Artificial trans fats—fats that are created during hydrogenation (a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid)—are once again making headlines. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration announced today that it no longer considers partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the major dietary source of trans fat in processed food—to be safe. They came to this conclusion citing a link between trans fat intake and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Previous public health concerns about trans fats led the FDA to propose in 1999 that manufacturers be required to list trans fats on Nutrition Facts labels. Seven years later, that requirement became effective, though many food companies had stepped up to remove trans fats prior to then—a move that many consumers (including my dad who once even made his own t-shirt that said NO TRANS FATS on it to taunt his dietitian daughter) appreciated. In their announcement, the FDA also cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimation that taking steps to reduce trans fat in the food supply even more can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.
According to the FDA announcement, if their preliminary determination that PHOs are no longer “generally recognized as safe” is finalized, PHOs will become food additives and would require premarket approval by the FDA. Foods containing unapproved food additives would then be considered adulterated and could not be legally sold.
Hailed by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest as “a major step in protecting consumers from artificial trans fat, a potent cause of heart disease,” the FDA announcement is likely to send food manufacturers who haven’t already done so to remove trans fats from their product lines.
Although fat has important functions in the body—it helps insulate and cushion your vital organs, and carries around important vitamins (including vitamins A, D, E and K) so that they can be better absorbed and used by the body—too much can contribute to excess calorie intake and promote heart and other diseases. While eventual removal of unhealthy trans fats from the marketplace can be a step in the right direction, here are 5 tips to help you and your kids be more fit when it comes to your fat intake right now:
1. Follow the rules. According to current dietary guidelines for Americans, children and adults aged 2 and older should aim for no more than 20 to 35% of their total calories from fat. For a child who consumes 1,400 calories daily, that’s about 31 to 54 grams. For an adult who consumes 2,000 calories daily, that’s about 44 to 78 grams.
2. Emphasize healthful fats. Use olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils that are rich in monounsaturated fat to make popcorn* or to otherwise cook with; add avocado to salads or sandwiches or use it to make a dip for vegetables or whole grain crackers; and have nuts* and seeds* as part of a snack (with dried fruit and whole grain cereal, for example) or add them to oatmeal or low fat yogurt.
3. Skim the fat. Too much saturated and trans fats can increase heart disease risk—especially if that means you’re consuming more total calories than you need for growth (in the case of children) or weight management (in the case of adults). To limit total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, choose low- or non-fat dairy foods, lean meats, skinless white meat poultry, and fish prepared in healthful ways (rather than battered and/or fried). Limit or avoid fried potatoes and other fried foods (choose roasting or baking instead). Limit portions and the frequency with which you eat high fat foods (fatty meats, margarine, fatty snack foods like chips and popcorn, and baked goods like cookies and cakes). Eating out less often and choosing appetizer-size portions or meals from so-called healthier menus can also save you some fat and calories.
4. Become label savvy. Learn to read Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredients lists on food labels. A food that’s low in fat has 3 grams or less per serving; a food that’s low in saturated fat has 1 gram or less per serving; and a food that’s really free of trans fat free has 0 grams listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel AND does not list any “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list.
5. Buyer beware. Just because a food does not have trans fats does not mean it’s low in fat or that it’s healthy. That’s why it’s important to read between the lines, especially when purchasing packaged and processed foods. If it’s hard for you and your kids to identify which food group an item comes in (as an example, think of your favorite donuts or cookies), it’s likely this food should be thought of as an occasional or once-in-a-while treat rather than a dietary staple.
*These foods are choking hazards for children under age 5.
Check out the 20 Best Snacks for Kids (and parents), then download our Homemade Baby Food Guide to make meals for her at home.
Image of chocolate chip cookies via shutterstock.
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Despite the widespread availability and excessive marketing of highly palatable, nutrient-poor food in America, there are some signs that the times are, indeed, changing. And that help from consumer-driven petitions, parents (including the First Mom) and even puppets are leading the charge towards healthier options and better eating habits for our children.
Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kraft announced its plan to unveil in early 2014 several macaroni and cheese varieties made without controversial artificial dyes. Instead of having Yellow 5 and 6 as ingredients, the revamped Kraft products (minus the popular elbow-shaped “original” macaroni and cheese) will instead get their characteristic orange-yellow color from paprika and other spices. And to boost the nutrition of their macaroni and cheese products, Kraft will also add some whole grains and slash some sodium and fat in each serving. Although not conceded by the company, it’s likely this change is in part the result of a petition created by Vani Hari (also known as The Food Babe). In her petition, Hari asked the company to remove artificial food dyes from their macaroni and cheese products. Posted on Change.org, the petition garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures and most likely nudged the company to make the change.
In another recent move, the White House announced a two-year partnership between the Sesame Workshop (led by Elmo and Rosita), the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) (for which First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair). The campaign which has been written about in another Parents blog, Sesame Street Brings Fun to the Produce Aisle, is designed to promote fresh food choices and make more nutritious selections a little easier for busy parents and families to make.
I know that while these food developments aren’t solely going to magically improve the health and wellbeing of children, they’re a step in the right direction. Even Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is encouraged. When asked about the removal of food dyes from some Kraft products, Moss said, “There’s no question that the food giants will respond to public pressure, especially if that pressure causes even the slightest drop in sales.” And while Moss does not view food companies as evil empires setting out to make us sick but as “companies doing what companies do to make money by selling products that meet people’s needs,” he says it’s important for people to act on their food-related concerns to facilitate healthful change in the food supply and eating habits.
And when it comes to pushing produce, Moss, a father of two sons aged 9 and 14, is excited by the prospect of Elmo being a driver and habit changer. In his recent New York Times article, Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover, he argues that promoting fruits and vegetables based on their health virtues alone hasn’t—and most likely won’t ever—encourage people (including children) to eat them. The article also suggests that changing the way we market produce may be what’s needed to move the needle. In his article, he sums this up beautifully with a quote by Jeffrey Dunn, a former president of Coca-Cola who now works for Boathouse Farms, a baby-carrot producer:
“We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook, by creating passion for produce, by becoming demand creators, not just growers and processors.”
What do you think it will take to move the needle to help out kids eat better and enjoy a more healthful lifestyle?
Image of child with group fruit and vegetable via shutterstock.
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Described by Columbia University researchers as a “global problem that’s on the rise in many parts of the world,” eating disorders are not a uniquely “Western” problem that affect only Caucasian, adolescent or young adult women from high-income Western countries, according to a new study published in Current Psychiatry Reports.
Although not nearly as prevalent as obesity and overweight, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are on the rise among children and adolescents. A review in Pediatrics suggests that eating disorders affect more kids at progressively younger ages. A new study in Current Psychiatry Reports also notes an increase in prevalence of eating disorders among 15–19 year old girls.
Even more disturbing, a recent analysis found that between 1999-2000 and 2008-2009, there was a 72% increase in hospitalizations from eating disorders among children under the age of 12. Although the increase wasn’t as substantial, hospitalizations for 12- to 19-year-olds for eating disorders rose by 6% during the same time period. Although these numbers certainly raise a red flag, eating disorders expert Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD says it’s unclear whether the upward trend is due to better recognition and assessment of or an actual increase in cases of eating disorders.
Described by the National Institutes of Mental Health as illnesses that cause serious disturbances to the everyday diet—for example, eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating—eating disorders are caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. And they can take a severe toll on both physical and mental health, and also affect the family dynamic and relationships. At worst, eating disorders can increase death risk in those afflicted.
According to Setnick, author of The Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide, 2nd Edition, while there is no known method proven to prevent eating disorders, parents can take the following 7 steps* to reduce some of the factors that can predispose kids to develop an eating disorders:
1. Don’t make disparaging comments on weight, body shapes, or food. Teach children that bullying is unacceptable and if bullied to report it to an adult.
2. Don’t keep a scale at home and only have children weighed at medical check-ups.
3. Guide children to follow their own body’s signals for when, what, and how much to eat. Teach them to say “No, thanks” to food that is offered when they’re not hungry. Do not coerce or bribe children to eat. If you are genuinely worried that a child is not eating enough, consult a doctor or a registered dietitian.
4. When a child or teen announces a decision to change their eating, investigate further. Listen for any ulterior motive that is not food-related, such as “So I’ll have more friends,” or “So I’ll do better in school.”
5. When children are feeling down or disappointed, never suggest dieting or weight loss as a solution to problems. Instead, encourage healthy methods of expression, such as talking, writing or art.
6. Alert your child’s pediatrician if you have had an eating disorder so that he or she will be alert for any signs exhibited by your child.
7. Seek professional help for any child or teen struggling with weight or eating, and for yourself if you know you need to make changes in order to be a healthy role model.
For more information on the prevention or treatment of eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorder Association, Something Fishy, and the Eating Disorders and Education Network.
*Adapted with permission from The Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide, 2nd Edition.
Use our Food & Recipe Guides to find easy and healthy recipes for the whole family.
Image of mother and children preparing a meal together via shutterstock.
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From television to cell phones, iPads, and social media, media use has become a key part of most people’s lives in recent years. For many (myself included, I hate to admit), cell phones and other devices have practically become appendages—and our use of them somewhat addictive. As reported recently in the New York Times article, Baby’s First iPhone App, even toddlers are getting in on the act by playing with their parents’ devices—and in some cases, getting their own as a birthday or holiday gift!
