Food | All | Organic
Do you agree with me that the greatest gift you can give your child is the gift of health? I would expect you do. How do you give your child the gift of health? One way is to know what you're feeding your child. I love the recent quote by Oprah on her show discussing Food 101, “[w]e all have to start paying more attention to what we are putting in our bodies….do you know where your food really comes from, what’s been added, what’s been taken out?" Please read this article so you are at least informed on what you are putting in your child's mouth.
The majority of americans probably eat non-organic food, so why should you serve organic food? Wouldn't the government ban non-organic food if it is bad for people? Remember the government makes decisions based on "what's best for the domestic and world economy, not based on what is safer for individual people" and forcing all U.S. farmers to be 100% organic would be an extremely expensive endeavor. The government's research shows that "at minimal levels, these chemicals don't cause enough harm to warrant banning them" but research does NOT show pesticides, chemicals, and hormones are safe (Sears, Happy 26).
My concern is the pesticide on one piece of fruit may be minimal but what happens when you add up all of the fruit your child eats in a day, in a week, in a month added to all of the hormones or antibiotics consumed added to the additional artificial colors and preservatives added to genetically modified organisms in food...when you put all of these things together how do we know these items are safe for our children? The answer is we truly do NOT know. In addition, organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission "do not always design their guidance with babies in mind. Policies often are based on ...adults, but we don't always know what constitutes a safe level of exposure for...unborn children, young babies, and toddlers, who are in critical stages of development" (Sears, Happy 13).
Does your child have medical conditions or do you hope to avoid medical conditions such as allergies, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cancer or other intellectual or development and behavior issues? I understand not everyone can afford to serve organic or serve all organic food but please keep reading, information is power. Please refer to the section below which lists foods to avoid if a family member has a medical condition and also please review the "Important Foods to Avoid" so you can determine what are the most important foods to consider buying organic. Please refer to the table below which lists known health effects from different toxic exposures.
Although I believe it is important to limit the exposure for everyone in the family, if you are unable to always serve organic food, please remember that "babies are more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides and chemicals in our food supply than adults" (Sears, Happy 24). You may ask, why? A few reasons documented by Sears are that babies:
- Eat more food, pound for pound than adults (dose of chemicals will be higher)
- Eat same foods over and over (increasing exposure to chemicals in those foods)
- Pesticides & environmental chemicals are stored in fat (something babies and young children have plenty of) (Happy 24)
I love the following quote, "[s]erving baby organic food is similar to baby-proofing your house. It's something you do to keep Baby safe and well during the years when she's most vulnerable" (Sears, Happy 23).
Not only, does eating organic allow you to avoid most conventional pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, but organic foods "averaged 25 percent more healthful nutrients per serving" (Benbrook qtd. in Greene 42). According to Sears, organic fruits and vegetables have more of the following nutrients than conventional produce:
- Phenolic compounds
- Vitamin C (Happy, 31)
Studies also show that organic food even tastes better! (Ellis qtd. in Sears, Happy 32). I endorse this, the vegetables seem to be crunchier and taste more like home grown vegetables.
Do you really want to serve food that was grown with pesticides and/or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge? The National Organic Program (NOP) which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) governs organic food. The NOP’s regulations PROHIBIT the use of the following in organic production:
“As a general rule, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production and all synthetic substances are prohibited” (USDA, "NOP"). Please refer to this link to obtain a PDF of the National Organic Program Background Information.
According to a clip from Food Inc. shown on Oprah "[t]he way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous 10,000." The clip explained that
- Food comes from assembly lines
- Modern industrial agriculture goal to grow it "faster fatter bigger cheaper"
- Birds are twice as big but are raised to slaughter in half of the time than they were fifty years ago
- Chicken raised to have large white breasts since people prefer white meat
- "No longer farming but mass production"
You may think, well all of the points sound like improvements? But how do you think the animals are getting fatter faster? In order to have the animals grow fatter faster, the way the animals are breed has changed, the diet given to the animals has changed and injections of antibiotics are now given. Even setting aside the humane fact of the way the chickens are raised, do you really want to give your family chicken that was injected with antibiotics? I like the quote by Oprah, "[t]his is not the same bird that our grandmothers had."
