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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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added sugar, breakfast, breakfast cereal, children, diet, fiber, health, ready to eat cereal, sugar, whole grains | Categories:
Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
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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Diet, Fitness, Health, Must Read, Nutrition, Obesity
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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Diet, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Snacking
Thursday, February 6th, 2014
We all know that sweetened beverage intake in kids can be a problem. Sugary sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks and other sweetened beverages often provide extra calories with few nutrients. Drinking them is linked with poor oral health and cavities. They’re also easy to over consume, especially since they tend to come in large portions (12 to 24 fluid ounce servings are typical) and aren’t filling the way solid foods are. Sugar-sweetened beverages can also displace or leave less room in the diet for more nutritious foods and beverages.
There’s also evidence that higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake is linked with a higher risk of overweight and obesity among children and that reducing intake can reduce weight gain associated with their consumption. Initiatives to drink more water and to remove soda from kids’ meals will likely help to create an environment in which kids and their parents can make better beverage choices.
Two new studies underscore the importance of helping kids develop healthful habits when they’re young to prevent obesity and optimize health. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that children who were overweight at age five were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the age of 14.
Another study published in the Journal of School Health found that a lot of young children drank sugar-sweetened beverages and that the older they got, the more they drank. Compared with an infant less than one year-old, a child between the ages of one and two-years-old was 35 times as likely to consume fruity drinks, 17 times as likely to consume sodas, six-and-a-half times as likely to consume sweet tea, and about 53 times as likely to consume sweetened milk products. As compared with an infant less than one-year-old, a three to five-year-old was nearly 263 times as likely to consume fruity drinks, 30 times as likely to consume sodas, nearly 11 times as likely to consume sweet tea, and 375 times as likely to consume sweetened milk products. Led by University of Alabama researcher Jen Nickelson, the study concluded that interventions designed to prevent sugar-sweetened beverage consumption should occur early in life, ideally before children reach preschool age.
According to Nickelson, “To avoid the problems associated with sugar-sweetened beverage intake and to help ensure children have the nutrients they need for proper growth and development, its best to keep kids from drinking them to begin with. If children learn to love beverages such as water and milk early in life, they have a better chance of maintaining these healthier habits as they mature.”
Here are six tips from Nickelson to help you raise healthier drinkers:
1. Keep only healthful beverages in the house. For example, providing only water or milk in the home provides structure and helps kids know what to expect, at least when they’re home.
2. Be a good role model. If the kids see you drink water, they know you’re not asking them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
3. Give them choices. Allow your children to choose healthier beverages in the form they enjoy. For example, they can choose plain water or water with lemon or other fresh fruit slices.
4. Encourage children to finish their milk at their own pace. Children resent being forced to do something, so if they haven’t finished their milk during a mealtime, you can save it in the refrigerator and offer it later when they’re thirsty.
5. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll be out and about, plan beverages ahead of time. Carry a sippy cup of water for toddlers and a trendy sports bottle for older kids. Water never goes bad; and if it spills, it won’t make a smelly, sticky mess.
6. Offer to bring drinks to your kids’ sporting events or parties. Bring bottled water (sugar-free squirtable flavorings can also make these more fun; I know my grandchildren love to squeeze the flavorings into the bottles and shake them up). Also bring permanent markers to label drink bottles to avoid mix-ups.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I believe it’s perfectly fine to also offer 100% fruit juice to children. Of course whole fruit packs in fiber and is more filling than juice. But if you do offer fruit juice, limit portions to no more than four to six ounces daily for children between the ages of one and six-years-old, and to no more than eight to 12 ounces daily for older children as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Low fat flavored milk is also OK, though it’s wise for kids to cut back on their added sugar intake that day (eg have one small cookie instead of the usual two cookies for dessert) when they consume flavored milk.
How do you help your kids drink more healthful beverages?
Full disclosure: I’m a current spokesperson for the Got Milk? campaign.
For more ideas on where you can substitute healthier foods into your everyday routines, download our free guide.
Image of child drinking water from a glass 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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