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Wednesday, February 18th, 2015
You know that expression, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”? That’s how I feel about fruit snacks.
Why am I comparing fruit snacks to ducks? Because thanks to clever packaging and slick marketing, they’ve weaseled their way into cupboards and lunchboxes everywhere under the guise of being fruit (and a perfectly acceptable snack). When in reality, fruit snacks are candy.
Here’s the ingredient list for a popular brand of fruit snacks: Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Sodium Citrate, Blue 1.
Here’s the ingredient list for Gummy Bears: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.
Both contain artificial flavors, preservatives, and artificial food dyes. Both have corn syrup and sugar as the first two ingredients (in other words, the ingredients in the largest quantities). One pouch contains the equivalent of two and half teaspoons of sugar. That’s more than half a kid’s healthy sugar limit for an entire day. Quack!
The differences? Fruit snacks usually have added vitamin C, sometimes a whole day’s worth. Sounds great on paper, but a five year old can get a day’s worth of C in three strawberries. Or a fourth of an orange. They do contain some fruit juice concentrate or fruit puree concentrate, but the amounts and nutritional value are too small to be meaningful (and concentrates are typically used as added sweeteners anyway).
Boxes are splashed with claims like “Made with real fruit!” and decorated with pictures of fresh berries, but they don’t contain the nutrition (especially the fiber) of real fruit. They don’t look, feel, or taste like real fruit. Eating these gummies won’t teach kids to like fruit—but it does teach them that candy is a snack. What else worries me: Kids’ teeth. Like any kind of sticky, sugary food, fruit snacks can cling to the teeth and cause decay.
I’m not trying to be the fruit snack police here—and believe me, my boys like them as much as the next kid. But it’s important to think of them as what they are—fruit-flavored gummy candy—and make sure kids know that too. If you buy them, I’d recommend choosing one without artificial food dyes (read: The Food Dye Blues) and having your child drink or swish with water after eating them. But above all, be sure real fruit shows up at snacktime and in lunchboxes—and fruit snacks are treated just like cookies, candy, or any other kind of dessert in your house.
Get recipes for fun, healthy snacks filled with real fruit and vegetables!
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Image via Shutterstock.
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Monday, February 2nd, 2015
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that many commercial toddler meals and foods sold in the U.S. are high in sodium and sugar.
In the study, researchers looked at the amounts of sodium and sugar in 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found:
- Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar and 35 contained more than one third of their calories from sugar;
- Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium (> 210 milligrams per meal);
- On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and two thirds of their calories from total sugars –the most common added sugars included fruit juice concentrate, sugar, cane, syrup, and malt.
Cooking at home and preparing mainly fresh foods with little or no added sugar or sodium is a great way to help your infants and toddlers get started on a nutritious and balanced eating path. But it’s unrealistic to assume that parents won’t turn to foods and beverages that come in packages, cans, jars and containers at least some of the time—after all, they’re convenient and can save parents precious time when preparing meals.
To help you seamlessly lower sodium and sugar in your infants’ and toddlers’ diets while boosting nutrients, here are six tips from two top registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle, and Bridget Swinney.
Get ‘em to the table. According to childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle, “One of the easiest ways to avoid too many packaged and processed foods is to get babies and young toddlers to the family table early on and to feed them more natural, wholesome, homemade foods.” Castle says that by one year of age, most toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as their food is chopped up (to the size of small dice). Low sugar, low sodium options include tender meat or cooked fish, baked potato (mashed with milk or water to smooth it out) or soft cooked noodles, soft cooked vegetables, or fruit canned in natural juices.
Make it at home. Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, says there are so many quick and easy homemade baby foods you can make without added sugar or salt. Some of her favorites include mashed banana, mashed avocado, and mashed apple (peel the apple simmer or steam in microwave, then mash) as well as boiled, baked or roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable you can easily mash with your fork.
Learn limits for sodium: When purchasing packaged food items, Castle says it’s important to know how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure sodium levels are low—especially since there is no standard for sodium Daily Values (DV) for children under four years. According to Castle, “Since the DV is based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet, infant and toddler foods that provide two or three percent or less DV per serving is a more appropriate (low) level of sodium for a toddler.” She also says that some foods designed for infants and toddlers may not list the sodium content, while common “kid” foods like macaroni and cheese, will. Swinney also recommends no more than 300 milligrams per serving for a meal and 150 milligrams per serving for a snack. She also says that while there’s no need to worry about sodium when serving fresh, homemade food, it’s wise to watch how much you add.
