As a mom of two small kids and a health coach, I’m pretty mindful of what I feed my children. Now that they’re both in school, I have a lot less control over what they eat and a lot of the food they get outside the house is junk. The problem starts with our food industry. Food companies use deceiving marketing and nutrition buzzwords like natural, whole grain and antioxidant so we believe we’re buying something healthy. If you look at the ingredients of these “healthy” foods, it seems as if there are little to no regulations for these claims.
As part of Nutrition Awareness Month, I decided to investigate some of the more common snack foods. Many of them are laced with toxic ingredients such as GMOs, food dyes and even petroleum. Check out what’s lurking in some of the foods we feed our children:
1. Goldfish Crackers
These cute little crackers are a staple in preschools and pantries across America. So how can they be so terrible? To sum it up, they’re full of chemicals made in a laboratory. Let’s start with the ‘cheddar cheese.’ It’s not organic which means the cows were raised on genetically modified grains. Unbleached enriched wheat flour means the nutrients were stripped out so it’s no longer a whole grain offering very little nutritional benefits. How about the vegetable oils? Unlike olive or coconut oils that are extracted from pressing, vegetable oils are made in a very unnatural way. The oils are heated to unsafe temperatures, oxidized and then treated with petroleum solvents. If you chose the rainbow flavor, they’re also adding several different food dyes. Yikes! A great alternative is Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. They are organic, non-gmo, made with real cheese and naturally colored.
Yogurt seems like a healthy choice. It’s a simple dairy product with a good dose of probiotics and healthy for your child’s growing bones, right? Sadly, most yogurt sold in the store is highly processed and full of added sugar. Furthermore most dairy products are loaded with hormones and antibiotics that can interfere with your child’s own hormones.Yogurts marketed specifically to children, particularly the “fun” go-gurts in tubes are super high in sugar, artificial dyes, along with a host of other chemicals I can’t pronounce. Read the label and you’ll see they often contain high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavorings, and artificial colors. If you’re going to eat yogurt, look for plain whole milk yogurt made from grass-fed cows and add a little raw honey and berries to sweeten!
Most cereals, particularly those marketed towards children have little to no nutritional value. The box may claim to include “whole grains” but adding some whole grain flour doesn’t actually qualify. Start by reading the ingredient list. Can you pronounce each of the items? Second, take a look at the sugar content. How many different names for sugar can you spot? If you’re going to feed your child cereal, choose one with less than 5 ingredients on the label and less than 7 grams of sugar per serving. Purely Elizabeth is a great choice as it’s low in sugar and made with real ingredients.
Most packaged applesauce we find in the store is nothing like what’s it’s intended to be–blended apples. They’re often loaded with added sugars and tinted with artificial colorings. While there are nutritious ones out there, you have to know what to shop for. Look for the words “unsweetened” on the label, which usually means the applesauce has no added sugars, just fruit. Double check the ingredient list to make sure apples and water are the primary ingredients. Make sure to select organic, which are made from apples grown on pesticide- and chemical-free farms.
5. Fruit Snacks
Don’t be fooled by the word ‘fruit’ as they aren’t any healthier than candy. Just take a look at the nutrition label. Each little pouch contains about five teaspoons of added sugar, more than half the recommended allotment for a child. Some brands even add a small amount of partially hydrogenated oil otherwise known as trans fats! Also beware of dyes or other food coloring as they’ve been linked to hyperactivity and behavioral problems in kids. If you’re looking for something sweet, real fruit such as berries are the best option.
As a general rules when selecting snack food, try and pick something from nature whenever possible. Obviously this isn’t always always realistic so here are the general things to steer clear from on a label:
- Artificial preservatives (TBHQ/BHT/BHA)
- Food Dyes
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose)
- MSG, olestra, nitrates/nitrites, sulfites, or potassium bromate
- Partially hydrogenated oils
Childhood is a time of critical growth in which proper nutrition is absolutely necessary. There is nothing wrong with feeding your kids real food. “Kid Food” is a made-up industry; it didn’t exist when our parents were growing up. For some reason, we tend to pre-judge what our children are prepared to eat, but if you give them the chance, more often than not they’ll go for it. Perhaps not the first time, but with a little creativity and persistence, you will be surprised. Good luck!