But studies show that parents who are aiming to buy the best food for their infants may not need to spring for the expensive organics.
“The variety of foods and nutrients that babies take in will have a much larger impact on their health than whether they’re fed organic or not,” says Tiffani Hays, the director of pediatric nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “Vitamins, minerals and fiber have much better research and documented health benefits than does choosing organic.”
A 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine considered the question “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?” After analyzing hundreds of previous studies, including some that involved pregnant women and children, the authors found no strong evidence in favor of the organics.
No nutritional difference
Stanford University physician Crystal Smith-Spangler and her co-authors did not find consistent differences in nutrient levels between the two options. There was a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination in organic than in conventional food, but it was rare for food from either group to exceed limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.
“Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than conventional alternatives, we did not find robust evidence supporting this perception,” the authors noted.
“The purpose of the study was not to tell people what to buy and eat, but to give people the information about the difference,” Smith-Spangler says. “I can see smart, rational people making different decisions. It’s a complex decision.”
A 2000 study, meanwhile, compared pesticide levels in three brands of baby food, two of them conventional and one organic. The authors didn’t detect pesticide residues in any of the samples.
Additives in food, such as dyes and preservatives, have been studied and found to be safe, though some parents still worry that there are negative effects, especially for infants and young children, Hays says. Cancer, immune diseases, gastrointestinal symptoms and even behavioral problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have all been blamed on food additives, she says, adding that there are no data behind these suspicions.
“These only remain concerns in theory, not something that has been documented and supported by controlled research studies or anything like that,” she says.