Offer smart snacks. According to Swinney, “Fresh and unsweetened fruits and vegetables, yogurt and boiled eggs make the easiest and healthiest snacks for little ones.” She also recommends adding your own soft fruit (pureed or chopped, depending on your child’s age) to plain Greek yogurt. Swinney also says that although small fruit cups packed in their own juice are convenient, so is a banana, grapes cut in half, and mandarin orange sections. She also recommends steaming chopped vegetables ahead of time to have on hand to pair with items like hummus or a yogurt dip for easy toddler-friendly snacks.
Blend and serve. “There’s no need to drag the food processor out when wanting to share your own dinner with baby. Simply take your portion out and season separately and then use an immersion blender or fork-mash to get to the right consistency for baby, right in the pan.”
Don’t forget iron and zinc: According to Castle, it’s essential to help babies six months and older get good food sources of iron, a mineral that’s critical for brain development and that babies six months and older need more of, and zinc, a mineral involved in many normal body functions and essential for normal growth. Castle suggests that parents slow cook lean beef or skinless, dark meat chicken or turkey (legs or thighs) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or low sodium broth and puree in a blender, offering it as a stand-alone pureed entrée or using one tablespoon of pureed meat with jarred pureed fruit or veggies.
Click here to learn how to transition your baby from pureed to solid foods, and click here for new nutrition guidelines for 2- to 12-year-olds.
How do you limit sugar and sodium in your child’s meals?
Image of children eating healthy food via shutterstock.
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Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Confused by food label lingo? You don’t need to be! Below you’ll find an informative guest post by registered dietitian nutritionist Bonnie Taub Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It to help you and your children on your next grocery shopping trip.
As soon as my three sons were big enough to sit up in a shopping cart, they came to the supermarket with me. I’ll admit that some ‘shopping experiences’ (let’s just call them that!) were quite challenging including mediating between who would push the cart, who would get to ride on front, and of course, what we agreed would go into the cart.
When they were young, we’d play a lot of fun games in the produce aisle like focusing on foods that were round, or red, or really funny shapes. But as they got older, shopping took on a more serious note. Although the number one goal had always been to choose foods that tasted good, my kids began to develop a greater understanding about why certain foods were also good for them.
Comparing food labels became a hands-on learning experience where our props were the foods that filled our fridge and pantry. As an example, if someone wanted a cereal that displayed a favorite TV character on the front, and if this product had way more sugar than our typical breakfast choices, then the deal was that they had to mix the sugary type equally with another that contained barely any added sugar. I learned early on that compliance comes more readily when compromise is served as a side dish!
Before you walk down another supermarket aisle with one or more of your kids in your hand or riding in or pushing your cart, why not get familiar with some of the terms you’ll see on food labels. Learning how to read and decipher Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredients lists can help both you and your kids understand sometimes tricky terms that might cost you and your kids time, money, and calories:
Light: It’s not always best to lighten up. An item claiming to be “light,” like light bread, must have one-third fewer calories, fat or sodium than the regular version of that same product. However, for certain products, the calories may not be impacted at all! For example, light olive oil has the same calories as the thickest, darkest, richest olive oil you could find. It is just lighter in color and flavor than the regular counterpart. One cup of either oil has around 2,000 calories, so although oil is a healthy fat, a cup that runneth over could bring more calories than you might have imagined. And while light soy sauce has 50 percent less sodium than the regular type, if you eat it like soup you’ll get a lot more sodium (around 500 milligrams sodium per tablespoon) than you and your kids bargained for.
Serving size: Sometimes you may wonder if one serving of food, reflected in the serving size listed on the label, is the right size. A serving that is well suited for an adult may be way too much for a child, especially a young one.When you look at the serving size on a food label, don’t forget to multiply each of the numbers listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel by the number of servings you actually consume to know how much of that food you’re actually planning to consume.
Sugar: By any other name, sugar tastes just as sweet. Especially on food labels, sugar is the master of disguise. And it isn’t always spelled s-u-g-a-r. To know where your sweetener is coming from, check the list of ingredients for words like corn syrup, cane juice, or anything ending in “ose” (like dextrose). If, for example, your child loves yogurt, it’s wise to steer away from highly sweetened varieties that can be more like candy in a container than a healthy dose of dairy. Opting for Greek yogurt, which is thicker in texture, provides less sugar (and double the protein) compared with other yogurts. Checking the ingredient list can also help you see where the sugar in the product comes from and whether it’s a result of added fruit or added sweeteners.
Zero. Did you know that zero may not be your hero? A product can contain up to 0.5 grams of fat per serving and still be called “fat-free.” This term doesn’t say anything about calories or sugar content; one muffin could be fat-free, but could contain 600 calories and be loaded with sugar. Similarly, manufacturers can brand any product with less than half a gram of trans-fat per serving with “0 grams trans fat.” When it comes to harmful trans-fat, scoot down to the ingredient list: if you see the product contains hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated fats, put it down and have your kids choose something else.
