The Switch to a Cleaner Dirty Dozen

As the mother of two small children (age 2 ½ and 6 months), I try my best to make healthy eating choices every day. I make my own baby food (lots easier than it sounds and very cost-effective), use as little pre-packaged/processed foods to make meals as I can, and avoid sugar and junk food whenever possible. That being said, I will admit that I used to roll my eyes at the word organic. I looked at the prices and didn’t really understand why I was paying sometimes more than twice the price for the “same” foods.

When this study came out in Pediatrics in May 2010 and showed a relationship between pesticide exposure and the diagnosis of ADHD [Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] in children, I realized that it was possible that the foods weren’t the same at all.

To be clear, this study is not saying that pesticides cause ADHD. What it does say is that the researchers “conducted a study with 1139 children 8 to 15 years of age, representative of the US population. The findings showed that children with higher urinary levels of organophosphate metabolites were more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.” It also says that the majority of these metabolites aren’t coming from kids playing in treated grass or passing a farm, they are coming from what our children are eating. Eek!

Reading this study was sobering, because though we can’t say for sure that these metabolites cause ADHD, we can’t say for sure that they don’t. I read this study after sharing a pint of non-organic blueberries with my toddler son (oh, and I was pregnant at the time!). I had visions of the pesticides just working their way into my kiddos’ brains. It was enough to make this hormonal woman crazy!

Fortunately, our children are fortunate enough to be in care of local pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, otherwise known as Seattle Mama Doc . I was interested to see her take on this data and she didn’t fail to deliver. Her post on this very topic led me to the conclusion that I needed to start making some different choices when grocery shopping. What I like best about Dr. Swanson is that she is not a fear-monger. She urges parents to make informed decisions about what is best for their families. However, she takes scientific data, helps frame it for reference in our everyday lives, and has sound advice to offer moving forward.

So, now we buy organic milk and dairy products. When purchasing fruits and vegetables, I buy organic if the cost difference is negligible or if the item I am purchasing is one of the “Dirty Dozen” – which is a list of the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues on them (the article also shows the twelve that have the least).

Labeling food organic does not necessarily mean that it has no toxins, but it does mean that the food has less toxins and pesticides than conventional food. So I now wash and scrub foods (especially potatoes – one of the “Dirty Dozen”) carefully. I am even washing frozen fruits and vegetables now, something that had never occurred to me in the past.

I also researched what the best organic milk is based on this milk scorecard. I was a little discouraged to find that the private label organic milk that I had been buying was poorly rated. I switched to a better brand, but it was a lot more expensive – even by organic standards – and I could only find it at a store that was a bit out of my way. I cringed every time my son asked for milk! Then one day, while shopping at a local farmer’s market, I was introduced to Smith Brother’s Farm, which is a Seattle-area dairy delivery service. In our area, the price to have the milk delivered to our home was less than buying it from the store and I knew the quality was excellent. This milk is one of the high points of my switching-to-organic experience.

It hasn’t all been perfect. There are times when I can’t buy things that I want, like blueberries, strawberries, or grapes, because they are just too expensive. There are times when friends or family make fun of us for choosing organic, their sentiments echoing mine from just a year ago. We just do the best we can, when we can.

When I think about the potential risks from not making these changes, I am confident we are doing the right thing for our family. There are lots of things we spend our money on, but giving our children the best food possible doesn’t seem like a waste. It seems like a wise investment.

This is a guest post written by Kathryn Henry, a writer for TeachStreet. TeachStreet is a website that provides online and local classes, including cooking classes.