Empty Calories and Kids

Just when you thought we might all have fewer tempting empty calorie options, Twinkies are making a comeback. After being pulled from shelves last year because Hostess Brands Inc. went bankrupt, the Associated Press and other news outlets announced that these popular spongy yellow cakes (and let’s not forget CupCakes, admittedly among my personal favorites) will once again be available in mid July.

Whether we’re talking about Twinkies, Ring Dings, or Krispy Cream donuts, do children and adolescents—even those who aren’t overweight or obese—really need more high calorie, nutrient poor, oh so tempting options to choose from?

A study published in Pediatric Obesity found that despite a recent decline in intakes of “solid fats” and “added sugars”—collectively known as SoFAS according to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans—kids’ continue to OD on these empty calories. This undoubtedly leaves less room for nutritious fare to support optimal growth and development in kids.

National survey data shows that two to 18 year-olds consume an average of about 646 calories from SoFAS—about 33 percent of their total daily calories. Current guidelines suggest intakes of no more than about five to 15 percent of daily calories from SoFAS. For a child or adolescent who consumes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 calories daily, that’s about 137 to 161 calories—a fraction of the SoFAS most kids currently consume.

To put this in perspective, about half of a Twinkie’s calories—77—are from SoFAS*. If, besides the Twinkie, your kid snacks on a six ounce low fat vanilla yogurt, that adds another 78 SoFA calories* for a total of 155 that day. That’s an amount that falls within recommended levels. Tack on a tablespoon of ketchup, a pat of butter, and a slice of pizza and chances are your kid has easily exceeded his or her SoFA intake for the day.

Let’s be real. Most of us parents would love it if our kids would eat only nutrient-rich foods. But seeing us indulge (yes, I eat chocolate nearly every day) and the widespread availability of SoFA-rich foods make it next to impossible for kids to willingly give up Twinkies and other top sources of SoFAS (these include other grain-based desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, sugary cereals, pizza, and French fries).

So what should parents do to help their kids cut back on SoFAS? We can work to create a more healthful eating environment at home and empower our kids to make better food and beverage decisions when they’re away from home. We can prepare more family meals. We can keep fewer SoFA-rich foods in our homes and instead make available nutrient-rich foods from the basic food groups. We can teach kids to become label readers and to look for the hidden SoFAS when buying packaged and processed foods and beverages. When we eat out, order take out, or eat on the run, we can teach kids to choose small portions of more healthfully prepared foods. And we can teach our kids to think of SoFA-rich foods as sometimes or occasional foods rather than dietary staples.

These may sound like small steps. But if taken, they can improve kids’ overall dietary intake and reduce their risks obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases and conditions down the road.

How do you help your kids reduce their SoFA intake?

*Source: USDA’s SuperTracker.

Image of a boy’s choice of a healthy or unhealthy snack via Shutterstock.



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Tags: | Categories: Diet, Must Read, Nutrition

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