Sugar-free. Although “sugar-free” items might have less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving, that doesn’t mean such items are calorie- or fat-free. Eating too many “free” foods could be costly, especially if they take the place of more nutritious foods your kids need for growth.
How do you make healthier food choices for your family when food shopping?
Image of woman and children with shopping cart via Shutterstock.
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Diet, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
This is a guest post by David Teten, father of three and partner with ff Venture Capital, an early-stage technology investor in New York City. David blogs at teten.com.
The world rains sugar on my children. The bus driver offers my child bubble gum. The teachers give cupcakes at every birthday party. The school vending machine is full of junk food; so is the one at the YMCA. At camp, the counselors offer candy and an ice pop at the end of the day. Our kids are invited to birthday parties which include a cake, a candy piñata, and then a goodie bag bursting with still more more candy.
Why are people incessantly feeding my kids sugar?
Most parents want their children to be energetic, happy, and healthy. However, I see an amazing number of adults who are doing the opposite: hurting the health of their kids by offering an alarming amount of processed sugar on a regular—if not daily—basis.
It’s been proven that obesity is a problem in our country; two-thirds of all Americans are overweight or obese, and one-third of all children are overweight or obese. But for some reason, most of the adults I see do not take the logical next step of changing the way they feed their children.
In my opinion, these are the major reasons why adults put this known health hazard in front of children:
1) It’s tradition to bring cakes and other sweets to school to celebrate special events.
Fifty years ago, almost any business or social event would include cigarettes, often offered as a party favor. Now, most educated people would be shocked to see people smoking at an event with children in the room. Similarly, I predict that 20 years from now, we’ll look back in astonishment at the amount of sugar that we unthinkingly fed our children. Tradition is not something we’re locked into.
2) We only serve treats “occasionally” at “special events.”
In a class of 20 kids with 20 birthdays, plus various holidays and other special events, virtually every school week includes a reason for a party. There are many other ways to celebrate, such as making a craft or doing something active. Feeding sweets to children is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Schools, synagogues, churches, party organizers, sports teams, meal hosts—all provide occasional treats to make kids happy. These accumulate into constant exposure. Ultimately, it’s our children who pay the price.
3) Treats attract children and make them happy.
There is endless academic research showing that when people or children perform a task for a reward, they lose interest when that reward disappears. By giving kids candy at school, you’re not teaching love of learning; you’re teaching love of candy.
4) It’s the parents’ responsibility to train the kids to make the right food choices.
Only someone with perfectly obedient children could make this argument. We don’t have any perfectly obedient children, and neither do our friends. Children are bad at understanding long-term consequences and don’t have all the facts they need. We send them to school and raise them to help develop these skills.
5) It’s too expensive to serve healthy food.
To quote: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Serving kids processed sugar now is cheap, but creates very significant long-term costs in treating obesity and diabetes. I’ve written elsewhere on low-cost ways to create a healthy office or school environment; also see Parsely’s “Startup Diet.” Many parents, including me, will gladly pay a premium to feed our children real food.
6) It’s too difficult to reduce the amount of sugar that we serve.
Many schools are strictly and successfully nut-free, even though nuts are dangerous to just a small number of kids. Sugar is dangerous to all kids, so why can’t schools succeed in reducing sugar? Many schools that have tried to move to a healthier diet face protests from children acclimated to eating sugar with every dish at home. It’s frustrating that this dilemma exists, but it shouldn’t mean that we throw up our hands and do nothing. Instead, we should focus on educating children and adults about healthy habits, and incorporate whole foods steadily into school programs.
Our schools and camps are places of education. But education is not just books; education is also nutrition and healthy living. I am not advocating forcing kids to eat things they are going to hate, but merely providing them with healthy options and offering them fewer temptations.
One alternative is to order a meal kit from Plated, a company that makes it easy to prepare home-cooked meals. Additionally, if you’d like to start the healthier-eating conversation at your child’s school or camp, or on her sports team, I suggest using these form letters.
It is up to us, as parents, to protect our children. If we approach the problem head-on, and introduce real foods in a natural, gradual way, sugar will loosen its damaging hold on our kids.
My Suggestions for Healthy Kids’ Snacks:
Cereal without sugar
Edamame – boiled soybeans in the pod
Whole grain, low-salt snacks
Beans and Bean Dips
Cottage Cheese with Fruit Pieces
Any vegetables: Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, avocados, etc.
Mini rice cakes—unsalted
Applesauce (natural, made from whole apples, without added sugar).
Disclosure: ff Venture Capital is an investor in both Plated as well as Parsely, creator of the Startup Diet.