Do you know why since the mid to late 1980s, there's been a large increase of allergic symptoms in children which "also corresponds to the increase in asthma, attention deficit disorder, and autism" (McCarthy 109-110)? I personally do not believe this is attributed to a stronger diagnosis of these illnesses. Other studies also discuss that the "prevalence of autism has risen sharply in the past decade with only a portion of the increase being attributable to improvements in diagnosis and reporting of the disease" (Sears, Happy 9). In addition, the "National Academy of Sciences estimates that 1 in 4 developmental behavioral problems in children may be linked to either genetic or environmental factors like exposures to lead, mercury, and pesticides" (Committee on Developmental Toxicology qtd. in Sears, Happy 11).
There are studies that do link possible health effects from toxic exposures. According to Sears, please refer below:
|Asthma and lung disease
Caused by air pollution1
or if in close vicinity to where pesticides
and herbicides are sprayed have elevated risk of asthma2
||Believed to be "strong genetic component"3 but also "possible environmental triggers may increase a child's risk of developing autism"4
|Reproductive development (early puberty, infertility, hormone-related cancers, and developmental problems)
||Bisphenol A, or BPA is an endocrine disrupter [interferes with hormones like estrogen and testosterone], and it can leach from plastics into foods and beverages.5 It can be found in hard plastic (labeled with #7 or PC) and the resin lines in tin cans.
|Intellectual development & behavior
||Mercury exposure (found in contaminated fish) "can impair central nervous system development and lead to learning disabilities."6
||Certain pesticides, perfluorochemicals (PFCs) which includes PFOA (perfluorooctanic acid) found in lining of microwave popcorn bags, nonstick cookware made with Teflon, and Bisphenol A (BPA).6 Animal studies show that some artificial colors and preservatives are also linked to an increased risk of cancer.7 In addition, some studies show increased risk of cancer associated with animals given hormones8.
1Buka qtd. in Sears, Happy 9
2Salam and qtd. in Sears, Happy 9
3Folstein et. al and Steffenberg et. al qtd. in Sears, Happy 9
4Sears, Happy 10
5Work Group and qtd. in Sears, Happy 11
6Sears, Happy 12
7Sears, Happy 223
8Sears, Happy 24-25
I cannot say what is causing the increased number of medical illnesses or say if you eat organic your family will be safe from medical problems all I can do is try to keep my family as healthy as possible and I believe one of the best steps to do that is to focus on what I'm feeding them.
Important Foods to Avoid
If you are not ready or are unable to buy all organic products, please refer below for some of the items I urge you to reconsider and try to buy organic:
- High-Pesticide Fruits and Vegetables1&2(Buy Organic)
- Bell peppers
- Grapes (especially imported)
- Non-Organic Fat Soluble Items- salad oils, cooking oils, peanuts, and nuts (especially peanuts) - since "pesticides, because they are fat-soluble, are likely to accumulate in fatty or oily foods."3
- Non-Organic Milk and Other Dairy - may include pesticide residues,4 and have traces of antibiotics and hormones given to the cows5 (Buy organic or at least milk products without rbGH)
- Non-Organic Beef and Chicken (Buy organic or at least meat without added hormones or antibiotics)
- Lunch meat & Hot dogs - (Buy organic or at least nitrate free)
Dried fruit - (Buy organic since dried fruits "concentrate a large number of nutrients - and pollutants - in small volume of food)2
Food Eat in Large Amounts5 (Buy organic)
Genetic Modification (GMOs) (To avoid - buy organic products)
Processed Foods - may contains added preservatives and provides less nutritional value. (Try to avoid buying or at least buy organic or made with organic ingredients)
Artificial Sweeteners (would be N/A if you buy organic)
Artificial or Chemical Preservatives (would be N/A if you buy organic)
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) (should also be N/A if you buy organic; Note: Recently a study "found detectable levels of mercury in many samples of high fructose corn syrup. The mercury is used in the production...[and] isn't always filtered out"6)
Artificial Colors (which would be N/A if you buy organic)
Artificial Fats like Olestra found in "light" potato chips (which would be N/A if you buy organic)
- Applegate Farms makes great organic lunch meat and hot dogs
1Environmental Working Group qtd. Sears, Happy 194
2Sears Healthiest 261-262
4USDA qtd. Sears, Happy 194
5Sears, Happy 194-195
6Journal of Environmental Health qtd. Sears, Happy 226
In addition to buying organic, some other ingredients I try to avoid or limit as much as possible are:
- Trans Fats
- Unnecessary ingredients like aluminium found in baking powder (you can buy aluminium free but most people buy baking powder with aluminium without even knowing it)
- Fast Food (If we have this, it is probably less than once a month.)
