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March 18, 2013

Organic baby food more costly, not necessarily more nutritious

(Continued)

"Parents are looking for ways to get more vegetables into their children," Visram says. "Our philosophy is: You do all you can, and it's about repetition."

Jessica Wolff, a Leesburg, Va., mother who works for a nonprofit medical society, feeds her 1-year-old daughter only organic food, though she and her husband eat conventional food. She's hoping to keep pesticides and hormones out of her daughter's diet.

"Across the board, everything for the baby has to be pure and good and better. I'm a little neurotic about it," she says.

When her daughter started eating solids, Wolff bought organic foods at the farmers market and spent an entire day cooking them, pureeing it all and freezing some of the bounty in one-ounce portions. Once, when she tried to puree a free-range chicken, the baby food processor started to smoke. That was the end of "the whole horrible Sunday situation," she says.

Now, her daughter eats prepackaged organic purees and meals from brands such as Ella's, Plum Organics and Happy Family, sometimes mixed with organic yogurt, plus finger foods and fresh produce such as avocado.

"She has a really advanced palate, and I hope it sticks," Wolff says. "It looks like we have a food snob living in the house."

The organic craze has gotten so intense that even parents of very sick children have been asking Hays and doctors at Johns Hopkins Children's Center about replacing the hospital-provided liquids delivered by feeding tube with organic and homemade mixtures. "They couldn't believe a liquid formula was as nutritious," Hays says.

Paul Weiner, a Maryland pediatrician, does not recommend organic baby food to patients because "there's no definitive data that it's better," he says. He has gotten a lot of questions about arsenic in rice ever since last fall, when Consumer Reports found "worrisome levels" of the element in a variety of products, including infant rice cereal. The report led the Food and Drug Administration to test about 200 food samples. That produced similar results, but the agency did not recommend that consumers change their rice-eating habits. "We are not aware of any acute health risks linked with the consumption of infant rice in the U.S.," the agency said in a message to consumers.

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