Have you ever been amazed by the fact that the apples your bought from the supermarket 3 weeks ago still look fresh? Have you wondered why all the strawberries in the pack are so red, succulently perfect, and almost identical to their siblings? Thought about why a chicken drumstick is the size of your toddler’s thigh?
In most cases, the reason why our food looks so delectable and, simply put, big is due to some sort of chemical treatment. Insecticides, pesticides, antibiotics, steroids, growth hormones – these are all examples of what’s been put in your food to make it look as pretty as it does on the outside. What lurks within, however, is not so pretty. These chemical treatments have been shown to lead to behavioral problems, cognitive impairment, and fatal diseases such as cancer in the worst cases. In this instance, that 3 week old chemically coated apple may not keep the doctor away.
A lot of literature over the past few years and decades makes a case for moving away from such chemically treated food. While some of the criticism of non-organic food can sometimes come across as a little over-the-top, the bottom line is actually very straightforward: natural, organic food (vegetables & meat) is almost always healthier than the chemically treated variety.
This is all the more important for young, growing bodies who are more susceptible to chemical interference.
Why Are Children More Susceptible?
There are a number of reasons why children are more vulnerable, than adults, to the ill-effects of chemically treated foods:
- Children’s internal organs are still developing and they have less natural protection than those of an adult
- Kidneys of young children do not detoxify as efficiently
- Kids consume more food, in proportion to their weight, than adults. Hence they absorb more toxins and contaminants
- Childhood is a critical period in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way the biological systems operates
- Children may be exposed more to certain pesticides because often they eat different foods than adults
And What are Some of these Harmful Effects?
There is a lot of research on the adverse effects of chemically treated foods. Studies have shown that:
- Exposure to pesticides has been linked to behavioral problems, such as ADHD
- Chemicals in conventionally grown foods can affect the brain development of fetuses and young children. In fact, pesticides have also been tied to lower IQ in kids (7 whole points), as well as challenges with short-term memory
- Pesticides have been linked to issues with stamina, balance, and hand-eye coordination
- Several studies implicate pesticides as a cause of hematologic tumors in children, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia
- Hormone disruptors, found in a lot of pesticides and environmental chemicals, affect the development of reproductive organs by mimicking hormones. They have also been linked to such as falling sperm counts, girls entering puberty earlier, infertility and masculinization of girls. Additionally, these hormone disruptors also increases a woman’s risk of developing breast and reproductive organ cancers
- Several types of cancers in children have been linked to pesticides, including leukemia, brain cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma
As more and more people make the shift towards natural, organic foods it is worth understanding what earns a food item the ‘organic’ label.
For a food item to be certified as organic, it needs to be free of fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, and genetic modifiers. In short, organic foods can reduce the intake of harmful chemicals which can have adverse and long-lasting impacts on children. Organic foods range from meat and poultry to produce, cereals, and dairy.
Organic versus conventionally farming
Organic foods are grown using sustainable, natural methods, which make them better for the environment in three important ways:
- Organic farming helps decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the air
- Organic farming uses less energy (almost 30% less), less water, and no pesticides
- Organic farming helps the soil as it reduces groundwater pollution as the lack of pesticide use eans that chemicals do not enter our water sources. Foregoing pesticides also means less soil erosion, which amounts to increased productivity of the soil
Here are some of the essential differences between the way conventional foods and organic foods are farmed:
Studies have found organically farmed fruits and vegetables contain up to 30% more antioxidants, which lowers the risk of heart disease, some neurological diseases and some cancers
Besides the fact that organic foods do not contain harmful chemical residues, research has also shown that organic products have higher levels of some minerals and vitamins than their nonorganic counterparts. For example:
- Organically grown produce has been found to have up to 50%more phytonutrients. These phytonutrients strengthen immune systems
- Some organic fruits and vegetables (for example: tomatoes, carrots, apples, peaches and potatoes) contain higher levels of Vitamin C and ascorbic acids than their non-organic counterparts
- Organic milk is naturally higher in Omega 3 Alpha Linolenic fatty Acid (ALA) than non-organic milk
- Organic produce and even meats contain lower levels of nitrates, which come from fertilizer accumulating in conventionally grown vegetables and fruit.
- Organically grown foods have less heavy metal residues than conventionally grown foods. For example organic foods have:
- 40% less aluminum, which is implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease
- 29% less lead which may cause irreversible neurological damage as well as renal disease, cardiovascular effects, and reproductive toxicity
- 25% less mercury, which can damage the central nervous system and other organs such as the liver or gastrointestinal tract
All foods are not created equal
Certain fruits and vegetables are grown with toxic levels of pesticides and chemicals and are more likely to contain harmful residues. Similarly, conventionally reared meat and dairy products are usually ridden with hormones and antibiotics.
The Environmental Working Group (an organization of scientists, researchers and policymakers), put together two lists, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15,” to help consumers figure out when they should buy organic fruits and vegetables. It is recommended that whenever possible, to opt for the organic versions of the produce in the “Dirty Dozen” list. Additionally, try to buy organic versions of the following items:
- Jarred/canned baby food
Print out this convenient Organic Eating Tip Sheet before your next shopping expedition to figure out which organic foods to buy for your children.
We hope that this article has given you enough facts to help make your decision regarding switching your child’s diet to organically farmed alternatives. The chemicals used in conventionally farmed foods can have some long-lasting, adverse effects on our children’s lives. Switching to organic foods can reduce pesticide and other harmful chemical content in a child’s body dramatically. So don’t despair- you can certainly change your food choices now and make a drastic, positive impact on your child’s health.
Photograph credit: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
- Helen Jones (2008). Pesticide Health Risks To Children And The Unborn: Various Resources And Alternative.
- Sanborn, Margaret (2004). Ontario College of Family Physicians Pesticide Report.
- Walter J. Crinnion (1995). Are Organic Foods Really Healthier For You?
- Environmental Working Group. www.ewg.org.