Posts Tagged ‘ health ’

Will New Food Labels Help Kids Eat Better?

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Confused or frustrated by food labels? There’s a good chance the dizzying array of numbers and information currently on food packages will be a bit more clear when new and improved food labels appear on your favorite packaged foods. Although the specific changes have yet to be fully fleshed out and will take time to implement, the Associated Press reports that the proposed changes by the White House and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include the following:

  • A more prominent display of calories;
  • “Calories from fat” would be removed;
  • A new line for “added sugars” would be added”
  • Serving sizes that reflect amounts people eat –not what they should eat—would be listed;
  • Both “nutrients per serving” and “nutrients per container” would be given for foods that are often consumed in a single sitting eg frozen dinners or a can of soup;
  • Nutrients that Americans need more of—for example, potassium and vitamin D—would be included.

According to a New York Times article, the proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days, and it will take months to finalize the changes. The article also says the FDA will give food companies two years to put the changes into effect.

Overall, I like the proposed changes and do think they have the potential to help parents feed their kids—and themselves—better. Knowledge can be power, and seeing how many calories a seemingly small package, can or container of food has without having to do so much math can be an eye opener. In my opinion, at the end of the day, knowing calorie intake is key for long-term weight management, so having a more prominent display of calories—especially on single serve items—can be helpful. However, I do caution parents and their kids to realize that the serving size listed on a food or beverage is not always the amount they should consume in a single sitting. It’s always important for parents and their kids at all ages and stages to keep current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the recommendations outlined in MyPlate in the back of their minds to guide how much of any food or beverage to consume. Getting rid of “calories from fat” is also a great change. It’s confusing, and doesn’t distinguish between healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and those we want to limit (saturated and trans fats). And fat is not the enemy—about 20 to 35% of daily calories should come from fat according to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Listing added sugars would also be an excellent move. Unlike naturally occurring sugars found in milk and fruit, added sugars are added during processing. Calories from added sugars contribute calories and not much else. Since kids and parents tend to over consume added sugars and solid fats—also referred to as empty calories—learning which products have them and how much they contain is key to reduce them in the diet. Currently, parents and their kids consume up to about one third of all their calories as added sugars and solid fats.

I also support an emphasis on nutrients on food labels. Although people eat foods rather than nutrients, highlighting how much of certain nutrients products contain—especially nutrients many (including kids) fall short on—can help kids and their parents meet nutrient needs and optimize their health.

Only time will tell if the new food labels of the future will help kids and their parents make more nutritious and mindful selections at the grocery store and eat enough—but no too much—to meet their needs and maintain a healthy body weight. For now, I think these proposed changes will help us all take one more step in the right direction to eat more healthfully and reap the many benefits of a nutritious, balanced and calorie-appropriate diet.

To learn more about food labels, check out Planning Healthy Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label on the FDA Voice, and my previous Scoop on Food post on food labels.

Do you like the proposed food label changes? Why or why not?

Use our Food and Recipe Guide to find quick and healthy meals for your family.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image of woman and child choosing produce in grocery shopping mall via shutterstock.

Add a Comment
Back To The Scoop on Food

How Stress Affects Kids and How to Help Them Cope

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Feeling stressed has almost become the norm for many overstretched, busy American families. Think about it—when was the last time your family—or any family, for that matter— enjoyed a long stretch of together time without being glued to a smart phone or other electronic device or looking at your watch?

Although one type of stress called ‘eustress’ can actually be positive and productive—eustress is the kind of stress that’s healthful or helps you feel fulfilled (for example, the kind you experience when you do enjoyable exercise or challenge yourself in some way)—many suffer far too often from negative stress. All that stress leads us to cope in unhealthy ways that take their toll on overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, stress is not just a problem for adults. There’s evidence that teens are also vulnerable to stress and its effects.

The latest Stress in America SurveyTM by the American Psychological Association (APA) polled adults as well as 1,018 teens, ages 13 to 17, who live in the United States about stress over the previous month. While American adults continue to report higher stress levels than what they believe to be healthy, the survey also reveals that the patterns of unhealthy stress behaviors we see in adults impact teens as well. According to the survey, many American teens report experiencing stress at unhealthy levels, appear uncertain in their stress management techniques and experience symptoms of stress in numbers that mirror adults’ experiences. Stress during the teen years also seems to take a toll on activity, nutrition and lifestyle behaviors that no doubt contribute to current and future habits and health.

Stress impacts teens in myriad ways. The survey shows, for example, that 36% of teens report fatigue/feeling tired; 35% report lying awake at night; 32% report they have headaches; and 23% report skipping a meal.

