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Saturday, May 31st, 2014
We all know that sugary soda offers empty calories and not much else to help children grow and develop optimally. Studies have linked soda intake with everything from poor diet quality to weight gain to an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Soda intake has also been associated with an increased risk of dental caries and kidney stones. A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics also found a link between soda intake and an increased risk of aggressive behavior in young children.
Because of the purported perils associated with soda consumption, some believe they should come with a warning label. Just this week, the California Senate approved a bill that would require a label on the front of all sealed sugar-sweetened nonalcoholic beverage containers that have 75 calories or more per 12 ounces. The label would read: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.” Sodas that are dispensed or poured at the business premises where the beverages are purchased would be exempt from the labeling requirements.
According to the bill, referred to as SB-1000, in California alone, 19 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds, 32 percent of 6 to 11-year-olds, and 65 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds drink a sugar-sweetened beverage daily. The bill also notes there’s a major disparity between races and ethnicities. It says, “74 percent of African American adolescents drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage each day, compared to 73 percent of Latinos, 63 percent of Asians, and 56 percent of whites.”
Although estimates vary, a recent study published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that, on average, Americans aged 2 and above derived 171 calories—8 percent of total calories—from sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), the top source being soda. The study also showed that 12- to 19-year-old boys derived 12 percent of their total daily calorie intake—293 calories—from SSBs. Using national survey data of thousands of children and adults, a previous study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that while soda intake fell, intake of nontraditional SSBs rose. For example, although soda was the most heavily consumed SSB in all age groups except for children, adolescents’ intake of soda dropped while heavy intake of sports/energy drinks tripled.
No matter how you slice it (or pour it), we know we should all replace some or all of the sugary soda and other nutrient-poor SSBs in our diets with more healthful drinks like water. But would having a warning label on soda containers cause parents and children to drink less soda—and would that, in turn, reduce the risk of obesity and other diet-related diseases? That’s the million dollar question. Coupled with anti-soda public health campaigns, having a warning label on soda may encourage a parent or child to think twice before purchasing or drinking soda. But only time and studies would tell if the measure would prove to be effective in improving dietary intake, weight and health in the nation.
Although I agree we should all cut back on sugary soda intake, I’m not sure I agree that soda should carry a warning label. I truly believe that small portions of soda or other nutrient-poor treats like cookies, snack chips and candy can be included in an otherwise nutritious, balanced diet. Also, if we stick warning labels on soda, shouldn’t we do the same for candy and other treats? What about butter? Where do we draw the line?
According to David Katz, MD, co-author of Disease Proof, “I really don’t think it makes sense to put warning labels on food that is still sold as food. Once it warrants a warning label, it no longer qualifies as food.” In a post for TIME Magazine, Katz argues, “Junk (like soda) should never have been a food group in the first place. So sure, let’s apply some objective method to determine what foods warrant a scarlet “J,” but then let’s eradicate them. It’s silly to have warning labels on food we keep selling.”
Whether or not warning labels on sodas and other SSBs becomes mandated in California or in other states across the country, parents can choose to skip the soda altogether and not drink it themselves or offer it to their children. Instead, they can provide their families with nutritious beverage options at home and encourage their selection at restaurants or when on-the-go.
If parents drink sugary soda themselves or allow their children to drink it, a good rule of thumb is to think of soda as a treat or dessert and to limit the frequency of consumption and to keep portion sizes small. It’s also important for those who drink soda, young or old, to have it instead of—not in addition to—candy, cookies, ice cream or other foods and beverages made with a lot of added sugar to ensure they stay within calorie needs and have enough room for nutrient-rich foods.
For more tips, check out Rethinking Kids’ Drinks: How to Foster Healthier Habits.
Do you think warning labels on soda are a good or bad idea?
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Diet, Health, Must Read, Nutrition, Obesity, Snacking
Monday, March 10th, 2014
If you’re a parent, you know that many kids—perhaps even your own—overdo their sugar intake. Whether they slurp on a sugary drink, nosh on candy at the movie theater, enjoy a slice of cake or a cupcake at a party or enjoy some cookies after school, many sugary foods and beverages are nutrient poor and contribute calories—and not much else.
