Written by Monica Meldrum, October 19, 2011
We all want our children to grow up healthy and have the best start in life. While most people may not be able to buy everything organic for their kids, I believe a great place to start is by choosing to buy organic foods instead of conventional ones whenever possible.
I talked last time about the main benefits of organic compared to conventional foods, and it’s even more important when it comes to kids’ health and nutrition. Some of the main reasons why organic food is better for kids are that it:
- Helps avoid toxic chemicals and artificial food additives.
- Eliminates genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- Increases the amount of good things, like vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants.
The more I read, the more research I find linking artificial food additives and pesticide exposure with children’s behavioural problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other health conditions. Children ingest more food and water per kilogram of body weight than adults, so any exposure is greater in proportion to their size. And these artificial chemicals and toxic pesticides can be more harmful to our little one’s developing organs and bodily systems, including neurological and reproductive systems, than they are to our mature adult bodies (as adults, though, we still need to do our best to avoid consuming these nasties anyway!).
Chemical insecticides work by attacking the nervous system of insects and pests to kill them, and are frequently used in conventional fruit and vegetable farming. I found a disturbing study from the US conducted in 2004 that measured the levels of these chemicals in the urine of preschool children. The study revealed that children with conventional diets had on average nine times more organophosphate insecticides in their urine than children fed organic produce. Without getting too scientific, organophosphates are used in many insecticides and herbicides. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that these types of pesticides are “very highly acutely toxic to bees, humans and wildlife”.
Industrial agriculture practices are a relatively modern invention. Prior to the twentieth century, most food was produced without the artificial assistance of growth hormones, antibiotics or chemical pesticides. We are now finally beginning to question, both scientifically and ethically, the impact of these methods on ourselves and our children. I believe choosing to buy organic is clearly becoming the healthier way to live.
Food additives are frequently used in conventional foods to improve colour, taste, texture, smell and appearance. They’re also used to stabilise product processing and extend shelf-life. But artificial additives, colours and preservatives can cause a range of health problems in children including allergic reactions, respiratory issues and behavioural problems.
More than 300 food additives are permitted for use in Australia in non-organic processed foods. Some of these additives are particular nasty and should be avoided, especially for kids. Here’s a brief list of some to watch out for (with their food code number):
- Colours (tartrazine 102; quinoline yellow 104; sunset yellow 110; cochineal 120; carmoisine 122; ponceau 124; and allura red 129).
- Preservatives (benzoates 210-213; sulphur dioxide and all sulphites 220-228; all nitrates and nitrites 249-252).
- Flavour enhancers (MSG and glutamates 620-625).
However, it’s not always easy to read packaging labels and ingredient lists to work out what nasties are in the food you buy. Food manufacturers have an array of options in how an ingredient can be labelled – or even choose not to list it on the pack at all if it is below 5% of the total product.
The whole issue of the health risks associated with artificial food additives is so important to me that I’ll devote a future post just to this topic. It’s one of the reasons I set up Whole Kids with my husband, so mums and dads finally can choose additive-free snacks for their kids.
Thankfully, GM organisms are banned from organic food. I’ve read studies that suggest as much as 80% of processed foods in the US contain a component from a GM crop. Unfortunately, many parents in the US are simply unaware how much of their food contains GMOs. And since children convert more of their food into body-building material, the potential risks of GM food may be much higher for them.
Since very little is done to monitor the impacts of GM food consumption on people, it may take years (or even decades) for health problems to emerge. So, one of the best ways to avoid the uncertain risks of GM for our children (and ourselves) is by switching to organic food.
Higher levels of vitamins, minerals & essential fatty acids
There is growing evidence that shows organic food generally contains more nutrients, vitamins and essential minerals than non-organic food. According to a group of Welsh researchers, organic milk contains 64% more omega 3 fatty acids. They also found that behavioural problems may improve if parents switch their children to organic milk, and that organic milk (compared to non-organic milk) may also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s (Medical News, 2004).
Choosing organic foods can make a lifetime of difference for our kids. When we think about what future health problems our kids may experience caused by poor diets, steering them onto a path of nutritious, healthy eating (primarily organic!) may be the most important legacy we, as parents, can give our kids.
Wishing you and your family the best of health,