The report also reveals that teens are less aware than adults about the impact stress can have on their physical and mental health. In fact, 42% of teens say they often don’t know what to do to manage their stress or they aren’t sure if they are doing enough to manage it. Fifty-one percent report that while stress management is important to them, more than 1 in 10 report they never set aside time to manage stress. And 55% of teens say they set aside time to manage stress only a few times a month at most. Although 37% exercise or walk and 28% play sports to manage stress, many teens cope with stress by engaging in sedentary behaviors. For example, a lot of teens report turning to screens to cope with stress. In fact, 46% report they play video games, 43% surf the internet or go online and 36% watch TV or movies to cope with stress.

When it comes to teen girls especially, the report reveals that stress impacts behaviors that relate to food. For example, 39% say they eat too much or too little, 35% report overeating or eating unhealthy foods, 31% report skipping a meal and 22% report a change in appetite when stressed.

It’s clear from this APA survey that both the young and old (and those of us in between) are vulnerable to the effects of stress. Whether it’s is related to school or work, relationships, finances, or any combination of factors, stress is an inevitable part of everyone’s life. If we often perceive all that happens around us in negative ways, and it makes us cope in less-than-healthy ways, stress can take a huge toll on us (not to mention those around us). Studies suggest that stress can have negative effects on our eating and fitness habits and on our ability to fall asleep—and stay asleep. As discussed in the Stress in AmericaTM survey, studies also suggest stress can weaken immunity and exhaust the body, increase inflammation in the body (and thereby increase cardiovascular disease risk), and make us more vulnerable to colds.

Because of the many perils of stress, it’s imperative that parents find ways to manage stress positively and productively. A tall order, I know. But because our kids see what we do and how we handle different situations and stressors, for better our worse, we need to model as best we can positive ways of perceiving and coping with stress. If we prioritize finding positive and productive ways to handle challenges, it’s more likely our kids will see our example and learn to cope better as well.

While there’s no one size fits all strategy to manage stress, a combination of behaviors can help us all cope better and enhance our overall health and well being. Staying physically active, engaging in exercise and sitting less can temper stress. Finding activities we enjoy—especially outside in the sunshine—can boost mood and help our hearts be healthier. Eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the basic food groups—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein foods, low fat dairy and healthy fats—throughout the day and at regular intervals can help steady blood sugar levels and have mood-boosting and other benefits. Connecting with others regularly, laughing and meditating can also help. Getting enough sleep by having regular, consistent bedtimes can also help us avoid fatigue that no-doubt can in and of itself contribute to unhealthy behaviors.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, stress will get the best of us. But when we try our best to cope and nothing seems to work, there’s no shame in seeking help from a qualified health professional (eg a psychologist). To find one near you, visit the APA website.

How do you and your kids manage stress?

Image of mother and son doing yoga exercise at home via shutterstock.

Need help finding fun ideas to keep your child engaged? Check out activity ideas using common household items.

Sesame Street Lessons: Going to Sleep
Sesame Street Lessons: Going to Sleep
Sesame Street Lessons: Going to Sleep

Add a Comment
Back To The Scoop on Food

Rethinking Kids’ Drinks: How to Foster Healthier Habits

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

We all know that sweetened beverage intake in kids can be a problem. Sugary sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks and other sweetened beverages often provide extra calories with few nutrients. Drinking them is linked with poor oral health and cavities. They’re also easy to over consume, especially since they tend to come in large portions (12 to 24 fluid ounce servings are typical) and aren’t filling the way solid foods are. Sugar-sweetened beverages can also displace or leave less room in the diet for more nutritious foods and beverages.

There’s also evidence that higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake is linked with a higher risk of overweight and obesity among children and that reducing intake can reduce weight gain associated with their consumption. Initiatives to drink more water and to remove soda from kids’ meals will likely help to create an environment in which kids and their parents can make better beverage choices.

Two new studies underscore the importance of helping kids develop healthful habits when they’re young to prevent obesity and optimize health. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that children who were overweight at age five were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the age of 14.

Another study published in the Journal of School Health found that a lot of young children drank sugar-sweetened beverages and that the older they got, the more they drank. Compared with an infant less than one year-old, a child between the ages of one and two-years-old was 35 times as likely to consume fruity drinks, 17 times as likely to consume sodas, six-and-a-half times as likely to consume sweet tea, and about 53 times as likely to consume sweetened milk products. As compared with an infant less than one-year-old, a three to five-year-old was nearly 263 times as likely to consume fruity drinks, 30 times as likely to consume sodas, nearly 11 times as likely to consume sweet tea, and 375 times as likely to consume sweetened milk products. Led by University of Alabama researcher Jen Nickelson, the study concluded that interventions designed to prevent sugar-sweetened beverage consumption should occur early in life, ideally before children reach preschool age.

