Category Archives: Health
Food additives, properly used, allow us to enjoy a variety of wholesome foods in every season. Many people, wary of additives, believe that they are toxic chemicals brewed up in laboratories. Such fears are groundless. The great majority of the 3,000 or so additives allowed by the FDA are foods or normal ingredients of foods.
Additives help keep our food healthful in at least 5 important ways.
- They retard spoilage.
- They improve or maintain nutritional value.
- They make breads and baked goods rise.
- They enhance flavor, color, and appearance.
- They keep flavors and textures consistent.
Additives listed on food labels under their chemical names seem less intimidating when you know their everyday equivalents. For example, salt is sodium chloride, vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol. Not every additive has a familiar name, but it’s reassuring to remember that all food is made up of chemicals, just as our bodies are. Regulations known as good manufacturing practices limit the amounts of additives that may be used in foods. Manufacturers use only as much of an additive as is needed to achieve the desired result.
The additives most widely used are salt, sugar and corn syrup, vitamin C, vitamin E, and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). These substances prolong shelf life, stop fats and oils from turning rancid, and prevent discoloration and changes in texture. Additives are also used in packing materials and must be approved for this purpose.
Additives That Enrich and Fortify
Additives used for enriching and fortifying foods are particularly beneficial. Enrichment restores essential nutrients that are lost during the processing of raw materials. For example, white flour and rice are enriched with B vitamins that are removed when the grains are milled. As a public health measure, certain foods are fortified with important nutrients to make sure people consume enough to stay healthy. Vitamin D, for example, is added to milk; vitamin A to margarine; and iron and folic acid to flours and cereals.
Additives Don’t Appear to Influence Hyperactivity
Years ago, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatric allergist, claimed that the behavior of hyperactive children improved dramatically when they followed a diet that eliminated additives, including artificial colors and flavors, as well as naturally occurring salicylates in fruits and vegetables. But when tested scientifically, the Feingold diet had no favorable effect. Some children, however, appeared to benefit from the extra parental attention.
In other cases, belief in the diet’s efficacy seemed to bring about an improvement similar to the placebo effect sometimes seen with medical treatments. In one study, the behavior of a small group of children with more severe hyperactivity changed for the worse when they were given food spiked with huge doses of artificial colors. However, the doses were many times greater than children would normally consume, and the findings, therefore, do not apply to usual situations.
Nevertheless, it is possible that a child may be unusually sensitive to a particular ingredient or food. If you are convinced there’s a connection between your child’s behavior and his diet, talk to your pediatrician, who may perform sensitivity testing or recommend cutting out an offending food and finding alternative sources if essential nutrients are involved
There are currently no cures for a food allergy. Management is based on avoiding the food and being prepared to treat an allergic reaction should the food be eaten accidentally. Anti-histamines can help mild symptoms such as itching and hives, but an epinephrine injection is necessary for severe symptoms or breathing difficulties (eg, throat swelling, wheezing). If epinephrine needs to be given, the child should be immediately taken for emergency medical care, or if necessary, 911 called.
If your pediatrician believes there is any risk that your child could have a severe allergic reaction (an anaphylactic reaction) to food, your pediatrician will recommend that you—and your child, when old enough to use it by himself—always carry an epinephrine autoinjector device in case of an accidental ingestion of the food. It is essential that you review with your doctor how and when to use this medication. The devices are easy to use and the medication is safe, but it is important to be familiar with the device being prescribed so that there are no delays in providing emergency treatment. A child at risk for anaphylaxis should also wear medical identification.
There’s only one sure way to prevent food allergy symptoms, and that’s to avoid the problem food altogether, in all forms, at all times. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Product labels must be read carefully each time to ensure the allergic food is not an ingredient. Read the label each time because ingredients may change. This is extremely important for patients with severe food allergy. At home, avoid cross-contact of safe foods with an allergen. For example, a knife used in peanut butter and then in jelly may leave peanut residue in the jelly jar that could cause a reaction when the jelly is used another day. Similarly, be careful when preparing foods and using cutting boards, mixing spoons, and heating surfaces. In restaurants, have a careful conversation with the waiter to be sure that the allergen is not an ingredient or contaminant of your child’s meal, although this may not be guaranteed. For school, bringing safe foods from home may avoid problems with cafeteria meals, although many schools can provide safe foods with proper preparation. Strict no-sharing policies must be followed to prevent accidental ingestions. Also avoid using food products in craft and science projects to steer clear of accidental exposures.
