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Is that really healthy?

posted 8 May 2015, 03:50 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 14 May 2015, 09:01 ]
By JoAnn Bayus

I previously wrote an article called Nutrition & ADHD, after which I received numerous emails from parents thanking me for the information. Many parents try incredibly hard to raise healthy children but this can be much more difficult than it sounds…especially with food companies bombarding parents with advertisements claiming their products are healthy, smart choices. But are they really?

“When I went to medical school in the 1960s, the consensus view was sugar provided ‘empty calories’ devoid of vitamins, minerals or fibre. Aside from that, it was not deemed harmful. But 50 years of nutrition research has confirmed that sugar is actually the single most health-destructive component of the standard American diet. – Dr. Andrew Weil

Reading food labels can be very eye opening. I decided take a closer look at a couple products to shed some light on these healthy food claims. (My intention is not to bash products but rather point out the importance of reading labels. As a result, I am intentionally leaving out the product names and simply focusing on their ingredient lists.)

Ingredients for a children’s breakfast cereal: Whole grain wheat, sugar, contains 2% or less of milled corn, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavour, modified corn starch, gelatin, soybean oil, glycerin, sorbitol, blue 2 lake, red 40 lake, red 40, BHT for freshness.

The makers of this breakfast cereal describe their products as being incredibly nutritious. This is definitely not one of the worst offenders as far as breakfast cereals go. In fact, this particular selection contains fibre, something that many children greatly lack, and has less sugar than many other breakfast cereals. However, I immediately noticed two issues when reading these ingredients. First, although the sugar content is less than many other cereals, it is still a main ingredient.

Second, it contains artificial flavour and food dyes, which research has shown to have negative effects on one’s health and on the behaviour of children.

There are many other products being touted as healthy as well. For example, the following ingredient list is from children’s drink that is marketed as a great way to ensure that your children get the nutrition and vitamins they need.

Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Milk Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Canola Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate. Less than 0.5% of the Following: Soy Protein Isolate, Short-Chain Fructooligosaccharides, Cellulose Gel, Magnesium Phosphate, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Phosphate, Tuna Oil, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Choline Chloride, Ascorbic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Monoglycerides, Potassium Hydroxide, m-Inositol, Carrageenan, Taurine, Ferrous Sulfate, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, L-Carnitine, Zinc Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, Niacinamide, FD&C Red #3, Manganese Sulfate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Lutein, Cupric Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Chromium Chloride, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Sodium Molybdate, Potassium Iodide, Phylloquinone, Vitamin D3, and Cyanocobalamin.

Again, this product is packed with a whooping 18 grams of sugar per serving (not to mention that I can’t pronounce half the stuff in there). The makers of this product explain that the sugar is added so the kids will want to drink it. No doubt that children would enjoy eating chocolate cake for breakfast too, but even if it were vitamin fortified I would still not consider it to be a health food. Several versions of this product also contain synthetic food dyes.

Research shows that sugar consumption actually causes brain shrinkage. So, be careful about what is being sold to you and take the time to read labels. Your health, and the health of your children, is well worth the effort.

Tips:
  • If you are concerned about your children getting the vitamins and minerals they need, consider giving them a children’s vitamin that is pharmaceutical quality and free of artificial flavors and sweeteners.
  • Select products with short ingredient lists (that you can actually pronounce).
  • Select products without added sugar, preservatives, and synthetic food dyes.
  • Try whole food breakfast options such as steel cut oatmeal with fruit, hard boiled eggs, or whole grain toast with natural nut butters – watch out for some nut butter brands that are packed with sugar and preservatives.

Resources:
Environmental Working Group – Kids’ Cereals Pack More Sugar Than Twinkies and Cookies

Graham, T and Ramsey, D. (2011). The Happiness Diet. New York: Rodale, Inc.

JoAnn Bayus
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