All parents want to give their baby the best possible start in life, and this involves lots of important decisions. What you put in your baby’s tummy might be the most important one of all. Your baby’s first meal with solid foods is an exciting day, but parents can have difficulty choosing the right foods to start out with. Organic and conventional baby foods have some fundamental differences, so having the facts can help parents make informed decisions about what’s best for their little one.
Conventional Baby Food
Most baby foods are made from cooking, pureeing and packaging fresh foods. For non-organic baby foods, the source food, such as apples, green beans, or rice, is grown using conventional farming or ranching methods. Most conventional baby foods are inexpensive and parents have a wealth of different varieties to choose from.
In order for baby food (or any other food) to carry an organic label, it must meet the strict standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Program, meaning that it comes from fruits and vegetables that are not sprayed with chemical pesticides and meat from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic foods don’t contain any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
Benefits of Organic
According to the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Jay Hoecker, organic baby food can decrease your infant’s exposure to pesticides and other contaminants in foods. A study published in the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives" found that kids who ate conventional foods had several different pesticides in their systems, but these chemicals disappeared within a day after switching to organic food and juice. According to Allison Pennell writing at the parenting website Babble.com, ongoing exposure to pesticides can make babies and children more vulnerable to health problems, including a risk of neuro-development damage in particular. Since babies’ brains and bodies are at a crucial stage of development, many believe that it is necessary to limit their exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals. Pennell also writes that the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" claims that organic produce contains more nutrients and higher levels of vitamins.
Which is Best?
According to Hoecker and the National Institutes of Health, organic foods are no safer or more nutritious than conventional foods, so it’s up to parents to decide what’s best for their family. Organic baby food can be more expensive than conventional, but it limits babies' exposure to chemicals during the most sensitive time of their lives. Production methods for organic foods are also better for the environment because organic farming boosts soil fertility.
Other Things to Consider
Whether you buy organic or conventional baby foods, always check the ingredients list to see what’s actually in the jar. According to Dr. Daryth Stallone and Dr. Michael Jacobsen from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, many baby food makers, including Gerber, replace real food with water and thickening agents, such as flour or chemically modified. These products contain less nutrients per ounce than other, single-ingredient foods.
- Jay Hoecker: Organic Baby Food: Worth the Price?
- Allison Pennell: Organic Buying Guide
- Daryth Stallone & Michael Jacobsen: Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Food
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides