Are Organic Foods Better for You?

"Smaller body size increases the proportional exposure to food contaminants," Katz said. "For this reason, organic baby food is a good idea, as is organic food for young children when possible."

"The greatest threat is to fetal brain development," Landrigan said.

He says studies demonstrate that unborn babies whose mothers are exposed to certain pesticides have a higher risk of low birth weight and reduced brain growth, leading to learning problems and conditions similar to autism.

Avoiding the Nonorganic Fear Factor

Not everyone believes pesticides pose a risk -- at least not in the levels in which they appear in produce.

Despite concerns over pesticides and other chemicals, experts say there are other dietary issues that have more of an impact on public health than the organic debate.

"In general, we know that the more fruits and vegetables people eat -- organic or not -- the healthier they tend to be," Katz said. "Thus, the adverse health effects of such chemicals are more than offset by the benefits of eating produce."

"Put another way, not eating fruits and vegetables is more toxic than eating fruits and vegetables with some traces of pesticide."

"The big point to be made here is that you are far more likely to be placing your health at risk by avoiding fruits and vegetables just because you can't afford or obtain organic ones than by consuming the conventionally grown versions," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's department of pediatrics in the Bronx, N.Y.

"The mountain of studies that have extolled the virtues of eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables -- a lower risk of many cancers and heart disease, for example -- were done by looking at conventionally grown foods, not organic."

When it comes to consumers who want to buy organic, Katz says smart shopping is key.

In other words, spend on organic produce only when it is worth the higher price tag.

"Since there are costs and inconveniences involved in shopping organic, knowing where to find the most 'bang for the buck' should be useful to most consumers," Katz said.

Shoppers should also exercise common sense.

"When you see 'organic' on things like potato chips, canned soup and frozen burritos, I think it's time to ask, 'What is the point?'" Flipse said.

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