Salt: How Much Do Kids Need?

Salt: How Much Do Kids Need?

US Centers for Disease Control Vital Signs Informational on Salt

Salt is an essential mineral for good health, but most kids today eat far more than they should. Eating too much salt is unhealthy and can lead to many different health problems. Most of this comes in the form of processed or restaurant foods, which makes it difficult for people to make good judgments about what foods to avoid.  It makes it challenging to determine just how much sodium is being consumed per day.

Even super sweet rice krispie treats contain a large amount of salt.  Percent daily values are based on the maximum amount an adult should consume.  Children should consume half of that amount as an absolute maximum, and even then the ideal is to consume about one fifth of that.  50mg sodium may be closer to 10% of what a child should be consuming daily in a healthy diet!

Even super sweet rice krispie treats contain a large amount of salt. Percent daily values are based on the maximum amount an adult should consume. Children should consume half of that amount as an absolute maximum, and even then the ideal is to consume about one fifth of that. 50mg sodium may be closer to 10% of what a child should be consuming daily in a healthy diet!

Salt is a preservative and is therefore ubiquitous in processed foods.  Even “sweet” foods generally contain at least a bit of sodium and foods that are really salty contain lots.  A child’s lunch sandwich will contain lots of sodium: in the bread, the mayonnaise, and the cheese (or meat).  There is even sodium in some soft drinks, especially those designed for sports.  They are meant to replace electrolytes, one of which is salt.  But most kids today consume way too much salt and do not need additional salt in their drinks, too!

It is rare to find children (or anyone) suffering from a salt deficiency due to a lack of salt in the diet.  Sometimes adults who are suffering from severe water retention or athletes who are doing intense workouts over long periods of time can end up with a sodium deficiency in their blood.  But this is not due to not consuming enough salt (the notable exception being in users of the drug Ecstacy, but if this is an issue for your child then you have bigger problems than just trying to get them to eat a healthy diet!).  Indeed, even people in those situations might be consuming too much salt on a regular basis.  However, due to other diseases or intense physical exercise for a long period of time, their salt reserves drop down.

This large pinch of salt is 3 grams of salt.  Many people will add this much salt or more to a dish they are cooking!

This large pinch of salt is 3 grams of salt. Many people will add this much salt or more to a dish they are cooking!

Fear of developing hyponatremia (salt deficiency) is not a good reason to load your kids up with salt.  With the amount of dietary sodium readily available in processed foods your child will have a hard time not eating too much salt, but will not have any trouble getting enough to live a healthy life.  In fact, even adults need only 500-2,400 mg or 0.5-2.4 grams daily to be healthy (please note the wide variance of 480%!).  That 2,400 mg or 2.4 g daily dose is the very upper limit of the safe and healthy recommendations out there today.  In fact, most organizations recommend that adults keep their sodium intake below 1,500 mg (1.5 g).

Here is a fact many people do not know: The amount of recommended salt intake and the amount of recommended sodium intake are two different things.  Table salt is only about 40% sodium.  Therefore, you have to be aware of what you are trying to avoid and how much.  For instance, a maximum recommendation of 6 grams of salt is 2.4 grams of sodium.

Here are the recommendations for the maximum amount of salt kids should have in their diets, according to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, Salt and Health:

Age Maximum Salt Intake
0-6 months <1g / day
6-12 months 1g / day
1-3 years 2g / day
4-6 years 3g / day
7-10 years 5g / day
11 years and above 6g / day

However, these recommendations are for amount of salt.  This is measurable when you are doing absolutely all food preparation at home, using table salt.  However, most of us do buy processed foods and the nutrition labels list only the amount of sodium, not the amount of salt.  To calculate whether our kids are eating too much salt, we need to know the maximum amount of sodium foods contain.  When changed to reflect sodium intake rather than salt, the maximum recommended amount of sodium looks like this:

Age Maximum Sodium Intake
0-6 months <0.4g / day
6-12 months 0.4g / day
1-3 years 0.8g / day
4-6 years 1.2g / day
7-10 years 2g / day
11 years and above 2.4g / day

See the difference?

These maximums are actually on the high end of the spectrum, as many organizations, such as the American Heart Association, recommend that adult intakes stay below 1.5g sodium daily, and, as I mentioned above, the minimum recommended intake is actually 0.5 g sodium daily.

That’s part of what makes it so hard to determine how much salt your kids should have – the recommendations are maximum upper limits, not ideal amounts.  You don’t want to actually aim for these amounts – you want to be well below them!  Yet the percent daily values listed on nutrition panels are based on the maximums, so it looks as if there is not as much sodium in the food as there really is.

Sea Salt Kettle Chips

Take a look at the nutrition panel above, which is for sea salt flavor kettle chips.  There are 120 mg of salt in one serving, which is 25 grams.  Most of us will not eat only 25 grams of chips, but suppose you did.  The 120 mg of sodium is listed here as 5% of the daily recommended value, which conveys the sense that it is fine to eat 2,400 mg of sodium daily, far above the upper limit of 1,500 recommended by many organizations – and that is for adults!  If a child ate even a small amount of chips, they would be getting a significant percentage of the healthy daily amount.

Babies/Newborns

Babies do not need any added salt in their diet.  Babies’ kidneys are not yet fully developed and they are too immature to cope with added salt in their diets.  During the important first formative months, it is especially crucial that babies be allowed to grow naturally.  Babies on a breastmilk or formula diet do get just a very tiny amount of sodium in their diet.  Their diet is specially formulated to provide exactly what they need and nothing more.  Too much sodium can be especially harmful for very young babies.

