American Academy of Pediatrics says Anything Goes: What Do You Think?

American Academy of Pediatrics says Anything Goes: What Do You Think?

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new dietary guidelines and recommendations.  Rather than focusing on banning certain foods, it focuses more on what should be eaten.  The goal has becoming getting kids to eat more nutritious foods, even if that means coating them in sugars or fats to persuade kids to eat them.  What do you think about this recommendation?

Personally, I think this is selling out.  The fact is that certain food items should be avoided whenever possible.  There is really no need for processed sugar in a kid’s diet, not when there is so much natural sweetness out there (and unprocessed sweeteners now widely available).

There is a difference between what I call selling out and what I call being realistic.  Being realistic is accepting that yes, your kid might have a piece of cake at another kid’s birthday party.  Selling out is dumping processed cheese sauce on broccoli just to get your kid to eat it.  One is accepting the virtually inevitable and choosing not to make a fight out of it, in the hopes that your positive relationship with your child will ultimately lead them to make good, healthy life decisions in the long term.  The other is giving in to whims and demands because you are so incredibly desperate that your child will eat something, anything healthy, even if that means you have to coat it in something unhealthy first.

Does this sound like being realistic or selling out to you?

A small amount of sugar or fat is ok if it means a child is more likely to eat foods that are highly nutritious.

That’s from the AAP Press Release that accompanied the online publication of their guidelines.  To me, that sounds like selling out.  It just smacks of desperation.

It is probably a relief for many parents to see a statement like that because it vindicates them.  They no longer have to feel guilty for letting their kids pour the salty, fatty ranch dressing on their salad.

The problem is, “a small amount” is really subjective.  What, exactly, is “a small amount”?  Tastes and amounts are inherently subjective.  My mom loves salty foods (a gene I have inherited) and her “small amount” of salt is going to be vastly different from what my husband would add (he being the kind of person to complain food is too salty even when no salt has been added at all).  I love heavily dressed salads, dripping in extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, but my hubby likes his with so little dressing you’d need a microscope to find it on there.  My “small amount” is going to be completely different to his.

This creates a slippery slope.  A small amount on occasion can suddenly become a larger amount frequently, without parents even realizing it.  It starts with the brown sugar on the oatmeal for breakfast, continues at lunchtime with peanut butter full of added sugar, salt, and oil, and finishes with cheese on broccoli and heavy dressing on salads at a dinner that is followed by dessert.  But it’s easy to lose track of how many little things are adding up.  Anyone who has tried tracking calories figures this out really quickly.  (Also, did you know that the vast majority of dog food is more nutritious than the average peanut butter for sale today?)

A big part of my problem with this recommendation is that this is supposed to be an association we can rely on to give us the straight truth about nutrition.  They should be coming out saying the brutal truth and then leaving it to others to make excuses.  When doctors themselves are afraid to say how unhealthy foods like sugar are and that they should be avoided, who can you trust for nutrition information?

Even the doctors’ suggestions for acceptable food alterations are worrying to me…

Dr. Murray said. “It’s no secret that brown sugar on oatmeal, or salad dressing with cut vegetables, can make these healthy foods more palatable to children, and increase their consumption.”

Of course brown sugar makes oatmeal taste more delicious.  Brown sugar makes virtually anything taste more delicious.  But it’s also unhealthy and unnecessary.  Did you know bananas literally melt into oatmeal?  You can sweeten oatmeal dramatically and increase its nutritional content without needing that brown sugar.  And why bring sugar into it at all?  If they are going to recommend sweetening foods in a bid to get kids to eat it, at least they could recommend unprocessed sweeteners rather than the highly processed sugar they’re referencing.

As for dipping cut vegetables in salad dressing, there are a lot of dips out there for cut vegetables that taste far better than store-bought dressings and are far healthier.  Spread 100% pure organic peanut or almond butter on celery, dip carrot sticks in homemade tahini or hummus, or coat cucumbers in vegan cheesy red pepper (capsicum) dip.  All of these options are bursting with added nutrition and healthy fats while free of preservatives, additives, colors, unhealthy fats, and processed sweeteners.

It seems shocking to me to see doctors so desperate to get kids to eat something – anything – healthy that they would stoop to such a level of trickery.  Kids do not need these things.  Historically, sugars and oils would have been expensive and hard to get, so most kids went without and guess what? They ate their vegetables.  There is no biological requirement for sugar on oatmeal.

Is it hard to get kids to eat healthy food?  Of course it can be.  Even I have one toddler who is shaping up to be a temperamental eater.  But he still happily eats his vegetables – without unhealthy dressings – and his cereals – without added sugars, because he doesn’t know any different. And when he’s not in the mood for what’s on offer?  Well, he gets to eat from the options presented or wait for the next meal.  With uncorrupted taste buds, his preferences are for the foods themselves, not for sweet, salty, or fatty flavors.

Now, why can’t those doctors be as idealistic and optimistic about the future of our children’s diets as I am?

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  1. Pingback: Teaching Good Nutrition Begins in Infancy | Inspire Healthy Kids

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