We’ve all been there, standing in the grocery store, looking at fresh fruits and vegetables, and wondering, “Is organic really better for my family and me? Is it worth the extra cost?” Before tearing your hair out, be sure you understand what organic means.
A vegetable or fruit labeled organic simply means the product meets certain standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For example, organic foods are usually grown with fewer pesticides than other foods. Only special approved fertilizers and pesticides can be used on these crops. Additionally, the product must be free from genetic engineering (often used to make food grow larger and faster) and radiation.
Organic foods usually cost more than non-organic foods. For instance, in May 2008, Newsweek reported that organic red delicious apples cost $1.99 per pound, while non-organic cost only $1.49. Organic eggs cost $3.99 a dozen; non-organic, $1.89.
There is a lot of discussion out there suggesting that organic foods are the healthier choice for families. But according to the American Dietetic Association, organic foods may not be any healthier or safer than other kinds of foods. We don’t have enough research to know for sure just yet.
What parents can do
First and foremost, it’s important for your child to eat a well-balanced diet. If organic foods are available and you can afford them, great; give them a try. But don’t sacrifice good nutrition for the organic label. Also, regardless of whether or not food is organic, always handle all food carefully and safely.
Other shopping and safety tips
• Buy vegetables and fruits when they’re in season. This will help ensure the best quality. For example, buy apples in the fall and berries and tomatoes in the summer. This also saves on fuel to transport produce from far away.
• Read labels carefully. Organic may not mean healthy. Some organic foods are high in fat, sugar or salt.
• If you worry about pesticides, peel all fruits and vegetables. Trim the outer leaves of leafy vegetables like lettuce and cabbage. But remember, peeling may also reduce nutritional value. Pesticides are sometimes found in the fatty parts of food. So remove fat from meat and the skin from fish and poultry.
Visit the March of Dimes website to learn more about organic foods.