Overall, I find buying organic actually makes my life easier. I can occasionally buy a pre-packaged item (which I really try to limit) and at least feel good that the item does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. Generally, by buying organic you can avoid some of the other "bad" ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and preservatives.
Helps with Medical Conditions
It is not uncommon that a change in diet can help a person be healthier. Does your child have medical conditions or do you hope to avoid medical conditions such as allergies, autism, attention deficit disorder, cancer or other intellectual or development and behavior issues?
What if your child with ADHD avoids artificial colors and preservatives? He may be able to stop taking clonidine or Ritalin (two common ADHD drugs) (Bateman qtd. Greene 229). Even though my child doesn't have ADHD, I prefer not to feed him food that may cause his body to not act normally.
Foods to Avoid:
May be able to stop taking drugs - clonidine & Ritalin
(Bateman qtd. Greene 229)
| A. Eczema-
Some studies indicate decrease in eczema for children whose mothers switched to organic milk during pregnancy and nursing.
| B.Eczema from Meat
||A family member cannot eat regular meat such as beef or she has a bad skin reaction yet she can eat organic beef and she has no reactions. It is probably the hormones or antibiotics not the beef which she is allergic to.
| C. Eczema
||Artificial Colors & Preservatives
||May cause allergic conditions like eczema or other food allergies.
||(Sears, Happy 223)
| D. General
||Genetically Modified Organisms
|| A study found that for mice fed GMO's "allergy and inflammatory systems were revved up."
||(Finamore qtd. Greene 104)
||Non-organic food, artificial colors & preservatives, gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy), avoiding oxalates, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and nitrates
||For some people with autism trying to avoid the foods listed or try special diets such as gluten free & casein free (www.gfmeals.com, www.allergygrocer.com, www.gfcfdiet.com), specific carbohydrate diet (www.scdiet.org, www.scdrecipe.com/home/) or avoiding oxalates (http://lowoxalate.info/), buying organic foods and avoid "box" items helps make their bodies healthier and thus limits or eliminates behavior symptoms. Please discuss with your health care professional before staring any special diets.
||(McCarthy and Kartzinel 30-51)
||Pesticides, perfluorochemicals (PFCs) which includes PFOA (perfluorooctanic acid) found in lining of microwave popcorn bags, cooking food in nonstick cookware made with Teflon, and Bisphenol A (BPA). Also avoid food products from animals given hormones and artificial colors and preservatives.
||Some of known carcinogens are: certain pesticides, perfluorochemicals (PFCs) which includes PFOA (perfluorooctanic acid) found in lining of microwave popcorn bags, cooking food in nonstick cookware made with Teflon, and Bisphenol A (BPA).6 Some studies show increased risk of certain cancer associated with animals given hormones7 and some animal studies show increased risk of cancer related to artificial colors & preservatives8.
||6Sears, Happy 12
7Sears, Happy 24-25
8Sears, Happy 223
The article on things you should eat (ways to boost your immune system) coming soon.
