All parents want their children to eat more fruits and vegetables. These foods are considered nutrient dense choices -- rich in vitamins, minerals and health promoting antioxidants, low in fat, rich in fiber and all have a reasonable calorie load. They not only promote health but can help to curb the growing overweight trend among children. Fruits and vegetables could not be a more desirable choice. Yet, hardly any child in the US meets the current guidelines of at least 5 servings a day.
Studies have shown that organic fruits and vegetables have the same nutrient value as conventional foods but organic produce does have a lower pesticide level. The AAP felt this may be significant for growing children but also stated that there is currently no evidence to show organic foods lead to improved health or less disease over a lifetime. These statements leave parents as confused as ever.
Organic produce can be more costly and most kids eat too few fruits and vegetables every day. So, what should you buy? If your food budget is limited, buy those choices you can afford and that you family will eat. The possible risk of ingesting a tiny amount of pesticide versus not eating fruits or vegetables is truly a minimal risk. If money is not an object, buy organic, if you wish. Probably the best approach is to buy a mixture of both conventionally grown and organically grown fruits and vegetables. This offers both economical and philosophically good choices and aims for moderation, the cornerstone of good eating.
One thing few people appreciate is that organic produce is increasingly being industrially grown on mega-farms in California, alongside conventional crops. General Mills, Kraft and Coco-Cola recognize that consumers are looking for organic foods and they have bought some of the more successful organic brands – Stonyfield Farms, Back To Nature, Cascadian Farms and Odwalla. If you are buying organic produce to support local farmers and small companies, this may not be always be the case.
Many families buy organic milk because of concerns about the synthetic growth hormone rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) and estrogen given to conventionally raised cows. Cows make natural BST in their bodies but injections of rBST promote more milk production. The AAP report concluded that there was not much difference in the amount of hormone found in either organic or conventional milk. They concluded that organic milk did not provide significant health benefits for children. There are two facts that might help parents decide what type of milk to buy. Today, more than two-thirds of all dairy cows are raised rBST-free and most dairies proudly note this on the label. And the residue, if any, is found in the fat portion of the milk. Using lower fat or nonfat milk both reduces exposure and lowers calories.
Milk consumption in the US has dropped more than 20% in the last 35 years while demand for organic milk has gone up. Currently, there simply are not enough organic dairy farms in the US to meet demand. Many companies are securing their organic milk from foreign sources. These sources may or may not comply with American organic standards and milk is traveling thousands of miles in the name of an organic label, whose benefits are yet to be proven.
The AAP suggested that eating organically raised animals reduces the exposure to drug-resistant bacteria because organic farming rules prohibit the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. This is true. Cattle raised by traditional practices can be given antibiotics both to prevent and to treat disease. A withdrawal period is required to clear the substance from the animal’s body before slaughter. Sampling conducted by the Food Safety Inspection System (FSIS) of the USDA reports that there are a very low percentage of antibiotic residue violations. That can assure parents that almost all meat marketed in the US is safe.
The pediatricians were also concerned with potential health effects of low-level hormone exposure from meat. Hormones can be given to increase growth and suppress the instinct to mate. As with antibiotics, there is a withdrawal period before slaughter. The USDA has stopped allowing the use of the term “hormone free” because hormones are natural and made in all animals’ bodies. In the case of pork, veal and chicken, raised in the US, the use of growth hormones is not allowed, so these protein sources are free of added hormones.
The decision of what food to feed your family comes down to financial resources, taste preferences, and your individual belief system. Buying organic is fine, but recognize that conventionally raised foods are good choices, too because they are equally safe and nutritious.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
Your Complete Food Counter App: ClickHere
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
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