In a follow up to a 2011 survey by the same name, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013 was conducted between May 20 and June 12, 2013 with 1,463 parents of children age 8 and under. According to the survey, children’s access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher than it was two years ago. In fact, the survey reveals a fivefold increase in ownership of some type of “smart” mobile device. Whereas only 8% of families reported they owned one in 2011, a whopping 40% report they owned one in 2013. And while only about half of the children had access to a device in 2011, three quarters have access in 2013.
The survey also finds that children between the ages of 0 and 8 spend an average 1 hour and 55 minutes in front of a screen—that’s 21 minutes less than in 2011. But while total screen time decreased, time spent using mobile devices like cell phones and iPads is just about triple what it was in 2011. Thirty eight percent of children used mobile devices to play games, watch videos, or use apps in 2011; that number jumped to 72% of children 2013. And while only 10% of children under the age of 2 used a mobile device for media in 2011, that number has jumped to 38% in 2013.
According to the survey, TV is still at the center of kids’ media lives. Of the 1 hour and 55 minutes spent in front of any screen, 57 minutes is spent in front of a TV screen. The remaining 68 minutes is spent watching DVDs, using computers, playing video games and using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Older kids spend substantially more time in front of screens. According to the 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a daily watching TV and movies, and using computers, video games and cell phones.
Of course technology use can’t be all bad—and it can have its perks. And of course we all know how much fun it can be as well! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), media literacy and prosocial uses of media—traditional forms like TV and “new media” like cell phones, iPads, and social media—may enhance knowledge, connectedness, and health. But the APA also says media contribute substantially to various risks and health problems and that children and teenagers learn from, and may be negatively influenced by, the media.
For example, there’s evidence that screen time (TV time in particular) can interfere with sleep and contribute to the development of obesity among children. A new study of almost 3,000 Australian children followed from 4- to 5-years-of-age until 8- to 9-years-of-age found that short sleep duration at 4- to 5-years-of-age was significantly associated with higher body mass index at 8- to 9-years-of-age. Researchers suggested that this result was due, at least in part, to increased TV viewing at 6- to 7-years-of-age.
A previous study published in Appetite surveyed the parents of more than 9,000 Australian children about their children’s eating and TV viewing habits. Researchers found that those who watched TV were more likely to gain weight, and individuals who were heavier were also more likely to watch TV. They concluded that sedentary behaviors—particularly when paired with unhealthy dietary habits—significantly increase the risk for excessive weight gain in early childhood, and that it’s important to have interventions to help parents help their young children develop healthy TV viewing and eating habits.
Technology is here to stay, and as I often say when talking to other parents—whether they’re friends, family, or Parents readers—we need to learn as we go since there’s no handbook for how to raise children to use technology in a way that enhances—rather than sabotages—their physical and emotional health. To provide some guidance, a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called Children, Adolescents, and the Media suggests the following recommendations for parents:
- Parents can model effective “media diets” to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.
- Make a family media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.
- Limit entertainment screen time to less than 1 or 2 hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to follow and implement the above guidelines in my home. I’ll report how it goes in a future Scoop on Food post. Please email me if you’d like to join in and keep in touch with me along the way.
Check out these 10 guilt-free apps for preschoolers. Then, find out if your little one is too sick for school by taking our quiz.
For more information, check out Kids & the Media by the American Psychological Association.
Image of baby boy with cell phone via Shutterstock.
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If the mere thought of having barrels of candy to dole out, sort through, and be tempted by on—and after—Halloween makes you break into a sweat, have no fear! Here you’ll find 22 expert tips and tricks to help you put all that candy in perspective (and keep your nutritious diet intact). Although some of the tips contradict one another—even nutrition pros don’t always agree—choosing several of them are sure to help you and your family eat better and still have fun before, during, and after Halloween.
1. Procrastinate. If you wait to buy candy until the day of or day before Halloween, you’ll minimize temptation to bust into it before you need it.
2. Minimize. Buy bite-size or “minis” candies instead of larger pieces; that way, if you have leftovers, the portion sizes will automatically be small.
3. Go beyond candy. In addition to buying a few favorites for the candy bowl, add to your bowl or bucket some sugar free gum, stickers, tattoos, pencils, and erasers (little kids especially love these).
4. Think outside the bar. Instead of offering ho-hum chocolate candy bars, offer KIND Healthy Grain bars* (in flavors like Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate)—they’re made with 100% whole grains and 3 grams of fiber to fill you up. KIND Nuts and Spices bars*, also made with all-natural ingredients, are a good source of protein and have 5 grams of sugar or less. They’re available in indulgently delicious flavors like Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan.
5. Add some fun. Candy is not the only option to hand out to trick-or-treaters. Kids also love bouncy balls, festive stickers or glow sticks—they can even use these to walk around the neighborhood with!
6. Trade up. Instead of offering sugary, fruit-flavored snacks, opt for options like Trader Joe’s Organic Fruit Wraps. They’re 100% fruit and low in sugar (with no added sugar), and are free of artificial flavors and preservatives.
7. Forget “one for you, one for me.” Instead of grabbing something for yourself each time you pass out candy, plan ahead and make sure to eat a real meal before the trick-or-treat hours. If all else fails, chew gum to avoid temptation to ‘just have one’ when you have to reach repeatedly into that oversized candy bowl.
8. Set rules ahead of time. To reduce the risk of having a Halloween food fight, decide before you and your kids head out the door how many treats they can have that night. After they choose their treats, put the rest on a high shelf that only mom or dad can reach.
9. Stay fueled. Follow your normal eating pattern on Halloween to reduce your risk of being starved—and tempted to overindulge—when you’re faced with all that candy. Be sure to include at least half a plate of fruits and vegetables to fill up at each meal.
10. Eat before you trick or treat. Choose some protein-rich foods like cheese, turkey, chicken, nuts or hummus; a whole grain from bread, a wrap, pasta or crackers; fruits and/or vegetables from fruit salad to crudité to stay energized throughout the afternoon and evening.
11. Enjoy trick-or-treating without eating. Wait until you get home to go through the loot. Allow each child to choose one or two treats to enjoy and savor on Halloween night. Put the rest in a candy jar and enjoy one or two small treats a day thereafter.
12. Go for a pop. Lollipops take a long time to eat, so they’re a good, relatively low-calorie option for when you’re tempted while passing out or sorting candy.
13. Sort first, then eat. Instead of allowing your kids to eat candy on the go, check it over at the end of the evening to make sure it looks safe to eat (eg wrappers aren’t torn, the candy looks fresh). And if you have more than one child, let them trade what’s left so they can have more of their “favorite” things to save for another day.
14. Have a teachable moment. Having a big bag of candy in the house at the end of the day actually presents a great time to talk with your kids about treats—what a reasonable portion for candy is, and how they can fit it into an otherwise balanced diet.
15. Let them be in charge. If you allow your kids to eat as much candy as they want on Halloween night, and they overeat, they can learn an important lesson. That stomachache may teach them how important it is to pace yourself when indulging in sweet treats.
16. Use the 3-D approach: Devour: Halloween is a special day that comes only once a year, so don’t be a curmudgeon. Allow your kids to have some of their candy that night –just not all of it. A single candy feast won’t have a lasting impact on health. Divide: The day after, have each child divide the candy into the ones he/she likes and the ones he/she doesn’t care about. Give or throw away the latter. Divide the rest of the candy into small zip snack bags and store in your pantry or freezer. Distribute: Let each child have a small snack bag of candy each day along with a nutrient-rich food like milk, yogurt or fruit.
17. Pick 3. After you trick or treat, each family member can pick three treats to eat slowly and mindfully. Describing why you choose each piece and how each piece tastes can help you indulge more consciously and feel the power of your food choices.
18. Make your own 100-calorie packs. Pre-portioning leftover candy can help you feel satisfied without going overboard. Examples of homemade 100-calorie packs include 4 Hershey Kisses, 2 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups miniatures, 2 mini Nestle Crunch bars, 4 Tootsie Roll midges, 4 rolls of Smarties, 3 Laffy Taffy candies, 2 fun size Milk Duds, 2 mini York Peppermint Patties, or 4 Jolly Rancher hard candies.
19. Buy it back. You can buy your kids’ candy, discard the non-freezable items, and freeze the chocolate candy. Then dole out a piece or two in their lunch boxes, or for dessert after dinner.
20. Stash it. After Halloween, put the leftover and collected candy in an out of sight location (like a hard to reach cabinet or in a closet); if you don’t easily see it, you won’t mindlessly eat it. After a few days, you may even forget about it altogether!
21. Pay it forward. You can send leftover candy to the troops via Operation Gratitude or call local nursing homes, food pantry’s, women’s shelters, or a Children’s hospital. Some libraries even have drop-offs for extra candy donations.
22. Become an artist. If you have older children in the house, visit Candy Experiments for safe science experiment ideas using all kinds of leftover goodies. This is a great way to make not eating candy fun!
Image of trick or treat Halloween candies in the barn with orange pumpkins via shutterstock.
Sources: Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, (Tip 16); Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Tip 18); Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD (Tips 1, 3, 7, 14, 20); Angela Ginn, RDN, LDN, CDE, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Tip 9); Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RD (Tip 19); Lyssie & Tammy Lakatos*, RDN, CDN, CFT, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure (Tips 4, 6); Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Tips 2, 15); Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, co-author of We Can Cook: Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Tip 11); Danielle Omar, MS, RD, (Tips 5, 21, 22); Hemi Weingarten, CEO, Fooducate (Tip 8); Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods (Tips 10, 17); and Zari Ginsburg, MS, RD, CDN (Tip 13).
*Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos are compensated spokespeople for KIND.
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