Because OD’ing on sugar can reduce intake of more nutritious foods, contribute to excess calorie intake and unhealthy weight gain and increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like dental diseases (especially dental caries), the World Health Organization (WHO) recently drafted new revised guidelines for sugar intake.
Unlike current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommendations to limit “added sugars”—sugars added to foods during processing or preparation and at the table—the proposed WHO guidelines recommend a cap for “free sugars”. These “free sugars” are sugars added by manufacturers, cooks or consumers such as glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar) as well as sugars that naturally occur in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. Although the new proposed guidelines by the WHO include its previous recommendation of less than 10% of total calories from sugar daily, they also include a suggestion to reduce “free sugar” intake to below 5% of total energy intake daily for additional benefits.
For a child who consumes 1,200 to 1,600 calories daily, 10% of “free sugars” is the equivalent of 120 to 160 calories (or 30 to 40 grams); 5% of “free sugars” equals 60 to 80 calories (or 15 to 20 grams). To put this in context, one can coca-cola has about 39 grams of sugar and one package (1.69 ounce) M&M plain chocolate candies has about 31 grams of sugar. To find out how much total sugar and added sugar many products contain, respectively, you can check out the United States Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database and Food-A-Pedia.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I applaud any effort parents make to help their kids reduce their intake of added sugars for the reasons cited above. Capping added sugar intake by keeping fewer sweet snacks and desserts in the home and encouraging smaller portions of sugary treats when eating and drinking on the run can allow more opportunities for kids to incorporate nutritious foods that help them develop and manage their weight as they grow.
Although achieving current recommendations for sugar intake (and current as well as proposed WHO recommendations) would require children to dramatically reduce their current sugar intake, doing simple things like replacing even a few sugary sodas with sparkling or plain water, having smaller portions of candy and baked goods and eating more naturally sweet foods like fresh fruits or even dried fruit (with no sugar added) can help.
But while I so support shrinking sugar intake, I also believe that sometimes sugar has a sweet side. Just like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, sometimes, having a little sugar—white or brown sugar, honey, or even some maple or chocolate syrup or catsup—can help kids enjoy nutrient-rich foods like low fat or nonfat milk or yogurt, whole grain, high fiber cereals and fresh fruit. Dipping apple slices in some honey or chocolate sauce, sprinkling brown sugar or pouring some maple syrup on plain oatmeal, adding honey to plain yogurt or dipping grilled chicken slices in catsup can help kids enjoy the taste of the more nutritious foods and beverages. It’s all about context, and incorporating small amounts of sugar in otherwise nutritious meals that your kids eat is very different than allowing them to routinely drown in big boxes of candy or oversized cups of sugary sodas.
I also think there’s room in a child’s diet for small amounts of 100% fruit juice. Even though WHO considers fruit juice to be a source of “free sugars,” following American Academy of Pediatrics’ juice recommendations—up to 4 to 6 ounces daily for 1 to 6-year-olds and 8 to 12 ounces for 7 to 18-years-old—is prudent. Of course, fresh fruit is more fiber-rich and filling than juice, but many juices like orange, grape, apple and cranberry juice can deliver a good dose of key nutrients and other beneficial substances kids need.
Do you think there’s a sweet side to sugar?
Check out my previous Scoop on Food blog for tips to help kids satisfy a sweet tooth.
Image of strawberry on a spoon with sugar pouring over it via shutterstock.
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added sugars, diet, food, snacks, soda, sugar, sugars | Categories:
Diet, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Snacking
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.