I would expect you want your family to be healthy so why would you want to expose them to unnecessary pesticides. Pesticides have been shown to:
- Kill brain cells and can cause cancer when tested in laboratories (Scorecard qtd. in Sears, Happy 23)
- Increased risk of pregnant woman having baby with birth defects when exposed to pesticide spraying. (Bell qtd. in Sears, Happy 23)
- Various ailments such as headaches, nausea, cancer, and serious neurological reported by farmers who work with pesticides (Cohen qtd. in Sears, Happy 24)
According to Benbrook, "2008 analysis has shown that by choosing organic produce across the board you can slash pesticide exposure from food by about 97 percent" (qtd. Greene 43).
Not all foods have the same amount of pesticides, here is a list of the hight-pesticide fruits and vegetables according to Environmental Working Group qtd. Sears, Happy 194 and Sears, Healthiest 261-262:
- Bell peppers
- Grapes (especially imported)
Also, avoid non-organic milk which may contain pesticide residues (USDA Sears, Happy 194). If you aren't able to buy all organic foods then here is a list of foods with the lowest amount of pesticide residue according to Sears, Happy 195:
Artificial Hormones & Antibiotics
Would you inject unnecessary hormones into your child, especially when those hormones have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers? Do you really want to give your family meat from cattle that has been given hormones to increase milk or meat production? Natural and synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. Another type of hormone used is a genetically modified hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). One effect of of using rbGH or rbST is the milk from cows is higher in another hormone called IGF-1 which some studies find high levels of IGF-1 linked to cancer (Sears, Happy 24-25).
Do you know anyone allergic to meat? If so you may want him to check with his doctor to find out if he can try organic meat or meat not treated with hormones or antibiotics. I have a family member who cannot eat meat or her skin breaks out really bad but she can eat organic meat. So it isn't the meat she's allergic to but the other item in the non-organic meat.
Did you know the cows treated with the hormones have more health problems and thus those cows need to receive more antibiotics than untreated cows (Hansen qtd Sears, Happy 25)? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), rbGH does not "pose a risk for human consumption." I personally do not want to give my family any products from an animal given hormones, it just doesn't sound right to me.
What about antibiotics? Did you know that "70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to farm animals"? The antibiotics are not only given to treat infections but also to prevent illness and promote animal growth (Sears, Happy 27). These antibiotics are contributing to the problem of drug-resistance infections.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
You may not have heard of genetically modified organisms (GMO's), a lot of people do not even realize they are eating GMO's everyday! "Just over a decade ago, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were not part of our food supply. Today, about 30 percent of our cropland has been taken over by GMO crops" (Greene 103).
Did you know that the same time we started having GMOs in our food supply, is the " same time, food allergies have increased rapidly" Greene states that he is " concerned that GMO foods may be one of the reasons" (Greene 103).
A study found that mice fed GMO's "allergy and inflammatory systems were revved up" (Finamore qtd. Greene 104). You may not think you eat food with GMO's I definitely wasn't aware I was eating GMOs but here is a list of some of the common GMO foods according to Greene:
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Corn Meal
- Corn Syrup
- Cottonseed Oil
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Soybean Oil
- Soy Protein Soy Lecithin
- Textured Vegetable Protein
- Unspecified Vegetable Oil (104)
A lot of "livestock has been fed large quantities of GM food." Currently food products do not have to list whether the food has been GM or not (Greene 104). If you want to avoid products made with GMO's it may be a pain to review the ingredients of products to see if they contain the above foods in the ingredients (and may contain GMOs), the easy fix, simply buy organic products since organic food certified by the USDA cannot contain GMOs. You can buy soy or corn or soybean oil without GMO's simply buy the organic brand. Now some food items are also listing "No GMO's" on the food label which helps as well.
Artificial Colors & Preservatives
As discussed in the medical condition section above, for some children with ADHD" [r]emoving artificial colors and preservatives from the diet was dramatically effective at reducing hyperactivity." Even children not diagnosed with hyperactivity or children that did not test positive for allergies had behavior "substantially worse" when they were given hidden colors and preservatives (Bateman qtd. Greene 229).
Common artificial colors used are Blue No.1 or red dyes and a common preservative is sodium benzoate. In addition to hyperactivity, "[a]nimal studies have linked some artificial colors and preservatives with an increased risk for cancers" (Sears, Happy 223).
Does it sound right that Mars, Kraft, Kellogg's, and McDonald's have started removing artificial dyes from products sold in England (since a study was done there indicating significant problems with dyes even on healthy children) but NOT America (Greene 105)? I'm happy to hear that these companies are eliminated the dyes from products sold in England but I think it should be done across the board.
If you want to buy foods that do not contain artificial dyes, shop at Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe's or buy organic foods since they do not contain artificial dyes. In addition, note that not all colors and preservatives are bad, I'm primarily concerned with the artificial colors and preservatives. To choose some safe colorings look for: annatto extract, beta-carotene, and beet juice or for safe natural preservatives look for ascorbic acid or citric acid (Sears, Happy 223). That is again, why I like buying organic because only natural colors and preservatives are used. If you want to make your own coloring, frozen raspberries pureed make a great red color, I used this to decorate holiday cookies.
I was surprised when I found out that lunch meat (and hot dogs) generally contains nitrates; that is why most lunch meat has a pink color. "Sodium nitrates are preservatives that enhance the color of meats....We know that when nitrates are exposed to stomach acids, they are converted to nitrosamines, which are associated with cancer in animals" (McCarthy and Kartzinel 44).
Nitrates are also discussed if you read about making your own baby food. "Nitrates are chemical compounds that are found in soil and water, and tend to be highest in root vegetables like beets, turnips, and carrots, as well as in spinach and collard greens" (Sears, Happy 176). To avoid nitrate problems with your baby, avoid feeding your baby vegetables before three months, choose organic vegetables, and use or freeze baby food within twenty-four hours since refrigeration can increase nitrates (Greene 173).
I'm not saying to avoid food with nitrates (like spinach that is my son's favorite food and also very healthy) but to avoid food with added nitrates, like sodium nitrates added to lunch meat or nitrates added to chemical fertilizers. So to avoid nitrates, "choose organic produce because although nitrates occur naturally in soil in small amounts, a significant source of nitrates is chemical fertilizer used in growing conventional foods" (Sears, Happy 176) and you can buy nitrate-free lunch meat or hot dogs. I love Applegate Farms hot dogs and lunch meats.
Some question whether a product with an organic label is truly organic? First, I would make sure the food item has been certified such as with the USDA seal. “Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a government-approved certifier inspects the farm to make sure all the rules necessary to meet the national organic standards are followed. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must also be certified” (USA.gov). In addition, “[a]nnual inspections are conducted of each certified operation, and updates of information are provided annually to the certifying agent in advance of of conducting these inspections” (USDA, Certification).
“Products labeled ‘organic’ must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. Products meeting the requirements for ‘100 percent organic’ and ‘organic’ [95% organic] may display the USDA Organic seal”(USDA, Background).
If a processed product contains “at least 70 percent organic ingredients” then it can use the “phrase ‘made with organic ingredients’ and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel” (USDA, Background). My favorite treat each week is making a frozen pizza, Amy’s Margherita Pizza, which on the pizza box it lists made with organic ingredients.
If the processed food contains “less than 70% organic ingredients” then the packaged item cannot use the term “organic” except to “identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced in the ingredients statement” (USDA, Background). Note that there are no restrictions on the use of the following labels:
- “no drugs or growth hormones used”
- “fee range”
- “sustainably harvested” (USDA, Label).
Also, be aware that companies that primarily produce organic products may have another line of non-organic products. I made the mistake when buying some Earth Best crackers for my son. I had been buying a lot of Earth’s Best baby food, which had the USDA certification seal, and also some of the Earth best finger treats so I wasn’t paying attention and grabbed an Earth’s Best box of crackers assuming it was organic. I didn’t notice until I got home that this product wasn’t organic.
Why Not Buy Organic?
Most people who do not buy organic state it is too expensive. I understand that some people simply cannot afford it. But I do feel that others do not want to afford it. If you can provide your child the latest toy or you get your hair done at a nice hair salon or you just bought a new outfit because you wanted to then I would expect you can give your child the greatest gift, the gift of health. (I can't guarantee your child will be healthy if she eats organic, all I can tell you is I feel it is the best food for my family.)
