What’s in That?!

Parents always want their children to eat properly. Recognizing the need for a child to get all of their vitamins and minerals, which will help them grow and develop, many parents do their best to buy nutritious foods. Yet, despite the abundance of food at supermarkets today, far too many products have been processed and treated. Food additives, coloring and even antibiotics can find their way into the foods you eat. Even those items which seems "safe", like fruits and vegetables, may have been grown with the help of pesticides or have been genetically modified in order to produce the best product. All this adds to the woes of parents who are already struggling to encourage healthy eating in their children. Here is some info on what hides in the foods that your child eats and how safe are they.

Pesticides in Food
Pesticides are commonly used to help produce grow. Pesticides contribute to keeping fruit and vegetables free from insects and other damaging things, thereby helping a farmer yield the biggest and best crop possible. Unfortunately, this means that thefruit and vegetables you buy in your local market, though fresh, contain a certain amount of pesticides on them.

While consuming pesticides can be problematic for any, in children, it can be particularly detrimental. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, infants and children may be more sensitive to the hazards of pesticides because:

  • their organs are still in the developing period
  • infants and children eat and drink more than adults (in relation to their weight), which might expose them more to pesticides

Chemicals sprayed on crops can have a toxic effect on a growing child, including hampering the absorption of important food nutrients. While an adult can bear the toxic load associated with pesticides, the same is not true for a child. Throughout childhood, there are specific times of important development. If your child is exposed to certain toxins during one of these periods, the way in which their biological system functions may be permanently changed.

So just what kinds of produce are typically considered to be the most contaminated? Unfortunately, many of the staples and common favorites among children including apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach and strawberries. One way to reduce just how much of those pesticides you ingest, though, is to wash all of your produce thoroughly and remove outer layers or peels whenever possible.

The Never Ending List of Food Additives
There are more than 3000 chemicals added to our food. And very often, your kids’ favorite foods are laden with these additives. This can make deciding what foods to buy even tougher. After all, how are you suppose to know which additives are safe and which are not?

Fortunately, most of them are safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely regulates these additives. Some additives, in fact, keep your child’s snack wholesome and fresh throughout its shelf life. However, it’s better to read the food labels to make healthy food choices.

Some additives make your child’s food more nutritious. They make up for the nutrients lost during the processing of the food. Many cereals and juices are fortified with vitamins and minerals. And just because they are mentioned by their chemical names, does not mean they are sinister toxins. For example, beta-carotene is a source of vitamin A, ascorbic acid would be your good old vitamin C while vitamin E is also called alpha tocopherol.

But all is not good and safe for your child. Some food additives, although passed through stringent FDA tests, have always been debated. These are normally found in highly processed foods like chips, sweet drinks, baked goods and frozen meat. If you can’t take your kid off his addiction to these snacks, you should minimize their intake. Some of the more controversial additives include:

  • Aspartame: This is an artificial sweetener typical used in place of sugar, often in diet sodas. According to some experts it may cause headaches and dizziness while the FDA has compiled a list of 92 health complaints presumably caused by aspartame, including panic and anxiety attacks, abdominal pain, asthma attacks, insomnia, headaches and migraines, and rashes.
  • Saccharin: One of the oldest artificial sweeteners around, dating back to the late 1800s. Some believe it to be a carcinogen although so far no studies have found saccharin to cause cancer when consumed in normal doses.
  • MSG or Mono Sodium Glutamate: A highly controversial additive, present in some chips, pizzas and Chinese food, should be avoided by children as it has been associated with headaches, itching, nausea, brain/nervous system/reproductive disorders and allergic reactions.
  • Artificial Colors: According to research by the Food Commission, some artificial food colorings, like tartrazine and sunset yellow, can cause hyperactivity and tantrums in young children. In fact, color additives including Yellow no. 5 and Red no. 3 have been banned for good.
  • Sodium Nitrites and Nitrates: Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are used to preserve meats. They may produce cancer-causing chemicals when eaten. It’s best to buy nitrite-free processed meat.
  • Caffeine: Present abundantly in chocolates, soft drinks, teas, and of course coffee. It’s best to minimize caffeine from kids’ foods as it’s addictive in nature.
  • BHA and BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are commonly found in butter, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods and dehydrated potatoes. Children should avoid them as they have been found (in animal studies) to cause liver and kidney damage, behavioral problems, weakened immune system and cancer.
  • Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO): BVO is used in some soft drinks but its use is often questioned because it leaves residue in body fat. Since there have been few studies down on BVO, more needs be learned about the risks posed by these residues.
  • Olestra (Olean): A synthetic indigestible fat, Olestra is used in some chips and crackers and should not be given to children. It is supposedly linked with diarrhea and loose stools, abdominal cramps and flatulence. It may hamper absorption of some nutrients from fruits and vegetables. In 2000, foods made with Olestra were required by the FDA to carry a warning. However, this stipulation was lifted in 2003.
  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils: Typically found in margarine, crackers, fried restaurant foods and baked goods, hydrogenated oils are a complete no-no for kids as it has been linked to heart disease. In fact, it is a good idea for adults to reduce their intake of these oils, as well.
  • Acesulfame-K: This artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is present in sugar-free baked goods, chewing gum, gelatin desserts and soft drinks. It has been found to cause cancer and elevated cholesterol in lab animals. However, testing in humans has found the sweetener to be safe.
  • Preservatives: Preservatives keep your child’s foods fresh. However, chemical preservatives are used more than natural preservatives, like salt and sugar. Besides nitrates and nitrites, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, benzoic acid and sodium benzonate are other commonly used preservatives in beverages, fruit juices, soft drinks, dried fruits, ketchup, margarine, salads, confections, baked goods, cheeses, jams and pickled products. Some studies have linked some chemical preservatives to allergies and hyperactivity. Moms should minimize preservative-laden foods in their children’s diet.

