Is buying organic worth the cost?

Shopping for organic food is an individual choice for your growing family.

“For me personally, my top priority is making sure that my family is eating the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day whether it be from organic produce or not,” says Elizabeth Zawila, a mother of two young children.

There’s increasing concern about the safety of exposure to synthetic pesticide residues, especially for pregnant women and young children.

What has captured parents’ attention is the emerging research linking pesticide exposure to children’s attention, cognition and behavior, as well as sensory issues.

A clinical report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in November 2012 came out in favor of buying organic produce and meat, but suggested you can skip the organic milk. The report found there’s little difference in the vitamin and mineral content between organic and conventional foods.

The report does cite lower pesticides in organically grown produce and a likely lower risk of exposure to drug-resistant bacteria.

Switching to organic produce for five days reduced the levels of pesticide residue in the urine of children accustomed to eating conventional produce, one study cited found. “It remains unclear whether such a reduction in exposure is clinically relevant,” the report states.

Organic milk is popular with parents due to concerns about growth hormones and estrogen often given to conventionally raised cows. The report concluded, “Ingestion of milk from estrogen-treated cows appears to be safe for children.”

Be strategic

Organics cost 10-40 percent more than conventionally grown produce. Save money by choosing store brands, shopping at warehouse clubs or buying in stores’ bulk sections.

“Labeling a food as `organic’ can give you a false sense of security. Even organic snack foods can be just as high in sugar, sodium, fat, as their nonorganic counterparts,” reminds Zawila, a registered dietitian who is a clinical nutrition specialist at the University of Illinois Medical Center.

While the debate continues over which is healthier, consider this: Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in general is the point.

If buying all organic isn’t a priority or a financial reality for you, consider taking a strategic approach. Insist on organic versions of what retains the most pesticide residue such as apples, grapes or celery. Skip it for produce with skins or peels such as bananas, pineapples and onions.

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