Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

If getting your kids to eat healthy food or choose healthy food options is a regular struggle, maybe you’re going about it the wrong way.  Most kids will be happy to learn to eat healthy foods using the techniques I have previously suggested (here, here, here, and here), but some kids really make it a struggle.  What if there was a way to get them used to eating healthier foods without fighting? If only there was some way to trick them into eating healthier.

The idea of tricking kids into eating healthy food may seem disingenuous, but it doesn’t have to be. The idea of tricking kids into eating veggies often means hiding veggies in cake, lying about the contents of a dish, or giving kids green juice in an opaque bottle.  I’m not opposed to disguising the color of an item or hiding vegetables in a food kids already enjoy, but outright lying is only going to damage your child’s trust.  If we want kids to value what we have to say and to really take on board the lessons we are trying to teach them, we have to maintain a high level of trust.

But we can still trick them into eating healthier.

There is a lot of research out there about how different psychological factors impact how much and what we choose to eat.  If we have concerns about obesity, we can start by reducing the amount of food our kids eat, and we can do it all without their even knowing.  We can do it by using psychological tricks.

In a Restaurant

Americans eat 43% of their food away from home, so it is good to have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to eating out.

Where are you eating out?  Most restaurants offer a range of healthy and unhealthy foods, so just picking a “healthier” restaurant may not be enough.  Consider the atmosphere and mood of the restaurant.  Sound and lighting can actually influence what we eat.  A restaurant with dim lighting and loud music will encourage you to eat more calories.  Also consider that certain types of music will enhance your dining experience.  Higher pitched music makes sweet food taste better while deeper notes improve the taste of bitter flavors, so if you’re trying to stick to an enjoyable savory meal and avoid the dessert, find a restaurant that tends to play deep orchestral music, rather than one with a piano in the corner.

Choose the right seat.  In a conventional restaurant, select a spot near a window, which increases the likelihood of ordering salad by 80%.  Avoid dark corner booths where nobody can see you – instead choose a spot near the front door – they increase your chances of ordering dessert by 73%.  And if you can, choose a high-top bar-style table.  These tables make you sit up straighter and reduce the risk of you ordering fried food.

When it comes time to order, resist the urge to order healthy food for your kids, or to pressure them to order that healthy salad.  People who are pushed to eat healthy food make up for it later by “treating” themselves, and you don’t want your kid dipping into the cookie jar as soon as he/she gets home.  (I think a lot of people do this with the gym, too, which is why exercise alone is not enough to lose weight.)  Instead, trick your kids into ordering a healthier option by asking them what someone else they admire – say, Batman or Dora the Explorer – would choose to eat.  Having to order for someone else encourages kids to think more deeply – and often they will change their order.

Going to a buffet?  Sit as far away from the buffet as you can – it encourages you to eat less.  Make sure your kids are facing away from the buffet, as well – they won’t be as likely to keep returning for more if they aren’t staring at it.  As above, encourage them to use small plates, rather than large ones.  Walk them through the buffet and look at each option before taking any food.  (Letting them take before looking encourages them to just grab the first things they see and end up eating those things in addition to what they really want.  Buffet-goers who look first only take those foods they really want to eat.)  Finally, if it’s an Asian buffet, teach your kids to eat with chopsticks.  Many Asian restaurants even have some special chopsticks for kids, to help them learn.  People who eat with chopsticks rather than forks tend to eat less, probably because chopsticks force you to eat more slowly, and allow the signal of fullness from your stomach to reach your brain before you’ve eaten too much.

At School

School lunches have improved in recent years… and also haven’t.  Consider packing a healthy lunch for your kids.  People at work who bring bag lunches eat less food than people who eat out, so why not apply this principle to your kids?  You also have more control over how healthy the food is that you are sending your kids.  Healthy lunch ideas like falafel plates, shish kabobs (and more shish kabobs), and roasted vegetables are filling and nutritious.  Homemade snacks like pizza crackers, fruity muffins, and even healthy cookies or mini cakes will be more nutritious than the snacks your kids are likely to eat from the school vending machines – even if they meet new health standards for “smart snacks”.

If you are going to send your child to school with snacks, consider some ways to get your child to snack less.  Try transferring snacks to clear bags.  If you are sending a snack that would normally fit in a sandwich size bag, send it instead in two or three small snack sized bags.  Studies show that snackers who have one big bag are likely to eat the whole thing, whereas snackers with the same amount of food in multiple small bags often only finish one of them.  And if you are concerned that your child might waste the healthy fruit you are sending, try cutting it up – one study found that 48% fewer apples were wasted when they were cut up, as opposed to served whole – and that there was a 73% increase in kids eating more than half of their apples.

Conclusion

These tips will help you trick your kids into eating healthier even if they are eating a lot of their meals away from home.  When kids are not eating at home, where are they most likely to be eating?  Primarily at school and a restaurants (whether with or without parents).  If you use these tricks, you can help get your kids to eat less and to eat healthier.

But that’s not all, folks!  Stay tuned for a new post soon, on how to trick your kids… at home!

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Organic: Worth It or Waste of Money?

Organic: Worth It or Waste of Money?

The debate over organic food has been hashed over so many times, but I feel compelled to weigh in.  Choosing to buy organic food has so many positive impacts on kids’ health that it makes it a really apropos topic when it comes to inspiring healthy kids.  Organic foods are both tastier and more nutritious, so try to buy organic when you can.  If you can’t buy all your fruits and vegetables organic, focus your purchasing on a few items that are more likely to be sprayed and that include the most important vitamins and minerals, such as dark leafy greens.

Plants can only pass on whatever nutrients are in the soil. If there are too many plants growing in one place, or the soil is depleted from overuse, there simply are not that many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to pass on in the fruits and vegetables they are growing. Instead of replacing or enhancing depleted soil with compost, they are dumping on fertilizers. In addition to the toxins and health hazards discussed above, fertilizers just don’t add nutrients back into the soil. Conventional fruits and vegetables often have significantly lower vitamin and mineral loads than do organic fruits and veggies.

A new analysis appears to refuel the debate about the nutritional value of organic versus conventional foods, by finding that organic crops and crop-based foods contain up to 69% more of certain antioxidants, are four times less likely to contain pesticide residue, and have significantly lower levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium. (quote source)

This is not the only study of its kind.  Other studies have also shown statistically significant nutritional differences in organic versus conventional foods.  Conferences, like the Quality Low Input Food conference, have tried to untangle the web of conflicting studies.  The above-referenced study, published last year in The British Journal of Nutrition, was a compilation of over 300 studies that found statistically significant differences between organic and conventional produce.  One such study, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that

Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops. There were nonsignificant trends showing less protein but of a better quality and a higher content of nutritionally significant minerals with lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops compared to conventional ones.

You don’t have to be a scientist to be able to tell the difference between organic and conventional fruits and vegetables.  You can even taste the difference between them!.  We can always tell if something is organically grown just by the flavor – without anyone having to tell us. Sometimes we will be eating at a friend’s house and will ask if something tastes especially powerful whether it is organic – our friends are always impressed.  Try it and you’ll notice it, too.

The biggest benefit of big flavor in your fruits and vegetables is, of course, that your children will enjoy it. There is never any reason to put sugar on blueberries or strawberries, which should naturally be bursting with flavor and sweetness. Bananas, grapes, and watermelon should taste as sweet as candy – especially if you train your taste buds to appreciate it by avoiding processed sugars.

The biggest arguments I often hear about organic foods (and my husband used to own an organic food business, so we fielded a lot of questions) are that they cost more and that they are not as “fresh,” so let me address those two issues as well.

First, organic food costs more because it is higher quality. It is usually farmed by smaller, independent or family-owned farms, which don’t get the government subsidies big conglomerates do. Also, because they are smaller, they don’t have the ability to purchase things in such bulk and don’t have the clout to negotiate discounts with suppliers. They also use more expensive compost to replenish their soils and regularly let land lie fallow so it can naturally recuperate, which means they are not earning any money on certain fields at all times. Also, they don’t spray their plants with poisonous chemical pesticides and toxins, so sometimes they lose crops to animals or bugs. They then have to adjust their prices to account for those losses.

At any rate, anything that’s really good for you is worth a spending a bit more money. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and feeding your children organic food will help prevent many diseases. Not only will it prevent them from getting diseases associated with pesticides and fertilizers, but by feeding them a nutrient rich diet, you will be boosting their immune systems so they will be able to fight off any other illnesses that come their way. Don’t think of it as spending money on food, but think of it instead as saving money on doctors’ visits. Besides, if you buy what is fresh and in season from an organic farmer’s market, you may find yourself spending the same amount or only slightly more than you would at a more expensive local grocery store for conventional, out-of-season produce! (As an example, I recently bought 10 kg of organic, locally-farmed grapes at a farmer’s market for just $10, while conventionally grown and heavily sprayed grapes at the local supermarket were $2 per kilo.)

Additionally, food is cheaper now than it ever has been in history. Throughout most of history, humanity has struggled to find food just to survive. In some parts of the world, this is still true. But for the majority of Americans today, it is possible to buy groceries for a family for the whole week after just one day of work. For some, it is possible after just one or two hours! The average American spends less than 13% of their income on food. That means that we are spending less than one fifth of our money on food, when in the past we would have been spending the vast majority of our earnings on food. When you compare your child’s vitality and health to your own need for a plasma TV or a new iPhone, don’t you think your priorities should be clear? If you have to, forego the newest fancy gadget or the nicer car, and spend that extra money on giving your kids what is best for them.

Furthermore, many people spend money in the store without really thinking about it.  Often, shoppers buy what they want, regardless of the price.  Sometimes shoppers will choose an expensive version on sale even when it is still more expensive than the cheaper brand.  If you begin to pay close attention to the amount you are spending while shopping and ask yourself how much you spend on individual items, you may find ways to cut costs.  For example, I buy my brown rice when it is on sale 50% off.  I might buy 20kg of rice at a time, but I never pay full price!  You can then use those savings to buy healthier food items.

Next, organic produce is almost always fresher than what you find grown conventionally. However, it is not pumped full of pesticides and preservatives to keep it appearing perfect for extended periods of time. Conventional apples are coated with wax and then may sit in cold storage for months before they hit the shelves in your grocery store. Organic produce never works that way. It is only what is fresh, and usually it is only what is local. If it doesn’t seem to last as long in your fridge that is because it is fresh! Fresher food also contains more vitamins and minerals, so by buying organic weekly (or even daily), you are giving your kids more of the “good stuff.”

Remember, however, that when we speak about “organics,” we are speaking about fresh produce. Organic meat and dairy will also be free of hormones and antibiotics and will contain more nutrition – but they will still contain the unhealthy animals fats and cholesterol that your kids don’t need. If you have to continue eating meat and dairy, by all means, go organic… but if you can do without, then that is much healthier.

Furthermore, just because a product is labeled “organic” does not automatically make it healthy. Organic snacks can still contain added sugar (and just because it is “organic” added sugar does not negate the harm that added sugar does!) and organic products can also contain lots of added sodium. It’s up to you to read the labels and decide from there.

5 More Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

5 More Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

Fresh vegetable platter with kebabs

There are lots of creative ways to get kids to eat healthy.  Some of those ways to get kids to eat a healthy diet apply to all ages of kids, while some techniques work best with older kids and teenagers or with young children and toddlers.  The techniques explored have included talking to kids about how diet affects health, exposing kids to new foods, getting them involved in gardening, cooking, and shopping, and offering healthy foods repeatedly.  Now here are four more techniques you can try to get your kids to eat a healthy diet.

Set a Routine

Kids inherently prefer routine.  While they may seem to want lots of freedom and spontaneity, kids actually need some structure in their lives.  This can take lots of forms, but the most common one is to set some sort of schedule.  Kids sleep better if they go to bed and wake up at around the same time, and eating is no different.  Kids are more likely to eat healthy if they eat meals at designated times of the day.  Otherwise, they have a tendency to snack or to eat what is most conveniently at hand.  Eating on a schedule trains them, both physically and mentally, to expect nourishing food at predictable times.

Let Them Get Hungry

Kids are more likely to eat healthy food if they are hungry when it is put in front of them.  As the saying goes, “Hunger is the best seasoning!”  Kids do not need a snack every time they get hungry.  Set firm mealtimes (e.g., breakfast at 7 AM, snack 10 AM, lunch 12 PM, snack 3 PM, dinner 6 PM) and stick to them.  If your child comes to you complaining they are hungry and dinner is going to be soon, there is no harm in telling them they have to wait.  They will not starve in the space of a few minutes or even an hour.  Giving them a snack to quiet them will only serve to spoil their appetite for a healthy meal later.

