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Can’t go all-organic? Begin here to jump start healthy eats for mom + baby

We all want to buy the food that is best for us, but is organic food actually better for us? Is it worth the extra cost? In this post we’ll take a look at what the term “organic” means, how this impacts us, and strategies for shopping organic.


What Does Organic Mean?

What the organic label means is slightly different for animal products versus produce and other food products.

Organic animal products, such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, comes from animals that have not been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic produce and packaged food (such as cereal or tomato sauce) is grown and produced without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or ionizing radiation. Organic foods are also generally free of fortifying agents such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors, and MSG. In addition, the farmers who produce organic food are focused on using renewable resources and conserving soil and water for future generations.

So all the above sounds good. Does that mean organic better for you?

Organic farming practices are certainly better for the environment, but whether or not organic food is better for you is an issue of ongoing debate and research. To get a better understanding of the complexity involved, let’s take a snapshot look at how conventional farming practices such as pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones affect food and whether the nutritional composition of organic foods is different from conventional.

What Does Organic Mean for Me?

When it comes to organic vs non-organic, there are several high-level concepts to consider: pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and nutrition.

Pesticides

In conventional farming, farmers treat their crops with synthetic pesticides to prevent disease and make them more resilient. Unfortunately, this usually means that some of the pesticide contaminants stay on the crops. Pesticides are toxic to human health, but the amount of pesticides found on foods is very small–the EPA regulates how much pesticide residue is allowed on any food. However, the more pesticides you are exposed to, the greater your risk of harm from them. Those at greatest risk are the workers who grow and handle the food.

Children and unborn babies may also be more sensitive to certain pesticides.

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The amount of pesticides found in fruit and veggies varies depending on the type. For example, certain produce, including peaches, nectarines, and grapes, tend to contain a lot of pesticide residue, while others, such as avocados and pineapples, contain hardly any. In general, fruits and veggies with thick shells contain less pesticide residue because it’s harder for the pesticides to permeate through the skin. To find out what produce is most contaminated refer to the dirty dozen list. You should also look at the “clean 15” list of the least contaminated fruits and veggies.

Antibiotics

As for animal products such as meat and dairy, carrying the organic label means that the animal has never been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones and has been fed a diet that adheres to strict organic standards. Antibiotics are a hot topic these days, as the overuse of antibiotics has caused more people and animals to develop antibiotic resistance. Most experts agree that minimizing the use of antibiotics in the food system is vital to our current and future health.

Growth Hormones

Some conventional dairy cows are treated with growth hormones to stimulate milk production. While the growth hormone itself is unlikely to survive pasteurization or human digestion, the milk from hormone-treated cows contains higher levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-I) than the milk from non-treated cows. IGF-I is found to some extent in all animal products, and some studies have linked it to cancer. However, other studies, along with the American Cancer Society, say the evidence is inconclusive.

Nutrition

What about the nutritional makeup of organic versus nonorganic food? Results here are mixed. A widely cited 2012 study by Stanford University looked at more than 200 studies and concluded there was little health benefit to eating organic food. But then in 2014, another major study out of Europe, looked at over 300 studies and concluded that organic fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of antioxidants than their conventional counterparts.

Research also shows that grass-fed organic cows produce milk with more omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy anti-inflammatory fat. In contrast, conventional dairy cows fed a mainly corn-based diet produce milk with higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids, a pro-inflammatory fat. Both conventional and organic farms raise grass-fed cows, so only purchasing milk labelled as grass-fed assures a healthy balance of fatty acids in your milk. But while more omega-3’s is a great thing, ounce for ounce, you get much more omega-3 from eating fatty fish such as wild salmon than you do from a glass of milk.

Bottom Line

We know that organic farming practices are better for the environment and the workers handling the food. Whether choosing organic food over conventional will affect your health significantly is unclear, but it’s a hot topic and therefore likely that new research will continue to come out in this area.

