buying fruits and vegetables in season and from a variety of sources.  Visit local farmers’ markets to find vendor’s that use organic methods.

The FDA offers the following tips to help reduce pesticide residues for conventional or organic produce or meats:

•    Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce to prevent the spread of bacteria.
•    Cut away damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
•    Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm running tap water and scrub with a brush when appropriate.  There is no need to use soap or produce wash.
•    Wash produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
•    Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria.
•    Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
•    Trim the fat or skin from meat, poultry and fish.

What really matters:
The most important message is that parents should promote a healthy lifestyle for their family.  For parents this means offering a well-balanced diet to their children which includes all food groups.  Providing healthy food choices which maximize overall nutritional value is a better option than buying organic, particularly if a family’s food budget would limit healthy offerings due to the increased expense of organic items.

Alexis Klenke, RD, LD
Alexis Klenke is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Alexis is Certified in Pediatric Weight Management through the American Dietetic Association.

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