Let it Be Their Decision

Prepare healthy meals at home, but let your kids serve themselves.  At first, you may feel dismayed when they take the least healthy of the options.  Perhaps they will load up on mashed potatoes but leave the peas and corn behind.  Or maybe they will eat only the soup and not take any salad.  Don’t force them to take these foods.  Yes, they may be the healthiest options and of course you really want your kids to eat them, but you also have to ask yourself what is the most effective way to get them to eat these foods in the long term?  It is more important to establish a lifelong healthy habit than to win the Phyrric victory of forcing them to eat healthy in the short term but making them resentful for life.  Keep serving healthy foods every day and let your kids see you eating these foods yourself.  Eventually they will decide to try them and will make them a part of their own meals, on their own.  When kids decide of their own volition to eat healthy, this sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Another option is to place a variety of healthy foods separately on the table and letting your kids choose which ones they want.  For instance, a platter of cut vegetables from which they can choose which ones they want to eat.  Or perhaps a salad bar, where they can add as much of each salad component as they want.  Then you do not need to force them to take healthy food, as all the options are nutritious, but kids still get the sense that they are in charge and able to make their own decisions.  Encourage them by telling them how proud and impressed you are with their choices.  This will increase feelings of positive association and self empowerment when it comes to good food choices, making it more likely they will choose healthy foods again in the future.

Don’t Just Tell Them: Show Them!

Make kids’ understanding of healthy food more visual.  It’s good to talk to kids about the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, but find ways to make your message more visual.  Kids often understand and remember a visual message better than a spoken one.  Explain to kids how many teaspoons of sugar are in one bottle of soda, then have them put that number of teaspoons into an empty soda bottle so they can see just how much sugar is in each sweet beverage.  You can do this with healthy nutrients, too.  For instance, see if you can get a bunch of empty boxes for cheeseburgers from a local fast food restaurant like McDonald’s, then compare how many cheeseburgers you’d need to eat to get the same amount of vitamin C as in one cup of strawberries (150g) (the answer is approximately 75), or the same amount of vitamin A as in one cup of carrots (the answer is approximately 68).  It may seem extreme, but a visual comparison of this nature can be massively compelling.  They will not soon forget which type of food gives them the best nutrition.

Educate kids about other aspects of food as well by showing them.  Demonstrate portion sizes, for instance, in comparison to what is normally served at restaurants.  Next time you go out and order a meal, ask the server for some extra plates and divide the meal into healthy serving sizes.  For instance, a 9-ounce steak is actually three servings!  You can also show kids how small a serving of healthy veggies is.  For instance, cut a carrot into 1 cup’s worth of sticks (100-120 grams) and place it in the center of a big plate.  Kids will be surprised to see that one serving of veggies is not that much – it is more like a snack!  Then the idea of eating several servings of vegetables per day will not seem so daunting or unappetizing.

Let Them Be the Food Critic

I love watching cooking shows.  It’s really the only kind of television you’ll catch me occasionally watching.  I love food, nutrition, tastes, and flavors.  Let kids emulate the judges on these shows by being little food critics.  Give them a selection of foods and let them try them.  This is a good option for some snack time fun.  Prepare a few different kinds of healthy foods and have your child answer questions about the foods and describe them just like on cooking shows.  For instance, do a raw vegetable taste test and give kids red capsicum/bell pepper, green capsicum/bell pepper, cucumber, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli.  Have them describe which are hard and which are soft, which are most juicy, which are the most crunchy, and which ones are sweet or savory.  This makes trying healthy foods fun and frees them up to safely form and express their opinions.  It also gives you more ideas what kind of healthy snacks they might enjoy in the future.

Conclusion

It is a challenge to get kids to eat healthy food, but there are new ideas and techniques being thought up every day.  Try a variety of techniques until you find some that work for you.  Get them involved and make it fun.  Make healthy food synonymous with good feelings and good experiences, instead of letting mealtime become a daily battleground.  Let’s inspire healthy kids!

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Maldon sea salt flakes

Too much salt is dangerous for kids’ health.  Kids today eat far more salt than is healthy for them.  Yesterday we looked at some ways to avoid eating too much salt and to reduce the amount of salt in your kids’ diets.  Today we will look at a few more really important strategies to keep your kids from eating too much salt.

Read Nutritional Labels

Learn how to read nutritional labels and teach your kids, too.  Look for the line that says “sodium” and choose the lowest sodium option.  Look for foods with no added salt or low sodium labels.  Try to select foods with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food.  You will be surprised at how quickly the amount of sodium in what you eat adds up over the course of a day!  The Heart Foundation recommends that 4-8 year olds consume only 300-600mg of sodium per day.  Once you start reading nutrition labels, you will be surprised how quickly your child hits that upper limit!