In the meantime, if you can afford to buy mostly organic, do it. It’s better for the environment, it’s better for the workers handling and growing the food, and it may be better for you. Choosing organic will also help drive up demand, eventually bringing down costs and increasing farming standards for all foods.

But, if you are on a stricter food budget, just choose strategically. Some produce is more likely to be contaminated with pesticides than others and some meat is more likely to come from cows treated with artificial growth hormones and antibiotics.

One thing that experts do seem to agree on: when it comes to fruits and vegetables, more is better–so when faced with the choice of eating conventional produce or eating no produce, eat the produce. The benefits of adding any fruits and vegetables to our diet still outweighs the risk of not eating them.

Money is Tight, but I’m Willing to Invest in Organic Where I can… What Should I Focus On?

To help you sort through all this information, here is some helpful advice on deciding what organic foods are worth spending your hard-earned dollars on.

Also, pregnant women and young children may be better off choosing organic when possible, since we still don’t know the amount of risk posed by exposure to factors such as pesticides and IGF-I.

Produce: Buy organic for the produce on the dirty dozen list; non-organic is okay for the others, especially those on the clean 15 list.

Regardless of whether you choose organic produce or not, be sure to wash your fruits and veggies thoroughly with water. This step alone can help remove pesticide residue, along with any dirt or bacteria.

Breads, cereals, and other packaged food: Conventional is probably fine, but if you feel passionately about advocating organic farming practices, choose organic when you can. Also read labels carefully to minimize added ingredients such as preservatives and food colorings that are often found in conventional foods. Likewise, just because a packaged food is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthier. For example, organic cookies are usually just as high in sugar and fat than non-organic cookies.

Dairy: Choose organic dairy products if your budget allows, especially for children and pregnant women. Organic milk reduces the worry about the unknown effects added growth hormones, but otherwise it’s known health advantages are minimal. Any grass-fed milk offers a more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, but make sure the milk is pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria.

Meat, Poultry & Eggs: If you support organic farming practices, choose organic meat, poultry, and eggs if your budget allows. Grass-fed beef may offer some nutritional advantages, but otherwise research does not yet show a significant nutritional difference between organic versus conventional. (Note: both conventional and organic eggs can be high in omega-3’s; it depends on the diet of the hen.) Buying from a local farmer is also a good way to know what is in your food and where it’s coming from.


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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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If you've got hamburger in your freezer you might want to check it before making dinner.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Cargill Meat Solutions is recalling approximately 132,606 pounds of ground beef products for possible Escherichia coli O26 (aka E.coli).

The beef was sold at various retailers, including Target, Meijer, Safeway and Sam's Club, as well as Save Mart in California. This comes after a previous recall involving ground beef sold at Publix.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service notes the recalls are the result of an investigation into 17 illnesses and one death in recent months, and that children under 5, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for a type of kidney failure common in people with E.coli infections.

"It is marked by easy bruising, pallor and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately," the agency notes.


Cargill has issued a statement on its website that reads, in part: "We were distressed to learn a fatality may be related to an E.coli contamination of one of our products. Our hearts go out to the families and individuals affected by this issue."

The recalled beef products were produced and packaged on June 21, 2018. They have a use or freeze by date of July 11.


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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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To my firstborn baby,
We were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant with your brother. We were so excited to give you a sibling to play with; someone to love and grow up with. Someone who will be your buddy for life.

But our excitement quickly turned to worry as we thought about how this would affect you. You were the only grandchild, on both sides. The only nephew, on both sides. Basically, the king of the castle. And you relished in that title.

We took special care to wait as long as possible to tell you. We waited until 20 weeks when we knew you were going to be getting a brother. We felt it would be easier for you to wrap your head around and also shorter for you to wait for his arrival.

I still watch the video of you cutting into the gender reveal cake. You were SO excited to see blue—because that meant you were getting a brother. You were overjoyed with telling everyone the news because you were the first to know.