If you factor in the fact you receive more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients and avoid "exposure to pesticides, which are known to kill brain cells and cause cancer in laboratory studies" and overall are providing more nutritious food to your family [and hopefully avoiding cost of unnecessary medical care] I think you are actually saving money (Sears, Happy 193).
Oprah recently had Michael Pollan on the show and he explained the comparison of the percent of national income spent on food and healthcare:
My personal experience, I'm actually spending less out of pocket once I started shopping at Whole Foods and buying almost all organic food. Why? The first reason is that I'm decreasing the amount of pre-packaged food items. Have you ever looked at what are the more expensive items on your grocery bill? It usually isn't the bag of apples it is the box of cookies or some other pre-packaged item. The second reason is I'm no longer shopping at Costco to buy my meat. As much as I use to love Costco I do not believe they carry meat like Whole Foods that is hormone and antibiotic free so I'm no longer shopping there for my meat products. I never had good self control at Costco and some how I would leave purchasing over $100 of things that weren't always on my list. The third reason I'm spending less is by shopping at a place like Whole Foods, that has a slogan of "Selling The Highest Quality Natural & Organic Products"; I feel the organic products are cheaper there than than buying organic at a standard grocery store that carries some organic products. In addition, Whole Foods has specials each week so I buy whatever meat is on special that week.
Overall, I understand that buying organic may not be a viable option for everyone, which is why I like the following quote: “[b]uy the best you can afford. This will reduce your exposure to pesticides, hormones, and other toxins” (McCarthy 266).
Where to Buy?
So you decide to buy organic food but where do you buy it? That was part of my problem too. Fortunately, more and more organic foods are showing up at the standard grocery stores but if you truly want to go organic, then Whole Foods Market may be the solution for you...at least it was for me! As discussed, if you have the ability to buy at a store focused on organic products, the prices may be more competitive than buying organic products at a standard grocery store.
What I love about shopping at Whole Foods is that you do not have to search for organic products basically everything is organic, local or at least contain “natural” ingredients. Generally I feel confident that most things I buy at Whole Foods is healthy and doesn’t contain some of the ingredients to avoid like “high fructose corn syrup” or “genetically manufactured” both of which are found in most products you buy at a standard grocery store. I can still buy treats, even baked goods occasionally and feel confident that at least it is made with “natural” ingredients and usually contains whole wheat products rather than bleached white flour.
The “Whole Foods” article coming soon. Please refer to the "Grocery List" article to help make your grocery shopping more efficient.
Remember it is never too late to start. You may be reading this and your child is now a teenager and you wonder if you should have been serving different foods, well there is nothing you can do about the past but you can work to improve the future. When I was pregnant, I thought I was eating healthy, yet my husband and I ate out probably five days a week and one of the days at home we were probably eating leftovers from one of the restaurants. For lunch, I would eat a frozen meal which you probably can't get a higher sodium or preservative content than those lunches. Now you probably couldn't force me to eat one of those frozen meals that I religiously ate the first half of my pregnancy. I didn't realize at the time, I thought because I was eating meals with a protein and vegetables and since they weren't high in fat that I was eating healthy. The article about my pregnancy coming soon.
I like the following statement about buying organic it’s “good for everyone, from the farm worker to the planet to your family – and future generations too” (Whole Foods).
I feel my family’s health is my most important investment (I would expect you feel the same way about your family) thus, I try to provide my family with the best possible nutrition. I have come along way from eating frozen meals for lunch and eating dinner out to making organic meals and avoiding pre-packaged food as much as possible. I am fortunate to have the flexibility to have some time to cook at home and I understand you may not have that flexibility. So start small, take baby steps. Try making at least one more home cooked meal a week, use a crock pot or set aside time on the weekend to make a meal (or meals and freeze some) so you have a quick meal the rest of the week. If you have to, buy pre-packaged meals made with organic ingredients or those that avoid artificial ingredients and preservatives.
Let's give our children the greatest gift, the gift of health!
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Last updated: February 2010