Sea Salt Kettle Chips

Make Avoiding Salt a Game

Make avoiding high sodium foods a fun game for kids.  It is a great tool for teaching math skills, too.  Have kids help you plan meals with less salt, and get them to help you when you are grocery shopping.  Have them add up the amount of salt in each ingredient for each meal of the day.  Then talk about the amount of salt they will be eating each day and how to lower it.  Make a competition to see which child can come up with the lowest sodium meal plan for a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, with the prize being that those will be the meals served that week.

The amount of salt in potato chips is unsurprisingly very high

Avoid High Sodium Processed & Restaurant Foods

Did you know that 43% of the salt kids eat comes from just 10 types of food?  That’s right!  Pizza, bread/rolls, cold cuts/cured meats, savory snacks, sandwiches, cheese, chicken patties/nuggets, mixed pasta dishes, mixed Mexican dishes, and soups account for 43% of the sodium kids consume.  Some of these foods most of us recognize as salty food items: salty ham cold cuts, pizza, cheese, and potato chips are all foods we recognize as super salty.  Some foods, we might not think of as high in salt until we really give it some thought, like pasta dishes, Mexican food, and soup.

But at least one of these items comes as a surprise to most people: bread.  Bread is often very high in both sugar and salt.  Bread is very easy to make at home.  If you are wary of making your own bread, investing in a bread machine will really pay off in the long run.  A loaf of bread that costs several dollars in the store costs just cents at home, and you can control what goes into it – no preservatives, low salt, low sugar, and whole wheat flour, plus the option to add seeds or dried fruit!

Cooking Salt

Some processed foods contain salt when they do not even need to.  One of the most common culprits is peanut butter.  Peanut butter marketed to kids in brightly colored containers is often full of salt, sugar, and oil.  None of these things is necessary to make peanut butter taste good!  Get a high quality organic pure peanut or almond butter.  Some stores now even offer to let you make the peanut butter yourself on the spot using a special machine.  If so, let your child participate, perhaps choosing which nut butter they want (if multiple options are available) and letting them pull the lever or press the start/stop button.

Another processed food high in sodium is the sandwich meat we often give our kids for lunch.  Cold cuts and preserved meats are generally very high in salt content.  If you do want your child eating a meat sandwich, make some extra meat with dinner and use that instead.  For instance, make a sandwich with sliced turkey or chicken breast that has been cooked in a healthy way, rather than using salty sliced deli meats.

Be aware of other processed foods that often contain a lot of salt as a preservative.  Canned food is often high in salt and/or sugar.  Consider replacing canned vegetables with frozen vegetables, which should not have any additives.  Avoid other canned convenience foods like soups or beans, which use salt to preserve them, and if you do buy canned vegetables or bean, rinse them off with fresh water before cooking or serving.  Food in jars often faces the same problem, as salt and sugar are used to preserve foods at room temperature.

Top 10 Sources of Salt in Kids' Diets

Also avoid eating high sodium foods in restaurants and fast food joints.  If you request it, these establishments should be able to give you the nutritional information for their products before you order.  Then choose one of the lower sodium options.  You can also ask that no salt be added to your food during cooking.  And definitely do not add extra salt to your dish even if there is a salt shaker on the table!  If you think this may be a temptation for your child, ask the waiter to remove it.

Conclusion

Simply by switching to lower sodium options and not adding salt to home cooking, you can dramatically reduce your child’s salt intake.  Making this switch does not have to be that difficult.  Just cook as you always have, but take the salt shaker off the table and stop adding salt to your food.  At first the foods may seem a bit bland, but as your taste buds adapt you will really enjoy the flavors of the foods themselves.  It only takes a few weeks for your taste buds to adapt!  For processed foods, check labels to choose lower sodium options, or scan them with a smartphone app like FoodSwitch that list healthier alternatives.

Reminders for how to reduce salt intake from the CDC

 

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

Australian Lake Salt

Over the last couple of days I have been looking at the dangers to kids’ health when they eat too much salt.  Recommendations for how much salt to consume are actually listing the maximum amount of salt one can safely eat daily, not how much one should eat.  And although they can’t seem to agree on the ideal amount of salt kids should consume, scientists and experts all agree that the maximum amount is way too high.  So, how can we reduce the amount of salt in our kids’ diet?

