1. Morin, Karen H. DSN, RN

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There has been considerable discussion recently about risks associated with certain agricultural practices, such as pesticides and antibiotics. Because of this, adults are now sometimes choosing to buy organic foods because they want to avoid health risks or because of their "concern for the environment, concern of the health of farm workers who handle the pesticides, or because they perceive the taste of organic products to be better than conventionally grown products" (Maguire, Owens, & Simon, 2004, p. 2-3).


Parents you see may also be concerned about the foods they choose for their infant. Although there is little information in the literature about parental perceptions of risks associated with traditionally grown versus organically grown foods for children, Maguire et al. (2004) did find that parents "estimate risk reductions for long-term health risks" (p. 22) for their infants when using organic foods.


How would you respond if a parent asked you about the use of organically grown infant foods? Can you articulate the difference between organic, natural, and health foods? Are organic foods more nutritious than foods grown under standard agricultural conditions? What advice can you offer parents? If you cannot answer these questions, then this column is for you!!


Differentiating Organic, Natural, and Health Foods

The American Academy of Pediatrics (2004) offers the following definition of organic foods: "Organic foods are plant products grown in soil enriched with humus and compost on which no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers have been used, or they are meat and dairy products from animals raised on natural feeds and not treated with drugs, such as hormones or antibiotics" (p. 213). Although this definition is quite comprehensive, a universally accepted definition remains illusive. Discussions with parents should acknowledge this point.


Natural foods do not include any counterfeit additives or ingredients; plant or animal sources used in their production have been altered as little as possible (AAP, 2004), so organic foods could be considered a more stringent subset of natural foods. The broadest category a parent may encounter is that of health foods; this term refers to both organic and natural foods.


Although long-term studies do not support differences in nutritive value, the fact is that color, taste, or other sensory characteristics may vary because of the differences in the production methods of organic products (AAP, 2004).



An important aspect to consider is cost, because these foods typically are more expensive than conventionally grown foods (March of Dimes [MOD], 2008). Several reasons are offered for the difference in price: federal farming subsidies do not extend to organic farmers, organic farms tend to be smaller, which limits the benefits of large-scale farming, and organic farming is more labor intensive. Although parents must consider cost-benefit ratio when deciding whether to purchase organically grown food, it is important to stress that the focus should be on providing their infant with a balanced, healthful diet. Parents should be encouraged to read product labels carefully because "some organic foods are high in fat, sugar, or salt" (MOD, 2008). Parents also need advice about purchasing seasonal fruits and vegetables that provide excellent nutritional value. Finally, parents should be made aware that some organically prepared infant foods might not include the recommended daily allowances for select nutrients. They should be cautioned not to overlook the "the positive benefits of fortified and enriched foods that can help ensure that nutritional status is satisfac-tory" (AAP, 2004, p. 214).


Although some parents may choose organically grown food for their children, the absolute value of these foods thus far has not been shown to be superior for infants. Nutritional value is the key to infant food choice, organic or not.




American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Pediatric nutrition handbook (5th ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL: Author. [Context Link]


March of Dimes. (2008). Organic foods: Are they better for baby? Retrieved February 6, 2009, from[Context Link]


Maguire, K. B., Owens, N., & Simon, N. B. (2004). Focus on babies: Evidence on parental attitudes towards pesticide risk. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Environmental Economics. Working Paper #04-02. [Context Link]