According to Nickelson, “To avoid the problems associated with sugar-sweetened beverage intake and to help ensure children have the nutrients they need for proper growth and development, its best to keep kids from drinking them to begin with. If children learn to love beverages such as water and milk early in life, they have a better chance of maintaining these healthier habits as they mature.”

Here are six tips from Nickelson to help you raise healthier drinkers:

1. Keep only healthful beverages in the house. For example, providing only water or milk in the home provides structure and helps kids know what to expect, at least when they’re home.

2. Be a good role model. If the kids see you drink water, they know you’re not asking them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

3. Give them choices. Allow your children to choose healthier beverages in the form they enjoy. For example, they can choose plain water or water with lemon or other fresh fruit slices.

4. Encourage children to finish their milk at their own pace. Children resent being forced to do something, so if they haven’t finished their milk during a mealtime, you can save it in the refrigerator and offer it later when they’re thirsty.

5. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll be out and about, plan beverages ahead of time. Carry a sippy cup of water for toddlers and a trendy sports bottle for older kids. Water never goes bad; and if it spills, it won’t make a smelly, sticky mess.

6. Offer to bring drinks to your kids’ sporting events or parties. Bring bottled water (sugar-free squirtable flavorings can also make these more fun; I know my grandchildren love to squeeze the flavorings into the bottles and shake them up). Also bring permanent markers to label drink bottles to avoid mix-ups.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I believe it’s perfectly fine to also offer 100% fruit juice to children. Of course whole fruit packs in fiber and is more filling than juice. But if you do offer fruit juice, limit portions to no more than four to six ounces daily for children between the ages of one and six-years-old, and to no more than eight to 12 ounces daily for older children as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Low fat flavored milk is also OK, though it’s wise for kids to cut back on their added sugar intake that day (eg have one small cookie instead of the usual two cookies for dessert) when they consume flavored milk.

How do you help your kids drink more healthful beverages?

Full disclosure: I’m a current spokesperson for the Got Milk? campaign.

For more ideas on where you can substitute healthier foods into your everyday routines, download our free guide.

Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating

Image of child drinking water from a glass via shutterstock.

Add a Comment
Back To The Scoop on Food

Do Your Kids Take Supplements? What You Need to Know

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Do you give your young children vitamin supplements? If so, there’s some evidence that they may be getting more of many nutrients than the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends.

According to a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from LECOM School of Pharmacy in Erie, Pennsylvania undertook what they believed to be the first ever analysis of labeled vitamin content in supplements designed for infants and children between the ages of 12 months and less than 4 years. In their analysis of 172 vitamin supplement labels, the researchers found that only Vitamin D was present in levels at or below the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the target population. They also found that all other vitamins were at levels that exceeded the RDA or Adequate Intake (AI) values or weren’t present in high enough levels to be fully analyzed.

The researchers cite the IOM recommendation against excess supplementation for infants and toddlers because “a lack of data of adverse effects in this age group and concern with regard to the lack of ability to handle excess amounts.” They also express concern over the fact that much of the supplementation of infants and young children isn’t based on IOM recommendations and represents “wholesale oversupplementation.”

I’ve always been on the fence—and still am, to some extent—about the role of dietary supplements in a child’s diet. In a perfect world, children would get all the nutrients they need from food. Unfortunately, the reality is that many children—like their parents—overdo empty calories and fail to eat enough nutrient-packed produce, whole grains, low fat dairy and protein foods (including fish and beans). If most kids learned from the get-go to enjoy a diet rich in foods and beverages from all the key food groups and minimize added sugars and solid fat, they’d be much more likely to meet their nutrient needs to support growth and optimize their health. They’d also probably be more likely to maintain a healthy weight along the way.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ position paper on nutrient supplementation, “the best nutrition-based strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of foods.” However, the position paper also concedes that “supplements can help some people meet their nutrition needs as specified by science-based nutrition standards such as the Dietary Reference Intakes.” An example of this is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for supplemental vitamin D intake for infants and children.

If your child follows a vegan or vegetarian diet (or any diet that excludes one or more food groups) or has a medical condition that affects nutrient intake or absorption, supplements can likely fill in dietary gaps and meet nutrient needs for growth and development.