Great SALT ernatives USDA infographic

Take Salt Off the Table

The first step to reducing salt intake is to reduce the amount of salt kids are eating at home.  Many families place salt and pepper on the dinner table and each family member can season their food accordingly.  Studies show that kids who add salt at the table have higher systolic blood pressure than those who don’t.*  Remove salt from the table and kids won’t add it at the table.  This reduces their risk of having high blood pressure.  One in every six children has high blood pressure!  This increases their risk of suffering heart attack or stroke later in life threefold.  Taking salt off the table is a crucial first step to reducing this risk.

Taking salt off the table also teaches children not to add salt to prepared foods even when they are in a situation where it is available.  Kids who make it a habit to add salt to food might even develop the habit of adding it without tasting the food previously.  Restaurant foods and prepared foods, with their high amounts of sodium, then get extra salt on top of them, making them even less healthy.  Kids who add salt to their food at the table also begin to slide down the slippery slope of adding more and more as they become accustomed to the flavor and their taste buds are corrupted.  However, kids who do not see a saltshaker on the table at home do not become accustomed to adding salt to their food, nor do they get used to the flavor of salt and need it on everything.

Maldon sea salt flakes

Eat Fresh Foods

Replace processed snack foods with healthy, fresh alternatives.  Raw fruits and vegetables are great snacks for kids: portable, and delicious.  Instead of sending potato chips as a midmorning snack, send an apple or banana.  Make up a fresh fruit salad or blend fruits together to make a smoothie.  Using raw fresh fruits is a great way to get your child eating healthier and will also avoid excess salt.  Replace salty snacks with unsalted raw or toasted nuts (although this may not work for school, it will work at home!)  You may also consider dehydrated or freeze dried fruits and vegetables, as well.  Dehydrated fruit like raisins or apricots are commonly available.  Freeze dried vegetables like peas or green beans are becoming more widely available, as are freeze dried fruits like strawberry, banana, and mango.  Kids will enjoy freeze dried vegetables and fruits as a snack alternative because they are so crunchy and fun to eat.  They give the same feeling of eating a crunchy potato chip, but without the oil and salt!

Fresh fruit platter

Cook More at Home

Prepared foods are much higher in sodium than foods prepared at home.  Processed, packaged foods use salt both for flavor and as a preservative.  Restaurants apply salt liberally to enhance the flavor of their foods.  Foods cooked at home tend to be much lower in sodium because home chefs add less salt than the commercial versions.  For instance, last night I made a vegan bolognese sauce to put over pasta.  I did not add any salt to it at all and it tasted great!  In processed jars of pasta sauce one serving of sauce might have 300 mg of sodium all the way up to 1,000 mg!  1,000 mg of sodium in one cup of pasta with sauce is a crazy amount – it would mean a home chef adding nearly 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 cup of pasta with sauce.  I hope no home cooks do that!

Food cooked at home not only has more salt, but it tends to be healthier overall.  Kids who eat home-cooked meals eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as less salt, sugar, and fat.  Home-cooked family meals also promote togetherness and good relationships.  So cooking at home can really pay off!

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!

Don’t Add Salt to Cooking

Most people add salt to food as they are cooking almost without thinking about it.  But salt is not necessary for food to taste good.  When you cook at home, you have the power to control flavors.  Most foods can use substitutes for salt.  Scrambled eggs, for instance, often include salt.  But perhaps instead of adding salt, you can add different flavors.  Season eggs with lemon and parsley, cumin, coriander, or ground pepper.  Seasoning common foods with fresh herbs and ground spices gives those foods a new, exotic, exciting flavor, and makes them seem more fancy.  Kids and adults alike will not miss the salt in a well-seasoned dish.

Absolutely do not add salt to food for your baby or infant!  Babies’ immature kidneys cannot handle the additional sodium.  Always be careful to feed babies homemade food or food specially formulated for infants.  Even if the ingredients list looks the same as it does for adult foods, adult food salt contents are higher.  Excess salt intake in babies can even be fatal.

If your dish needs some salt, add the tiniest amount possible.  A small pinch will usually suffice.  Use the healthiest kind of salt out there, so it will include other trace minerals rather than just the sodium and chloride that is in table salt.  I use pink Himalayan salt or natural sea salt if I need to season my cooking, and if I do decide to sprinkle my own dish with a bit of salt, I use Maldon sea salt flakes.  Choose the highest quality salt you can, preferably a kind with additional nutrients and minerals.  It might cost more, but you’ll be using it sparingly enough it should last for a long, long time.

pink himalayan salt

More great tips to come tomorrow! – Read on for How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

*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.

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: