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Thursday, November 7th, 2013
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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Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
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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Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
My recent Scoop on Food Post, No More Soda in Kids’ Meals, sparked considerable online conversation and debate. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I support any attempt by a fast food company—or any restaurant—to offer smaller portions, or more healthful fare. I am also in favor or limiting the marketing of nutrient-poor foods to children who are quite vulnerable to the impacts of advertising on their eating choices and habits. Although I intuitively thought that most parents would support the move by McDonald’s to not offer soda with Happy Meals, many said it crosses a line when it comes to freedom and personal choice. And even though the federal government had nothing to do with the McDonald’s decision, many commented that they don’t want the government dictating what they should or shouldn’t eat or feed their families.
Here’s just a sample of some reader comments when asked if they agree with the change McDonald’s is making on the Parents Magazine Facebook Page:
Heidi M. Fanning I think that this is great! My kids enjoy a happy meal as an occasional treat and they always pick the milk anyway. I like that soda will no longer be MARKETED to children, even though their parents are still free to buy them soda if they so choose.
Erica Lopez Just because it is not listed does not mean you cannot get it. Personally, I feel as though it is a good thing that McDonald’s wants to encourage parents not to serve their children soda. There are not enough children who appreciate and drink water.
Shawn-Joy Martin …I don’t agree with the change. How about a little personal responsibility? Don’t get your kid a Happy Meal 5 days a week and then if they want a soda with it, it won’t be such a big deal.
Diane Pumpido Pallini …It’s not McDonald’s or the government’s or anyone’s business to tell me what I can and can’t order for my kids. This nonsense is going too far.
Ashley Howerton I think it’s crap. My kid very rarely gets a Happy Meal, but when he does, if I as the parent choose to let him have a tiny (because let’s be honest, those cups are tiny) cup of Root Beer, that’s my choice. I’m the parent! I’m so sick of people thinking they have a right to bully businesses into limiting my options as a parent.
Amber Loyd Has this group taken into consideration that they are making it more difficult to practice moderation even when occasionally splurging diet wise…we are raising our son that nothing is off limits but everything in moderation, which is why I support the fact that happy meal fries are smaller and there are apples included now…but now you are telling me that when I do occasionally treat my son to a happy meal and he wants a soda with it I’m forced to buy him a larger size and then fight the battle of not having a “full” cup… I won’t be spending my money at McDonald’s anymore, period.
Breanna Stephens Sure, you can still add a soda for a dollar if you’re really insistent on giving your child that. It’s not taking away your choice just taking it out of a kids’ meal to encourage better choices for our children. We all know it’s not good for them or us. I’ve never allowed my kids to have soda because to me it’s an unnecessary indulgence…It’s each family’s personal decision but I think logically this makes sense.
Victoria Wieting I wish parents were smart enough to not give kids soda on their own but since they are not and I often see kids as young as preschool drinking it, then it’s about time the policy changed.
Amy Sage NO, because it is one of the few times I allow my son to have soda. It’s called “Happy” meal for a reason, it makes kids HAPPY!
Katie Haynie Guess what? Parents who want to get their kids soda will still get their kids soda, but it will be a small instead of the kid size, which means it will be bigger. This whole thing is stupid. What are they going to do next, arrest you for giving kids soda?
Lorisa Griffith It still is not going to solve a thing and all the hype has gotten out of control. If you don’t want your kid drinking soda then don’t buy them soda. Stop dictating how businesses operate because you are too scared to tell your kids no. What’s next? No cookies or cupcakes or Dairy Queen?
Heidi M. Fanning I find it odd and silly that people are complaining that it should be their choice and not McDonald’s choice whether or not their child has soda, because IT STILL IS the parent’s choice! McDonald’s will still sell you a soda to give to your children if that is what you want to do, it is just not part of the Happy Meal. Seriously, no one is taking your precious soda away.
Cathy Vo What gives McDonald’s the right to decide if my child should have a soda or not? Getting my kids a Happy Meal was always an infrequent special treat that included the soda as a special treat, since I don’t buy soda to keep in the home! A stupid/unfair decision on their part!
I have no doubt this debate will continue, especially since similar nutrition and health initiatives by fast food and other companies will likely follow as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases remain prevalent in our society. For now, I agree with Margo Wootan, the Director of Nutriton Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says, “Taking soda off the Happy Meal section of menu boards at McDonald’s is an important step toward healthier kids meals and healthier children. It doesn’t much matter to me why they are doing it—just that it is good for kids and will make it a bit easier for parents to feed their children healthfully.”
What’s your opinion? Should companies have a say in how you should feed your children?
Image of cola in glass via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
We all know breakfast may very well be THE most important meal of the day, especially for growing children. But lunch is also important. Having a well-balanced lunch not only provides kids with an opportunity to meet daily food group and nutrient goals, but it helps kids stay energized. It also provides an important opportunity to get key food groups and the nutrients they provide into a kid’s day (not to mention his or her stomach as well).
A lot of parents send lunch with their kids to school daily—either out of need or to provide an alternative to lunches provided there. And oftentimes, they think these lunches are healthy. Many may therefore be surprised to learn that there’s at least some evidence that lunches brought from home may have a lower nutritional quality than lunches provided at school. A study published in Childhood Obesity found that children who ate lunches brought from home were less likely than those who ate a school lunch to have fruits, vegetables, and dairy for lunch. They were also more likely to have snacks that were higher in sugar and/or fat at lunch.
Fortunately, a little planning and nutrition know-how can go a long way to help you pack a healthy lunch. So before you pack your kids lunch to bring to school, daycare, or even for travel or a weekend outing, check out these 5 tips (and quick ideas) for fun, tasty, nutritious lunch box options from registered dietitian Holley Grainger. They take 5 minutes or less to prepare and are sure to please toddlers and school aged kids—even those with temperamental palates.
1. Get Creative with Veggies.
Don’t get discouraged if the raw baby carrots you pack for lunch day-in and day-out continue to be sent home untouched. Studies have found that children are more likely to eat their vegetables when offered with a dip, so pack some guacamole or hummus alongside raw veggies and see what happens. Also, consider your preparation method. Is your child more likely to eat grilled or roasted veggies versus raw? Try preparing foods like spaghetti sauce and meatloaf with shredded or diced carrots, onions, peppers and celery mixed in and send leftovers in the lunchbox.
Quick ideas: corn kernels/corn on the cob; raw broccoli florets with hummus/roasted broccoli/steamed broccoli with cheese sauce; baked sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon/oven-baked sweet potato fries; oven-roasted potato wedges/potato cakes; raw zucchini rounds with ranch dip/zucchini bread.
2. Keep Your Child Hydrated.
Staying hydrated throughout the day is critical to maintain concentration and energy levels. If you’re worried your child doesn’t drink enough water at school, make sure to include water-packed foods in the lunchbox. You can also start the morning by offering oatmeal or ready-to-eat cereal made with milk and topped with fruit.
Quick ideas: watermelon, strawberries, pasta, salad greens, rice, cucumbers, grapes, bell peppers
3. Think Outside the Sandwich:
Sandwiches with lean, low-sodium deli meat are an easy way to boost protein in the lunchbox. But if you need to break out of the sandwich rut, consider some of the following protein-rich foods to keep your child feeling satisfied all afternoon.
Quick ideas: edamame, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, beans, lentils, quinoa, roasted chickpeas, nuts, cottage cheese, tofu cubes, smoothies made with yogurt or silken tofu, and nut or seed butters
4. Pack the Power Trio: Fiber, Protein, and Healthy Fat
Three nutrients—fiber, protein, and healthy fat—have “staying power” to keep your child feeling energized throughout the day and boost his or her daily nutrient quotient. When packing a lunchbox, choose foods that hit these target nutrients.
Quick ideas: whole wheat tortilla spread with nut or seed butter, topped with banana slices and flax seed and rolled up; leftover grilled chicken sandwich with spinach, grilled veggies and hummus; low-sodium turkey pita with tomatoes, cheese, arugula and a smear of fresh avocado; egg salad made with canola mayo or Greek yogurt atop salad greens with whole wheat crackers
5. Make it Fun
Just because you’re packing a nutritious lunch doesn’t mean you can’t offer healthier alternatives to the sweet or salty treats your child craves. Consider making some of the traditional favorites yourself so you can oversee the ingredient list and remember to keep portions in check. You can also pack stickers, notes, and small toys to keep lunch interesting and fun.
Quick ideas: trail mix with whole grain cereal, nuts and chocolate chips; baked potato chips; dark chocolate square; whole grain pretzels; mini whole grain muffin; yogurt-covered raisins
Use our Food & Recipe Guides to pack a healthy lunch
Image of turkey rolls in hummus, kiwi, cheese, and milk via Holley Grainger.
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Tuesday, October 1st, 2013
In a previous Scoop on Food post, I asked if you thought fast food was OK for kids. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know that fast food is not health food. I also know that people don’t typically go to fast food restaurants when they want nutritious foods like healthfully prepared produce, whole grains, and lean protein foods—they go for burgers, fries, and fried chicken. Enjoyed by many, eating fast food contributes excess calories, fat, and sodium to the American diet. Of course one fast food meal won’t ruin an otherwise healthful diet and lifestyle. But eating it often can contribute to unhealthy weight gain and diet-related diseases. And that will inevitably take its toll on the health and quality of life of children, and possibly even set them up for a less-than-healthy futures.
Fast food is heavily advertised, widely available, and convenient—and it’s virtually impossible to ignore. Even my family and I succumb to it on occasion—while traveling or during a busy weekend. But while I’ll always recommend home-prepared foods over fast food to improve dietary intake and meet nutrient needs, there’s some proof that fast food chains are offering a few nutritious options or are otherwise slimming down their pickings.
Recently, McDonald’s vowed to offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals; promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals; and to create Happy Meal and other packaging that excites kids to choose and consume fruits, vegetables, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water. They also promised to include fun messages about nutrition or well-being in all its advertising aimed at children. This effort aimed at increasing access to produce and to help families and children to make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles is the outgrowth of a new partnership between McDonald’s and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation on a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment.
The McDonald’s plan won’t affect all of its restaurants across the country (within the next three years, the plan will target up to ten of the chain’s largest markets, and by 2020, a total of 20 of McDonald’s largest markets will be targeted). Still, it’s a step in the right direction. Other recent steps as outlined in a 2013 progress report include the fact that McDonald’s Happy Meals now include apple slices, the most popular Happy Meal choices provide 20% fewer calories than previously, and McDonald’s customers and employees have more access than ever before to calorie and nutrition information.
In other fast food news, Wendy’s recently joined Kids LiveWell, a program launched by the National Restaurant Association in collaboration with Healthy Dining Finder to help parents and children select nutritious foods when eating out. Two meal options that meet the Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria include a Kids’ Meal that consists of a Grilled Chicken Wrap or Hamburger served with sliced apples and either Juicy Juice 100% apple juice, TruMoo 1% low fat white milk, or Nestle bottled water.
Burger King, also part of the Kids LiveWell program, offers a Kids’ Meal Hamburger or Breakfast Oatmeal served with fresh apple slices and nonfat milk that meet the program’s nutrition criteria. They also launched crinkle cut French fries called Satisfies. A small order has fewer calories, less fat, and less sodium than Burger King’s traditional French fries (270 calories, 11 grams total fat, and 300 milligrams sodium versus 340 calories, 15 grams total fat, and 480 milligrams sodium). No matter how you slice ‘em, Satisfies are still fried potatoes. But having a tasty option with less calories, fat, and sodium (the value size order has even less) can potentially help all fast food eaters eat less when they eat out.
Although many chains are taking small steps to offer more nutritious options, they’re also creating more and more unhealthy concoctions. Seems to me that the noise made by Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and other heavily promoted nutrient-poor options are likely to drown out any positive steps companies take to improve the eating habits and health of America.
It’s up to parents to decide what role, if any, fast food should play in our lives. I say if you choose to have any fast food at all, teach your kids how to read menus, encourage them to order the smallest sizes available, and explain to them why fast food is, at best, once-in-a-while food. Because no matter what headway fast food restaurants make in the future, one thing is certain: eating more family meals at home with nutritious foods prepared in healthful ways will always be a great way to grow healthier children.
Photo of Kids’ Meal Grilled Chicken Wrap via The Wendy’s company.
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