Pediatricians and leading health organizations agree that the journey to a raising a vibrant, healthy little one who’s ready to take on the world begins with getting the basics right: that means plenty of whole, nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, essential fats, calcium rich foods and whole grains.
But beyond basic nutrition, many families wonder whether paying a little bit more for organic versions of everyday staples or favorite foods is truly worth it. As we step into 2016, here are three reasons choosing organics to the extent your budget allows is not only better for the planet, but also better for your precious little ones growing (and oh so busy!) bodies.
- Real Benefits for Growing Families. Pregnancy, infancy and young childhood are critical windows of a human being’s development. That’s because during this time, rapid cellular division and growth is underway, while at the same time essential metabolic, neural and hormonal pathways are being laid down for a lifetime. New advances in research over the past decades have illuminated how pesticides may interfere, even subtly, with this careful orchestration. And science continues to point to the ways in which choosing an organic diet reduces exposure to pesticides that been linked with higher risk of ADHD, autism and more. Most recently, a new study in Environment International found that even chronic, low-level exposures to common pesticides can lead to measureable decreases in cognitive performance, verbal comprehension and memory in children. If you’re unsure where to start, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” as a place to prioritize organic purchases. And there’s another benefit, too: according to the AAP, choosing organic foods can help reduce children’s risk of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria.
- A Kinder, More Resilient Planet. Choosing organic foods supports an agricultural system that’s free from persistent toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms, irradiation and more. This set of standards not only protects our waterways, air quality and land, but organic agriculture appears to be a better choice for pollinator health, too (more than 70% of the food we eat requires pollinators for a successful harvest). Research from the Rodale Institute has also clarified the ways in which organic agriculture actually regenerates the soil, enhances its resilience and microbial richness, and offering a powerful tool in the race to buffer climate change. And its better for animals, too organic certification requires a specific set of ethical standards around animal welfare, making it a kinder choice for animals. In fact, according to Stonyfield Farm’s Greener Cow Project, organic cows enjoy a lifespan that’s about twice as long as conventional cows.
- Rigorous 3rd Party Certification. Many eaters today care about things such as clean ingredient lists, minimal processing and higher quality, ethical sourcing standards. But there’s still immense confusion about what different claims on food packages actually mean (even as a nutritionist, it’s hard to keep up with the ever evolving label lingo). Of all the claims and seals, it’s helpful to understand that the USDA certified organic label provides the highest degree of trust and transparency in how that food was produced. Compared with other terms shoppers look for (such as the lightly regulated term “natural”), foods with the USDA-certified organic label must adhere to a strict, clearly defined set of farming and production standards, are always non GMO, and are independently certified by a third party. In short, it will help point you to the largest, most inclusive set of standards, and give you confidence that you are not falling for terms that are more marketing than muscle when it comes to actual benefits.
Everyone deserves access to healthy, life-supporting foods that nourish their body the way nature intended. Organic baby food is a case in point: a revolution in ingredient sourcing, harvesting at the peak of perfection, and innovative packaging has transformed a whole generation of eaters into organic baby food lovers (quinoa, turmeric and kale!) who enjoy delicious, nutrient rich organic nourishment in any number of ways, starting with diapers, wipes, organic formula to the easy pouches, classic Earth’s Best jars, even the affordable and available freezer aisle. Of course when we have the time, DIY recipes are also all over the Internet, especially social media. In fact, the organic choices are now so diverse that the one thing they do have in common may be simply this: chances are, they are sharing the organic love on social media starting with the very first bite.
NOTE: WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product. The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.
Published on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 2/1/16
 Environment International, Volume 82, September 2015, Pages 69–75. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412015001245