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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

MD Mama

What parents need to know about organic food

Excerpted from the MD Mama blog on Boston.com.

One of the questions I’m most commonly asked as a doctor, and one I ask myself often as a mom, is: Should I buy organic foods?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because there is a lot we don’t know about the health benefits of organic foods — and the risks of conventional ones. Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a clinical report to help us figure out what to do as we stand in those grocery aisles.

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Here’s what the report said:

1. It’s not clear that organic foods are more nutritious. They might be, but so far there isn’t the scientific evidence to prove it. If you are making your decision purely from a nutrition standpoint, organic doesn’t seem to be necessary.

2.Organic produce has fewer pesticides. What is tricky is that we don’t know if the amount of pesticides in conventional foods is dangerous or not. There are studies that suggest that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy can lead to learning and behavior problems in children. In general, it’s babies and children we worry most about. But the truth is, we just don’t know what’s safe at any age.

3.Organic meats have fewer resistant bacteria in them. Conventional farms give animals antibiotics to make them bigger. And whenever you use antibiotics a lot, you kill off the weaker bacteria and leave the resistant ones, like MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), that cause all sorts of really tough infections. There isn’t much risk of catching one of these infections from making burgers, but by buying meats from companies that don’t use antibiotics you can help fight the superbug problem.

4. You don’t need to buy organic milk (or organic infant formulas). Pesticides really aren’t a problem in milk. What most people worry about is hormones, but it turns out that we don’t really need to worry about that, either. Yes, cows are given bovine (cow) growth hormone, and it gets into their milk, but it gets broken down by pasteurization and our digestive systems. Also, it’s a cow hormone; it doesn’t affect humans.

5.Organic farming is better for the environment and for sustaining our resources. By buying organic foods, we encourage more farmers to use organic methods for making our food and to find cheaper ways to do it, something the AAP says is absolutely possible if we set our minds to it.

In making the organic-or-not decision at the grocery store, remember that the most important thing is to eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Having five servings a day of conventional produce is healthier than one serving a day of organic produce.

Dr. Claire McCarthy is a pediatrician and medical communications editor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Read her blog on Bos
ton.com/Health. Follow her on Twitter @drClaire.
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