We want the best food for our children whether they are eating at home, school, or on the road. When making our food selections, we frequently consider convenience along with nutrition, taste, and health. Given the vast number of items on supermarket shelves today, there’s no reason to sacrifice any of these important factors.
Fortunately we often have control over our children’s meals and snacks, especially when it comes to what we purchase at the supermarket. That’s when it’s good to know which ingredients to avoid when grocery shopping for our kids…and for ourselves as well-so here are 7 of them.
Read more about shopping for ingredients and not claims like fat free
Artificial colors. Approximately 15 million pounds of artificial colors (petroleum-based) are used in foods every years. These chemically produced ingredients are added to the foods you and your children eat even though many of them have been shown to cause cancer or other serious health problems.
At least it’s easy to identify artificial colors because they are identified by number; that is, Red 40, Yellow 5, and so on. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved nine artificial colors: Blue #1 and 2, Green #3, Red #3 and 40, Yellow #5 and 6, Citrus Red 2 (limited use), and Orange B (limited use).
Food manufacturers are heavy users of artificial colors, especially for items that are attractive to kids. Among the foods that typically have artificial colors are breakfast cereals, yogurt, candies, baked goods, soft drinks, “cheese foods,” macaroni and cheese, and gelatins. Look for numbers when reading ingredient labels!
Artificial flavors. Identifying artificial flavors can be a bit tricky, because manufacturers themselves don’t always know the exact ingredients in the flavors they use. However, artificial flavors are chemicals that were not originally sourced from a natural material, such as a spice, vegetable, or fruit. Their use has been associated with allergic reactions, headache, fatigue, chest pain, DNA damage, brain damage, and nervous system depression.
To avoid artificial flavors, look for products that say “natural flavors” or “flavors derived from strawberries” or some other natural source. Be aware that some products list both natural and artificial flavors. Traditional breakfast cereals (especially those with “fruit” flavors) are havens for artificial flavors, as are flavored yogurt, fruit juices, ice cream and ice cream novelties, fruit rollups, fruit flavored candies, cookies, and snack fruit pies.
GMOs. Two facts about genetically modified ingredients are clear: corn, soy, sugar beets, and/or canola are found in most processed foods, and the vast majority of these products grown in the United States are genetically engineered. That means the best way to avoid GMOs is to look for non-GMO labeling when grocery shopping for cereals, pasta, frozen dinners for kids, cookies, salty snacks, breakfast bars-virtually any processed foods your children eat.
Read about top 10 reasons to avoid GMOs
Perhaps the most frightening thing about GMOs in our food is not knowing how they are affecting our health. Robert Gould, MD, president of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility identified the problem when he said that “The contention that GMOs pose no risks to human health can’t be supported by studies that have measured a time frame that is too short to determine the effects of exposure over a lifetime.”
Preservatives. The number of scary preservatives added to our foods is too long to list, but it’s safe to say that if the name on the ingredient panel sounds like a chemistry or math class (e.g., polysorbate 60, sodium benzoate, MSG), then you don’t want your children ingesting it. Artificial preservatives include antimicrobials (e.g., benzoates, nitrates, nitrites, propionates, sorbates), antioxidants (BHA, BHT, sulfites), and chelating agents (e.g., EDTA, polyphosphates). Many of these additives are associated with allergic reactions, breathing problems, behavioral difficulties, heart damage, and cancer risk.
Among the biggest offenders are snack foods that kids love, such as cheese crackers and potato chips, as well as breakfast cereals and bars, fast food kids meals, frozen kids meals (including chicken nuggets), fruit drinks, and snack cakes.
Sugar. We all recognize added sugar is harmful to our health, but oftentimes sugar is disguised on ingredient panels. Don’t be fooled! Added sugar appears in so many foods children love, including breakfast cereals, candies, snack cakes, cookies, fruit drinks, doughnuts, flavored yogurts, and dairy desserts such as ice cream and novelties. And don’t forget ketchup and barbeque sauces!
Aside from ingredients that have the word “sugar” in the name, this sweetener can also be present in foods under the names anhydrous dextrose, cane juice, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, dextrose, evaporated corn sweetener, fructose, fruit nectar, glucose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, lactose, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, nectar, and sucrose, among others. Be a sugar detective when shopping for your kids.
Trans fats. The good news for parents (and all of us) is that trans fats are now listed on food packaging and that food manufacturers have until June 2018 to remove them from all of their products (although they can petition for exemptions.) The less than good news is that the information provided now on food packaging can be misleading, since there is a label loophole: manufacturers can state there are 0 grams trans fat per serving if each serving actually provides less than 0.5 grams. If a serving size is two cookies (providing 0.4 g trans fat) and your child eats four cookies, he has just consumed nearly 1 gram of trans fat, yet you would not know it because the nutrition panel states there is no trans fat.
We must be diligent and read ingredient panels carefully for the words partially hydrogenated oil, which indicates there is trans fat in the product. Trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. The most popular kids’ foods that can harbor trans fat are baked goods such as cookies and snack cakes, breakfast bars, crackers, and French fries from fast food restaurants.
The bottom line: when shopping for our children, choose minimally processed or all-natural (organic whenever possible) products. This will ensure avoidance of nasty ingredients that can have a negative impact on their health today and in the future.
Charles D. Carrageenan backlash: why food firms are ousting a popular additive. NPR 2016 Dec 12
Consumer Reports. GMO foods: what you need to know
Food and Drug Administration. The FDA takes step to remove artificial trans fats in processed foods. 2015 Jun 16
Livestrong. Harmful effects of preservatives in foods
USDA. Choose My Plate.gov. What are added sugars?