Feel guilty because you feed your baby conventional fruits and veggies—instead of organic? Don't.
That's the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics in a new report that says families on a budget shouldn't fret over whether the foods they eat are organic or conventional.
The report is the result of an AAP analysis of available scientific studies concerning organic produce, dairy products, and meat. Their conclusion? When it comes to fruits, vegetables, and other foods, conventional and organic varieties have almost identical amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients. Organic foods do have lower pesticide levels and organically-raised animals are less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria, thanks to less frequent use of antibiotics. However, in the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease, namely because no large studies have looked at this issue.
What this all comes down to, says Janet Silverstein, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and one of the lead authors of the report, is "that children eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whether those are conventional or organic foods."
"This type of diet has proven health benefits," she continues, and—let's face it—it costs a lot less to eat conventional foods, a factor the AAP took into account when making its recommendation. "We do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thus reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like produce," emphasizes Silverstein.
But what about those pesticides? "At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person's health over a lifetime, though we do know that children—especially young children whose brains are developing—are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures," says Joel Forman, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and one of the lead authors of the AAP report.
It should also be noted that when it came to cow's milk, a food that's often the subject of much debate among parents, the report found no individual health benefits from drinking organic versus conventional milk, but emphasized that all milk should be pasteurized to reduce the risk of bacterial infections. The AAP did, however, call for more studies to examine the impact of hormonal exposure of children through milk and meat.
Does any of this change your mind? For two moms on opposite sides of the organic versus conventional debate, the report seems to simply give further credence to their own deeply held—and opposing—beliefs.
"My family eats a very healthy diet—it's just not organic, and I am OK with that. We always take precautions by washing all our fruits and vegetables before eating, our milk carton is labeled rBGH-free and I always follow food recalls really closely." says Tricia Crowley, a mom of two from Poughkeepsie, New York.
But Allison Stewart, a mom from San Diego, California, who feeds her family organic foods as much as possible, thinks the AAP needs to do a little more digging before telling parents that conventional foods are OK. "It's ridiculous to think this luscious red tomato I just pulled out of my garden is nutritionally the same as those rock hard tomatoes with white flesh at the store. I just refuse to believe it! However, I am glad to see that they want to look into the health effects of pesticides, and conventional milk. That stuff is scary and I won't expose my kids to it."
In other words? According to Stewart, "If you try to give my daughter a glass of milk that's not organic, you will have go through me first."