It’s a fairly simple matter to keep a problem food away from a very young child who eats meals and snacks under the watchful eye of parents or caregivers. However, it is more difficult with an older child who has less supervision while eating. Not only your child but also his friends and their parents should understand how serious the condition is and how important it is to avoid the allergen in any form. Above all, children should be warned never to share or taste another child’s food.
Be sure to provide full information about your child’s food allergy to school and camp personnel and child care providers. Update information regularly at the start of each school year and as new facts become available. In this regard, it is important to report accurate information, ie, definite food allergies, not minor food sensitivities.
Food Allergy Myths and Misconceptions
- Food allergy affects behavior. There is no convincing research results showing that a true food allergy causes problems such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism. Some studies show that chemical preservatives or dyes, presumably through a pharmacologic rather than allergic mechanism, might contribute to these problems, but the evidence is weak and not widely accepted by experts.
- Sugar allergy causes behavioral problems. Parents may blame high-sugar foods for unusual behavior. However, the results of several carefully controlled studies of preschool and school-aged children showed sugar or artificial sweeteners had no effect on behavior.
- Each allergic reaction gets worse. It is not automatically the case that each subsequent exposure to the food will result in a worse allergic reaction. The severity of a subsequent reaction is not easily predicted and can be worse, the same, or milder than previous reactions.
- Peanut-allergic children should avoid all kinds of nuts. Peanut is a legume and not of the tree nuts family. Many children with peanut allergy can tolerate tree nuts, and vice versa. However, some children can be allergic to multiple different foods, including peanut and certain tree nuts. Make sure you are clear what the situation is with your child.
Nearly 1 in 3 children in America is overweight or obese. Despite all the focus on kids being overweight and obese, many parents are still confused, especially when it comes to what kids eat. How much does your child need? Is he getting enough calcium? Enough iron? Too much fat?
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, nutrition is important to his or her physical and mental development. Here’s what children need — no matter what the age.
During this stage of life, it’s almost all about the milk — whether it’s breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. Breast milk or formula will provide practically every nutrient a baby needs for the first year of life.
- At about six months most babies are ready to start solid foods like iron-fortified infant cereal and strained fruits, vegetables, and pureed meats. Because breast milk may not provide enough iron and zinc when babies are around six to nine months, fortified cereals and meats can help breastfed babies in particular.
- Once you do start adding foods, don’t go low-fat crazy. Although the AAP guidelines state fat restriction in some babies is appropriate, in general, you don’t want to restrict fats under age two because a healthy amount of fat is important for babies’ brain and nerve development.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers grow in spurts and their appetites come and go in spurts, so they may eat a whole lot one day and then hardly anything the next. It’s normal, and as long as you offer them a healthy selection, they will get what they need.
- Calcium, the body’s building block, is needed to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth. Children may not believe or care that milk “does a body good,” but it is the best source of much-needed calcium. Still, there’s hope for the milk-allergic, lactose-intolerant, or those who just don’t like milk. Lactose-free milk, soy milk, tofu, sardines, and calcium-fortified orange juices, cereals, waffles, and oatmeal are some calcium-filled options. In some cases, pediatricians may recommend calcium supplements.
- Fiber is another important focus. Toddlers start to say “no” more and preschoolers can be especially opinionated about what they eat. The kids may want to stick to the bland, beige, starchy diet (think chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni), but this is really the time to encourage fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, which all provide fiber. Not only does fiber prevent heart disease and other conditions, but it also helps aid digestion and prevents constipation, something you and your child will be thankful for.
It isn’t uncommon for a 6- or 7-year-old to suddenly decide to be a vegetarian once they understand animals and where food comes from. This doesn’t mean your child won’t get enough protein; animal tissue isn’t the only place we get protein. Rice, beans, eggs, milk, and peanut butter all have protein. So whether your child goes “no-meat” for a week or for life, he or she will likely still get sufficient amounts of protein.
Areas that might be a little too sufficient are sugars, fats, and sodium.
- This is a time when kids first go to school and have a little bit more choices in what they eat, especially if they’re getting it in the cafeteria themselves. Cakes, candy, chips, and other snacks might become lunchtime staples.
- The body needs carbs (sugars), fats, and sodium, but should be eaten in moderation, as too much can lead to unneeded weight gain and other health problems.
- Packing your child’s lunch or going over the lunch menu and encouraging him or her to select healthier choices can help keep things on track.
Preteens & Teens
As puberty kicks in, young people need more calories to support the many changes they will experience. Unfortunately, for some, those extra calories come from fast food or “junk” foods with little nutritional value.
