by Bonny Osterhage
Navigating the baby food aisle of the local grocery store seems harmless enough. Row after row of tiny jars depicting smiling babies, and filled with everything from fruits to vegetables and meats. While it may look easy to select a balanced meal for baby, a closer look reveals that not all baby foods are created equally. Just because the food is healthy does not mean that it was prepared in the healthiest way. Does that really matter? Pediatrician and author Dr. Bob Sears says yes.
“Eating organic during young childhood is important because a baby’s brain cells are growing and forming connections that will determine brain functions for a lifetime,” says Sears, who also serves as a medical consultant for a national organic baby food retailer. “Pesticides disrupt these connections and kill brain cells. Limiting exposure as much as possible is a worthwhile investment in a baby’s health.”
What is Organic?
The term “organic” refers to the way a food is grown rather than the food itself. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Certification program requires all organic foods meet strict government standards that regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
The site states that “Any farmer or food manufacturer who labels and sells a product as organic must be USDA certified. Only producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification; however, they’re still required to follow the USDA’s standards for organic foods.”
Among other things, organic farms must be free of chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and of course – pesticides.
A study conducted by Washington University in 2003 found that children who did not eat organic foods had six times more pesticides in their bodies than children who enjoyed an organic diet.
But pesticides aren’t the only dangers lurking. Sears points out that the presence of artificial hormones and antibiotics in non-organic foods can interfere with a baby’s endocrine system and may increase a baby’s resistance to certain bacteria.
An Investment in Health
As more parents learn about the effect pesticides and other artificial ingredients can have on children, they are turning to organic, so much so that organic baby foods can be found at nearly every local grocery chain. Parents should remember that even if a food is certified organic, they should still read the labels on commercial brands to check for sugar and salt content.
The downside to going organic, however, is that the foods are more expensive than their mainstream counterparts, because organic farming is more labor intensive and produces lower crop yields. That can be a deterrent for penny-pinching families. But just because a family is on a budget doesn’t mean they can’t reap the organic rewards for their children – they need to choose wisely and understand when to select organic and when it’s OK to not go organic.
Sears recommends always buying the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables organically in order to avoid most of the pesticides that are out there. The “dirty dozen” are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale and collard greens, potatoes and imported grapes.
Then, to save a little money, he suggests buying the “clean 15” foods non-organically.
The “clean 15” group is made up of onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potato and honeydew melon.
“These foods have the least amount of pesticides,” explains Sears.
Another option is to make your own. Registered dietician Rosalind Benner, used to make all of the baby foods for her children.
“I would take a whole chicken, and slowly simmer it in water until it was tender,” says Benner who works as a nutritionist and culinary specialist with a local grocer. “Then I would debone, remove skins and fat, shred and then process the chicken with a small amount of broth to a mashed potato consistency.”
While most busy moms today are looking for convenience, it becomes more economical in the long run to devote some time to making large batches of baby food and freezing them to use at a later date.
Benner says one of the easiest ways to do-it-yourself is to purchase frozen organic fruits and vegetables, prepare them according to the package directions, and blend them in a food processor. Then spoon about two tablespoons at a time of the pureed food into ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, they can be stored in Ziploc bags or plastic containers. When it’s time to eat, simply thaw and serve, adding a small amount of mashed potato flakes or powder if the thawed consistency is too runny.
“This is a very economical way to make your own baby food,” Benner says. “As the baby gets older you can process the foods to a chunky texture and freeze the same way. You will save many dollars and it will be the best nutrition for your baby.”
Bonny Osterhage is a San Antonio based freelance writer and mother of two.