Fresh fruits and veggies are always a safe snack choice.
Any mom will tell you that the first thing their kids are drawn to in the grocery store is the bright colored candy, cereal or drinks. Unfortunately, those can also be the worst things for them. Foods are so pumped full of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives today, its difficult to know what you're eating anymore. As a parent, there are several strategies for making healthier choices for your children, as well as several reasons why you should.
While there is much controversy over the safety of food dyes, there are studies (as well as many real-life testimonials) that indicate that artificial colors can have many harmful side effects including hyperactivity, restlessness, breathing problems and attention problems in children. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics is recognizing the issue today. Many of the dyes found in foods in the US have already been banned other countries. In Britain, McDonald's strawberry sundaes get their appealing red color from strawberries. Here in the US, that color comes from Red 40. The question is why? Red 40, along with common preservatives TBHQ and BHT are petroleum derivatives. As a parent, that doesn't sound like something we want our children to consume on a regular basis. Artificial flavors can also be problematic, especially vanillin (artificial vanilla flavor.) The FDA does not monitor artificial flavorings nor require that they be tested. Even when testing is done, however, it may be ignored. For example, vanillin is listed as GRAS (generally recognized as safe, even though it can inhibit the liver enzyme dopamine sulphotransferase by 50%.
Last year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest called on the FDA to ban the 8 most common artificial dyes, or at the very least require a warning label on foods that contain those dyes. Though that has not happened yet, many companies are starting to make positive changes on their own. Much to my kids' delight, nearly all of the offerings from Popsicle brand this summer contained only natural colors and flavors. Most Capri-Sun juice pouches do not contain dye, and even Jelly Belly now offers jellybeans flavored and colored naturally.
There are some simple steps you can take to clean up your kids' diets.
- For a real no-brainer, check out Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, where every item bearing their label is free of any artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
- Think whole! The more "whole" or closer to a food's natural state it is, the less likely that it contains undesirable additives.
- Always read labels. You may be surprised to see where artificial flavors and colors are hidden. For instance, did you know LIFE cereal contains BHT, yellow 5 and yellow 6, or that nearly every brand of marshmallows contains blue dye? Did you know that Nestle tollhouse chocolate chips use vanillin instead of real vanilla extract?
- Look for products labeled "All Natural." Even better, buy organic!
- Make it from scratch. If you make it yourself, you know what's in it. A yellow boxed cake mix may seem harmless, but in actuality its full of food dye. If this sounds daunting, there are some great new natural mixes such as Naturally Nora's line which even includes a naturally colored sprinkle cake and frosting mix!
- Pack your kids lunches and snacks. Most school districts have a long way to go in terms of healthy lunch offerings. When you pack it, you control what your kids take in. Get them involved and they will be more likely to enjoy what you send.
- Finally, offer acceptable substitutes. Instead of Fruit Roll-Ups try Fruitabu Smooshed Fruit and swap Pirate Cannonballs or Pirate's Booty for cheese balls. Just because you're cutting out the artificial ingredients, doesn't mean you have to cut out the fun. Keep a stash of all-natural lollipops in your car or purse to replace those dye-filled ones they give out at the doctor's office, bank or dry cleaners. They taste so good, you just may find yourself sneaking one!