by Lori Zanteson
Feeding our kids has never been so complicated. Long lists of ingredients in tiny print translate into headache-inducing scientific blah. Ideally we’d all decline such products and feed our kids only whole nutritious foods. However, today’s reality is a busy reality. Between all the other demands of parenting children plus our own schedules, there is no easy way around the convenience of such processed, additive-laden foods.
Additives contribute the bulk of those intimidating labels. Additives enhance taste, color, and shelf life. Throw in a popular cartoon character and a toy for kid appeal, and what’s not to like?
Lots of things, especially where children are concerned. The additives in our food today are chemicals deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, but the effects considered by the FDA are based on the acceptable daily intake (ADI) only of adults, not children. When you consider dose in weight, children are consuming many more times the ADI. No testing for effects on children’s behavior and learning is done before any additive is passed for approval.
So until there is stricter regulation, it is up to us parents to make informed decisions and to practice caution to protect our kids and give them a good start toward healthy lives.
But with all the additives being used today, and without bringing a magnifying glass to the grocery store to read those ingredient lists, how can you decide what to avoid?
Begin by focusing on Parent USA City’s top five offenders. You’ll make great strides toward better health for your kids if you keep your eyes peeled for these five additives common to children’s foods.
Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are best known for giving cured meats like hot dogs, lunchmeats, and bacon their pink color and characteristic “cured” flavor. However, they can lead to cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines.
A study published in the July 2009 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease by researchers at Rhode Island Hospital links nitrates with increased deaths from diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. Pregnant women, infants, and children seem to be at higher risk, and should practice caution or avoid these products. Nitrate/nitrite-free meat products are available from companies such as Applegate Farms.
2. Food Colorings
Artificial food colorings are synthetically made to imitate natural ingredients, which means natural ingredients are left out. Artificial colorings are used almost exclusively in junk foods with low nutritional value such as candy, soda, and cake frostings.
In lab animals, these colorings are linked to problems from allergy-like symptoms and impaired behavior to cancer. A 2005 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, found that food dyes caused hyperactivity in many children.
Though it’s best to avoid them all, definitely steer clear of these: Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 2.
3. High-Fructose Corn Syrup
We parents have been on high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) alert for years, yet the jury is still out on its tie to obesity. Recent studies show HFCS to be no less healthy than other sweeteners. This isn’t a huge shock, considering that HFCS is almost identical to table sugar. It is present in many processed foods, fruit-flavored drinks, and sodas. And don’t be surprised to see it in seemingly healthy foods like breads, cereals, breakfast bars, and yogurts.
A study published in the January 2009 Environmental Health, however, found HFCS in many cases contained mercury. High exposure to mercury can harm vital organs and can be dangerous to a baby’s developing brain and nervous system. Though more research is necessary, this is definitely a concern, considering how much HFCS children consume.
4. Artificial Sweeteners
Five artificial sweeteners have been approved by the FDA:
Yet their safety is quite controversial. They are all linked with side effects such as headaches, depression, and cancer. And they have not been sufficiently researched on children. Many medical professionals say these sweeteners are unsafe for adults and certainly for children, specifically regarding growing and developing brains and bodies.
Regardless of the final verdict on artificial sweeteners, children need to develop a taste for the natural sweetness in whole foods. This leads to a distaste for the fake and chemical, and creates a craving for the pure and healthy.
5. Trans Fats (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil)
Though arguments are made about the other four additives on Parent USA City’s list, there is nothing good about trans fats. They raise our risk of heart disease by increasing levels of bad cholesterol while causing levels of good cholesterol, which fights heart disease, to drop. Though many manufacturers have eliminated them, they are still rampant in many kid-friendly processed foods like chips, cookies, microwave popcorn, and crackers.
Trans fats are processed fats that are made stiff by the addition of hydrogen. The body can’t process trans fats, so they accumulate in the body. Picture the bacon grease that can’t go down the kitchen drain. It would clog the sink just as trans fats clog our arteries.
Studies show that children as young as 8 years old have artery-clogging blood fats and high cholesterol. Cutting trans fats is a good choice in lifelong healthy eating that will help our kids avoid heart attacks and strokes.
Lori Zanteson is a food and health writer in Southern California who is working toward an additive-free pantry for her family of five.