Should Kids Eat Organic Food?

An interesting opinion from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Girl eating fruit
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When you head to the grocery store, a host of choices await you. Not only do you have to decide what you want to eat (and what your preschooler will eat), but what kind? Say you want to get some strawberries. Seems pretty basic, right? How much could you possibly have to decide about? But you have choices: fresh or frozen, whole or precut, organic or regular?

With more and more supermarkets (and superstores and general stores) offering a greater selection of organic food choices, it often leaves parents wondering if kids should eat organic food. The choices are often more expensive, and at first glance, it is hard to see a difference between organic and non-organic. So it is worth the extra expense to buy organic foods for your family?

According to Dr. Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), organic foods have lower levels of pesticides and drug-resistant bacteria. “That may be important for kids because young children are more vulnerable to chemicals, but we simply don’t have the scientific evidence to know if the difference will affect a person’s health over a lifetime,” says McInerny.

The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have said that growth hormones and antibiotics are safe in certain foods. You won't find these in organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. In order to be labeled organic, they must come from animals that aren't given them.

From a sustainability perspective, organic foods are definitely better for the environment long-term. From less soil erosion in the fields they are planted in, to use less fossil fuels, organic foods leave less of an impact on the earth.

What If I Can't Afford Organic Food?

According to the AAP,  organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables both have the same amount of vitamins and minerals in them. What the AAP recommends is that every day, kids eat a variety of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. They can be organic or non-organic.

“If you’re on a budget, don’t buy the more expensive organic option if it’s going to reduce your family’s overall intake of healthy foods like fresh produce,” advises McInerny. “It’s better for kids to eat five servings of conventionally grown produce a day than for them to eat one serving of organic vegetables.”

And non-organic doesn't necessarily mean that there are pesticides. Each year, The Environmental Working Group puts together a guide that rates the level of pesticides in produce. In 2015, their "Clean 15" list of foods that had little to no pesticides were:

  1. avocados
  2. sweet corn
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. frozen sweet peas
  6. onions
  7. asparagus
  8. mangoes
  9. papayas
  10. kiwis
  11. eggplant
  12. grapefruit
  13. cantaloupe
  14. cauliflower
  15. sweet potatoes.

In contrast, their "Dirty Dozen" list of foods with the highest amount of pesticides includes apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and potatoes.

"USDA EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce recognizes that many people who want reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce cannot find or afford an all-organic diet," the organization said in a statement. "It helps them seek out conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues. When they want foods whose conventional versions test high for pesticides, they can make an effort to locate organic versions."

For more nutrition tips for kids, visit the AAP website for parents.

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