Has a trip to the grocery store ever left you wondering: Is buying organic really worth the higher price? And what does “all natural” really mean anyway? The variety of “green” products has skyrocketed with options ranging from organic skincare lines to biodynamically grown jams. No wonder consumers are confused by the terminology and benefits of these products. Is this just another fad?
What is “organic”?
Organic food is generally described in terms of what it is not. It is not produced or grown with the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, genetically modified seeds (GMOs) or pesticides. On the other hand, conventional farming, with its focus on producing large quantities of food as cheaply as possible has led to a pesticide-laden food market. Organic farming is more labor-intensive and less efficient than modern conventional farming and this usually means higher prices at the grocery store. But despite the higher cost, many people, me included, believe that the benefits of eating organic food more than justify the higher cost.
Among the many benefits of eating organic food, the most cited one is that eating organic food reduces your exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. University of Washington scientists found that when they compared preschoolers who consumed only organic foods to a group who only consumed conventional foods over a 24-hour period, the conventional food group had about 9 times more pesticide residues in their urine. Even more troubling was that the conventional group had levels that far exceeded the guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Conversely, the children in the organic food group had pesticide levels well within the accepted EPA guidelines.
All “natural” foods aren’t created equal
The booming organic market has hundreds of different products for you to choose from. But just because it’s organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Foods with organic and all-natural ingredients may still be over-processed, high in sugar or fat, or otherwise less-than-optimal choices. When faced with a choice at the market, choose organic and look for the least processed foods available.
Processed foods, both organic and conventional, are those that are treated to be sold commercially, sometimes with high levels of heat, light or preservatives in order to extend shelf life. This processing can lower the nutritional value of the food. One example of this is the heat processing used in jarred baby foods. Ever wonder why vegetables from the baby food jar look duller and less appealing than the ones in the produce section? It’s because the vitamins and pigments have been altered – and many destroyed, by the heat. Freezing – not heat-processing – is the best way to preserve all the nutrients, flavor and texture of fresh food.
Go organic. And go fresh. (And bring your kids!)
Serving your children minimally processed organic foods will help lay the foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits. Children develop their taste preferences starting in the womb and the period before age two is particularly critical. Exposure to fresh flavors from a very early age will help them develop a taste for these foods. And later on, this may mean the difference between reaching for an apple over a bag of chips.
So I challenge you to incorporate more unprocessed organic foods into your and your child’s daily diet. You will be helping to cut your family’s exposure to chemicals while developing their taste for fresh, whole foods. And who knows? You may even see other positive changes – more energy and vitality, more enjoyment of your food. Personally, I think that’s worth every penny!
Amy Marlow, MPH, RD, CDN
Nutrition Advisor, HAPPYBABY
A registered dietitian (RD), Amy also has a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Maryland. She worked as a pediatric dietician at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, where she provided nutrition care in the pediatric oncology unit, high-risk obstetrics ward, and the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units. Amy is the proud mother of Noah, born in March, 2005 and Alana, born in December, 2008.
Copyright ©2008 Nurture, Inc.
Article image by: Yali Shi