From there your love for him grew every day. YOU too had a baby in your belly. I was carrying YOUR baby. You told everyone who would listen that you were going to be a big brother. We wondered if your love for him would quickly fade when he was actually here. When you realized that you would have to share time and attention...

But we were wrong. Your heart grew a million times bigger the day your brother arrived.

You came to visit me in the hospital wearing your doctor uniform, to check on both of us. You made friends with the nurses. You wanted to make sure I was okay. You wanted to take care of me and were so proud to wear your "Big Brother" shirt your aunt made you.

You were such a trooper during his two-week stay in the NICU. You were too young to go in to visit him. So, for you, it meant you had this mysterious brother you could only see in pictures and videos.

You drew him cards and colored pictures for his isolette (which you so playfully called his aquarium). You told everyone at school you had a new brother and that he would be home soon—even though you didn't know when exactly. Your heart ached as much as ours did. You wanted him home as much, if not more, than we did. You wanted your new family of four.

Sometimes I feel like you are wise beyond your years. A little old man trapped in a pint-sized body.

You were the best helper for Mom and Dad in those first days and months of welcoming your baby brother into our family. You would tell everyone to use hand sanitizer, and check to see if anyone was sick before they walked through the door to our house.

You would tell everyone how to hold your baby. And then them the proper way. You would tell everyone to line up their shoes at the door. You just wanted to keep your brother healthy and safe, ever the protector.

I worried the honeymoon period would wear off, that you would wonder how long he was staying here.

But, I was wrong. It's almost a year later and you are still so in love with your brother. Truly in love. On your obligatory "first day of school sign" you listed your favorite things as: Star Wars, basketball and my brother.

You tell everyone that you love him more than anyone. The way you both laugh hysterically together during peek-a-boo in the back seat of the car literally makes my heart explode into a million pieces, in the best way possible. It is a joy and an admiration I never knew possible as I watch my two precious boys interact and love each other.

My wish is that you will always be best friends. That you always look out for each other. Continue to be each other's biggest fans. Root each other on, even when it's hard, or you don't want to. Because, my sweet, sweet boy, I want you to remember—your brother looks up to you. You are his role model for life. And I thank you for taking that role so seriously.

Love,
Your Mommy

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If there's anyone who needs a nice spa day, it's parents. But booking a day at the spa isn't so easy when you also have to find and pay a babysitter.

A business owner in Los Angeles came up with a solution: Trina Renea, the founder of Spa Lé La, added free childcare (by a CPR-certified nanny) to her spa's menu, offering the service to any parent who needs a massage or a facial, or any of the spa's other stress-busting services.

If you've got more than one child at home, the first child is free, and each one after is just $6 for the whole duration of mom or dad's spa visit, HuffPo reports.

Renea recognized that for a lot of parents, a quick 15 or 30 minute appointment for a wax or a manicure just wouldn't be worth all the effort it would take to get the kids ready and then into and out of the car, so she added 30 minutes of "lounge time" that parents can take before or after their appointment, so mama can just chill for a bit.

If lounge time isn't relaxing enough for you, you can also spend an extra $40 for another 25 minutes in a totally comfortable nap room.

This kind of parent paradise could only have been thought up by a fellow parent. Renea is a mother herself, and she understands that a lot of parents feel guilty about prioritizing their own self-care. That's why she added cool classes to the childcare component: Kids can participate in art, music or yoga sessions while mom or dad is away. There's nothing to feel guilty about at all. "If they feel like their child is getting a class, then it makes them feel more comfortable," she told HuffPo.

The spa also offers services for expecting parents, like prenatal massage, belly facials, and even labor stimulating massage for those 40-week mamas-to-be who are understandably over being pregnant and just want to meet their little one.

Whether you have a child on the way or a couple of them keeping you up at night, this spa's menu sounds like the perfect way for mama to enjoy some me time.

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