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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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Thursday, September 12th, 2013
In a new campaign called “Drink Up,” Michelle Obama and Partnership for a Healthier America are encouraging people to take a simple action to improve health—to drink water. With help from celebrity endorsers, talk shows including The View and Katie, and bottled water and other companies like Evian, Nestle Waters, and Brita, the new campaign is likely to make a real splash (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
What I like most about the campaign is that its message is simple and doable. It takes a positive—rather than a punishing—approach to behavior change by telling Americans what we can do rather than what we should not do to live more healthful lives.
In short videos done in both English and Spanish and promoted on the campaign web site, the First Lady explains that the body is about 70% water. She also says that when you’re running low, a glass of water will recharge your body.
As I discussed in a recent Scoop on Food post on hydration, water is a vital nutrient. Found in so many body parts including the brain, heart, lungs, skin, and even bones, water helps control body temperature, supports healthy digestion, brings wastes out of the body, and even helps prevent constipation. Although water is an essential part of the daily diet and something kids—and all of us—need to get more of, a recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that at least 75% of children between the age of 4 and 13 failed to meet the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intake values for daily water intake (about 7 to 10 cups water from all fluids and beverages). Researchers also found that, on the two days surveyed, 28% of children failed to consume any plain water (tap or bottled).
Although ‘Drink Up’ doesn’t mention other beverages, it implies that while it’s up to us to choose our beverages, drinking water is a better option. I concur! But I also think it’s important to include nutrient-rich beverages such as low- and nonfat milk, fortified soy beverages, and 100 percent fruit juice to hydrate and meet needs for protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other key nutrients.
If you want to help your child ‘drink up,’ here are four Stressipes* that can help:
1. Start ‘em young. According to Bridget Swinney, RD, author of Eating Expectantly and Baby Bites, “Healthy kids under the age of four need about five cups of total fluid a day—at least one cup of that will come from food in the diet, depending on how many fruits and veggies a child eats. Kids who spend time in warm, humid weather will need more fluid.” She recommends encouraging kids from late infancy on to learn to love plain water by teaching them that when you’re thirsty, you drink water. “For babies one year and up, milk is a given, but be sure to give additional fluids—mostly plain water,” Swinney says. She also supports recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that call for limiting fruit juice to no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day for children aged one to six.
2. Spruce it up. If the thought of plain water makes your child gag, Swinney recommends adding some fun by letting him or her pick out a special cup or silly straw reserved for drinking water. “Adding ‘floaties’ like cucumber, kiwi orange, lemon, or lime slices, or making ice cubes with water and bits of orange, apple, kiwi, strawberry, raspberry or blueberry and using them to put in plain water can also help,” Swinney adds.
3. Drink before you eat. Because emerging studies suggest that consuming water may prevent weight gain in children, offering even small amounts before or with meals or snacks is a good rule of thumb. Instilling such a simple habit in children will likely help them continue to ‘drink up’–and reap the many benefits of staying hydrated—well into their teen and adult years.
4. Think before you drink. According to registered dietitian Kate Geagen, author of Go Green, Get Lean, “I love that the ‘Drink Up’ campaign promotes zero-calorie beverages, but parents can take it one step further to make it zero-impact for the environment as well.” She urges parents to fill and refill BPA-free water bottles with tap water, which is more regulated than bottled water. She adds, “In an economy where every food dollar counts, I rather parents use the money they’d spend on bottled water to invest in more water-rich fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods they can feed to their families.”
*’Stressipes’ are tips or solutions to help you eat and live in a more healthful way.
How do you help your family drink more water?
Image of child with glass pitcher water via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
It’s always important for kids to meet their daily fluid needs. But with temperatures soaring into triple digits in some parts of the country, staying adequately hydrated has become even more important for kids. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Science School, about 65 percent of kids’ body weights are made of water. This vital nutrient is found abundantly in the brain, heart, lungs, skin, and even bones. Water is so essential for kids—and all of us—because it helps control body temperature, supports healthy digestion, brings wastes out of the body, and can even help prevent constipation.
Even if the weather outside isn’t brutal, spending a lot of time sweating while running around, playing sports, hiking, biking, or doing other active things makes it even more important for kids to get enough water. Kids also need more water when they travel by plane, and when they have a fever, vomit, or have diarrhea.
Unfortunately, there’s evidence that kids fall short when it comes to water intake. A new study published in Nutrition Journal looked at water and beverage consumption among 4,766 four to 13 year-old children in the United States. Researchers found that at least 75 percent of children failed to meet the following current Institute of Medicine daily intake recommendations (Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)) for water:
- 4 to 8 year-olds: 1,700 milliliters (about 7 cups)
- 9 to 13 year-old girls: 2,100 milliliters (about 9 cups)
- 9 to 13 year-old boys: 2,400 milliliters (about 10 cups)
Because little kids especially don’t sweat as much as older kids and adults, you cannot always use sweat to gauge whether or not your kids are hydrated. If your child is thirsty, pale, tired, goes to the bathroom less often, or has concentrated urine (pee should be pale rather than bright in color), these are signs that he or she may need to drink up.
If you’re worried your kids aren’t adequately hydrated, here are four ways you can help them meet their daily water needs:
Go for water. Keep a refillable pitcher in your refrigerator. Enhance the taste of plain water by adding a splash of 100 percent fruit juice, or squeezing the juice of a slice of lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit into it. You can also add some fresh berries, cut up cucumbers, or even some mint to give plain water some bite. Or swap plain water for seltzer to give the drink a soda-like taste minus the added sugars or artificial sweeteners. When your kids head outside or are otherwise on the go, arm them with a BPA-free refillable water bottle—just make sure to clean it once daily.
Milk their diet. Offer kids one or two cups of milk—preferably low-fat and nonfat varieties to keep calories and saturated fat intake down—daily as part of main meals like breakfast and dinner. Milk not only helps kids meet their water quota, but provides protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and other key nutrients to keep their teeth and bones strong. For kids who don’t drink milk because of an allergy or other reason, fortified soy beverages can provide valuable nutrients and water. Other so-called ‘milks’ like almond milk can also help hydrate kids, but they may not provide the calcium and other nutrients found in cow’s milk and fortified soy beverages.
Let them drink juice. Although whole fruit is more nutrient-packed than 100 percent fruit juice, having some orange, grape, apple, or cranberry juice solo or mixed with plain water or seltzer can help kids stay hydrated. It can also be a great alternative to soda or other sugar-sweetened, nutrient-poor beverages. It’s important, however, to keep portions to about 4 to 8 ounces daily for most kids to leave enough room for more filling fiber- and nutrient-rich whole fruit.
Push produce. Fruits and vegetables are rich in water content, and eating them—as well as oatmeal and other cooked grains, and vegetable and other broth-based soups—can provide about 20 percent of kids’ daily water needs. Keep fresh fruit in a bowl on your counter top, in-season vegetables in your refrigerator, canned, no-salt added vegetables in your pantry, and frozen unsalted, sugar- and fat-free fruits and vegetables in your freezer. Offer small portions of fruits or vegetables at most meals or snacks, or as part of dessert. Having these foods available and visible, and preparing them in an enticing way can do wonders to help your kids stay hydrated and meet their daily quotas for nutrient-rich produce.
How do you help your kids stay hydrated?
Image of little girl with glass of water via shutterstock.
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