Avoiding Peanut Allergies by Feeding Infants Peanuts

Avoiding Peanut Allergies by Feeding Infants Peanuts

If you're making a sandwich, be sure to pick the healthiest whole-grain bread you can find - choose one your kids enjoy. Today there are seemingly infinite options.  Then pick a healthy filling.  100% pure organic nut butter is great. Make sure the peanut butter you're using has only one ingredient: peanuts! Kids do not need salt, sugar, or oil added to their peanut butter. If your kids are allergic to peanuts, try almond butter. If they're allergic to nuts, consider a filling like coconut butter. Or, if you have Aussie kids like I do, Vegemite!

Isn’t it funny how sometimes you just know something intuitively and it seems so obvious… but then a scientific study comes out proving it and everyone around you is surprised.  That’s how the recent news about peanut allergies seemed to me.  I just assumed everyone knew that the best way of avoiding allergies in kids was to expose them to allergens from a young age.  But now there is science to back this up – and it is news to many people.

Bamba Israeli Peanut Snack

I have been to Israel several times and they have the BEST snacks.  The classic ultra-Israeli snack is called Bamba (bahm-ba, not bam-ba like it’s a female version of a famous Disney deer).  Bamba is like a puffed Cheeto but made with peanut butter instead of cheese.  It is delicious and, although I wouldn’t call it a health food, it is nowhere near as unhealthy as Cheetos.  (Bamba contain only 4 ingredients: Peanuts (50%), Corn, Palm Oil, and Salt.)  Israeli parents feed their babies Bamba as a matter of course.  They really are the quintessential Israeli food and they are easy for little hands to grab.  The corn base melts in the mouth if sucked on, so even toothless little ones can consume them.

(For a comic and somewhat unrelated aside, take some time out to have a laugh at this BuzzFeed video of Americans trying Israeli snacks… Okay, they are almost all really unhealthy, but they are so incredibly creative, not to mention evil in their deliciousness. Don’t feed most of these to your kids haha!)

In spite of – and in actual fact because of – high consumption of peanut snacks by Israeli infants, Israel’s babies have ten times less incidence of peanut allergy than their western counterparts.

That’s right.  TEN TIMES LESS.

A 2008 study looked at over 5000 children in the UK and over 5000 in Israel.  It revealed that 1.85% of the UK children had peanut allergies, as compared with just 0.17% in the Israeli children.  Israeli children are not necessarily eating massive peanut butter sandwiches every single day, either.  Between the ages of 8 to 14 months, the average Israeli infant ate just 7.1 grams of peanut protein per month, spread out over 8 occasions.  (One small 25 gram bag of Bamba contains 17.5 grams of protein!  So parents may just be giving a couple of Bamba as a special treat.) In the UK, however, babies in this age range averaged 0 grams of peanut protein.

Introducing peanuts to your babies before the age of one lowers their risk of developing a peanut allergy by 81%.

To me, knowing so many Israeli and western parents, I just thought this observation was par for the course.  But with the incidence of peanut allergies in the western world having doubled in the past ten years, to 3% of children in Western countries, it is a serious concern.  It is a good thing, then, that a recent study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine sharing the results of a randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy.

This trial specifically targeted babies between the ages of 4 and 11 months who were at high risk for peanut allergy, as they already had eczema and/or egg allergy.  The children were separated further into groups for those who already showed sensitivity to peanuts and those who did not have a positive reaction to a skin prick test.

The results?  Of the kids who did not have a positive skin-prick test at the outset, those who were not fed peanuts had a 13.7% incidence of peanut allergies while those who had consumed peanut products had only a 1.9% rate.  Of kids who presented with a positive reaction to the peanut skin prick test, 35.3% of those who did not consume peanut products had an allergy at 60 months of age, while only 10.6% of those who did eat peanuts had actually developed an allergy to them.

These results are eye-opening to say the least.  The kids tested were all in high risk categories (most kids are not at such a high risk of developing peanut allergies) and even in those high-risk situations, kids who ate peanut products from infancy dramatically reduced their chances of developing an allergy.

Researchers were careful to note that there was no significant difference between the groups when it came to the number of adverse events.  This means, in other words, that feeding at risk kids peanuts did not increase their chance of having an allergic reaction.  Kids who were not fed peanuts were just as likely to have an allergic reaction during the ~50 months of the study as kids who did eat peanut products.

Of course, exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 6 months is still recommended, but once solids are introduced, peanut products should be among them.

Introduce allergens carefully and with awareness.  Don’t start feeding your at-risk baby spoonfuls of peanut butter, but perhaps mix a very, very small amount in with some mashed banana and observe.  If you do have a reason to think your baby may be allergic to a specific food, see an allergist as soon as possible.  If you are very worried, consider administering initial doses of potential allergens in a safe place, where intervention is available in the event of an adverse event occurring.  But even if your child has a high likelihood of developing an allergy, it is possible to decrease their chances of developing it.  As this study shows, even at-risk kids can be given potential allergens at a very young age and have the possibility of overcoming their natural inclination to develop an allergy!

In addition to giving my kids the occasional Bamba when they were babies (and peanut butter itself when they got older), I also exposed them to other common allergens at a young age.  While I do not give my kids milk to drink or much dairy, I did begin giving them a bit of plain organic yogurt at a very young age to help avoid dairy allergies.  I also gave them other common allergens like eggs (scrambled), soy (in the form of organic non-GMO tofu), and wheat (bread).  To date, neither of my kids has displayed any notable food allergies (although we have had possible indications of allergies to pesticides).

Please share your thoughts below!

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?

More Impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

More Impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

For the past couple of days I have been exploring genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  I first explored how GMOs work and how GMOs are created.  Then I looked at some of their effects on animals.  Now I am going to look at some effects that have been observed in humans and also some of the motivations for creating GMOs and the impacts those GMOs have had on the societies into which they have been introduced.

In spite of the challenges associated with testing the effects of GM foods on human subjects, scientists have been able to do some basic studies. One major study revealed that the toxic genes inserted into genetically modified soy do in fact transfer to the bacteria that live in our gut.[i] Essentially, once we eat genetically modified foods, we are carrying around toxins that we cannot get rid of – and the full effects of which are unknown. Even being exposed to genetically modified plants – without eating them – has made people ill.[ii] The very safest bet for you and your family is to never feed your children genetically modified foods, ever.  If you have ever fed your kids genetically modified food, stop, immediately.

Today, our food sources are no better off for having been tampered with. Genetically modified foods (often called “genetically modified organisms” or “GMOs”) are found everywhere. In fact, they are so prolific that they are in almost everything. There’s no requirement to label things as such, so companies don’t. Big companies want to make money and they know they won’t do that by boasting of using genetically engineered fruits and vegetables.

In fact, money is the reason companies genetically engineer their plants in the first place. Some people believe GM foods must be higher in nutrients, bigger, or better tasting, simply because they have been modified. But this is not the case. Not one of the internationally approved genetically modified foods has been altered to improve nutrient load, size, or flavor.