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Friday, January 17th, 2014
If you asked me to describe my kids’ eating styles, I’d say this: my older son is sweet and my younger son salty. I say this because my 15 –year-old is like the Candy Man. He loves cookies, cake, candy, chocolate and everything sweet. My 11-year-old, however, is more of a chip lover. He will eat sweet things like vanilla ice cream (with nothing on it), vanilla cookies and ice cream sandwiches, but he’s the only child I know who doesn’t like candy. We’re not sure where he came from, because both my husband and I have a bit of sweet tooth, but I guess we should count our blessings, right?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know too much sugar—especially in the diet of a growing child—can be a saboteur. Eating too many empty calorie, sugary treats can provide too many calories to the diet and contribute to unhealthy weight gain. It can also crowd out more healthful, nutrient-rich options (including fruit, nature’s candy) and contribute to inadequate nutrient intake to meet kids’ needs for growth and development. Let’s not even talk about the dental effects of too many sweet food and beverages—we all know they can take their toll on teeth and contribute to cavities, degraded tooth enamel and so much more.
The good news, according to a recent analysis by the NPD Group for USA Today, is that children seem to be making progress when it comes to curbing sugar intake. The report, based on daily eating diaries kept by 5,000 people living in 2,000 households nationwide, shows that children eat and drink fewer sugary sweets than they did 15 years ago. Specifically, the report shows that the typical child ate or drank the 20 most common sugary sweets an average 126 times fewer in 2012 than in 1998—that includes 62 fewer occasions of drinking carbonated soft drinks and 22 fewer times eating pre-sweetened cereals.
Despite the fact that kids are, in fact, consuming less added sugar, their average added sugar intake hovers around 16% of total calories according to national survey data. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 5 to 15% of calories from added sugars and total fats combined—or roughly 120 to 260 calories for children who consume anywhere between 1,200 to 2,000 calories depending on their age, gender and other factors.
To help you help your kids curb their added sugar intake, here are 6 tips from registered dietitian nutritionist Margaret Wertheim, author of Breaking the Sugar Habit:
1. Help them have healthy drinking habits. Habits develop at a young age, so if you offer water, low fat milk and other nutrient-rich beverages instead of soda and other sweetened beverages at home or when they’re on the go, they’re more likely to enjoy such beverages when they’re older.
2. Offer satisfying snacks. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if sweet nutrient-poor snacks lurk in your cupboards, they will be eaten. Instead, stock your cupboards with healthy snacks like unsweetened dried fruit or fruit leathers, nuts, natural peanut butter, whole grain tortilla chips, whole grain crackers and whole grain, high fiber, low sugar cereal. Some satisfying snack options include apple slices or whole grain crackers with natural peanut butter, fruit with plain yogurt, vegetables with hummus, whole grain tortilla chips or crackers with hummus or guacamole or homemade trail mix made with nuts, whole grain cereal and unsweetened dried fruit.
3. Sweeten foods yourself. Look for yogurts, hot cereals and other foods in their lowest sugar form and sweeten them yourself. For example, you can add fresh or dried unsweetened dried fruit and/or honey or maple syrup to plain low fat or nonfat yogurt. Or add cinnamon and a touch of honey, maple syrup or brown sugar.
4. Make sweets special treats. Instead of offering children desserts like cookies, pies, cakes, and chocolate daily, save them as special occasional treats. Offer fresh fruit or unsweetened dried fruit, a fruit smoothie, or unsweetened applesauce as sweet after-school or after-dinner treats.
5. Slash the sugar when you make dessert. Make lower sugar desserts like homemade applesauce or apple or berry crisp, or homemade ice cream or sorbet using only a small amount of added sugar. Alternatively, offer kids dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content. (Higher cocoa content usually means there’s less sugar in the chocolate.)
6. Use small plates and bowls for desserts. A small amount of ice cream in a large bowl may feel less satisfying than the same amount served in a small bowl. When you offer dessert, offer a set portion (like a small bowl of ice cream or one cookie). Avoid letting kids eat desserts out of containers or packages, as this can make portions get out of control. Instead, encourage them to eat slowly and savor the portion they have.
How do you help your kids eat less sugar?
Need some fun ideas for the kitchen? Click here for our Food & Recipe Guides.
Image of a beautiful little girl holding a big colorful lollipop 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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