Salt and Sugar
Although considered to be natural, salt and sugar are other preservatives that you and your family should cut down on. Most of the foods your kids snack on are loaded with salt and sugar. While the recommended salt level for a child between the ages of 4 to 6 is 3g/day, the average salt levels in our children’s favorite snacks are quite high. Chicken nuggests, pizzas, and doughnuts all have more than 1.2g of salt per child-sized serving while hamburgers have as much as 2g per child-sized serving. If your child has more than one serving, then she’ll likely have more than the daily recommended salt intake in just one meal.

A high salt diet has been linked to heart disease and stroke in later life while too much sugar is bad for your childrens teeth. Not surprisingly, the American Heart Organization recommends reducing your child’s intake of beverages high in sugar and highly salted foods. If you’re not sure how to cut down on salt and sugar, here are same easy tips to follow:

  • Cut down on salty or cheesy snacks, such as chips and salted nuts, and opt for low-salt snacks instead. Good alternatives include dried fruit, crunchy vegetables sticks, and easy-to-eat fruit such as grapes and berries
  • Never add any table salt to your meals
  • Watch out for other words that are used to describe added sugar, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar
  • To add flavor to your food without reaching for the salt, use herbs and spices instead
  • Choose low-salt stock cubes, or make your own stock
  • Be sparing with sauces, such as soy sauce, because these are often high in salt
  • Always take a second to taste your food before deciding to add extra salt or sugar

Antibiotics in Food
Humans aren’t the only ones given antibiotics. Livestock is also commonly given antibiotics in order to keep them healthy, and their meat, healthy. Or at least that was the original reasoning behind using these drugs.

More and more, antibiotics are being used in livestock to help them grow faster as well as fatter. Understandably, the overuse of antibiotics in food animals has become a cause of concern for scientists as it can lead to the development of treatment-resistant bacteria that can be transmitted to humans. For this reason, the World Heath Organization has urged people raising livestock to cut back their use of these chemicals in their animals.

It might be tough to remove meat and chicken from your child’s menu as they are a rich source of vital nutrients. However, you can try to replace it by buying organic meat. Alternatively, substitute meat with veggies, beans, legumes, tofu and other protein rich non-meat options wherever possible.

Genetically Modified Foods
Genetically modified foods are becoming an increasing concern for many people. This is because foods that have been genetically modified are not just bred, but are also tampered with, to produce disease-resistant, hardy crops. It is alleged that these types of foods can elevate levels of naturally occurring toxins and allergens in plants.

While you might not want to serve genetically modified foods to your child, singling out those foods that are genetically modified from those that aren’t can be difficult. Currently, the FDA only requires voluntary labeling for genetically modified foods. This means you can’t really tell whether fresh potatoes and tomatoes have been genetically altered, or packed foods, like pastas and muffins, contain genetically modified ingredients.

If you want to totally avoid genetically modified foods, your best bet is to go for certified organic food.

Making the Right Choice
Parents might find it difficult to decide whether a food is safe or hazardous. It can never be said that a food is totally safe or totally hazardous. The key here is the amount of that food your child eats. You can increase food safety for your child by:

  • Limit how much you child can eat of their favorite, not so healthy foods. Remember, too much of anything is bad.
  • Make sure you properly store and cook foods.
  • Don’t raise your child on fixed diets. Make variations by adding fresh fruits and vegetables and organic foods.