Infants

Infants who are being introduced to solids and/or weaned off breast milk and formula should not be given any additional salt in their diet.  Infant foods are specially formulated not to contain added sodium.  It is just not necessary or healthy for babies.  You may taste some baby food and think it tastes bland, but it does not taste bland to babies, whose taste buds have not yet become accustomed to strong flavors.  Just imagine – if you drank nothing but milk, eating plain steamed peas and carrots would taste amazing, interesting, and new.  Babies do not need any added salt, so do not add any to their food.   As babies grow up, you may choose to give them some snacks (for instance, I gave my babies a few Bamba occasionally, which is quite salty).  If you give them snacks every once in a while, they will definitely get plenty of sodium in their diet.  Just be careful not to give them too many processed foods, and avoid using things like commercial sauces and spreads, as they often have a lot of added salt.

Children

Childhood is the best time to inspire healthy kids.  Do this by continuing to avoid adding any salt to meals.  A tiny pinch of salt in a dish can help bring out the inherent flavors in vegetables, but if you can taste the salt in a dish you cook, it is too much salt.  Really, the rule of thumb is that the less salt you add to home cooking, the better – ideally adding no salt at all.  Kids who do not eat salt in food at home are more likely to be getting the right amount of sodium.  There is a lot of sodium in processed foods, so kids get plenty of sodium from the processed or restaurant foods purchased.

Kids who do not develop a taste for salty food when they are young are more likely to eat a healthy amount of salt as adults.  A good example would be my husband and I.  His mother never added salt to everything, whereas my mother added lots of salt to her food.   As a child I developed a taste for salt that has never left me.  After getting married, I began cooking food without adding any salt and slowly I am getting used to it, although I still sometimes find it bland.  My husband, on the other hand, has the ability to detect salt even in foods to which I have not added it!

In my house, we rarely consume any processed foods.  I make almost every meal from scratch.  We eat a lot of salads and most meals are paired with brown rice rather than bread.  Even our ice cream and yogurt are homemade!  We only eat in restaurants a few times a year.  Our kids get most of the sodium in their diets from crackers, which they get to eat a couple times a week, and from Vegemite, which they also get only rarely.

Teenagers

Teens, especially females, have to be very wary of salt intake.  The foods that are marketed to and are popular among teenagers tend to be things like burgers, chicken nuggets, pizzas, chips, cakes, and cookies.  All of these processed foods are high in sodium and teens can easily eat way too much salt.  Girls reach their peak bone mass at puberty and consuming too much salt during this critical time of formation and development can result in girls’ bones not attaining a sufficient thickness.  This can cause osteoporosis later in life.

The amount of salt in potato chips is unsurprisingly very high

Conclusion

The amount of salt kids need is very different from the amount recommended as a percentage daily value.  Percentage daily values are based on a very high adult amount, which is double the safe maximum for children.  The guidelines, even those listed above for children, are based on maximum safe amounts, which are four to five times higher than the amount that is actually healthy.  Experts all agree that too much salt is harmful and dangerous to health – they all consistently recommend reducing salt intake as much as possible to obtain optimum health.  The best thing you can do for your kids is to reduce their salt intake as much as possible!

Salt: Dangerous for Kids’ Diets

Salt: Dangerous for in Kids’ Diets

Cooking Salt

Just like sugar, kids today are consuming far more salt than is healthy.  Salt is hidden in lots of foods, from bread to breakfast cereals – in fact, there is salt in almost any processed food you buy.  But salt can be dangerous for your kids’ health, so it is best to reduce their intake whenever possible.

Salt, or sodium chloride, is an essential mineral kids and adults alike need in our diets.  However, kids today tend to eat too much salt.  And too much salt is definitely too much of a good thing.  As with most nutrients that are essential for living, consuming too much salt is harmful to kids’ health.  Here are some of the biggest health risks to children who consume too much salt:

Blood Pressure

It has long been known that excess salt increases blood pressure in adults, but did you know that eating too much salt increases blood pressure in children, too?  A diet high in salt in childhood leads to higher blood pressure later, which in turn increases risk of stroke and heart attack by three times. Kids who use salt at the table have increased systolic blood pressure.[1]  Studies show that this higher blood pressure rises over the years in a steady incline if kids continue to consume too much sodium.[2]  Fortunately, children are incredibly resilient and can recover more quickly than adults.  By reducing salt intake down to recommended amounts during childhood, you reduce your child’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease in adulthood.  In fact, studies show that reducing salt intake is more effective in reducing blood pressure than all the medications currently available![3]

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis may sound like a disease of the elderly, but it is now being detected in young adults.  The problem is that bone loss is difficult to detect in very young adults whose loss may not yet be measurable in the bones themselves.  However, calcium lost in the urine can be detected and kids who consume too much salt actually lose more calcium than their peers who eat the right amount.[4][5]  These losses continue into adulthood.

Teenaged girls are especially at risk.  This is because peak bone mass is reached at the time of puberty, but far too many girls at this age are not consuming enough calcium and potassium while at the same time consume extremely high levels of salt.[6]  If peak bone mass is lower, girls (who are already at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis) have less bone mass to lose later in life, which predisposes them to develop osteoporosis.

Obesity

Okay, so salt is not a direct cause of obesity, but it is a contributing factor.  Have you ever sat down to eat a salty food and then felt thirsty?  This is the reason why salted peanuts and salty pretzels are commonly served at bars – they want to make you thirsty so you buy more drinks.  (Interestingly, for those thirsty for random bits of knowledge, this fact contributed to the Jews winning their Temple back from the Greeks during the time of the Maccabees, which is celebrated during the festival of Chanukah.  A beautiful Jewish woman named Yehudit/Judith fed the Greek general lots of salty cheese, causing him to drink too much wine.  When he passed out she cut off his head and in doing so cut the head off the Greek war leadership.)  Hopefully our kids aren’t slaking their thirst with beer or wine, but unfortunately they are slaking their thirst with something almost as bad – soft drinks.

Sodas and other sugary soft drinks contribute significantly to the obesity epidemic among today’s youth.  After all, 31% of beverages drunk by children from the ages of 4 to 18 are soft drinks.[7] Drinking too many sugary soft drinks has been repeatedly shown in scientific research to be related to obesity.[8]

You might think the link between soft drink consumption and salt consumption would be tenuous, but that is not so. Sales of salt and sales of soft drinks rise together and sale of salt are correlated with obesity rates.[9] Cutting salt consumption in half, from the average 10 grams per day to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended 5 grams per day decreases daily beverage consumption by 350 mL daily, which is approximately one can of soda. Children are especially sensitive to the consumption of excess salt, which causes them to need more liquid. In fact, by reducing a child’s salt consumption by 1 gram per day, the average child drinks 100mL less liquid and 27mL less sugary soft drink.[10] Therefore, reducing your child’s salt intake, even by a small amount, could have a big impact on their overall health and weight.

Cancer

I hate to bring up the big ‘C’ – cancer – but if we want to have healthy kids we have to face reality. When kids eat too much salt it does increase their chance of developing cancer, particularly stomach cancer. That’s because eating too much salt damages the stomach lining, which in turn can lead to the development of cancerous cells.[11] Eating too much salt also encourages proliferation of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with the development of stomach cancer and ulcers.[12] Of course, this is unlikely to afflict your child at a young age, but it can happen, and you do not want to increase your child’s chance of developing this deadly disease later in life. Reducing calcium intake seems to me to be an easy way to reduce risk.

Asthma

Even when I was growing up, asthma was a common childhood ailment. Most children do not die of it, but it complicates their lives, makes it hard for them to participate in all activities they might want to, and is a frightening and unpleasant feeling.  Consuming too much salt can worsen or instigate asthma in kids. This is because high sodium consumption increases bronchial reactivity,[13] making children who consume high amounts of salt more prone to asthmatic attacks.[14] This is related to the excess amount of calcium that is lost when too much salt is consumed.[15]

Kidney Disease

Our kidneys today work hard to filter toxins and other nasty things from our bloodstream. Today, they have to work harder than ever, as our environment is filled with toxins that enter our bodies primarily via the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Consuming too much salt puts our kidneys under extra unnecessary stress that can, over time, cause them damage. This is because eating too much salt causes the production of protein urea, which is a major kidney disease risk factor.[16]

Less Salt, Better Health

I hope these are enough reasons to convince you of the impact too much salt can have on your child’s health and wellbeing. Cutting down on salt might be challenging if you rely heavily on processed foods, but with many alternative products on the market, you can usually find some that are healthier. If we want our kids to lead healthier lives, we need to reduce the amount of salt in their diets. Let’s inspire healthy kids!

Australian Lake Salt

[1] Gregory J, L.S., Bates CJ, Prentice A, Jackson L, Smithers G, Wenlock R, Farron M., National Diet and Nutrition Survey: young people aged 4 to 18 years. Vol. 1: Report of the diet and nutrition survey. 2000, London: The Stationery Office. 271-336.

[2] Geleijnse, J.M., D.E. Grobbee, and A. Hofman, Sodium and potassium intake and blood pressure change in childhood. Bmj, 1990. 300(6729): p. 899-902.

[3] Rose, G., Strategy of prevention: lessons from cardiovascular disease. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed), 1981. 282(6279): p. 1847-51.

[4] Goulding A, Everitt HE, Cooney JM, Spears GFS. Sodium and osteoporosis. In: Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, eds. Recent advances in clinical nutrition. Vol 2. 1987:99-108.

[5] Cappuccio, F.P., et al., Unravelling the links between calcium excretion, salt intake, hypertension, kidney stones and bone metabolism. J Nephrol, 2000. 13(3): p. 169-77.

[6] Geleijnse, J.M., et al., Long-term effects of neonatal sodium restriction on blood pressure. Hypertension, 1997. 29(4): p. 913-7.

[7] He FJ et al. Salt Intake Is Related to Soft Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents: A Link to Obesity?  Hypertension. 2008; 51, 629-634.

[8] Ludwig DS et al. Relation Between Consumption of Sugar-sweetened Drinks and Childhood Obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet. 2001; 357, 505-508.  James J et al.  Preventing Childhood Obesity by Reducing Consumption of Carbonated Drinks: Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial. British Medical Journal. 2004; 328,1237.

[9] Karppanen H, Mervaala E: Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2006; 49, 59-75

[10] He FJ et al. Salt Intake Is Related to Soft Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents: A Link to Obesity?  Hypertension. 2008; 51, 629-634.

[11] Tsugane, S., et al., Salt and salted food intake and subsequent risk of gastric cancer among middle-aged Japanese men and women. Br J Cancer, 2004. 90(1): p. 128-34.

[12] Karppanen, H. and E. Mervaala, Sodium intake and hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis, 2006. 49 (2): p. 59-75.

[13] Goulding A, Gold E. Effect of dietary sodium chloride loading on parathyroid function, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, calcium balance and bone metabolism in female rats during chronic prednisolone administration. Endocrinology 1986; 119:2148-54.

[14] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1833904/pdf/bmj00299-0028.pdf

[15] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1834783/pdf/bmj00308-0056b.pdf

[16] He, F.J., et al., Effect of salt intake on renal excretion of water in humans. Hypertension, 2001. 38(3): p. 317-20

Baby Paleo Diet Cookbook Unhealthy and On Hold

Baby Paleo Diet Cookbook Unhealthy and On Hold

Publication of a paleo diet cookbook for babies has been put on hold after experts expressed concern over the health of babies put on the diet.  I have expressed concern over the paleo diet before.  Yes, some aspects of the paleo diet are healthy for kids, but there are lots of reasons why the paleo diet is unhealthy for kids (lots and lots).  Now scientists are warning that the new paleo diet cookbook includes dietary advice that could lead to the death of a baby.

Some of the central tenets of the paleo diet are the avoidance of processed foods, dairy, pulses, and legumes.  However, preventing babies from consuming these could be very dangerous for their health.  The new cookbook, slated to be published by Pan Macmillan and endorsed by celebrity chef Pete Evans, is called “Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way” and includes dangerous dietary restrictions for babies and toddlers.

One of the recipes in the book in particular has garnered significant concern.  The “DIY baby milk formula” is based on chicken liver.  The book claims it “mimics the nutrient profile of breast milk,” is “the next best thing” to breast milk and is a “wonderful alternative” to breast milk.  Of course chicken liver in no way compares to breast milk, as it is full of proteins and fats foreign to human breast milk.  Experts have expressed concerns over the nutrient profile, which does not mimic breast milk at all – in fact, it contains dangerously high levels of vitamin A and insufficient amounts of other essential nutrients.

Exclusive breastfeeding is the ideal for healthy babies, but not all mothers can manage it.  Some women are unable to breastfeed and some babies have trouble with it, too.  Whatever the reason, if a baby is unable to breastfeed, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines make it pretty clear that expressed breast milk is “the next best thing” to breast milk.  Infant formulas, although not the perfect food for babies, have been tried and tested for a long time, so we know that you can raise a happy, healthy baby by feeding them exclusively on infant formula.  They are scientifically created to have as close as possible to the right balance of nutrients a baby needs.  The paleo “baby bone broth” formula, on the other hand, will leave babies consuming dangerously high levels of vitamin A, while not consuming enough of many other vitamins and minerals.

The dangers to a baby who consumes this kind of diet exclusively are very real.  In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine, the president of the Public Health Association of Australia warned:

There’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead. … Especially if [the DIY formula] was the only food a parent was feeding their infant, it’s a very real risk. And the baby’s growth and development could be impaired.

The cookbook also advocates other diet dangers for babies, including feeding babies undercooked eggs and adding extra salt to their diet, which babies do not need.  The Australian federal Health Ministry has been taking a very close look at the cookbook, as the “department is concerned about the inadequate nutritional values of some of the foods, in particular for infants, and is investigating further.”

Of course, scientists have been expressing concerns about the health values of the paleo diet overall.  This diet is, theoretically, based on an ancient hunter-gatherer diet, but there are lots of issues with it, scientifically.  Ancient hunter-gatherers lived a very different lifestyle from the one we live today.  We drive cars, have sedentary jobs, and buy our food in a grocery store, none of which would have been even remote options for our ancient ancestors.  Ancient hunter-gatherers would also have binge eaten due to scarcity of food and lack of refrigeration.  Some meat may have been dehydrated or smoked, but in a typical hunter-gatherer society, any animal caught would have been eaten in its entirety by the group, right away.  Hunter-gatherers may have gorged themselves but then not found any more food for another few days.  Yet this is clearly not a healthy way to live.

Humans have changed physically, too, since the paleolithic days.  We eat a much wider variety of foods today.  The majority of hunter-gatherer societies subsisted on just a few different foods, as that was all that was locally available.  However, since the invention of agriculture, humans have been able to cultivate dozens of different food crops at one time, in addition to the production of animals for meat and milk, and have adapted accordingly.   Even domesticated dogs have physically adapted to a diet including grains, and so have humans. Avoiding giving a child any dairy can also place them at higher risk of developing an allergy to it in the future. Pulses are a much healthier protein alternative to animal fats and proteins, which humans do not digest well and which are linked to a lot of diseases ranging from heart disease to osteoporosis.

Speaking of animal fats and proteins, the paleo diet places a heavy emphasis on fish and meat.  However, the meats we purchase today are typically much higher in fat content than wild meats – wild meat fat content is about 2%, while grain-fed commercially produced meat contains about 20% fat.  The paleo diet does recommend wild or grass-fed meat, but these meats are very expensive, so I would be surprised if no adherents cut corners on that little detail.  But I digress – the problem is that the majority of hunter-gatherer societies consumed very little meat at all, which is why humans are poorly adapted to meat consumption. “Meat was a celebration [because] you had to expend a lot of energy on the hunt,” says Professor Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and not every hunt was successful, making meat very scarce.  Any meat caught would have been shared with the entire tribe, as well, so individuals may not even have gotten a very large quantity of meat per person.

Certainly, hunter-gatherers would not have been feeding babies a formula made of chicken liver.  That would never have entered their minds.  All babies were fed breast milk – if not, they would die.  There simply was no formula.  If a mother could not breastfeed her baby, another mother in the group would suckle it along with her own baby.  Breast milk was the only option and there was no alternative. I suppose that if parents on the paleo diet want to force their kids to be on this diet as well, the most accurate way to do so would be to find a wet nurse if you are unable to breastfeed.

The reality is that if parents want to raise healthy kids, the paleo diet is not the way to do it.  It is simply not a nutritionally ideal diet for babies and children.  In fact, it could even be making them unhealthy or, in the case of the chicken liver infant formula, actually risking their lives.  By all means, take the good things from the paleo diet – avoid processed foods, cut out sugar – but keep the good things that are not paleo, too, like grains and pulses.  This is the way to inspire healthy kids.

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!

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Last month I posted a series about American school lunches and the changes they have undergone during Michelle Obama’s leadership.  The lessons we can learn from this “experiment” in good childhood nutrition are applicable all over the world.  However, at the time I was writing, there was no scientific report yet out about the impact of these changes on kids, although I did share about one inspirational case study.  That report was released just days after my post on the subject!

Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future is a report by Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA and Jeffrey K. O’Hara, PhD that was released at the end of February.  This report highlights that although healthier school lunches on their own will not solve the childhood obesity epidemic or make our kids instantly healthy, they do have a meaningful impact.  Kids who eat the healthier school lunches consume more fruits and vegetables, which is really important when so many kids today eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day.

Obesity is a huge problem for the children of today.  Obese children are ten times more likely to become obese adults.  With one third of kids in America overweight, this means we are raising a generation of unhealthy children who will become unhealthy adults.  The United States alone spends $210 billion treating obesity-related diseases every year.  And those are just the obesity-related diseases, not the figure for all diseases that could be prevented with a healthy diet.  This affects everyone in society, as we are all affected by the economy that bears the brunt of this heavy burden.

Minorities are especially at risk, with African American kids 43% more likely to be obese and Hispanic American kids 59% more likely to become obese.  Interestingly enough, minorities are also those groups most likely to be granted free or reduced lunch status, as minority groups in America have a greater likelihood of having a lower socioeconomic status.  In a surprising twist of fate, this could actually be a good thing – it means they are most likely to benefit from positive, healthy changes to school lunch regulations.

Lessons from the Lunchroom reveals some surprising proof that healthier school lunches have a meaningful impact on kids who consume them.  The report analyzes kids’ eating habits over time and concentrated on kids who consistently eat school lunches, i.e. kids on the free or reduced lunch program.  This study found that kids in the fifth grade who receive free or reduced lunches ate three more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than their peers.  This benefit carried forward into the future as well, with the study finding these same kids ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers three years later.

Three more servings per week of fruit and vegetables on the face of it may not sound like a lot, but with 30% of 6-year-olds consuming fruit less than once daily and nearly 20% of 6-year-olds consuming vegetables less than once daily, adding an extra three servings of fruit and vegetables per week into kids’ diets can make a huge impact on their overall nutrition and health.

Furthermore, this study confirms yet again that positive dietary habits formed young continue to impact kids.  It is never too late to start teaching kids good nutrition habits!  However, the younger kids are, the more likely the changes are to stick.  Repetition helps as well.  Kids who take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch every single day are more likely to eat that fruit or vegetable and are also more likely to form a lasting habit.

Remember, as taxpayers we are all paying for school lunches.  School lunches are subsidized not only directly, in the form of free or reduced lunch programs, but also indirectly, through agricultural subsidies.  Later in life taxpayer dollars help underwrite the healthcare system that pays for obesity-related diseases.  The health of our nation’s youth depends on us making a statement and pushing for healthy change!

This is of concern to all of us, now.  This is not some nebulous issue or even something that requires you as an individual to overhaul your local school lunch program (although I applaud you if you do attempt this!).  This is an issue that each and every one of us has a stake in and has a say on.  The report’s press release says it well:

By September 30, 2015, Congress must again reauthorize the National School Lunch Program and related programs—another chance for Congress to improve school nutrition. UCS recommends that Congress maintain the gains made in the 2010 law, while increasing funding to programs that support serving nutritious produce in schools. Congress should also increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches to assist schools with providing healthier lunches.

So go forth and contact your representatives in Congress! Let them know what you think and agitate for change.  Together, they will listen to us.  Together, we can make a change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also published a snazzy infographic summarizing the report, which you can share with your friends:

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?

How to Get Your Kids to Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

How to Get Your Kids to Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

Recently, we’ve been looking at heart disease in children, which is becoming more and more prevalent as obesity rises.  A new study showed how eating a low fat vegan diet reduces many more heart disease risk factors in children than the predominant American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations did.  But the chief complaint from those on the vegan diet in the study was that finding no added fat vegan options was difficult and expensive.  So, if you have that added hurdle, it makes it even harder to get your kids to eat a heart healthy diet.  Here are some ideas for ways to get your kids to eat a heart healthy diet.

Getting kids to eat healthy can be challenging under the best of circumstances.  Even famous celebrity chefs can find it difficult to get their kids to eat their gourmet healthy meals.  With teenagers, I have always stressed communication as the key to inspiring healthy kids, while with younger children I focus mostly on getting them involved.  These strategies hold true for a heart-healthy diet just as much as for an overall healthy diet.

Start Young

The younger you start your kids eating a healthy diet, the better.  Taste buds can get corrupted very easily and once they switch off to trying new foods or to eating healthy things, you will have a very hard time getting them back.  Even as a health-conscious adult, I have a hard time giving up the unhealthy flavors of my youth.  We never drank a lot of sugary drinks, so I don’t have a problem giving those up, but when it comes to dairy or the occasional cookie, I have a hard time saying no. Once these tastes integrate themselves into your kids’ minds, you will find it difficult to eradicate them. When kids are young is the best time to make healthy eating part of their lives and habits, forever.

Lead by Example

Kids often model their own behavior on what their parents do.  For better or worse, conscious or unconscious, this is pretty standard among children.  Parents are their primary role model.  So change your diet, too.  Show your kids you enjoy eating spinach and cauliflower and they’ll be more interested in trying it.  Friends are amazed that my toddlers will sit and eat spinach (even raw!) but to me, it is no surprise – they see my husband and I eating it all the time.  Kale, beets, brown rice, and whole grain bread are all part of the diet they regularly see us eating, so they eat these foods, too.

More Family Time

Did you know that kids will eat more fruits and vegetables if you eat meals together as a family? Once again, kids have more opportunities to see parents modeling good eating habits.  There is also the “peer pressure” effect, applied in a positive way.  When kids see the rest of the family eating a meal, they are more likely to, as well. Eating meals together as a family has a lot of relationship benefits, too.  In fact, family dinner is one common recommendation family therapists make.  When I was a kid, family dinner almost every night of the week was the norm, but times have changed.  Today, each member of the family eats at a different time, making it easy for kids to grab for convenience foods or just the tastiest bits of whatever meal is on offer.  Eating together makes it socially unacceptable for a child to just grab a bag of chips from the corner store to have for dinner – that child now has to sit at the table and eat from what is on offer.

Start Slowly

Don’t try to change your kids’ diet all at once.  Switching from a meat-heavy, fatty, salty, sugary to a sugar-free, low-fat vegan diet will be a shock to your kids’ system.  If their taste buds are corrupted, you need to wean them off unhealthy foods slowly and teach them gently to love healthy food.  Change one snack and one type of food at a time.  Swap out sugary fruit roll-ups for all-natural fruit leather one week.  The next week change out buttery Ritz crackers for whole grain Mary’s Gone Crackers.  Change from serving macaroni and cheese to serving macaroni and red pepper cheese dip, then swap out the macaroni for whole wheat options or for broccoli.  By making changes slowly and gradually, you will not see an immediate change like you would if you changed your kids’ whole diet over suddenly, but the changes you do make are more likely to stick.  And it is much more important to teach kids to have a healthy lifestyle that lasts than to have them shed pounds suddenly only to pick them up again a few months later.

Get them Gardening

Food education programs with a lot of success, like the Eden Village Camp I was involved with, teach a farm-to-table approach.  Kids who grow their own vegetables are likely to love eating those vegetables.  Growing vegetables is a great teaching tool for many subjects, like science, as kids learn about life cycles and the environment.  But growing something also promotes a sense of pride and ownership in kids that makes them more likely to try – and keep eating – those foods they’ve grown.  And growing things doesn’t require a full-scale garden or even a back yard!  Kids in apartments can grow veggies in pots placed by windows and the need to water and care for plants gives kids a gentle sense of responsibility and stewardship that is great for their maturity.

Take them Shopping

Getting kids involved in the food selection experience also gives them a feeling of power and control.  Kids, like adults, want to feel they have some measure of control in their lives.  The younger the child, the more difficult it is to give them safe freedoms.  In a world where you can get arrested for letting your kid play unattended in a park across the street, how can we give our kids the freedom to make choices and grow up?  We are all required by law to be helicopter parents, like it or not.  So taking your kids to the store with you and letting them help with the shopping is a great starting point.  Begin by letting them pick out the fruits and veggies for the week.  With very young kids, including toddlers, just bring them along to the store and let them pull a few things they want to eat off the shelves.  Use it as a teaching opportunity for older kids, too.  Before you go to the store, take the time to do a little bit of “homeschooling.”  Sit down with them for an hour and plan out meals for the week, how much of what they need to buy, and then have them use math to figure out how much it will cost as you go through the store.  The amount of time you invest in involving your kids in food shopping will be repaid in the amount of time you will not have to spend fighting to get them to eat nutritious foods later in the week.

Teach them to Cook

Cooking is one of my favorite creative endeavors.  It is an opportunity to challenge oneself and is a rare opportunity to see nearly instant gratification from the fruits of your labors.  Kids are more likely to eat food they themselves have prepared, and teaching kids to prepare healthy meals will benefit you as a parent down the line, even if it requires a bit of time investment now.  Imagine never needing to make your kids’ lunches again, or being able to ask your kids to make dinner a few nights a week!  Kids of all ages enjoy cooking.  Even very young kids can learn to stir a bowl.  Help them decorate healthy pizzas or casseroles with a variety of ingredients, or make dinners they can assemble themselves, such as a salad bar or taco bar.  Giving them the responsibility of helping and the freedom of choosing is a great way to encourage kids to eat healthy food.

Try, Try Again

Finally, don’t give up!  Getting kids to eat a healthier diet is a challenging task.  Don’t expect them to jump on the bandwagon with enthusiasm right away (if they do, consider yourself fortunate!).  It might take a lot of effort, and it might take some time.  Just be patient and keep trying.  There are a lot of different strategies you can implement and an infinite amount of yummy and healthy foods to try.  If one doesn’t work for you, discard it and try a new one the next day.  If you come across one that really works for you, add it to a list of special foods to make again.  (Like my favorite Island Kale and Sweet Potato Soup, which everyone in my family loves and I make once or twice a month.)

I hope these tips and tricks work for you and if you have any other ideas please share them in the comments so we can all benefit.  Here’s to helping inspire healthy kids and to motivating our kids to eat a heart healthy diet!

Easy Fat-Free Vegan Tomato Soup

Easy Fat-Free Vegan Tomato Soup

Given the recent study that was released, showing a low-fat vegan diet is the best way to reduce heart disease risk factors in children, I thought it is a great time to showcase one of my family’s staple meals: tomato soup.  If you’re like me, you grew up with tomato soup as the ultimate comfort food.  When I was a kid, I would have a can of Campbell’s tomato soup with a buttery grilled cheese sandwich and it would warm up my whole world.  Today, I make my own, homemade tomato soup, which takes just about the same amount of effort as the canned version, but is much, much healthier.  Instead of an unhealthy sandwich of refined white bread holding together a clump of gooey animal fats, I ladle my homemade comfort soup over brown rice and voila! I have instant, healthy, completely fat-free vegan comfort food for the whole family.

Before making this soup, I toss all the tomatoes I need to use up in a big tub of water and wash them as I go.

Before making this soup, I toss all the tomatoes I need to use up in a big tub of water and wash them as I go.  You can use up any type of tomatoes you have around, and can even use up tomatoes that are older, going mushy, or have bad spots (just cut them out).

One of the biggest complaints in the heart disease study I examined yesterday was that vegan foods with no added fat were more expensive and difficult to find.  I believe that if people only knew how easy it is to replicate traditional unhealthy processed foods at home they would no longer rely on the processed versions.   Tomato soup is amazing and it is also amazingly easy to make a delicious version to rival anything you can get in a can.

Begin by adding onion (then garlic) to the bottom of your soup maker or pot.  Normally I add a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil but for this no added fat version I simply omit that step.  Because the entire soup cooks together in broth, rather than sauteeing the onion and garlic in oil first, the oil is purely optional.

Begin by adding onion (then garlic) to the bottom of your soup maker or pot. Normally I add a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil but for this no added fat version I simply omit that step. Because the entire soup cooks together in broth, rather than sauteeing the onion and garlic in oil first, the oil is purely optional.

I guess I have become a bit of a tomato soup connoisseur.  I have tried and tested dozens of tomato soup recipes.  Some I like better, some less. My all-time favorite tomato soup recipe is one I picked up from the cookbook “Market Vegetarian: Easy Organic Recipes for Every Occasion” by Ross Dobson.  It’s a bit more time consuming, however, with the added step of roasting the vegetables prior to turning them into soup.  When I was single, I was happy to take that extra step, but as a busy mom… who has time for that?!  I want tomato soup, I want it now, and I don’t want to spend more than 5 minutes of active time making it!

I add fresh tomatoes to my soup maker up to the fill line before adding broth.

I add fresh tomatoes to my soup maker up to the fill line before adding broth.

I will admit this is a bit of a cheat recipe for me.  One day nearly two years ago, my husband came home with a masticating slow juicer and a surprise – a soup maker!  At the time we joked that it was a “wife replacer” because my husband is obsessed with soup, so we have soup as a meal almost every day of the week, especially when the weather is cool, but even frequently when the weather is hot.  I asked him why I would need such an item when I make so much soup on the stove.  But I have since changed my tune.  While I still make a lot of my soups on the stove or in my trusty crock pot, the soup maker has become my go-to for quick soups.  This recipe is one example of a recipe I love to just toss in and let go, but if you don’t have a soup maker, don’t worry.  I’ll provide easy instructions.  It might take an extra couple of minutes of time, but it still won’t be much more involvement than making a can of soup would be!

The finished tomato soup in the soup maker, still frothy from being blended just 1 minutes ago, but a bright red color and smelling great!  My mouth is watering!

The finished tomato soup in the soup maker, still frothy from being blended just 1 minutes ago, but a bright red color and smelling great! My mouth is watering!

One thing I love about this recipe is that you can use up whatever tomatoes are around.  If I end up with a lot of tomatoes that are just too ripe to make salad with, into this soup they go.  If I have a few tomatoes with spots, I cut them out and toss the good parts in the pot.  If I have too many tomatoes or if they are in season and I can pick up a case for cheap, I make a massive quantity of this soup and into the freezer it goes for future consumption on a lazy day.  My baby is obsessed with tomatoes, so anything that tastes like tomatoes is an instant winner with him.

Are you saying I need to give up my tomato for the paleo diet?!

I love tomatoes, in any form!

Another great thing about this recipe is that it is really versatile.  You can mix it up and add in all sorts of different flavors and even different ingredients.  You can make it thicker or thinner.  You can add fat or not. You can add dairy or not.  Or you can just make it as is.  After all, it only calls for four ingredients!  What’s not to love?!

Easy Vegan Tomato Soup

Ingredients

10-12 tomatoes (depending on size)
1/2 medium onion, preferably red
2 large cloves garlic
~2 cups vegetable broth
(pinch salt, if your broth is a low-sodium version)

Instructions

  1. (Optional) Put 2 cups of brown rice and 4 cups of water in a rice cooker and set to cook.
  2. Quarter your onion half, peel your garlic, and add them to your pot (or soup maker).
  3. Quarter your tomatoes – approximately 12 roma tomatoes, 9 vine ripened, or 6 beef tomatoes.  If using giant beef tomatoes, you should cut them in eights instead of quarters.
  4. Add tomatoes to the pot and add broth to just below the tomatoes (not too much unless you want a very watery soup).  If your broth is low sodium, you should add a pinch of salt here.  Salt helps bring out the flavor of tomatoes.
  5. Plug in soup maker, set on “smooth” setting, and go relax until it beeps.
  6. Put on the stovetop on medium-high and cook for approximately 30 minutes.  Watch to be sure it does not boil over – if it begins to boil reduce to a simmer.  Stir at 20 and 25 minute marks.
  7. Pour soup into a blender and blend until smooth, approximately 1 minute.
  8. Place a mound of brown rice in a bowl, pour soup over, and serve.

Variations

  • If you’re not going for the fat-free version, I find a small amount of oil can help make this soup taste a bit more creamy.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of the pot before adding all your other ingredients.
  • Try a red pepper and tomato soup.  I know this is a flavor of soup I’ve seen in the organic brands at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  Just substitute a red capsicum/bell pepper for a couple of the tomatoes.  You don’t need more than one really big one or two smaller ones to get a good flavor.
  • Add fresh herbs.  Almost any fresh herbs will work – tomatoes are so versatile and seem to work in pretty much any cuisine I’ve ever found.  Toss in some leaves of fresh basil just before blending.  Fresh oregano, rosemary, and thyme are great.  Add a nice big sprig of rosemary or thyme and remove just before blending, or sprinkle just a bit on top and blend it in. Or try dried herb blends, like an Italian herb blend.
  • Add spices.  Spice mixes give a fantastic foreign dimension to this all too traditional American soup.  Add some curry powder, moroccan spice mix, or even Mexican taco seasoning for an all-new experience.
  • Add some dairy.  Keep it vegan by topping your bowl of soup with some cashew sour cream, or splurge and go for the real thing.  Or sprinkle some cheddar or shredded pepper jack cheese on top.  Mix cream or whole (full cream) milk throughout before serving to turn it into a cream of tomato soup.
  • Double, triple, quadruple this recipe… it freezes well and doesn’t take much effort to double.  You will need to extend the cooking time before blending so the increased amount of liquid and vegetables come to the right temperature.  Once it comes to a boil, reduce and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring 10 and 15 minutes into the simmering.

I hope you can see that this soup is soup-er easy (I couldn’t resist).  It is also incredibly versatile.  I think it tastes just as good as the tinned kind – no, better!  Because it’s made with fresh tomatoes, it has that mouthwatering fresh flavor no tinned version ever could.  And with all the possible variations your family will never get bored.  You can play with the flavor variations endlessly!

For families with kids in school, consider making this in the morning and sending it for lunch in a thermos.  In a good thermos it should still be hot enough to eat at lunchtime.  Send it with a container of brown rice on the side your child can spoon in as they go.  In other parts of the world, soup for lunch is a standard, but in western society it is much less common.  Your child will no doubt really enjoy the change!

I hope you enjoy this easy and tasty recipe.  Please let me know what variations you have tried and how you like them!

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): The Government Won’t Protect You

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): The Government Won’t Protect You

You cannot count on the government to protect you and your children from the dangers of genetically modified organisms. In the 1990s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claimed that GMOs are safe for consumption – yet they had done no studies on safety at all.  And no wonder… the FDA official who created their GMO policy used to be the attorney and later the vice president of Monsanto, the largest biotech company out there.[i] Talk about bias!

The only requirement for a GMO to meet FDA standards is for it to be “substantially equivalent” to the natural food in its nutrition profile.[ii] This means that if GM soy has roughly the same amount of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, etc., as traditional soy, it is acceptable for human consumption. There is no mention in that protocol of it needing to be synthesized the same by the human body, or that side effects, like infertility or digestive problems, are forbidden (or even measured at all). Tests on GM products are not required, and when done, are done by the companies themselves and are kept secret, so that the true effects of these products are unknown unless examined by independent scientists.[iii] At the times when these tests have been, by court order, provided to independent scientists, they found that there were significant physical changes to test animals as a result of the GM diet, which the GMO companies nevertheless determined were “irrelevant” when it came to human consumption.[iv] When these scientists do undertake these tests, they are criticized by the companies, which do not want the truth about their products to be known.[v]

And there is no obligation for companies to label their products in the USA. The FDA has not approved any such regulation because the food companies are a powerful lobby. And even the “healthy” brands, such as Morningstar Farms, are opposing a GMO labeling law. This is because their products contain GMOs. In short, you cannot even make your own informed decision not to buy GMOs just by reading the labels on your favorite products. And don’t think you’ll be safe if you live outside the US or if you buy foreign products – the World Trade Organization (WTO) forbids governments to restrict the sale of GMOs because that would be an “unfair trade practice” or a “technical barrier to trade.” The WTO is no more concerned for your safety than the big companies are. Fortunately, in the European Union, GMOs are more highly regulated than in any other parts of the world.[vi] Even with their stricter review system, 49 GMOs have been approved, including 28 varieties of GMO corn, 7 GMO soybeans, 3 oilseed rapes (canola), and one sugarbeet.[vii] It is a good precedent that in Europe, unlike in America, foods containing GMOs at any point in their production must be labeled, even if the GMO cannot be detected in the end product.[viii]  In Australia only unprocessed foods with a GMO as the main component need be labeled. (http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/gmfood/labelling/Pages/default.aspx)

The only way to avoid eating genetically modified foods is to stop buying conventional processed foods unless they are labeled as GMO free. In the United States, over 80% of processed foods contain some form of GMO, including: rice, corn, wheat, soybeans, soy products, vegetable oil, soft drinks, dairy products, eggs, meat, chicken, pork, infant formula, and additives used across the board, such as in ice cream, margarine, tomato sauce, peanut butter, etc. Even the fruits and vegetables in your typical grocery store are not safe.[ix] For instance, a new type of apple was recently engineered so that it would not turn brown when it is bruised – you cannot even buy apples without them being genetically engineered.[x] The only safe option is to buy organic produce.

The behavior created as a result of eating genetically altered foods is not the kind of behavior you want to encourage in your kids. Nor are these the kind of side effects you want them to experience. GMOs are not better for your kids because scientists have messed with them – they’re worse. Any substance that can cause antisocial behavior, nervousness, anxiety, and increased stress is a type of poison. So stop feeding your children processed foods containing GMOs. GMOs are poison.

[i] See Part 2, Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA 2007.

[ii] Society of Toxicology. The safety of genetically modified foods produced through biotechnology. Toxicol. Sci. 2003; 71:2-8.

[iii] Spiroux de Vendômois J, Cellier D, et al. Debate on GMOs Health Risks after Statistical Findings in Regulatory Tests. Int J Biol Sci 2010; 6(6):590-598. doi:10.7150/ijbs.6.590.

[iv] Séralini GE, Mesnage R, Clair E. et al. Genetically modified crops consumption at large scale: possible negative health impacts due to holes in assessment. Environ Sci Pollut Res.

[v] Spiroux de Vendômois J, Cellier D, et al. Debate on GMOs Health Risks after Statistical Findings in Regulatory Tests. Int J Biol Sci 2010; 6(6):590-598. doi:10.7150/ijbs.6.590.

[vi] Davison, J. (February 2010). “GM plants: Science, politics and EC regulations”. Plant Science 178 (2): 94–98.doi:10.1016/j.plantsci.2009.12.005

[vii] Staff EU register of genetically modified food and feed European Commission, Health and Consumers, EU register of authorised GMOs, available at http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm, Retrieved 32 February 2015

[viii] GMO Compass, New Labelling Laws: What Has Changed? Available at http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/regulation/labelling/93.new_labelling_laws_gm_products_eu.html; See also European Commission: Food, GM Food & Feed – Labelling, available at http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/gmfood/labelling_en.htm.

[ix] Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA 2007.

[x] Pollack, A. “Gene-Altered Apples Get U.S. Approval” New York Times. Feb 13, 2015, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/business/gmo-apples-are-approved-for-growing-in-us.html; Tennille, Tracy (Feb 13, 2015). “First Genetically Modified Apple Approved for Sale in U.S.”. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved Feb 2015, available at http://www.wsj.com/articles/first-genetically-modified-apple-approved-for-sale-in-u-s-1423863994

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