No preaching, no finger-wagging, just the facts on what’s worth buying organic and what’s really not.
“The Pesticides and ADD Connection”
“Cancer Risk Lower in Wild-Caught Fish”
“Toxic Plastic Found in Canned Food”
“Meat, Hormones, and Your Child’s Fertility”
The headlines are hard for any mom to ignore: We’re bombarded with reports, studies, and, frankly, conjecture about whether the way we grow, harvest, and store food before it gets to our family’s dinner table (or that fetus in the womb) is harmful or not. “During pregnancy and exclusive breastfeeding, all of what your baby receives nutritionally comes from what you eat. It’s a time of greatest control and opportunity, as well as greatest risk,” notes the Al Gore of the pediatric world, Alan Greene, M.D., author of Raising Baby Green: The Earth Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care (and yes, that’s his real name!). Later, when your baby moves to solids and table food, choosing organics at least some of the time can reduce her intake of the pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics commonly used in agriculture today.
Of course, no one is really against organic foods (how can you dis Mother Nature’s best?), but Dr. Greene’s take is only one side of the story. Many authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), don’t feel you need to spend the extra, sometimes substantial, cabbage, if you will, on these foods. “Organic foods are better for the environment, of course, but the science does not support their superiority,” notes pediatrician Steven Abelowitz, M.D., medical director of Coastal Kids Pediatric Group in Newport Beach and Laguna Niguel, California. “Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the AAP makes any claims that they’re more nutritious or safer than other foods. To a pediatrician, making sure your baby receives a balanced diet is what is preferable.”
Although that message is refreshingly reassuring, going organic at least some of the time appeals to many families. But the truth is, certain foods will have a bigger impact than others. So to help you get the most organic bang for your buck whether you’re pregnant or introducing table foods, take a bite out of this menu plan before you hit the grocery store, er, farmers market. FYI: None of these recommendations are hard-and-fast. Take what you like, leave the rest.
Pregnancy is naturally a time when you scrutinize every bite you take, so splurging on some organic foods is likely to feel like the right thing to do. But what you choose to buy organic during pregnancy depends on only one key factor – what you crave, says registered dietitian Bridget Swinney, author of the books Eating Expectantly, Baby Bites, and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids. Keep a journal of what you eat over a period of about two weeks, then put your money where your mouth is and buy organic versions of the foods that top your list if they also appear high on the toxin charts, Swinney emphasizes. Peaches, apples, strawberries, and potatoes are common culprits (Get even more info at Foodnews.org).
Dr. Greene has two other suggestions for moms-to-be. His biggest beef at this stage is with, well, beef. He points to a recent study that found a link between mothers who ate conventional beef more than once a day during pregnancy and low sperm counts in their adult sons. The men in this study were also three times more likely to have consulted a fertility specialist, according to study author Shanna Swan, Ph.D., an ob-gyn professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York.
Plus, grass-fed, organically raised cattle are leaner and healthier overall, says Dr. Greene, and their meat can have about five times the amount of brain-building omega-3 fatty acids as regular beef. Though the cost of organic meat can be double that of regular, Dr. Greene suggests treating it like a side dish and eating smaller servings to keep the meal cost the same. If you’d rather spend your money elsewhere, simply buy lean cuts of beef and stick to four servings or less a week.
You can also consider another source of organic protein that may be less expensive than beef: soy. In fact, if you are a tofu, edamame, or soy-milk lover already, Dr. Greene recommends going green here for sure. That’s because 80 percent of the soybean crops grown today are genetically modified, which means the genetic code of the food has been altered in a lab to make it more weed- or bug-resistant. Dr. Greene says the problem is that no one really knows yet what impact genetically modified foods will have on our health and our farmlands. Stick with organic in this case and you avoid the potential risk.
Finally, think about switching to organic milk. It’s one of the top organics on Dr. Greene’s list simply because pregnant women (and later, children over age 1) need to consume so much calcium, which is readily available in many dairy products. And though the FDA maintains that all types of milk are equally safe, choosing organic means saying no to a whole chemical system of agriculture – an important step given that many environmental toxins are stored in the fat that so many dairy products contain.
A less expensive option: Look for milk that’s growth-hormone-free (also known as rBVH-free or rBST-free).