- Some adolescents go the opposite way and restrict calories, fats, or carbs. Adolescence is the time kids start to become conscious of their weight and body image, which, for some, can lead to eating disorders or other unhealthy behaviors. Parents should be aware of changes in their child’s eating patterns and make family dinners a priority at least once or twice a week.
- Like calories, calcium requirements are higher. Calcium is more important than ever during the tween and teen years because the majority of bone mass is built during this time. Encouraging kids to have milk, milk products, or calcium-rich alternatives, should help them get more calcium.
- Your child’s gender may play a role in whether he or she needs more of a particular nutrient. For instance, teen girls need more iron than their male counterparts to replace what’s lost during menstruation, and males need slightly more protein than girls.
Although getting your child to eat healthy — regardless of his or her age — can be a constant battle, its one well worth fighting. A healthy child becomes a healthy adult, and only with your support and guidance will your child be both.
In May 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a number of changes to the current Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. The changes reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. In addition, the new label will make it easier for families to make informed decisions about the food they eat.
Highlights of the New Nutrition Facts Label
- Increased type size for “Calories,” “servings per container,” and “Serving size”
- Bolded number of calories and the “Serving size”
- Changed Daily Value footnote to read: “The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
- Reflection of updated information about nutrition science
- Included “added sugars” in grams and as % Daily Value on label
- Updated list of nutrients required or permitted to be declared on the label
- Removed “Calories from Fat” from the label
- Updated Daily Values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D
- Update to serving sizes and labeling requirements for certain package sizes
- By law, serving sizes must now be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup but is changing to ⅔ cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.
- Packages between one and two servings now require the calories and other nutrients to be labeled as one serving, because people typically consume it in one sitting. Package size affects what people eat.
- Manufacturers must provide “dual column” labels to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and “per package”/”per unit” basis for certain products that are larger than a single serving but that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings. Examples would be a 24-ounce bottle of soda or a pint of ice cream. With dual-column labels available, you will be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients you are getting if you eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why must “added sugars” now be included?
The scientific evidence underlying the 2010 and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans support reducing caloric intake from added sugars; and expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization also recommend decreasing intake of added sugars. See the AAP policy statement, Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools, for more information.
In addition, it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if you consume more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars. On average, Americans get about 13% of their total calories from added sugars, with the major sources being sugar-sweetened beverages (including soft drinks, fruit drinks, coffee and tea, sport and energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages) and snacks and sweets (including grain-based desserts, dairy desserts, candies, sugars, jams, syrups, and sweet toppings).
Bioengineering has pushed farmers beyond the age-old practice of selective breeding, whereby one animal or plant strain was crossed with a related one to bring out desirable characteristics and suppress less useful ones. Now, scientists can manipulate genes and create new strains out of unrelated species. Foods, ingredients, and additives produced by bioengineering must meet the same FDA safety standards as traditional products. The total acreage of bioengineered crops is still small, but it represents a growing practice.
Food producers are responsible for ensuring that the foods they sell are safe. The US Department of Agriculture has the authority to remove meat, poultry, and egg products produced in federally inspected plants, and the FDA has the authority to remove all other foods from the market if they pose a risk to public health.
Risk of Allergic Reactions
One area of concern related to the transfer of genetic material is the possibility that proteins introduced from one food into another could cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to the first food. For example, a tomato bred to produce a protein normally found in peanuts could cause potentially life-threatening symptoms when eaten by someone allergic to peanuts. For this reason, the FDA requires clear scientific proof of safety from developers working with foods to which people are commonly allergic, such as milk, eggs, wheat, fish, tree nuts (eg, walnuts, pecans), and legumes (eg, beans, peanuts). It’s impossible to predict allergic reactions to proteins derived from plants or other sources if they are not recognized causes of allergy. Nevertheless, scientists can test a bioengineered protein to see whether its structure resembles that of a known allergen. If it does, further tests show whether an allergic cross-reaction is likely.
Food traps are situations and places that make it difficult to eat right. We all have them. The following tips may help your family avoid some of the most common traps.
Food Trap #1: Vacations, Holidays, and Other Family Gatherings
When on a trip, don’t take a vacation from healthy eating and exercise.
What You Can Do:
- Plan your meals. Will all your meals be from restaurants? If so, can you split entrees and desserts to keep portions from getting too large? Can you avoid fast food? Can you bring along your own healthy snacks?
- Stay active. Schedule time for physical activities such as taking a walk or swimming in the hotel pool.
It’s easy to overeat during holidays. But you don’t need to fear or avoid them.
