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March 18, 2013

Organic baby food more costly, not necessarily more nutritious

(Continued)

"Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than conventional alternatives, we did not find robust evidence supporting this perception," the authors noted.

"The purpose of the study was not to tell people what to buy and eat, but to give people the information about the difference," Smith-Spangler says. "I can see smart, rational people making different decisions. It's a complex decision."

A 2000 study, meanwhile, compared pesticide levels in three brands of baby food, two of them conventional and one organic. The authors didn't detect pesticide residues in any of the samples.

Additives in food, such as dyes and preservatives, have been studied and found to be safe, though some parents still worry that there are negative effects, especially for infants and young children, Hays says. Cancer, immune diseases, gastrointestinal symptoms and even behavioral problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have all been blamed on food additives, she says, adding that there are no data behind these suspicions.

"These only remain concerns in theory, not something that has been documented and supported by controlled research studies or anything like that," she says.

The squeezable pouches of organic baby food hit the market about five years ago and have exploded in popularity since, according to organic baby food manufacturer Happy Family.

Parents love the pouches for the convenience: They can squirt the puree onto a spoon for the baby; when the child gets older, he or she can suck the food straight out of the pouch. There is very little mess. In the last few years, Gerber and other power players in the baby food market added pouches to their product lines, and not just for organics, according to Mintel. And just as conventional baby foods come in pouches these days, some organics are sold in jars. (While the pouches are parent-friendly, they are not so planet-friendly. The plastic cap is the only part that's recyclable. The pouch is made of foil and plastic and is therefore headed for the landfill, according to Shazi Visram, the founder and chief executive of Happy Family.)

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