I just finished the topic of pediatrics in my nutrition course, and really enjoyed it. Even though I don’t have children, I found that a lot of the topics covered in the text (Winning the Food Fight by Joey Shulman) are relevant to everyone.

A piece of advice she gives throughout the book, which I totally love, is that parents should lead by example. Your kids aren’t going to eat healthy if you keep filling the house with unhealthy foods and don’t eat healthy yourself. Why would they choose raw veggies for a snack when they can have chips, or drink water when they can have a juice box or can of pop?

What exactly are these unhealthy foods? Shulman calls them ‘anti-nutrients’ because they don’t have any nutritional value, and can actually cause health problems (ie. cancer, Type II diabetes, asthma, behavioral problems and obesity to name a few). Here is list of widely used anti-nutrients that I think are the most important to avoid:

  • Trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated vegetable oils: oils are heated up to make food taste better and last longer. Can cause a build-up of fat in arteries, increase bad cholesterol, damage cell membranes increasing risk of cancer, etc. Found in: margarine, regular peanut butter, cakes, cookies, crackers, French fries, potato chips, salad dressing, frozen foods
  • Refined flour: processing strips away all the health benefits (vitamins, minerals and fiber) of whole grains, and causes blood-sugar to spike and than crash causing blood-sugar and insulin imbalances. Found in: white bread, white pasta, cookies, crackers, cereal, pretzels
  • Food dyes: before the 1940s food dye came from natural plant sources (ie. beet juice and chlorophyll). Chemists soon developed a more cost-effective solution that has a longer shelf life: synthetic dyes. Eight dyes that are approved in Canada are: Red #40; Blue #1; Blue #2; Red #3; Yellow #5; Yellow #6; Green #3; Amaranth; Fast Green.

Have you ever noticed what happens to your kids after they eat red candy or sugary cereals? They may go a little bonkers.

While none of them are great, the ones that seem to cause the most problems are the reds and yellows. Have you ever noticed what happens to your kids after they eat red candy or sugary cereals? They may go a little bonkers. “Parents report that after their children consume red or yellow dyes, symptoms of irritability, tantrums, belligerence, and antisocial behavior worsen”…other studies have shown “that food dye consumption can worsen behavioral problems such as attention deficit disorder (ADD)” (Shulman). Found in: candy, icing, bright colored cereals, toothpaste, juice, pop, ice cream, popsicles – read your labels!

  • Refined sugar: processing removes all the vitamins, minerals and fiber from the sugar cane plant. Refined sugar is an addictive substance, causing withdrawal symptoms. Excess sugar turns into fat, disrupts blood sugar and insulin balance, and weakens the immune system. Found in: candy, cookies, cakes, but also hidden in many other foods – ketchup, jams, cereal, juice, peanut butter
  • Aspartame: food additive and toxic chemical used to sweeten foods in place of sugar. Can cause headaches, migraines, cravings for real sugar, anxiety, etc. Found in over 5000 products: baked goods, chewing gum, diet pop, juice crystals, candy

MSG or monosodium glutamate (also called autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed yeast, vegetable protein or natural flavours): food additive and chemical that tricks your brain into improving the taste of food causing you to eat more. Can cause headaches, heart palpitations, stomach aches, hyperactivity, panic attacks, etc. Found in: soup stocks, sauces, frozen foods

BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) and BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole): preservatives found in many common food items. Can cause cancer and tumor growth in lab animals and increase behavioral disorders (banned in certain countries). Found in: cold cuts, butter, beer, snack foods, gum, dehydrated potatoes

Sorry for the doom and gloom. Reading this list probably makes you feel a bit scared, overwhelmed, and helpless. Unfortunately a lot of processed and packaged foods contain anti-nutrients. One of the best ways to avoid them is to give your kids (and yourself!) unpackaged, unprocessed organic*, whole, fresh foods the majority of the time, and read your labels! Now that you know what to look out for, you can make informed, healthy purchases.

That being said, kids will be kids, and will come in contact with processed, packaged food – at school, birthday parties, sleepovers, etc. It’s ok. What matters is what you’re feeding them the majority of the time.

Some tips: Have fresh fruit and veggies chopped and readily available. Give them water instead of pop and sugary juices. (Even 100 percent real juice has high sugar levels – one glass of OJ is the equivalent of eating three oranges.) Use natural sweeteners like honey, real maple syrup and banana instead of refined sugar. Buy whole grains instead of refined white flour. Feed them what you eat! If you eat healthy, your kids should eat healthy.

AND – I would recommend reading Dr. Joey Shulman’s book Winning the Food Fight. It’s so informative, and at the end of every chapter she provides a list of tips that will help you integrate healthy changes into your family.

*If buying organic is not an option, than make sure you wash your produce very well using vinegar water to eliminate some of the herbicides, pesticides and wax that may be on the surface



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