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March 19, 2013

Organic baby food more costly, not necessarily more nutritious

Squeezable pouches of organic baby food are as omnipresent on some American playgrounds as runny noses, diaper bags and overpriced strollers. Organic baby food can cost up to twice as much as conventionally grown baby food, and it comes in such gourmet blends as "blueberry, oats and quinoa" and " spinach, apple and rutabaga."

Parents go organic for a variety of reasons, including environmental concerns and a desire to avoid pesticide residue. And in some cases, they just want a status symbol. According to the consumer market research firm Mintel, organic baby food made up about 10 percent of the $1.4 billion U.S. baby food and snacks market in 2011.

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.

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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.

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