Posts Tagged ‘ sugar ’

Making Sense of (Sometimes Tricky) Terms on Food Labels

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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Stop Feeding My Kids Sugar

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Kids and sugar

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:

Any fruits

Cereal without sugar

Edamame – boiled soybeans in the pod

Whole grain, low-salt snacks

Guacamole

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.

Image of candy via Shutterstock

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

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Cereal for Breakfast: A Good or Bad Idea for Kids?

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?

Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids
Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids
Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids

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Fed Up? New Movie Says Food and Exercise Advice All Wrong

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

If you’re frustrated by the recent surge in childhood obesity and the way many kids are fed in this country—fed with loads of empty calorie foods and countless images and messages that tell them to eat (and eat in excess) such foods—the new documentary, Fed Up, sheds light on possible contributors and solutions. Debuting at a theater near you on May 9th, 2014, Fed Up will likely get a ton of press and will no doubt stimulate a lot of discussion about who’s to blame and what we can do as a nation and individually to turn the tide on obesity and raise healthier children.

Directed by Stephanie Soechtig and co-produced by TV-personality Katie Couric (also the narrator) and Oscar-winning advocate and author, Laurie David, Fed Up aims to “change the way you eat forever.” On it’s website, a description of the movie claims that “Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. Fed Up is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see.”

As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I was fortunate to get an early glimpse of Fed Up. It’s very well done and features many credible experts (though I was disappointed to see that no registered dietitian nutritionists—many of whom are on the front lines working with children and families to help them eat and live better—were featured). The film also offers hope for the future and provides some sensible suggestions to help families eat better (eg by cutting added sugars) and move in a more healthful direction.

Fed Up argues against the concepts “a calorie is a calorie,” “energy balance” (calories in equals calories out) and “you are what you eat” and that individuals are to blame for becoming obese. It also argues that the common advice to “eat less, move more” just doesn’t work. The movie also claims that current federal dietary guidelines are heavily influenced by industry and aren’t effective in helping children and families eat more healthfully. Fed Up also points a finger at excessive sugar intake—and the sugar industry—as main contributors to the current high rates of obesity and associated health and other problems faced by many of today’s children. The movie also blames intense marketing of nutrient-poor, high calorie, high fat, high sugar foods for unhealthy, excessive eating habits among our children and the subsequent effects of those habits on health and body weight.

Although many points made in Fed Up are valid, I do support current science-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Unfortunately, many children (and also adults) don’t follow (or have trouble) following these guidelines. Perhaps they’re too idealistic and seem too difficult to follow, especially in the midst of an environment that supports 24/7 eating and inactivity. Whatever the reason, Fed Up isn’t wrong when it says what what we’re doing on a national level thus far has done little to help our kids get healthier and achieve and maintain better body weights.

I encourage you to see Fed Up with your children (I plan to take mine). At the very least, it will stimulate discussion about what and how our country eats, why we eat that way, and how we can do better. Although the movie fails to mention or highlight the amazing work being done across the country by registered dietitian nutritionists to help children and families eat better (visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to learn more about what RDNs do and how we can help you and your family and community), it provides some hope for a future of healthy eating for our kids and families everywhere.

I asked co-producer Laurie David a few questions about Fed Up. Here’s what she had to say.

EZ: Why did you feel compelled to get involved with this film? Was there one specific impetus or were there many factors that led you to want to shed light on the obesity epidemic among children?

LD: The idea for the film started with Katie Couric. She had been covering stories of diet and exercise her whole career and was completely baffled as to why the problems kept getting worse. Fed Up is a result of three years of research, interviews and film making to come up with some answers.

EZ: Even though  few people actually follow current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, do you agree that they’re a good place to start to help people move in the direction of eating better? If not, what small steps do you suggest that families to take to move in the direction of eating better?

LD: I think everyone is confused by all the misinformation out there. I am for simplifying everything. So here is the simple answer: eat real food, cook it yourself and enjoy it with your family. Another important step is to stop buying drinks, sodas and juices and to drink water with every meal—that will give you the great and healthy habit of craving water with food.

EZ: Given that food companies aren’t going to change the food options they provide to consumers or their marketing practices (especially to children) anytime soon, how do you suggest parents minimize the influences of these on their personal habits and on the habits of their kids?

LD: I think that marketing and advertising directly to children is immoral. I hope that after seeing Fed Up, parents will make some noise about this problem. In the meantime, parents have to debunk advertising by talking about it with their kids, pointing it out every time they see it and complaining loudly to get all branding and marketing out of our schools and in YMCAs, on Nickelodeon and in/on other places kids visit.

EZ: What are the top 2-3 take-home lessons of Fed Up for families?

LD: That processed foods are unhealthy, that nutrition labels are purposely deceiving and the only people who have your families health and well being in mind is YOU. That is why it is so important that we stop outsourcing to strangers (corporations) the most important and intimate thing we do which is feeding ourselves and our families.

Image of Fed Up movie poster via Radius-TWC. 

What do you think is to blame for obesity and unhealthy habits in kids? How do you think we can/will solve the problem?

Too busy to make a healthy breakfast? We’ve got you covered! Download our Healthy Breakfast On-The-Go Guide for easy, delicious recipe ideas.

 

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Is There a Sweet Side to Sugar?

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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