Most genetic modification is done to increase yield, so farmers can grow more food in the same amount of space and therefore sell it later for less (yet earn more). According to the World Health Organization, all internationally approved GM products are altered to create “resistance to insect damage; resistance to viral infections; and tolerance towards certain herbicides.”[iii] In other words, companies are creating plants that have toxic pesticides as part of their genetics. Genetically modified plants are ones with pesticides you cannot even wash off.

And humans have also had allergic reactions to these pesticides and the genes for them that are coded into food, including redness, itchiness, swelling, skin eruptions, eye irritation, sneezing, and even hospitalization.[iv] Simply coming into contact with GM crops containing these pesticide genes, or even merely breathing the air nearby during pollination has caused hundreds of people to become ill with headaches, dizziness, extreme chest pain, extreme stomach pain, vomiting, fever, allergies, and respiratory, intestinal, and skin reactions. Blood tests showed the reaction was to the pesticide gene contained in the nearby GM crop, so there is no doubt as to what is making us sick.[v] This should come as no surprise when you are consuming what is, quite literally, poison.

These chemicals reduce digestive enzymes, which could make it much harder for your child to digest not only GM foods, but really any foods.[vi] Mice fed these toxins began having allergic reactions to foods they used to find harmless.[vii] In some cases, the mice began reacting to such a range of foods that they actually died.[viii] But these kinds of tests are not routinely done on genetically modified foods before they hit your table, so you would never know the real risks of feeding them to your children. It’s not a risk you want to take because even in small doses, over time, these toxins will be stored and come to harm your child.

It’s no joke or exaggeration that these foods can kill. In India, thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats died after grazing on cotton plants that had been altered to include a pesticide gene – the same gene that is inserted into the soy and corn sold to you and I.[ix] Those animals that did not die suffered from illness and had difficulties reproducing.[x] Animals in Asia and even Europe have fared no better, with countless cows, water buffaloes, horses, and chickens dying after being fed genetically modified corn.[xi]

Animals like cows, buffaloes, and horses are much bigger and stronger animals than we humans, yet they have died as a result of eating genetically modified foods. We humans are not safe. And indeed, hundreds of people have died from, and thousands have been made ill or disabled by, contamination contained in genetically modified food.[xii] GMOs kill. They are poison and if we feed them to our children, we are feeding them poison.

[i] Netherwood et al, “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract,” Nature Biotechnology 22 (2004): 2.

[ii] See for example Mae-Wan Ho, “GM Ban Long Overdue, Dozens Ill & Five Deaths in the Philippines,” ISIS Press Release, June 2, 2006; “Study Result Not Final, Proof Bt Corn Harmful to Farmers,” BusinessWorld, 02 Mar 2004; and “Genetically Modified Crops and Illness Linked,” Manila Bulletin, 04 Mar 2004.

[iii] World Health Organization. Food Safety: 20 questions on genetically modified foods. Available at http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

[iv] M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852; and M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992). “Bt cotton causing allergic reaction in MP; cattle dead,” Bhopal, Nov. 23, 2005. http://news.webindia123.com Ashish Gupta et. al., “Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers’ Health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh),” Investigation Report, Oct–Dec 2005; and M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852; and M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992).

[v] See for example Mae-Wan Ho, “GM Ban Long Overdue, Dozens Ill & Five Deaths in the Philippines,” ISIS Press Release, June 2, 2006; “Study Result Not Final, Proof Bt Corn Harmful to Farmers,” BusinessWorld, 02 Mar 2004; and “Genetically Modified Crops and Illness Linked,” Manila Bulletin, 04 Mar 2004.

[vi] M. Malatesta, M. Biggiogera, E. Manuali, M. B. L. Rocchi, B. Baldelli, G. Gazzanelli, “Fine Structural Analyses of Pancreatic Acinar Cell Nuclei from Mice Fed on GM Soybean,” Eur J Histochem 47 (2003): 385–388.

[vii] Vazquez et al, “Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant,”Scandanavian Journal of Immunology 49 (1999): 578–584. See also Vazquez-Padron et al., 147 (2000b).

[viii] V. E. Prescott, et al, “Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity,” Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry (2005): 53.

[ix] “Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields—Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh” Report of the Preliminary Assessment, April 2006, http://gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/6416-mortality-in-sheep-flocks-after-grazing-on-bt-cotton-fields-warangal-district-andhra-pradesh-2942006

[x] “Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields—Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh” Report of the Preliminary Assessment, April 2006, http://gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/6416-mortality-in-sheep-flocks-after-grazing-on-bt-cotton-fields-warangal-district-andhra-pradesh-2942006

[xi] Mae-Wan Ho, “GM Ban Long Overdue, Dozens Ill & Five Deaths in the Philippines,” ISIS Press Release, June 2, 2006; and Mae-Wan Ho and Sam Burcher, “Cows Ate GM Maize & Died,” ISIS Press Release, January 13, 2004, http://www.isis.org.uk/CAGMMAD.php

[xii] William E. Crist,Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic; and Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA 2003, chapter 4, Deadly Epidemic

How Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Affect Animals

How Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Affect Animals

Most of the studies done on GMOs are done by the companies that produce them.  They have the money, time, and staff to undertake studies to see if GMOs are safe to consume.  However, these companies have a vested interest in showing their products to be safe.  Their experiments are done in secret and only the information the company wants is released.  Of course they do not want to do an intense study of how their products impact humans because if the impact is negative, there will be no way to keep that secret.  Independent scientists have limited funding and support for these studies and doing a large-scale human study is quite difficult.  Animal studies are one very important way to learn how genetically modified foods affect us.

Remember that “you are what you eat” really is true, especially for children. Your children are growing and that means they’re using their food for much more building, unlike adults, who use their nutrition mainly for upkeep, repairs, and energy. Toxins, allergens, or altered nutrients are easily assimilated by their bodies and made a part of them for life.[i] One of the biggest concerns is that genes for antibiotic resistance, which have been added to plant DNA, will be transferred to humans upon consumption. If this is a concern, it is a concern on a much higher level when it comes to your children, who are still growing and developing.[ii]

In humans, it’s hard to measure the effects of eating GMOs because there are so many other factors in our lives that can throw off scientific studies. GMOs are most often found in processed foods, which means that the health impacts on people who eat GMOs could be coming from a variety of sources: a diet high in fats, sugars, and simple carbohydrates, a sedentary lifestyle, a diet of overly processed foods, and, of course, a diet high in GMOs. If someone who lives this way gets sick, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what is triggering what illness and why.

Not so in mice. Mice are a great substitute for humans because they’re social and physically active animals. It’s easy to measure their ability to learn new tasks and it’s not hard to keep an eye on them and observe changes in their behavior. We can easily assess physical changes in their bodies by doing autopsies on them. Plus, we have total control over the food we choose to give them, which means we can create an experiment in a controlled environment.

You can even try this experiment yourself: Take two groups of mice. Feed one group healthy, normal food. Feed the other group only genetically modified food. Now sit back and see if you can notice the difference. What you’ll see – what has been noticed before when this experiment has been done – is that the mice on the GMO diet become less social. They become withdrawn and hide in their own parts of the cage rather than playing with one another. And if you try to pick them up, they’ll run away, frightened, and try to climb the walls, which is not normal behavior for a mouse accustomed to being regularly handled.[iii] If a diet of genetically modified food causes anxiety and aggression in mice and rats, imagine the effect it could be having on your child!

Of course, these are just the behavioral impacts you or anybody else can see for yourself. You don’t need to be a doctor or a scientist to observe these changes. Yet, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) warns that animal studies on the impact of genetically engineered food have noted in their subjects infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.[iv] That is to say, not effects you want to foist upon your children.

Let’s look at a few specific examples of side effects of GM foods that have been noted in animal tests. In one study, rats were fed a diet of GM potatoes. The result? Excessive cell growth in their stomach lining – a condition linked to the development of cancer. Their immune systems and some of their other organs were damaged, too.[v] When fed a lifetime diet of GM corn, they developed tumors and females died young – even when the dose they were fed was very small. The results were shocking because tumors began to develop within just a few months.[vi]

Speaking of organs, one of the organs that is a good barometer of changes in diet is the liver, which cleans toxins and wastes out of our bodies. In rats who ate GM potatoes, their livers were smaller and partially atrophied,[vii] while in rats who ate GM canola the livers were 12-16% heavier.[viii] The liver cells of mice fed GM soy reacted just the same as if the mice had been eating toxins.[ix] But there is hope. Once the mice were switched to a non-GM soy diet, their livers recovered.[x] The human body is incredibly resilient and even if you’ve been feeding your child poison for years, they can still recover, but only if you switch them to a healthy, natural diet.

No wonder many animals that have been tested will instinctively steer clear of GM foods. When given a choice, mice, rats, cows, pigs, geese, squirrels, deer, elk, and even raccoons will all choose a natural food source over a genetically modified one.[xi]

This is why it is so imperative that we insist our governments mandate labeling of GMO food and ingredients.  We at least should have the option of choosing to avoid these foods.  In the meantime, be a smart shopper.  Many foods now advertise themselves as GMO free and buying those products sends the message that we as consumers want food that is all natural.

[i] Smith, JM. Why Schools Should Remove GE-Tainted Foods from Their Cafeterias. Institute for Responsible Technology Newsletter on GM Foods, Spilling the Beans. Available at http://www.wanttoknow.info/050520schooldietchange

[ii] World Health Organization. Food Safety: 20 questions on genetically modified foods. Available at http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

[iii] I.V. Ermakova, “Diet with the Soya Modified by Gene EPSPS CP4 Leads to Anxiety and Aggression in Rats,” 14th European Congress of Psychiatry. Nice, France, March 4-8, 2006; “Genetically modified soy affects posterity: Results of Russian scientists’ studies,” REGNUM, October 12, 2005; http://www.regnum.ru/english/526651.html; Irina Ermakova, “Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies,”Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4–9.

[iv] Finamore A, Roselli M, Britti S, et al. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON 810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. J Agric. Food Chem. 2008; 56(23):11533-11539. Kilic A, Aday M. A three generational study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2008; 46(3):1164-1170. Dean A, Armstrong J. Genetically Modified Foods. Executive Committee of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. May 8, 2009. Available at http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

[v] Arpad Pusztai, “Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food,”Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84; Stanley W. B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, “Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine,” Lancet, 1999 Oct 16; 354 (9187): 1353-4; and Arpad Pusztai, “Facts Behind the GM Pea Controversy: Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants & Risk Assessment,” Proceedings of the Conference, December 1st 2005 (Frankfurtam Main, Germany: Literaturhaus, 2005)

[vi] Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, Dominique Cellier and Gilles-Eric Séralini. 2009, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health . International Journal of Biological Sciences 2009; 5(7):706-726.

[vii] Arpad Pusztai, “Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food,”Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84.

[viii] Comments to ANZFA about Applications A346, A362 and A363 from the Food Legislation and Regulation Advisory Group (FLRAG) of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) on behalf of the PHAA, “Food produced from glyphosate-tolerant canola line GT73,” http://www.iher.org.au/

[ix] M. Malatesta, C. Caporaloni, S. Gavaudan, M. B. Rocchi, S. Serafini, C. Tiberi, G. Gazzanelli, “Ultrastructural Morphometrical and Immunocytochemical Analyses of Hepatocyte Nuclei from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean,” Cell Struct Funct. 27 (2002): 173–180.

[x] M. Malatesta, C. Tiberi, B. Baldelli, S. Battistelli, E. Manuali, M. Biggiogera, “Reversibility of Hepatocyte Nuclear Modifications in Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean,” Eur J Histochem, 49(2005): 237-242.

[xi] Smith, JM. Why Schools Should Remove GE-Tainted Foods from Their Cafeterias. Institute for Responsible Technology Newsletter on GM Foods, Spilling the Beans. Available at http://www.wanttoknow.info/050520schooldietchange

Playing G-d: An Introduction to Genetically Modified Foods

Playing G-d: An Introduction to Genetically Modified Foods

Humans love the idea of playing god. We love to build and to create. We even enjoy having the power to destroy. And we think we know best when it comes to everything, including plants and animals.   If there’s something we don’t like about them, we want to change it.

In the past, this took the form of selective breeding, so you would find farmers planting the seeds from their very best crops again and again in order to get better quality vegetables, which seems harmless enough. But selective breeding can also bring out certain weaknesses, as we see with many domesticated breeds of animal. Certain types of dogs and cats sport weaknesses that come from generations of selective breeding and inbreeding. German shepherd dogs often have hip problems, for example, and Persian cats often have respiratory issues. You would think that things like this would clue us in that we’re really not meant to be tinkering with such things… but apparently it doesn’t.

Today, humans are tinkering more than ever.   Wealthy people are cloning their dead (or even live) pets. And scientists are able to select human embryos based on the desired sex of the baby so that if you don’t want a girl you don’t have to have one – or if you do want one, you’ll be sure to get her – provinces that once were considered to be untouchable, entirely up to G-d. Of course, there is always speculation that scientists will continue to engineer human babies to create “designer” babies, with the “perfect” hair or the “perfect” eyes. If this doesn’t scare you, it should. Just look at what happened when people tried to engineer cats and dogs.

The problem is that when scientists tweak just one little thing in the DNA – whether of a plant, animal, or human – they don’t always know what else it might trigger. In one study, just one foreign gene was inserted into a plant, but when the DNA was examined, that one change had affected the way 5% of the genes in the plant worked. That’s a massive amount of change. And there is no way to predict what will change or how.[i] It is a technique that completely sidesteps any of the safeguards associated with natural breeding, transfers genes across the boundaries of biological kingdoms (merging plants and animals), and has been used commercially for less than 20 years.[ii] Scientists are only just now beginning to understand its full range of effects.

You see, adding genes to plant DNA is not like cutting and pasting a paragraph from one document to another in a word processor, where the results are clean and crisp. DNA, with its thousands of genes and complicated twisted double helix design, is not just something you can snip apart and put back together again. To get new genes in, scientists have to blast cells with a “gene gun” or attack cells with invasive bacteria.[iii] Because these techniques are so imprecise, changing or adding even one gene can alter hundreds or even thousands of other genes in the plant.[iv] It can turn on genes, turn off genes, or cause existing genes to act differently.[v] And in the process of being inserted, the inserted gene itself may change or react differently.[vi] The scientists doing the genetic modification may know what effect they want to have, but they cannot control or predict the full effects their changes will really have.

As a result, scientists are only just beginning to understand the effects of genetic modification on foods we have been consuming for decades.   The biggest problem is that scientists just don’t always know what to test for. Just because a test for certain nutrients comes back fine, it doesn’t tell us about all the other components of foods we’re ingesting, from antioxidants to allergens. The GM soy discussed above contains fewer antioxidants, protein, fatty acids, and amino acids, and more allergens. GMOs cause animals to age faster, infertility, problems in immune systems, improper insulin uptake (diabetes), problems with production of cholesterol, and physical changes to the kidney, liver, spleen, and entire gastrointestinal system.[vii] That certainly was not what Monsanto was intending when it engineered it, yet it is not entirely unexpected.

Remember, companies can insert any genes they want into their new plant creation, without knowing the full range of its effects. A company can insert a gene taken from the peanut plant into a corn plant and possibly transfer the peanut allergen, too.[viii] But you, as the consumer, have no way of knowing what changes have been made to a particular plant’s genome, or their source. If you don’t avoid GM foods altogether, you have no way of protecting your children from them.

[i] Smith, JM. Why Schools Should Remove GE-Tainted Foods from Their Cafeterias. Institute for Responsible Technology Newsletter on GM Foods, Spilling the Beans. Available at http://www.wanttoknow.info/050520schooldietchange

[ii] Freese W, Schubert D. Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews. Nov 2004. 21.

[iii] See for example 233-236, chart of disproved assumptions, in Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA 2007.

[iv] J. R. Latham, et al., “The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation,” The Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2006, Article ID 25376: 1-7; see also Allison Wilson, et. al., “Transformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications,”Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews – Vol. 23, December 2006.

[v] Srivastava, et al, “Pharmacogenomics of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and the cystic fibrosis drug CPX using genome microarray analysis,” Mol Med. 5, no. 11(Nov 1999):753–67.

[vi] Latham et al, “The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation, Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2006:1-7, article ID 25376, http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jbb/; Draft risk analysis report application A378, Food derived from glyphosate-tolerant sugarbeet line 77 (GTSB77),” ANZFA, March 7, 2001; E. Levine et al., “Molecular Characterization of Insect Protected Corn Line MON 810.” Unpublished study submitted to the EPA by Monsanto, EPA MRID No. 436655-01C (1995); Allison Wilson, PhD, Jonathan Latham, PhD, and Ricarda Steinbrecher, PhD, “Genome Scrambling—Myth or Reality? Transformation-Induced Mutations in Transgenic Crop Plants Technical Report—October 2004,” http://www.econexus.info; C. Collonier, G. Berthier, F. Boyer, M. N. Duplan, S. Fernandez, N. Kebdani, A. Kobilinsky, M. Romanuk, Y. Bertheau, “Characterization of commercial GMO inserts: a source of useful material to study genome fluidity,” Poster presented at ICPMB: International Congress for Plant Molecular Biology (n°VII), Barcelona, 23-28th June 2003. Poster courtesy of Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini, Président du Conseil Scientifique du CRII-GEN, http://www.crii-gen.org; also “Transgenic lines proven unstable” by Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS Report, 23 October 2003, http://www.i-sis.org.uk

[vii] Smith, JM. Why Schools Should Remove GE-Tainted Foods from Their Cafeterias. Institute for Responsible Technology Newsletter on GM Foods, Spilling the Beans. Available at http://www.wanttoknow.info/050520schooldietchange

[viii] World Health Organization. Food Safety: 20 questions on genetically modified foods. Available at http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

Hershey’s Follows Nestle in Eliminating Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hershey’s Follows Nestle in Eliminating Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hersheys Chocolate Syrup

Yesterday, Nestle USA announced that it would be eliminating artificial coloring and flavoring from its chocolate confections.  This will definitely not be making their foods “health” foods… or even “healthy” foods.  So it comes as no surprise that Hershey’s has jumped on the boat and followed suit by announcing its own additive purge.

In its press release, Hershey’s declares:

Hershey is focusing on three key principles:

  • Simple Ingredients: We are committed to making our products using ingredients that are simple and easy-to-understand, like fresh milk from local farms, roasted California almonds, cocoa beans and sugar – ingredients you recognize, know and trust. We strive for this kind of simplicity with all of our ingredients.
  • Sharing What’s Inside: We take pride in our products and sharing information about all that goes into them, from the ingredients to sourcing, manufacturing and labeling. We will make this information easy to find for those who are interested – whether that’s on our packaging, on our website or through new technologies.
  • Thoughtful and Responsible Sourcing of Ingredients: We will continue to work with our suppliers to responsibly source sustainable ingredients, building on our progress against commitments to source 100 percent certified and sustainable cocoa and certified sustainable and traceable palm oil.

Of course, I take all of this with a grain of salt – or a grain of sugar, to be more apt.  Hershey’s products, like Nestle’s, will still be unhealthy.

Simple Ingredients? 

The last time I checked, ingredients like E322, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and E476 were not simple ingredients. They’re not even simple to pronounce!  Plus I doubt that anyone who is not an industry expert knows off the top of their head what E322 and E476 are. I certainly do not know. (If you do, please raise your hand – but Googling it doesn’t count!)  To me, this doesn’t make them simple ingredients.  Of course now the artificial flavor will be removed, but changing it to an equally ambiguous label of “natural flavor,” which abounds on food labels lately, makes their ingredients list no more simple than it currently is.

Sharing What’s Inside?

Oh, really?  Does just listing ingredients on the label count?  It must, because otherwise you would be explaining what the heck E322, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and E476 are.  And what your new “natural flavor” is made of.

Thoughtful and Responsible Sourcing of Ingredients?

Hershey's Chocolate Syrup Ingredients

I don’t care how sustainable and traceable their palm oil is – palm oil will still be unhealthy.  High fructose corn syrup will still be unhealthy (much more unhealthy even then processed sugar – but that’s a post for another time).

Hershey’s has been out in front of the industry in its attempts to source sustainably grown cocoa.  I wonder, though, how successful they have been in actually obtaining fair trade cocoa.  That’s because they get their cocoa from farms in West Africa, where in 2009 the U.S. Department of State estimated that more than 100,000 children worked on cocoa farms in abusive conditions.  It is entirely possible – probable, even – that they are actually getting cocoa that is at least tainted by child labor, even if they do not know it.  Farmers that grow for them do have a vested interest in not letting Hershey’s know about child labor.

Nestle has also been trying to eradicate child labor on the farms where it sources its cocoa.  But Malian children are still being transported to the Ivory Coast to work on cocoa farms, and Cargill, the largest importer of palm oil to the United States, has been accused of purchasing palm oil from an Indonesian supplier who uses slave labor.

But I digress… No matter where their ingredients come from, those ingredients are still unhealthy.  If your kids’ health isn’t enough of a reason to avoid these products, then maybe slave labor is.  Either way, we have got to stop feeding our kids these foods.  And sure, hyperkinesis and diabetes have been linked to artificial flavors and colors, but even more diseases have been linked to sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

I wish I could applaud another company’s attempt to make their food healthier, even by baby steps, but I honestly do not believe that’s what this move is about.  This is a publicity ploy, a shameless attempt to get more customers and more money.  So take it for what it is and stay away from those candy bars!

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Today, Nestlé USA announced that it will remove artificial colors and flavors from all of its chocolate candies by the end of 2015.  This is in response to consumer concerns and a massive push to “go natural,” using highly processed animal, vegetable, and mineral sources for colors and flavors, rather than chemical compositions.  But don’t rush out to buy a bunch of candy bars for your kids – this move is NOT going to make their candy any healthier.

I am actually not convinced that the natural flavors and dyes will be any less unhealthy than the chemical version.  As with most foods, anything so excessively processed loses its nutritional benefits and can acquire unhealthy side effects.  Okay, so most of these ingredients have not been so thoroughly studied, but we have enough examples of other highly processed foods to go off of: fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice versus white sugar, whole grain fresh-ground wheat versus white flour, etc.  White sugar is also “all natural” but that doesn’t make it good for you.  So don’t let this deceptive advertising move distract you from the real issues at hand.

Nestlé USA is not the first company to embrace a move toward the more natural.  Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, eager to cash in on consumer concerns by advertising their products as “all natural.”  Recently, Arnott’s changed the formula of iconic Australian cookie Tim Tams to an “all natural” formula.  And while artificial colors and flavors are definitely linked to health concerns and child hyperactivity, removing them isn’t actually going to make these sweet treats any healthier.

Arnott's Tim Tams

The move to “all natural” has its pitfalls, too.  Take Arnott’s: Tim Tams now contain cochineal, a red dye made from crushed beetles.  This of course raises animal welfare concerns.  But more to the point: where Tim Tams used to be acceptable to people with dietary restrictions, now they are not.  Tim Tams are no longer vegetarian, vegan, and kosher.  They definitely contain dead animals.  But most consumers are unaware of changes like this, or they probably wouldn’t like it much.  Personally, eating cookies made with dead beetles sounds even less appealing than eating cookies colored with chemical dyes!

This has long been an issue in the kosher community.  In the United States, many foods come stamped with a certain icon to show that they are acceptable foods for those adhering to Jewish dietary laws. Many other people, such as those with food allergies or intolerances, vegetarians, and Muslims, also rely on kosher symbols to indicate that foods are safe for them to eat under their restrictions as well. However, the letter “K” is just a letter and cannot be trademarked.  Some companies stamp their products with the letter K to make it appear their products are kosher.  I will never forget the time I checked a Yoplait container’s ingredients list only to discover that cochineal (they list it as carmine) was an ingredient, showing me that their “K” was truly not kosher!  (Yoplait do still mark their containers with “KD” – kosher dairy – and list kosher gelatin as an ingredient; however, their use of this coloring renders their products neither kosher nor vegetarian – VERY SNEAKY!)  So sure foods might be more natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gross.

Nestlé’s switch to all-natural also won’t change the flavor or basic formula of favorite candies.  They are still going to be full of sugars and preservatives.  In its press release, Nestlé says:

“Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company and our commitment to remove artificial flavors and certified colors in our chocolate candy brands is an important milestone,” said Doreen Ida, president, Nestlé USA Confections & Snacks.

This made me simultaneously want to burst into hysterical laughter and cry piteously for the fate of humanity.  If Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company, our kids are all doomed to die premature deaths because of preventable diseases.  Fortunately, I think this is just BS spouted by the president, who gets a super-sized salary (the VP gets nearly half a million dollars a year in compensation and the CEO of Nestle SA gets over $11 million dollars a year, so who knows how much President Ida is getting) for saying things that make good, if ludicrous, media sound bytes.

Let’s take a look at one of the 75 iconic treats set to undergo an “all natural” makeover.  Here are the ingredients of the revised Butterfinger, showing for instance natural annatto coloring rather than a chemical combo of Red 40 and Yellow 5:

CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, GROUND ROASTED PEANUTS, HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, MOLASSES, AND LESS THAN 1% OF DAIRY PRODUCT SOLIDS, CONFECTIONER’S CORN FLAKES, NONFAT MILK, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, SOYBEAN OIL, CORNSTARCH, NATURAL FLAVORS, MONOGLYCERIDES, TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), ANNATTO COLOR.

Annatto coloring comes last on the list and, quite frankly, if my kids were eating this, the food coloring would be the least of my concerns.  My biggest worry would be that corn syrup and sugar are the first two ingredients (with molasses also on the list) and that ingredient number four is hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  This is coming from “the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company.”  They are selling this garbage to our kids and presenting it as if, because of the natural flavors and annatto coloring, it is suddenly a healthy snack.  You have got to be kidding me.

Please, for the love of G-d and the health of the world’s children, do not give in to this ridiculous hype.  Sure, artificial flavors and colors are unhealthy, but do not allow yourself to become distracted from the fact that these are tiny, minor additives and the major ingredients of these foods are remaining incredibly unhealthy.  Giving your kids these candies will still be incredibly unhealthy and harmful to their health, no matter how natural their packaging says they are.

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the common sources of sugar in kids’ diets, but there was just too much to say, so here are the final three categories:

Problem: Bread

White bread is pretty much devoid of any good things for your child.  Sure, they might try to fortify it with vitamins, but they never fortify it with anything close to the amount of vitamins contained in whole wheat.  Plus, it is lacking in fiber.  And white carbohydrates like white flour and white rice break down directly into sugar in the body, and act like added, processed sugars.  And let’s not forget the biggest problem we’re discussing at the moment: added sugar.  You bet your processed white bread has plenty of added sugar.

But whole wheat bread is healthy, right? Not necessarily.  A lot of whole wheat breads are not 100% whole wheat and even those that are almost always have plenty of added sugar.  The fluffier and more tasty they are to kids, the more sugar content they are likely to have.

Don’t fool yourself that gluten free bread is any better.  A lot of gluten free breads are made with ingredients like white rice flour or potato starch – the same white carbohydrates that convert to sugar as white flour – and many do contain added, processed sugar, although it might come under different names.

Solution: Bake or Bakery

The best solution to the problem of not knowing what’s in your kids’ bread is to just bake it yourself.  Then you control all of the ingredients!  You can make it 100% whole wheat or rye and add healthy bonuses like seeds or even dried fruit.  Use honey or agave to feed the yeast (or make a sourdough loaf with wild yeast, which will happily feed on flour), and you don’t need much sweetener to feed the yeast because most yeast will happily eat some of the flour.  As a bonus, there are no preservatives or other added nasties in homemade bread.

Too busy to bake bread? Think again!! Buy a bread machine and you can make bread yourself in just minutes.  Most machines even have timers so you can put the ingredients in before you go to sleep and wake up to the smell of fresh bread for toast and sandwiches.  My favorite is the Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker, although I have heard rave reviews about the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker. (Breville also sells lower models you can pick up for under $100.)  So far we’ve been using our Breville bread machine for more than a decade and it’s still working brilliantly!

Of course, you can still buy bread.  You just have to be really selective about what you buy.  90% of the time I bake my own bread, but occasionally when I do buy bread, I buy direct from a bakery where I know the owners and I can trust their ingredients.  I usually buy whole grain rye or black Russian bread, which my toddler calls “chocolate bread.”  One brand that has really impressed me is Ezekiel Bread’s sprouted grain breads, like Food for Life, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, Original Sprouted, Organic. Sprouted grain breads offer a whole host of health benefits, including easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients, plus more antioxidants and vitamins than normal grains could give you. They also offer a Brown Rice Bread that is Dairy,Gluten & Yeast Free!

Problem: Spreads

Peanut butter, jelly, jam, marmalade, spreadable cheese, cream cheese, butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, salsa, pasta sauce, nutella, and marshmallow fluff are all common spreads for bread.  Of them, all except the cheeses and butter are full of sugar.  In fact, I’m pretty sure marshmallow fluff is actually made of sugar, and the worst sugar possible, at that! Holy high fructose corn syrup, Batman!

But most people are surprised to learn that spreads like peanut butter and nutella are chock full of sugar, salt, and oil.  Jelly, jam, and marmalade are usually 50% or more sugar.  Mayo, ketchup, relish, and store-bought salsas and pasta sauces often contain lots of sugar, even though they are “savory” foods.

The result is that you may think you are giving your child a healthy sandwich with peanut butter and jelly (protein and fruit, right?) but you are really giving them a huge dose of processed sugar!  And even though they are not full of sugar, spreadable cheeses, cream cheese, and butter are all huge sources of animal fats, proteins, and preservatives.  They may not be high in sugar, but they are still unhealthy.

But wait, what do I spread on my kid’s sandwich, then?!

Solution: Healthy Spreads

The best solution to the spread situation is to make them yourself.  I make my own ketchup, for instance.  Pasta sauce, salsa, and mayonnaise can all be made at home in a way that reduces or eliminates altogether added sugars.  (Although generally speaking, there’s really no healthy way to make mayo, you can make it healthier.)  By reading ingredients, you can also purchase some of these items in healthier form.  I actually love Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise and I have to admit that I am a die-hard Hellman’s Mayo addict (we all have our vices, don’t we?), so that’s really saying something!

Living in Australia as we do these days, I have become a huge fan of Vegemite.  I actually have no idea how parents in other countries survive without it.  What the heck do you make sandwiches with?!  Okay, the truth is that Vegemite can take some getting used to if you’re an adult trying it for the first time.  It’s not my favorite food, but I don’t mind a Vegemite sandwich now and then… but my kids!  When we ran out of Vegemite two days ago, my toddler had a full-blown tantrum because he wanted a Vegemite sandwich so badly.  So yes, kids love it, especially if they eat it from a young age.  It is quite high in salt, so spread it very thin (my kids especially love it on veggie muffins), and it will give kids a huge dose of healthy B vitamins (which my vegetarian kids especially need).

Tehina, hummus, guacamole, babaganoush, and mustard are some other great spreads to consider.  Make them yourself and you don’t need to worry about preservatives or additives.  If you’re buying them, check the ingredients carefully to ensure nothing silly like mayo or straight up sugar has been mixed in.  Busy parents need not worry: Tehina paste can be easily mixed up into a spread in small quantities in a minute or two.  (Plus, it is an amazing source of non-dairy calcium!)  Guacamole can be as simple as spreading mashed avocado on bread and sprinkling a tiny bit of lemon juice on top.  Hummus and guacamole can both be made in advance and frozen in small containers.  Their consistency might be slightly affected but if you mix them up and spread them on bread, nobody will ever be able to tell.  This makes it easy to whip up a big batch and rotate through various spreads for variety.  Babaganoush is a roasted or grilled eggplant spread that also freezes nicely.  For the healthiest and most delicious option, ensure you are using a tehina-based Israeli babaganoush recipe.  Olive tapenade, when homemade, can also be a delicious sandwich or wrap spread.  Olives are very salty, but they also provide a lot of health benefits, ranging from their high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients to their heart-healthy oil to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Finally, there are the nut butters.  There is no reason why peanut butter needs to be so unhealthy!  Why they add oil to a nut that’s already rich in oil is beyond me.  And peanuts have a natural sweetness that needs no enhancement.  Choose a pure peanut butter with no added sugar, salt, or oil.  The ingredients list should only have ONE item: Peanuts.  No preservatives, stabilizers, or anything else.  Yes, it will separate, but mix back in the oil and you’ll be looking at a peanut butter that’s healthier than the garbage they market to kids these days.

Want some variety of flavors and nutrients?  Experiment with other nut butters.  Cashew butter is delicious and naturally sweet.  Macadamia nuts make a rich, oily butter.  Walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds all offer very different health benefits that make peanut butter look wimpy.  Boost your kids’ nutrient intake by changing the types of nut butters you use.  Going nut-free for school? Try coconut butter as a spread.  The health benefits of coconuts are the latest rage, so go ahead, jump on the bandwagon!  Afraid your kids will stage a riot if you cut out their chocolatey nutella spread?  Replace it with a raw cacao spread sweetened with organic agave nectar.

Problem: Sugary Cereals

Most parents have no idea how much sugar is in their kids’ cereals.  When I pointed out to a friend that the second ingredient in “healthy” cereals like Cheerios or Rice Krispies (Rice Bubbles in Australia) is sugar, she was shocked.  She thought her kids were getting healthy cereals but they were getting sugar in their cereals.  To make matters worse, most parents allow their kids to sprinkle some sugar on top of these “bland,” “healthy” cereals, which compounds the problem.

And those are the healthy cereals!  Indeed, a lot of cereals marketed to a health-conscious or dieting subset are either full of sweeteners or are full of fake substitutes (which have their own health implications – but that’s a post for another day!).

Most cereals marketed to kids today are overflowing with sugar.  Parents might know a cereal is sugary, but do you know just how sugary?  I just picked one out of thin air (first one that came to mind – I didn’t go hunting for the worst offender).  Gluten-free vitamin-fortified Fruity Pebbles are 33% sugar.  33%!!!!!!!!  Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? I really hope not.  (And as if that’s not bad enough, Post Foods encourages you to use this cereal to make “treats” using 1 box of cereal, 6 cups of marshmallows, and 1/2 stick of butter. That’s 336 grams of sugar per recipe.)

Fruity Pebbles Nutrition Facts

9 grams out of every 27 gram serving is sugar. That’s 1/3 of the volume of the cereal composed of sugar. 33%!

Personally, I think marketing cereals like this to kids is positively criminal.  Yes, many parents do not know how much garbage they are feeding their kids, but with so much marketing and so little free time, it is unfair to place all the blame on the parents.  I hope the executives of these companies suffer terrible insomnia from their incessant guilt over slowly killing an entire generation of children.

 

Solution: Healthy Breakfast Alternatives

There are healthy cereals out there, but goodness are they hard to find.  Even the organic health-food cereals are generally full of sugar.  It’s positively shameful.  My favorite cereal is Vita-Brits. It’s like the popular Australian breakfast cereal Weet-Bix but without the added sugar. I have no idea how you could get this cereal in the United States.  It is entirely possible that it is impossible to buy a cereal with no added sugar in America.  If you find a commercially available cereal with no added sugar in the United States, PLEASE post in comments!

Of course, there are other healthy breakfast alternatives.  Kids won’t die without cereal.  I think cereal is mostly a convenience food for parents.  But if you must give your child cereal, consider giving them a sugar-free muesli instead. Familia Swiss Muesli Cereal, for example, has no added sugar.  Neither does Alpen Cereal.   You can also make your own muesli.  That way you can add your own unique mix of grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.  You can also include yummy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, fresh chopped fruits, or even a sprinkling of agave nectar if your child still has a real sweet tooth.

Another great breakfast option is oatmeal.  You can make oatmeal on the stovetop really easily, in the microwave oven, or even overnight in the crock pot.  Add fresh banana to make it creamy and sweet, and mix in any types of fresh or dried fruit you like to make it sweet but still healthy.  You can also add chopped nuts and seeds, spices, or even fruit pulp from juicing.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, sugar really is in almost every food we buy commercially today.  It is a preservative, so companies have a strong incentive to use it liberally, as they can keep their products on the shelves longer with more sugar in them. This is why canned foods are often high in sugar and salt (I once had a woman get very annoyed with me one time when, after examining every canned food on the shelf, I could not find a single one with no sugar in it, and I then exclaimed in exasperation on how these vegetables were actually really unhealthy… meanwhile, she was trying to explain to her kids that vegetables in cans are good to eat. Oops? I somehow don’t feel guilty.).  Try buying snap-frozen veggies instead of canned ones, and boil up dry beans instead of just draining canned ones.

At the end of the day, almost every product on our grocery store shelves has sugar in it.  And it’s not just because it’s a preservative, but also because it’s a taste that has developed.  It’s an addiction we can’t kick – and the companies don’t want us to.  The reality is that if we want to inspire healthy kids, we have to let our voices be heard.  Buy the sugar-free products when they are available and make them at home when they are not.  Write to companies directly and tell them that we want more sugar-free options – and by “sugar-free” we do not mean “synthetic sweeteners!”  Write to our representatives in government and tell them we want a line included on all nutrition labels to show how much added sugar is in the food, so companies’ dirty tricks will be revealed for all interested consumers to see.

These are the changes we need to make to change our kids’ health and change their lives.

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

Added sugar is dangerous for our kids.  It can make them less intelligent and affects their behavior.  It affects their health and is implicated in diseases as diverse as obesity and heart disease.  It’s addictive, so it’s not an easy habit to break. If you are like me and want to help your kids avoid sugar and its many pitfalls and health dangers, you need to know what foods to avoid feeding your kids.  What are some of the most common sources of sugar in kids’ diets?

It’s not the occasional candy or dessert that are the dangers to our kids.  It is easy to vilify these sweet treats because they stand out in our minds as being very sweet.  Some kids do eat a lot of sweets and obviously it is good to avoid candies, cakes, and cookies as much as possible (unless you make a healthy version, of course!).  If your kids are eating lots of these things, start by reducing and eventually eliminating them.

But with the average child under age 12 eating 49 pounds of sugar per year (that’s over 22 kg!)*, it’s not just candies and cakes that our doing our kids in.  The average 1-3 year old is eating 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is an insane amount for a body so small.  Hopefully our toddlers are not regularly eating candies!  So where is this huge amount of sugar coming from?

Problem: Soft Drinks & Juices

One of the biggest culprits in our children’s diets is soft drinks. Whether it’s soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, or even vitamin water, it’s loaded with sugar.[i] In fact, sugary soft drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the average American child’s diet.[ii] Americans on average consume nearly twice as much soda as people in any other country.[iii] Nearly half of us drink soda every single day, and of those of us who do, we drink more than 2 glasses per day.[iv] And among our children the percentage is even higher – nearly 60% of American high school students are drinking soda or another sugary soft drink every single day.[v]

And even if we don’t give our child soda, we’re still giving them sugar. We think we’re doing the right thing by giving them “healthy” vitamin water, but it’s full of sugar, too. Iced tea (unless it’s homemade) is also full of sugar.

Even fruit juice is full of sugar. Many fruit drinks only contain a small percentage of fruit juice. And often, even if a juice advertises itself as 100% juice, it’s still got added sugar, just in the form of concentrated juice added to it.

Try this experiment: Get some oranges and squeeze them into a glass. Now fill a second glass with the packaged orange juice you usually give your kids. You’ll notice that the freshly squeezed juice is thinner and less opaque. If you taste it, it won’t seem as sweet. That’s because it’s not as concentrated as the kind you buy in the store. So you see, even 100% fruit juice is not necessarily healthy.

Solution: Water, Iced Tea, & Fresh Juice

The solution to this problem is easy: Replace all soft drinks with bottled water, home-brewed teas (white tea, green tea, and herbal teas are all great options), or fresh fruit and vegetable juices.  Juicing fruit and vegetables fresh at home can be a big effort for time-crushed parents, but if you use a masticating (cold-press) slow juicer you can do all your juicing for the week in one go on the weekend.  And if your child has a specific health issue you’re working to overcome, such as liver problems caused by an unhealthy diet, juicing can be a great way to detox.  Buy a re-usable plastic juice box and send it to school with your child full of fresh, homemade juice and you’ll cut the added sugar from their diet and give a boost to the amount of vitamins and minerals they’re consuming.

Problem: Snacks

Another big sugar culprit is the granola bar. I remember loving granola bars as a kid, especially the ones with chocolate chips in them! I also remember trying to trade food with my friends to get my hands on their “Nature’s Valley” granola bars. I didn’t want them because they were healthy. I wanted them because they were sweet! Almost any granola bar or energy bar is high in sugar. You think you are giving your child a healthy snack, but you’re really giving them a dose of sugar.

Many snacks kids take to school have this same problem.  Applesauce is often full of added sugar, as are fruit cups.  Fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups are also really high in sugar.  You may think you’re giving your child a healthy snack, but you’re really just giving them a dose of sugar.

Even a snack like cheese and cracks is fraught with dangers of the sugary kind.  Firstly, cheese is high in fat, especially if it’s highly processed like Cheez-Whiz is. It might come as not surprise that a snack like Ritz crackers are not so healthy, what with their white flour, sugar, butter, and salt content.  But what about healthy crackers like Wheat Thins?  Did you know Wheat Thins contain not one but three different types of sugar in their ingredients list?  And that’s not even considering  how much fat and salt they contain.  Most pretzels are no better.  They are usually made with white flour and covered in lots of salt.  Most are low in added sugar, but still, beware!

A lot of parents also give their kids snacks like muffins or other pastries.  On so many occasions, I have seen kids at the playground eating muffins that contain more sugar than my entire family eats in a day.  The same is true of other common baked goods.  (Bread-based pastries like bagels and English muffins should be considered bread goods – come back tomorrow to see my treatment of breads.)  Did you know that one Sara Lee blueberry muffin contains 32 grams of sugar?! That’s almost as much as their double chocolate chunk muffins, which contain 39 grams of sugar.  Even one bran muffin (which you would think should be healthy) contains 24 grams of sugar!

Solution: Homemade Snacks, Fresh Fruit, & Healthy Crackers

Bake your own healthy granola bars using whole grain rolled oats, nuts (if your school allows), seeds (we love chia and sesame seeds), and dried fruit.  Sweeten them with mashed banana and (if absolutely necessary as you wean your child off sweet tastes) agave nectar or honey.  (Forgive me, but I have a minor obsession with raw organic agave nectar!)  Busy parents: Get your kids involved in making them! This is a great after-school or weekend activity and can really help inspire healthy kids.  Plus, you can always bake a huge batch and freeze them because homemade granola bars keep really well in the freezer and you can pull one out per day for lunches.  Because you make them yourself, they are customizable, too – omit ingredients your kids dislike and include things your kids need – for example, add protein powder to turn them into protein bars for kids who do a lot of sports and exercise! (Also, I have an amazing recipe I will share with you all soon, so please stay posted!)

You can also make your own muffins and pastries with no sweeteners at all.  Sweeten muffins using fresh fruit, like mashed bananas, or make savory muffins with shredded or pureed vegetables like zucchini, pumpkin, sweet potato, or carrots.  I have a recipe for you that I’ll share soon!

As far as other snacks go, fresh fruit is always a classic.  Send a whole fruit or cut it up.  Buy healthier crackers (Mary’s Gone Crackers Original Organic Crackers are my favorite! And they come in a variety of flavors.), even if that means starting to read ingredients lists and labels.  You can also purchase dried fruits, which most kids love, or even Freeze Dried Fruit, which is crispy and nutritious.  There are also a lot of fruit leather brands out there now that are 100% fruit.  You can also make your own fruit leather (think of it as a healthy fruit roll-up) by pureeing fruit and then dehydrating it on a tray in your oven or dehydrator.

To Be Continued…

There is more to come, so come back tomorrow to see the second half of this list.  There is a lot of hidden sugar in food, and the sad thing is that is hiding in the foods we least expect.  But with dedication we can uncover a lot of these sources and remove them from our kids’ diets, replacing them with healthy alternatives.

*USDA Economic Research Service

[i] Malik VS, Popkin BM, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation. 2010;121:1356-64

[ii] Reedy J, Krebs-Smith SM. Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association2010;110(10):1477–1484.

[iii] Euromonitor Global Market Information Database, available at http://www.euromonitor.com/.

[iv] Gallup’s Consumption Habits poll, July 2012, available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/156116/Nearly-Half-Americans-Drink-Soda-Daily.aspx?utm_source=google&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syndication.

[v] United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Beverage Consumption Among High School Students—United States, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Is Sugar Making Your Kids Stupid?

Is Sugar Making Your Kids Stupid?

Sugar has been vilified in recent years.  Does it deserve the reputation it’s earning as a nutrition evil?  I think so.  If we want to inspire a generation of healthy kids, we need to be honest with ourselves and our kids about sugar and its role in our health.  Previously, I’ve discussed sugar’s addictive qualities.  Another story that hit the news just two years ago is that sugar makes kids stupid.  Is this true?  Does sugar really make your kids dumb?

Yes it is true.  Sugar really can hurt your kids’ learning and memory retention.  There is more than one study explaining how this works.  Keep reading and I will explain to you exactly how sugar is processed by your body and how it impacts your brain.  Please be aware that the sugar I am referring to is refined, processed sugar, not naturally occurring sugars that can actually be quite healthy.

The first part of the sugar digestion process to understand is that any high sugar diet affects insulin production in the body. When too much sugar is consumed for a prolonged period of time (and by prolonged we are talking about mere weeks, not months or years!), your body becomes resistant to insulin, the hormone that controls how cells use and store sugar. It has long been known that this insulin resistance, when built up enough, turns into diabetes.   But it has only recently been discovered that an inability to fully utilize insulin actually affects the brain. Insulin crosses the barrier into the brain and it is now known that insulin resistance goes hand in hand with memory loss and learning impairment.

Here’s how it works: your brain cells need sugar – double the sugar of any other cells in your body – to function. But without insulin, they can’t take in, store, or use sugar, even if it’s available. The problem is that eating too much added sugar reduces the brain’s production of a hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Lower levels of BDNF not only add to insulin resistance, which affects how cells use sugar, but it also directly affects learning and memory formation.[i]

In other words, a diet high in added sugar (that is, any sugar not naturally occurring in fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and whole grains) will make it harder for your child to learn. Maybe if they come home with poor grades it’s not really their fault. After all, according to the US Department of Agriculture, the average American eats 156 pounds of added sugar per year.[ii] That is about a quarter of a 2000 calorie per day diet – and it does not include any naturally occurring sugars, either![iii]

As if that isn’t bad enough, all this excess sugar isn’t just causing your child to act out in class or do poorly on exams – it’s affecting their behavior in other ways, too. Low BDNF levels are linked to depression and dementia – and might even be linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s.[iv] Remember, BDNF levels are lowered when excess added sugar is consumed. If your child seems unhappy, depressed, or otherwise unstable, maybe the “chemical imbalance” a psychiatrist will claim he has is really just BDNF levels that are too low. Instead of turning to medication, try cutting out all that added sugar.

We all want our children to succeed.  We want them to not only be healthy, but smart, too, no matter where their particular type of intelligence takes them.  Whether they are book smart, creative, technically talented, or all of the above, we want to enhance those qualities, not hinder them.  We all want our kids to succeed in life and intelligence is a major part of that success in our society.  If we want to give our kids the best advantages not only in terms of their own personal health and well-being, but also in terms of social and professional advancement, then we have to take these facts into account.  One thing we can do to increase our kids’ chances of lifelong success is to cut sugar out of their diets.

Now that you know exactly how sugar affects the brain, whether to reduce or (even better!) eliminate sugar from your kids’ diets should be a no-brainer (pun intended!).  Cutting out sugar will help improve your kids’ memory, mood, and overall health in many ways.

[i] Molteni R, Barnard RJ, et al. A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience. 2002;112(4):803-14.

[ii] Wells HF, Buzby JC. Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in U.S. Food Consumption, 1970-2005. USDA Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-33) 27 pp, March 2008.

[iii] Ervin RB, Kit BK, et al. Consumption of Added Sugar Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2005–2008. NCHS Data Brief, Number 87, February 2012.

[iv] Krabbe KS, Nielson AR, et al. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2007 Feb;50(2):431-8. Epub 2006 Dec 7.