The Offending Statement
“I should be feeding my child strictly organic foods, right?"
The organic food craze has led many parents to feel that the only foods that appear in their kitchens should have that "organic," "hormone-free," or "pesticide free" stamp, but this may be at the expense of providing their children with a well-balanced diet.
Why We Don’t Want to Hear It
An apple a day keeps the doctor away … but should it be organic? I have struggled with this question with patients for a few years now. And I often arrive at the brutally honest answer, “I just don’t know.” In fact, I don’t think anyone really knows. This is a dreaded question because generally, doctors don’t like to hear a question to which they don’t know the answer.
Should a family scrimping to pay food bills pay 50 percent more for the organic stamp on their milk, beef, or even infant formula? Does eating only organic make sense?
Many parents are concerned about the effects of hormones. “Hormones are in all of our foods now,” say the critics. “They are making our kids develop earlier.” Actually, most medical experts would disagree. They would point to better nutrition and over-nutrition, or obesity, as the reasons that our “normal” six- to eight-year-olds are developing breasts and pubic hair.
What You Should Say
Our aim as parents should be to balance our child’s diet. We should concentrate on maximizing fruits and vegetables, minimizing sweets, and being less concerned over low-fat, low-sugar, or all-natural labels. Your pediatrician should take a dietary history at every standard visit. You might ask, “How can I best balance my child’s diet?” or, “How can I get more fruits and veggies into my kid?” Start by examining the CDC’s food pyramid for kids or adults or using the BabyZone nutrition tracker, and find out if you have any detailed questions for your doc.
If you can’t resist the pull of the organic concept, you might ask, “What organic foods might be important to spend the extra cash on, and which are a total waste of money?” According to a Consumer Reports study in 2006, it may be reasonable to buy some fruits and vegetables along with meat and dairy in the organic category.
Helping Parents Deal
We want our kids to have every advantage. We slather them with sunscreen despite their protests, we buckle them in car seats despite their whining, we make them sit at the table until they have tried their green beans despite the sour look on their faces. All because we think it is best for them. Is eating organic one of those advantages? Does eating organic really make our children measurably healthier? No one has the final answer, and there are plenty of doctors who firmly believe the answer is no.
Parents tend to feel universally guilty about their children’s nutrition. I take a dietary history on all my patients, and rarely do I hear a parent find his or her child’s diet flawless. “He won’t drink milk.” “She won’t eat a single vegetable.” “He never touches fruit.” These are common concerns. Is “organic” the new antidote for the relief of parent nutritional guilt? Maybe.
So, when I hear “Should I buy organic, Doc?” I tell my patients that I’m buying the less expensive apple and washing it very carefully.