Most parents have a general sense that it’s a good idea to feed children organic food, but buying certified organic foods can be expensive. If you have to make choices, make sure you know when and where it is most important to buy organic food for your children’s snacks.
What snacks are you most likely to give children? Celery sticks? Peaches or apples? A few strawberries? These are the four foods most likely to have pesticide residues. All of us need to think carefully about even the smallest snacks we serve our children.
Consequences of Pesticides
There is not a lot of direct evidence linking pesticides in foods with health effects in children. The evidence is building up, but the food industry “has confused an absence of data with proof of safety” (EWG) and they will continue to do so until more studies show links between pesticide exposure and children’s health issues.
A May 2010 Harvard study linked ADHD and developmental disorders to organophosphates. Use of these neurotoxic pesticides has been reduced in the past 10 years, but exposures can still be traced in older children. “Evidence that everyday exposure to organophosphates may cause permanent effects on children’s brain and behavior is a sobering reminder of the need to safeguard children from harmful chemicals in their diets,” writes the EWG in their “Top Reasons to Use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Reduce Your Pesticide Exposure.”
As more studies link children’s health problems in particular with pesticides, more pesticides will be restricted.
Pesticides in Produce
U.S. Department of Agriculture tests show that 70% of foods have residues from one or more pesticides (EWG via USDA). Studies show these pesticides in humans, which is a clear and obvious connection to make when we eat conventional foods covered in pesticides.
A study showed that children who eat conventional produce have concentrations of pesticides in their blood six times higher than children who eat organic produce. Eating organic matters for everyone, but it matters most of all for children.
Top Most Important Snacks You Should Buy Organic
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a Shopper’s Guide that lists The Clean Fifteen vegetables least likely to have pesticides and The Dirty Dozen foods most likely to have pesticides. I have their wallet card stuck to my refrigerator so I will remember to always buy organic celery and peaches above all other produce with strawberries and apples close behind. Even better, tie a copy of the wallet card to your reusable grocery bags like EWG shows on their website, and you will always remember when you are in the store what you should look out for.
EWG finds that we can lower our exposures by 80% by just eating more of the less contaminated foods and less of the most contaminated foods (EWG, “Methodology”).
Looking at the list of fruits and vegetables, those below are among the most likely snacks for my children and the most and least likely to have pesticide residues.
Definitely Buy Organic
From the EWG list, starting with the most likely to have pesticide residues.
Less Likely to Find Pesticide Residues
Starting with the least likely.
Do you need to buy certified organic?
If you have the option to buy local, non-certified organic foods that have not been treated with pesticides, that is the best option. Many very small farmers don’t opt for certification for various reasons. The certification itself is not the point. Look for foods that have not been treated with pesticides. Get to know your farmer, and start a conversation about health, pesticides, and children.