Benefits of Organic Baby Food April 28, 2008

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Is organic baby food really best for your baby? Pediatrician Elizabeth Knapp, MD, with Austin Regional Clinic Far West, believes it can be beneficial, especially before the age of two when baby brains are developing at a rapid rate and the organs are most likely to be sensitive to exposure to harmful substances.

"Good nutrition is important at any time because its helps build a body that will sustain a child for the rest of his or her life," says pediatrician Elizabeth Knapp, MD, with Austin Regional Clinic.

If financially feasible, Dr. Knapp recommends choosing organic baby foods or making your own from organic products to avoid contamination with pesticides or other toxins. "Even small amounts of pesticide exposure are dangerous for babies because of their smaller body mass. Their brains are developing rapidly and are especially sensitive to neurotoxins at this age."

Non-organic foods, including baby foods, also contain higher levels of hormones and antibiotics.

A 2003 Washington University study of children's diets determined that those who ate organic food has six times lower levels of pesticides in their bodies than those who did not.

Research Supports Organic

Pesticides have been connected with a broad range of health problems, including cancer, lung disease, reproductive problems and disorders of the endocrine and immune systems.

The 1966 Food Quality Protection Act created regulations requiring a significant reduction in residue levels on pesticides used on crops, mandating that they must be safe for babies and children, which has diminished the use of some of the most dangerous substances. But many variable factors such as how much of specific foods or foods in combination are consumed or whether they were grown in contaminated soils can contribute to substantially higher levels of exposure in some cases.

"We are extrapolating data for adults who were exposed to large amounts of pesticides. We don't know exactly how much of the small amounts of pesticides are dangerous. However, many people believe children under two years are more sensitive because they are consuming more food per pound of body weight," continues Dr. Knapp. "Even if you can only choose one thing - such as organic sweet potatoes - reducing exposure overall is good for your child."

Organic Baby Food Choices

Many grocers carry several brands of commercially prepared organic baby foods that have been certified by the USDA and the label should say so. In addition you can choose pureed organic foods on regular shelves that are fine for babies, such as pumpkin or applesauce. Organic milk is readily available as are organic fruit juices. Just make sure the juice has been pasteurized.

"It's important to read the list of ingredients in organic baby food just like you would anything else to make sure it contains acceptable levels of sugar or salt," cautions Dr. Knapp.

Commercially prepared organic baby foods won't contain pesticides, but may contain other ingredients you would prefer not to use. One way to avoid the problem is to make your own baby food. You can puree cooked organic frozen foods or fresh organic foods to control the amount of other flavorings such as salt or sugar.

"The American Association of Pediatrics recommends you avoid home preparing certain foods until six months of age because the items may have picked up nitrates from the soil. Nitrates can cause a particular type of anemia in infants under six months. Some examples include carrots, beets and spinach. You can find out more on their web site."

Expect organic baby food to cost about 25 percent more than the non-organic version. You can help reduce your costs by:

  • Comparison shopping. Check prices at local grocery stores. Some foods are cheaper when purchased in season.
  • Stocking up at sales. Even organic baby food is sometimes marked down. Just make sure you can use it by the expiration date.
  • Buying at farmers markets. Often the cost of organic produce is about the same as in the supermarket.
  • Buying in bulk. Some brands reduce the price for several jars of baby food packaged together.
  • Shopping outside the baby food aisle. Many adult organic products work well for babies and may cost less. Organic apple sauce is inexpensive, along with other canned vegetable products that are either already pureed or can be processed at home. Other options include organic potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin.

She also believes in buying local. "I tend to buy local whenever I can," says Dr. Knapp, who often shops at organic grocers and frequents area farmers markets. "In addition to better nutrition, I believe choosing locally grown food helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases generated by shipping foods long distances."

Elizabeth Knapp, MD
Austin Regional Clinic
ARC @ Far West - Pedi
6835 Austin Ctr Blvd.
Austin, TX 78731
Phone: (512) 346-6611

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