Organic Foods and Children

Friday, October 19, 2007 - 5:55pm

By Karen Crawford, MS, RD, CSP

Buying organic seems to be the new diet trend of choice. The organic market has exploded with new products and leading the way are organic beverages, prepared foods, and snacks. But is organic food healthier? Should we spend the extra money on organic foods when shopping for our kids? These questions are becoming more and more common by parents today. Knowing the differences between organic and non-organic foods is imperative before making this decision.

Nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods

The nutrition profile for organic food is the same as non-organic. The difference is in way the foods are grown, handled, and processed. You will also find that the ingredients used in organic products are sometimes more desirable. A lot of non-organic products suited for kids surprisingly contain partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Scientific research has shown that even small amounts of trans fats are unhealthy and should not be consumed. For a parent, this may be reason enough to wheel your cart through the small organic section of your grocery store for certain items such as cereals, crackers, and cookies.

Here are a couple of examples of two similar products: One is non-organic and the other is its organic counterpart. These products are in the same category, target the same audience, and have a similar look and taste. But look at how different the ingredient lists are:

Kellogg's Corn Pops Cereal

Envirokidz Gorilla Munch

Milled corn, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (one or more of: coconut, cottonseed, and soybean), sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), niacinamide, reduced iron, zinc oxide, wheatstarch, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B12), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), annotto color, vitamin A palmitate, BHT (preservative), folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

Organic corn meal, organic evaporated cane juice, sea salt.

Nabisco's Fig Newton's

Newman's Own Fig Newman's

Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), figs preserved with sulfur dioxide, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glycerin, whey (from milk), salt, soy lecithin (emulsifier), leavening (baking soda, calcium phosphate), calcium lactate, sodium benzoate added to preserve freshness, malic acid, artificial flavor, malted barley flour, cornstarch.

Organic Unbleached Flour, Organic Sugar, Corn Syrup, Organic Figs, Water, Leavening (sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), Non-Fat Dry Milk, Vanilla, Salt, Natural Flavor, Soy Lecithin (an emulsifier).

It's daunting to see the number of ingredients listed under the non-organic product in comparison to the organic product; not to mention that most of them are unrecognizable to the average consumer.

Non-nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods

A common concern among consumers with non-organic fruits, vegetables, and meats is the use of pesticides, steroids, and antibiotics. Organic farmers do not use conventional pesticides made with synthetic ingredients on their crops. Pesticide residue on fresh fruits and vegetables has been shown to be minimal; however, it is present and in larger amounts with some fruits and vegetables than others. Although pesticides used by non-organic farmers are FDA-approved and are said to pose no health risks, many consumers are concerned and would rather avoid the risk all together.

The use of steroids and antibiotics with live stock is an allowing practice for non-organic farmers. The benefit of animals raised on an organic operation is they must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Conclusion: organic products contain fewer and more quality ingredients

Interest and participation in the organic market is increasing. The organic market has risen from 3 million dollars in 1997 to almost 18 million dollars in 2007. The difference between this diet trend, the "fat-free" fad, and the "low-carb" fad is that I believe it is here to stay. Organic products are becoming more and more available and will continue to drop in price as more consumers head in that direction and more manufactures get involved. There are valid reasons to make the organic switch, at lease for some products, despite their nutrient profile being the same as non-organic. Bottom line, organic products contain fewer and more quality ingredients. If you find the differences in farming, processing, and handling unimportant enough to buy organic, consider the ingredient profile when purchasing foods for your children.

For further information on the benefits of organic food see the following article from TheDietChannel: Organic Food: Is Organic Food Really Better than Non-organic?