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Organic Produce for Your Kids

by Julia McCartney on May 2, 2012

Parents are constantly struggling to encourage their children to eat more fruits and vegetables for their nutritional value, but some produce may contain pesticides that cause harmful effects on humans. To reduce the amount of chemicals in children’s food, parents are switching to organic fruits and vegetables. According to studies, organic and conventional produce contain equivalent amounts of nutrients. Organic foods are more expensive than traditional, but they contain far fewer pesticides and chemicals.

In order for foods to be classified as organic, they must meet certain requirements posed by the USDA. Natural is not the same thing as organic, so it is important to pay attention to labels when shopping. The method of farming and producing determines whether or not foods are organic. In order to use USDA organic labels, farmers must practice conservation methods without the use of pollutants and chemicals. Mayo Clinic outlines some of the basic requirements that organic farmers must meet.

Organic foods are not allowed to contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which are substances with altered DNA. Currently, GMOs are not thoroughly tested for safety and have loose regulations by the FDA. GMO crops frequently fail at their intended purposes of reducing agricultural costs, decreasing famine and eliminating the use of chemicals. Many strains of GMO crops have become resistant to traditional pesticides, and farmers have had to resort to using highly toxic chemicals to kill insects and weeds. Safety concerns for these artificially created foods include male sterility, limited nutritional value and toxicity levels.

Organic farmers produce goods that are better for the environment and for human consumption. Conventional farming methods use chemical fertilizers where organic practices use manure or compost to achieve the same goal. Organic farmers eliminate pesticides by providing habitats for animals that eat harmful insects. These farmers also utilize traps and disrupt mating habits to prevent disease-carrying insects from infecting the agriculture. Conventional farmers use herbicides to control weeds, but organic farmers use methods like crop rotation, tilling, laying mulch and pulling weeds by hand.

Children exposed to pesticides and chemicals face greater health risks than adults due to their undeveloped bodies. Consumption of pesticides is linked to childhood cancers, neurological damage, behavioral disorders and Parkinson’s disease. Pregnant women who are exposed to pesticides can cause birth defects in the fetus. Such chemicals are heavily associated with developmental problems because of the stress they put on organs and their weakening effect on the immune system.

Children can greatly benefit from eating organic fruits and vegetables. They receive tons of nutrients without the addition of harmful pesticides. Because organic foods do not contain any chemical additives, they taste better than conventional produce. Parents will have an easier time getting their children to eat veggies when the flavor is appealing. Other chemicals, such as MSG and preservatives, cause similar problems as pesticides, but organic foods eliminate the use of such additives. Children receive nothing but nutrients from organic fruits and vegetables.

Since organic produce is not always available in certain areas, it is important for parents to know which fruits and vegetables are most susceptible to pesticides. Leafy greens, such as kale and lettuce, contain high amounts of pesticide residues. Other foods for concern include apples, bell peppers, strawberries and grapes. ABC News offers a table of conventional produce with each food’s percentage and number of pesticides found in studies.

The government has safety standards for pesticide residues, and most foods do not exceed these amounts. Foods with low pesticide residues include asparagus, grapefruit, onions and pineapple. Parents can usually get away with purchasing these conventional foods without much concern. For produce with high amounts of pesticides, it is best to buy the organic versions. If the organic equivalents are not offered, there are methods of reducing the amount of chemicals.

Washing fruits and vegetables helps to remove some pesticides but not all. Parents can peel produce for their children, but this method also removes some of the nutrients. Steaming vegetables is a highly effective way to remove chemicals while preserving the nutritional value. Children should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to gain an optimum amount of nutrients without pesticides and chemical additives.

Organic foods are often more expensive due to the high cost of conservational farming practices. Because there are no artificial preservatives, these foods also spoil faster than their conventional counterparts. When children’s health is an issue, the added expense is always worth it. The cost of medical bills for children with developmental problems exceeds the cost of organic groceries by far. Supporting organic farmers also helps the environment by decreasing pollutants and carbon emissions. The NRDC offers tips for saving money on organic foods to help parents make smart decisions for their children’s health and nutritional needs.

As the trend for organic foods grows, more grocery stores are offering these alternatives. Some consumers may still have trouble finding organic versions of their favorite fruits and vegetables. Farmers markets are starting to pop up in various cities around the country, and they are ideal locations to find organic foods. Consumers can purchase these goods directly from farmers if they are available. It is best to buy produce that is locally sourced because these farms often use fewer chemicals and additives during shipping and handling processes.

While fruits and vegetables offer the highest amounts of nutrients for children, parents can also switch to organic meats and dairy products. This help guide from a non-profit organization offers useful information on organic foods and tips for purchasing decisions. Parents can help to ensure a healthy future for their children and the environment by spending a little extra money on organic foods and supporting the farmers who make these options available.

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