What You Can Do:
- Approach the holidays with extra care. Don’t lose sight of what you and your child are eating. Plan to have healthy foods and snacks on hand. Bring a fruit or veggie tray with you when you go to friends and family.
- Celebrate for the day, not an entire month! Be sure to return to healthy eating the next day.
Other Family Gatherings
In some cultures, when extended families get together, it can turn into a food feast, from morning to night.
What You Can Do:
- Eat smaller portions. Avoid overeating whenever you get together with family. Try taking small portions instead.
- Get family support. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can have an enormous effect on your child’s health. Let them know that you’d like their help in keeping your child on the road to good health.
Food Trap #2: Snack Time
The biggest time for snacking is after school. Kids come home wound up, stressed out, or simply bored, so they reach for food.
What You Can Do:
- Offer healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit, light microwave popcorn, vegetable soup, sugar-free gelatin, or fruit snacks.
- You pick the snack. When children are allowed to pick their own snacks, they often make unhealthy choices. Talk to your child about why healthy snacks are important. Come up with a list of snacks that you can both agree on and have them on hand.
- Keep your child entertained. Help your child come up with other things to do instead of eating, such as playing outside, dancing, painting a picture, flying a kite, or taking a walk with you.
- Make sure your child eats 3 well-balanced meals a day. This will help cut down on the number of times he or she needs a snack.
Food Trap #3: Running Out of Time
Finding time every day to be physically active can be very difficult. However, if you plan ahead, there are ways to fit it in.
What You Can Do:
- Make a plan. Sit down with your child and plan in advance for those days when it seems impossible to find even 15 minutes for physical activity. Have a plan B ready that your child can do after dark, such as exercising to a workout video.
- Make easy dinners. If you run out of time to make dinner, don’t run to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Remember, dinners don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as a sandwich, bowl of soup, piece of fruit, and glass of milk.
Nearly half of all American families regularly skip breakfast. Is your family one of them? When it comes to getting your children to school, a healthy breakfast is just as important as gym shoes and sharp pencils.
How Breakfast Betters Your Child
Breakfast has been associated with everything from:
- Better memory
- Better test scores
- Better attention span to decreased irritability
- Healthier body weights
- Improved overall nutrition
Rise & Dine
It’s easy to see how breakfast has come to qualify as one of the nutritional challenges of parenthood. Whether it’s your own parental time constraints or your child’s busy schedule, getting the whole family ready to set off to child care and/or school in the morning, play dates, or any of a whole host of other common early-in-the-day commitments, breakfast is often neglected.
If the words “slow” and “leisurely” don’t exactly describe your morning routine, we’d like to suggest that you commit a little extra time and effort to protecting the nutritional integrity of your child’s morning meal.
Breakfast-Made-Easier Tips for Parents
Whether you opt for a simple breakfast or a more elaborate one, any effort to make it nutritious is better than no breakfast at all. Whether that means a glass of low-fat milk and a piece of wheat toast or an all-out feast, the following breakfast-made-easier tips will hopefully help you rise to the occasion and overcome some of the most common barriers to a healthy breakfast.
- Schedule accordingly. While we’d like to remind you that sitting down and sharing family meals is beneficial, we’re willing to bet that sitting down to a leisurely breakfast with your kids each morning simply isn’t realistic for most of you. What is realistic, however, is making sure you carve out enough time to allow your child to eat without pressure. Especially for infants and toddlers, this includes factoring in enough time in the morning’s schedule to allow for both assisted- and self-feeding.
- Fix breakfast before bedtime. In other words, plan ahead. As with just about all other aspects of feeding your child, a little advance planning can go a long way toward having a wider range of healthy foods on hand. Simple examples such as hard-boiling eggs ahead of time or having your child’s favorite cold cereal dished out the night before to pair with some presliced fresh fruit can mean the difference between time for a balanced breakfast and running out the door without it (or, as is often the case, with some commercially packaged and far less nutritious alternative in hand).
- Grab-and-go breakfasts. If the reality of your schedule is such that you and your kids routinely run out the door with no time to spare in the morning, then try stocking up on a variety of nutritious foods that you can prepare and prepackage for healthier grab-and-go convenience. In addition to hard-boiled eggs, consider other fast favorites like sliced apples, homemade muffins, or a bagel with low-fat cream cheese.
- Make sure sleep is on the menu. Applying the age-old adage, make sure your child is early enough to bed that she rises early enough to allow time for breakfast. No matter what their age, tired kids tend to be cranky, and cranky kids are far less likely to sit down for a well-balanced breakfast. Not only that, but sleep has proven itself to be a crucial ingredient in children’s overall health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children between 9 and 11 years old are screened for high blood cholesterol levels due to the growing epidemic of obesity in children.
In addition, the AAP recommends cholesterol testing for the following groups of children:
- Those whose parents or grandparents have had heart attacks or have been diagnosed with blocked arteries or disease affecting the blood vessels, such as stroke, at age 55 or earlier in men, or 65 or earlier in women
- Those whose parents or grandparents have total blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher
- Those whose family health background is not known (eg, many adopted children), or those who have characteristics associated with heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or obesity
For children in these categories, their first cholesterol test should be after 2 years but no later than 10 years of age.
A child may have high cholesterol for a variety of reasons such as obesity, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or an underactive thyroid. If an initial test shows high cholesterol, your pediatrician will check your child’s blood again at least 2 weeks later to confirm the results. If it is still high, the doctor will also determine if your child has an underlying condition.
A recent government report indicated that there is good evidence that children with cholesterol problems become adults with high cholesterol. So it is important to monitor the cholesterol of children who may have an increased risk of elevated cholesterol.
When it comes to raising an adventurous eater, it is not just about coaxing kids to eat their veggies. Bringing up a child who can enjoy a cantaloupe as much as a cupcake takes patience and persistence, but it does not have to feel like a chore.
Kids may need to have frequent joyful experiences involving food to overcome the anxiety they may have around tasting the unfamiliar. Over time, cooking with your children can help build that confidence—and provide rich sensory experiences.
- Engage other senses. For a hesitant eater, tasting an unfamiliar food can sometimes be intimidating. You can help your child explore foods when cooking using other senses besides taste. This helps to build positive associations with food. Kneading dough, rinsing vegetables, and tearing lettuce all involve touching food and being comfortable with texture. The complex flavors we experience when eating food come from both taste sensations from the tongue AND smelling with the nose. While cooking with new ingredients, some children may feel too overwhelmed to taste. If this happens, you can try suggesting smelling a food first; this may provide a bridge to tasting in the future.
- Use cooking to raise smart kids. There are so many lessons that can be taught while cooking. Math concepts like counting, measurement, and fractions naturally unfold when navigating a recipe with kids. Explaining how food changes with temperature or how certain foods can help our body be healthy provide great lessons in science. While cooking with your child, practice new vocabulary as you describe how food looks, feels, and tastes. Following a recipe from start to finish helps build the skills for planning and completing projects.
- Make cooking part of the family culture. The family meal can start in the kitchen as you cook together. Family meal preparation is an opportunity to celebrate your cultural heritage by passing down recipes. Help your kids find new, seasonal recipes to add to your repertoire and family cookbook. Cooking together and prioritizing health over the convenience of processed food are great ways to lead by example and help your children buy into a culture of wellness. Building daily and seasonal traditions around cooking together helps strengthen your family’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
- Keep it safe. Teach kids the importance of staying safe while cooking by showing them how to hold kitchen tools safely, how to use oven mitts to protect hands from heat, and how to turn appliances on and off safely. Always supervise children when cooking to ensure they are sticking with safe and age-appropriate tasks. The best way to keep cooking safe is to know your child’s abilities and his or her stage of development. A four-year-old child, for example, may not be ready to sauté vegetables over a hot pan, but may have the fine motor skills to rinse fruits or tear salad leaves. Keeping safety in mind, it is not difficult to get kids—even toddlers—involved in the kitchen.
- Ask for input. Children feel more included in mealtime when they are asked to be a part of meal preparation. Collaborate with your kids when selecting recipes for main dishes or sides. Let them help you make the shopping list and find groceries in the store or farmers market. When cooking together, let children offer a critique of the foods you are preparing. Together you can decide what ingredients you should add to enhance the flavor. Talk about how people enjoy different tastes, and share your preferences with each other. Letting children be “in charge” of details like how to set the table will help them feel invested in mealtime.
Noncaloric sweeteners, also called no- and low-calorie sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, add sweetness to foods and beverages without adding calories. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, foods and beverages sweetened with noncaloric sweeteners can be incorporated into a healthy eating plan.
Noncaloric sweeteners can help make reduced-calorie foods and beverages taste better, which can help in long-term weight maintenance.
Check Food Labels
Keep in mind that products containing noncaloric sweeteners may not be calorie-free or fat-free. Check the food labels for nutritional information.
Where We Stand
Due to limited studies in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has no official recommendations regarding the use of noncaloric sweeteners.
- Fat, Salt and Sugar: Not All Bad
- Allergies and Hyperactivity
- Healthy Active Living for Families
- Preventing Tooth Decay
- eatright.org (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)