But before you give your child any dietary supplement, it’s wise to play it safe. First, be sure to discuss the specific supplement(s) and dosage(s) your child needs with a pediatrician and/or registered dietitian nutritionist. Because dietary supplements aren’t regulated like drugs and don’t need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s also a good idea to shop for those brands that meet purity standards set by organizations including US Pharmacopeial and NSF International suggested in a JAMA Pediatrics article.

For more information about dietary supplements, see this very helpful Advice for Parents.

Do you give your infants or children supplements?

Need more inspiration in the kitchen? Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get delicious recipes sent directly to your inbox!

Herbal Medicine During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Herbal Medicine During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Herbal Medicine During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?

Image of child taking vitamins via shutterstock.

Add a Comment
Back To The Scoop on Food

Soda and Cancer: Is There a Link?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

A new study by Consumer Reports reveals concerning levels of a potentially carcinogenic chemical—4-methylimidazole (4-MEI)—in soft drinks. In the study, researchers looked at levels of the chemical, formed during the production of some types of caramel color (an artificial coloring commonly found in foods and drinks) in 81 cans and bottles of popular soft drinks purchased in California and New York between April and September 2013. In December 2013, 29 new samples of brands that initially tested above 29 micrograms of 4-MEI were purchased from the same areas and retested.

Both rounds of testing found 4-MEI levels in Pepsi One and Malta Goya samples exceeded 29 micrograms per can or bottle. In the initial round of testing, some of the other brands purchased in California had average levels around or below 29 micrograms per can, although New York samples of those same brands tested much higher. In the second round of testing, the levels in the New York samples had come down. As stated in a Consumer Reports article, “…regular Pepsi from the New York area averaged 174 micrograms in the first test and 32 micrograms in the second.” The article also says that the drop in amounts of 4-MEI from the first round of testing to the second suggests that some manufacturers may have taken steps to reduce levels in their products.

The Consumer Reports analysis also found that the products purchased in California didn’t have a cancer-risk warning label. That’s surprising since as of January 7, 2012, manufacturers have been required to put such a warning on the label of a product sold in the state if it exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MEI per day.

According to a 2007 report by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a 2-year mouse study showed an increased incidence of certain lung tumors caused by consuming levels of 4-MeI that far exceed current estimates of human exposure. And in a 2010 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), 4-MEI was deemed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

In its assessments in 2011 and 2012 of 4-MEI in caramel colors, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that they have no concerns about Europeans being exposed to 4-MEI from the use of caramel coloring in food.

According to an NBC News article, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there’s no evidence 4-MEI is unsafe, an FDA spokesperson said the agency will take a closer look after Consumer Reports complaints. Currently, there are no federal limits for 4-MEI levels in foods and beverages.

We all know soda is a popular beverage among children and adults alike. We also know that for many reasons, kids (and all of us) should drink less—if any—soda. Besides being a source of empty calories (mostly from sugar), soda has been linked with everything from obesity to aggressive behavior in children. The fact that caramel color found in soda may promote cancer adds even more incentive for kids to sip less soda and more water and other nutritious beverages. I also agree with the Center for Science in the Public Interest statement that says, in an article about 4-MEI, that “soda drinkers should be much more concerned about the high-fructose corn syrup or other sugars used in soft drinks” and that “soda drinkers are much more likely than non-soda drinkers to develop weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.”

If we want to limit our family’s exposure to the potentially cancer-causing 4-MEI, we need to look beyond soda since other foods and beverages are sources. According to the FDA, the chemical can form as a byproduct in some foods and beverages when cooked—for example, when coffee beans are roasted and when meats are roasted or grilled. According to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), other potential sources of 4-MEI include include beer, soy sauces, breads and other products can also be sources.

Until we know more, a great way to protect kids—and ourselves—from overexposure to potentially harmful ingredients like 4-MEI is to read ingredients lists on food labels. Not all potentially harmful ingredients will be listed, and at times you’ll need a figurative magnifying glass. For example, although you won’t see 4-MEI listed on an ingredients list, you will see caramel color—and some caramel color will contain 4-MEI. We can also use safer cooking methods when preparing foods including meats. For example, when cooking meats, we can limit the creation of potential cancer-causing chemicals by using smaller pieces, trimming visible fat, using certain herbs and/or marinades, precooking meat in a microwave and cooking it at a lower temperature or for less time. We can also mix up the foods and beverages we feed our kids week to week to maximize nutrient intake and minimize exposure to substances that can potentially cause harm.

For more on food additives, check out CSPI’s Chemical Cuisine here.

Image of little girl drinking a soft drink via shutterstock.

Add a Comment
Back To The Scoop on Food