Natural vs. Organic and What’s Best for Your Baby
by Alan Greene, MS, FAAP
With people’s increasing awareness about the health risks posed by pesticides, GMOs, and synthetic hormones used in conventional agriculture, more food companies are taking steps to bump up the natural factor of their products. With “organic” and “natural” foods popping up all over your grocery shelves, we wanted to help define what those mean, and give you a few tips on what to look for.
Here’s a very brief guide to what it means:
NATURAL: The first thing you should understand is that, except for meat, “natural” doesn’t have a standard or regulated definition, while “organic” does and is strictly overseen by the federal government. Companies can freely use the term “natural” as they please and for the most part, it typically means they haven’t added any artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup. A step in the right direction, but still not ideal. Genetically engineered ingredients can be labeled natural.
ORGANIC: Organic farming, on the other hand, prohibits the use of toxic and persistent chemicals in favor of innovative practices that work with nature, instead of against it. In the case of livestock, no antibiotics or synthetic hormones are permitted. Organic production also prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic practices mean:
Why Organic, Especially for Children
No toxic synthetic pesticides to contaminate our soil and water or injure farm workers
No synthetic fertilizers to runoff and contaminate rivers, lakes, and oceans
A healthier and more sustainable environment for us all.
Babies are built from food. If there’s one priority time in life to choose organic foods, it’s the window of early development from pregnancy through infancy, when development is fastest and most complex. Their rapidly growing bodies benefit most from superior building blocks and are also most vulnerable to toxics. In the US, the most common solid food for babies is conventional white rice baby cereal – basically refined white flour. This can set the trajectory of their taste preferences and metabolisms.
One high impact simple thing to do? Let every child’s first grain be a whole grain. And let every baby’s first food be a real food, preferably organic. It can be as simple as mashed avocado or banana that the baby has touched and seen you eat, learning where food comes from at the start.
Since organic can cost more, keep costs down using these tips:
Use Dr. Greene's Organic Prescription to help you prioritize the organic choices that your family should make. The list is progressive, so once you make the switch to organic milk (perhaps the most important choice), move on to organic potatoes (choice #2), then organic peanut butter... and so on. Babies’ diets are different from those of older children. For babies, the top three choices are likely to be whatever three foods they eat most often.
Use the Organic Essentials pocket guide for reducing pesticide dietary exposure to make decisions about your fruits and vegetables.
Eat less meat. Filling your plates with vegetarian dishes with soy and legumes instead of meat and chicken entrees lowers your grocery bill. If you're used to eating meat at every meal, try a couple of meatless entrees a week. You'll see a difference.
Grow produce at home. Even if you are limited to a smaller container garden, growing your own food is a great learning experience for your children and can be a cost-saver for you. And, most importantly, you get to monitor what goes into your food!
Our children are our most treasured resources, and we have the opportunity to protect them. By reducing toxic exposure, organic products can help us raise healthy, strong children. Through nurturing the soil and keeping toxic and persistent chemicals out of the environment, organic agriculture is one thing we can support to help us pass along a healthy and safe planet for future generations. The cost may be a little more, but the value for you and your family may be far greater.