Wondering if there’s anything left you don’t have to think about? Eggs. Egg-laying hens aren’t given growth hormones (like chickens raised for food), says Swinney, nor are the eggs likely to be exposed to antibiotics. The birds stop laying if they are sick. Who knew?
For New Moms
You might expect the nutrition advice for new moms to be the same as during pregnancy, and certainly the above suggestions still hold true. But there are a few more recommendations to keep in mind, depending on whether your baby is drinking breast milk, formula, or a combination.
If you’re breastfeeding: Because the only DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid that’s especially important to brain and vision development) your baby gets in his diet comes from your breast milk, eating DHA-rich seafood like salmon is super-important for you (experts recommend you shoot for 300 to 500 milligrams of DHA a day, and a serving of salmon packs that and more). But sometimes it seems as if you need a food science degree just to know which types of seafood are best. Between all the concern surrounding the contaminants many fish are exposed to, the fact that there’s no organic classification for seafood, and the reality that some fish are healthier when they’re farmed and others when they’re wild-caught, it’s enough to make you skip the fish counter altogether.
Don’t give up yet! There are a few things you can do. As far as how much and what type to eat, here are a few guidelines: You can safely down 12 ounces, or two servings, a week of wild salmon (not farm-raised), tilapia, shrimp, catfish, cod, and haddock. As for the ever popular tuna, however, opt for the canned “chunk light” variety and limit yourself to one can a week. You want to avoid “white” and “albacore” tuna, along with big fish like swordfish, shark, grouper, and fresh tuna (for more details, visit OceansAlive.org). You can also look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo, which certifies where the fish came from (farmed or wild).
The other important food category nursing moms should consume lots of is vitamin A?rich red, orange, and yellow fruits and veggies. “In fact, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your baby is to
double your daily intake of colorful foods; have two servings at every meal and one at every snack,” says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy. If you choose to skip the organics, look for produce that says “vine-ripened” or “tree-ripened.” They’ll have more nutrients, which promote better health, Somer notes.
If you’re bottle-feeding: You’re already spending a small fortune on regular formula. If you’re using a type with added DHA, you’re spending even more. If you make the jump to an organic version, you may wonder if there will be anything left in your food budget for yourself. Fortunately, a decision has been made on this one for you: Most of the sources we consulted agree that it’s more important that your baby have a DHA-enhanced formula than an organic one, so spend your money on that if you can’t afford both. And if plain old formula is what’s in your budget, that’s A-OK, too.
From 6 to 12 Months
You’re probably getting ready to make the transition to solids, if you haven’t started already. If you’re not buying organic, don’t feel guilty. Most experts agree that parents really don’t need to spend money on organic jarred baby food unless they want to. Although the standards for ingredients used in baby food are the same as those for everything else, most major manufacturers voluntarily maintain stricter agricultural and cooking practices. And indeed, numerous tests have shown that the levels of pesticide residue in baby food are consistently lower than government standards. That said, some organic proponents, such as The Environmental Working Group, believe that there are still too many residual toxins in baby food ? even if they are lower than the standards. Feeling whipsawed? Keep in mind that it’s perfectly fine to straddle the line, going green in some places and not others. In this case, if your child loves, loves, loves peaches or some other food high on the pesticide chart, you can always just buy that food organic.
There is one exception to all of this: making your own food. If you choose to be your baby’s personal chef, it’s always best to buy organic. That’s because, pound for pound, babies eat and drink more than adults, which means they tend to be exposed to a higher concentration of toxins than we are, says Dr. Greene.
From 1 Year to 18 Months
Once your baby graduates to a grown-up diet, you may consider adding a few organic items to his menu some of the time. Organic whole cow’s milk or whole-bean soy milk are good places to start ? for exactly the same reasons you might choose them in pregnancy. “Because high-fat whole milk is such a big part of a
toddler’s diet and because environmental chemicals are stored in fat, I’d try to buy organic milk when a baby is switched from breast milk or formula,” says Swinney. Three other popular organic choices for toddlers are
potatoes, apples, and ketchup, again because kids eat so much of them. Plus, organic ketchup has double the level of antioxidants, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis.
Just in case you need to hear it again: Eating green is never an all-or-nothing proposition. Dr. Greene suggests you do a little at a time, and whatever you can afford. Your baby will thrive as long as you aim to feed him a well-balanced healthy diet, free of as many processed foods as possible, organic or not. And preserving the environment for your child is just like politics: Every little vote for the future counts.