With all the marketing and branding of foods that are “all natural” and organic, it can get pretty confusing when you grocery shop for the week. You want what's really healthy and best for your family, but how do you know what’s actually healthy and what’s not? You want to do the right thing, but that can get a bit pricey, and nobody wants to be taken advantage of by certain fads and trends, like eating everything with an organic label. Many parents are left wondering, "How does eating organic affect your kid later in life?" Does it really matter all that much? How do you know what's best?
"There is nothing wrong with eating organically. However, to reap the best benefits of this level of nutrition free from pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals, you have to eat everything organic," pediatrician Jarret Patton tells Romper. So don't give your kid organic milk and then feed them processed cheese for a snack if you're really looking for maximum benefits, he says. "We don't know if it will make a long term measurable difference in their growth, intelligence, or any other metric, however, eating organically fully or partially won't hurt."
According to registered nutritional therapist at Roots & Shoots Nutrition, Melissa Pierson, “By eating organic produce, we are arming children with the most nutritious foods we can." She tells Romper that organic foods can ensure your child consumes "the optimum levels of vitamins and minerals," while "reducing their exposure to harmful pesticides.” She's not alone in her thoughts either. Stephanie Middleberg, a registered dietitian on Little Spoon’s Pediatric Nutrition Council, and author of The Big Book of Organic Baby Food tells Romper, “Choosing organic-certified foods, when you can and afford to, is one of the most important choices you can make for your kids, and the earlier you start doing this the better. It’s been found that children who have an organic diet have much lower levels of metabolites of high-risk insecticides in their bodies."
Everyone knows pesticides are not good for you — since they’re obviously pretty deadly to bugs and other creatures that want to munch on your food before you do — but what exactly can pesticides potentially do to your body? “Pesticides are toxic by design, and many pesticides pose health dangers, too, and may be linked to a variety of health problems, including brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption, skin, eye, and lung irritation," Pierson explains. I know, that sounds terrifying, especially when organic foods can be so much more expensive. But Pierson adds, "However, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables."
“Organic food reduces the risk of exposure to toxic pesticides in our diet, which children are even more susceptible to their potential toxicity given that their immune systems are so immature," Middleberg says. "This matters even more when you consider that around 1,400 pesticides registered by the Environmental Protection Agency … are linked to breast, colon, lung, and ovarian cancers.”
What does the term “organic” really mean anyway, and how can you tell if something truly is? Pierson says the word organic refers to how the goods are processed, and “the biggest difference between the two is the exposure to certain materials and chemicals that non-organic foods are exposed to.” Middleberg adds, “Deciphering food labels can be confusing, and unfortunately there are a ton of different ways of using the word ‘organic’ on your package that do not mean the same thing.” She explains that there are four categories of “organic,” including "100 percent organic," "organic," "made with organic 'xxx,'" and specific organic ingredients. She also adds that unless the product has the USDA seal, the product is not 100 percent organic.
As if this wasn’t confusing enough, remember, the words “natural” and organic are not interchangeable. “In general, ‘natural’ on a food label means that it has no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It does not refer to the methods or materials used to produce the food ingredients,” Pierson says.
Is going totally organic way too expensive for your family’s food budget every week, but you’d like to do what you can? There are certain foods you can prioritize that have more chemical residue on them than other foods, according to Middleberg. These foods include apples, bananas, bell peppers, tomatoes, berries, dairy, eggs, and meat. Pierson adds, “The Environmental Working Group has put together a 'Clean Fifteen, Dirty Dozen' list, where you can see the list of food stuffs you should really be choosing as organic (usually ones where we are eating the whole food and the outer shell) and a list of clean fifteen that (if there are financial constraints, etc.) you can choose to have non-organically.
“Eating patterns and food consumption serves as the foundation for life. What we consume as children can shape brain development, metabolism, immunity, and overall health. The right nutrition will positively impact a child's growth, development, and health well into adulthood. We can see this especially when it comes to things like adult obesity, gut health, and brain development,” Pierson says.
So while it looks like eating organic is a pretty good idea to prevent a lot of stuff going happening to your kid’s body later in life, it may seem daunting and expensive to try to eat everything organic 100 percent of the time. But if you're interested, the “Clean Fifteen, Dirty Dozen” list may be a good guide to help you do what you can as far as buying what’s most important to eat organically. And doing the best you can is all you can do, right? Just remember, eating fruits and vegetables, whether they're 100 percent organic or not, is better than not eating any at all at the end of the day.
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