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Diet, Meals, Nutrition, Obesity, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
If you’re like many Americans, you grew up all too familiar with Tony the Tiger and other characters painted on cereal boxes heavily advertised in TV commercials. Because of all the fun and familiarity surrounding cereal, you probably had more bowls of cereal to start your day than you can count or care to remember. I know I did! And I’m embarrassed to admit that when I was 5-years-old, I’m pretty sure I killed my hamster by feeding him Fruity Pebbles.
Although I continue to eat cereal a few times a week and also feed it to my children, I know how important it is for families to look before they leap when it comes to buying and eating cereal. While many ready-to-eat cereals can provide plenty of vitamins and minerals and make significant contributions to intakes of whole grains and fiber that many children fall short on, they also tend to provide way more added sugar than considered healthy—especially for growing bodies. The added sugar alone can turn a seemingly innocent breakfast into dessert.
In a new analysis, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) ranks 1,556 cereals, including 181 marketed to children, by their total sugar content by weight and compares the findings with current federal dietary guidelines and those by other organizations. Among the findings:
- 92 percent of cold cereals and 100 percent of cereals marketed to children in the US contain added sugars, some having up to six different kinds including sugar mixed with corn syrup, honey, dextrose or high fructose corn syrup.
- Cereals marketed to children have more than 40 percent more sugars than adult cereals, and twice the sugar of oatmeal.
- 78 percent of children’s cereals contain more than 2 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving—more than a quarter of the daily limit for an 8-year-old.
- For 40 cereals, a single serving (¾ cup or 1 cup—less than many children typically consume in a single sitting) exceeds 60 percent of the daily limit for sugar.
- 12 cereals including Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp provide more than 50% sugar by weight.
- Only 47 cold cereals—3 family cereals, 43 adult cereals and one granola)—and 155 hot cereals and had no added sugar.
Although ready-to-eat cereals can certainly pack in a lot of added sugar, especially if kids eat it in oversized bowls or fill their bowl up more than once, they seem to contribute relatively little added sugar to the diets of Americans aged 2 and older when compared to some other foods and beverages. Whereas national survey data estimates that 3.8 percent of added sugar in the diet comes from ready-to-eat cereal, a whopping 35.7 percent of added sugar intake comes from sugary soda, energy drinks and sports drinks alone. Those drinks together with grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and candy comprise 70 percent of added sugar intake.
Current dietary guidelines suggest a daily limit of 3 teaspoons (12 grams) to 8 teaspoons (32 grams) for children who consume 1,200 to 2,000 calories depending on their age, gender and individual needs. On average, children typically consume two or three times these amounts.
Although the new documentary Fed Up seems to blame sugar alone for the twin epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children, I do agree with the conclusion that to raise a healthier generation of kids, we do need to reduce the intake of added sugars. But while cereal is one source of added sugar, I believe that it’s important to look at and limit how often and how much we consume all sources of added sugar in the diet including (but not only) ready-to-eat cereal. We also need to look at individual food and beverages choices in the context of our total dietary intake and lifestyle –and teach our kids to do the same—when trying to improve the nutritional value of the diet.
Although the EWG findings may make you never want to eat—or feed your children—cereal again, I don’t think it’s necessary, desirable or realistic to ban cereal altogether from your pantry. Ready-to-eat cereal—especially whole grain, high fiber, low sugar options—can provide busy families with a tasty and convenient source of vitamins and minerals. Cereal can also be a great cluster food that pairs well with nutrient-rich picks like low fat or nonfat yogurt or milk, fresh fruit (or dried fruit with no sugar added) and nuts/seeds.
To choose a more nutrient-rich cereal, look for one that’s 100% whole grain (look for the 100% whole grain stamp, or look for whole wheat, whole oats or another whole grain listed first on the ingredients list). Aim for at least 3 grams of fiber per one cup serving. Look for as little added sugar as possible—one of my favorites is shredded wheat (it also has very little sodium, rare for a ready-to-eat cereal). If your cereal has added sugar, make sure the sugar content is no more than double the fiber content. (For example, if it has 4 grams of fiber per serving, look for no more than 8 grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel.) If you and your kids already eat sugary cereals and don’t want to give them up, eat it in smaller bowls with smaller utensils. Better yet: mix them with lower- or no-sugar cereals. You will get used to the taste if you give it some time. You can also choose more flaky cereals and fewer crunchy, hard, more concentrated cereals and granolas that can pack in more calories (and more added sugar) in smaller portions, or mix them to reduce the load of calories—and added sugars.
To learn more about choosing cereals and reducing added sugar in the diet, check out the EWG’s Recommendations. You can also check out my previous Scoop on Food posts including Empty Calories and Kids and How to Help Your Kids Satisfy a Sweet Tooth and get breakfast ideas here.
Do you and your kids eat cereal?
Image of a good breakfast via shutterstock.
How much do you know about toddler nutrition?
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Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition