Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

My brother has diabetes.  He developed it when he was just 7 years old, so it dominated his childhood and my teenage years.  It had major impacts on our family.  For families with a diabetic child, it can cause major changes in the family diet.  Here are some ways to eat healthy with diabetes:

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes (which used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes) is when the pancreas simply stops producing insulin.  There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes and diabetics with this form of the disease have to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives (or until a cure is found).  Diet and insulin injections are the best way to manage Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes because it is strongly associated with obesity and used to occur predominantly in older adults.  Not so today.  With so many children today overweight and so many children consuming high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates that spike blood sugars, Type 2 diabetes is now increasingly common among children and can no longer be called “adult onset diabetes.”  With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t regulate it well.  Type 2 diabetes is not as stark as Type 1 diabetes.  Indeed, it is more of a continuum.  Some people have Type 2 diabetes so mildly that it can be managed entirely by dietary modifications.  People who have a more severe form can take medication and people who have a very severe form need insulin injections like Type 1 diabetics do.

No matter how severe the diabetes or what Type, diet is a crucial part of any management program.  Of course you should consult you’re doctor before embarking on a particular dietary program, as I am not a doctor, nor have I even played one on TV (although I was once on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which is fitting because I am actually a lawyer haha!).  My advice regarding diet for diabetics is meant to be practical and helpful, not the be all and end all of diabetes dietary requirements!!

Impact of diet on diabetes

Diet can have an enormous impact on diabetes.  Insulin is a hormone our bodies produce that regulates blood sugar levels.  Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can cause serious illness, coma, and even death, so managing diabetes effectively is really important.  Unfortunately, much of the food kids eat today is processed and full of sugar (it is hidden in all sorts of things you wouldn’t expect).  Kids also eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour, and white potatoes – I like to say, “White flour, white potatoes, and white rice: If it’s white, it isn’t nice!”  Carbohydrates are converted into sugars by the body so it can use them as fuel, but refined carbohydrates are converted into sugars very quickly and simply, so they flood the system.  Think about it: eat one serving of white bread and compare how long you feel full to when you eat one serving of whole grain steel cut oatmeal.

In fact, in cases of Type 2 diabetes diet can even reverse diabetes entirely, just as diet can reverse obesity.  This has been tested in animals and also shown in scientific peer-reviewed studies to work in humans (especially effective if exercise is included).  This works because a healthy diet reduces obesity and heart disease risk factors – even in children.

Diets for Diabetic Kids

The Internet is full of different diets to help reduce or reverse diabetes.  As an adult, you can afford to buy into the starvation diet, but even if it is endorsed by a reputable university’s biomedical department, a starvation diet can be dangerous for children, whose bodies are still developing.  Do not starve your children!

However, the concept still works for kids.  Other studies (see above) show that reducing calorie intake can slow, stop, or even reverse diabetes development.  This is because reducing caloric intake has a twofold benefit for diabetics.  Firstly, if done in a healthy and balanced way, it normalizes blood sugar, avoiding blood sugar spikes and making blood sugar regulation easier on the body.  Secondly, it reduces weight and reducing obesity reduces the incidence of diabetes.

Another demonstrated dietary fact is that diabetics should reduce fat intake.  In more than one of the studies I cited above, fat and especially fatty liver played a stark role in the development and reversal of diabetes.  This is why the healthy vegan diet kids in the recent heart disease study was so effective in reducing heart disease risk factors in children: It was very low fat.

That said, there are three commonly endorsed diets for diabetics, all of which can be healthfully used by children:

The Plate Method

The Plate Method Diet for DiabeticsThe Plate Method is the diet for diabetics that is currently recommended.  It calls for 50% of the plate to be covered with non-starchy vegetables, 25% with starchy vegetables, and 25% with protein, as well as a serving of fruit and a serving of milk on the side for each lunch and dinner meal.  Of course, the efficacy of any diet like this relies on making good food choices. Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli should be cooked in a healthy way, like steaming, roasting, or stir fry, not doused in sauces and oils.  Not all starchy foods are created equal.  Whole grains like brown or wild rice and quinoa are preferable to refined grains like white rice or white bread.  Starchy vegetables like zucchini, peas, and parsnips are more nutritious than white potatoes (and also have more flavor, reducing the need for additives like butter and oil).  Non-fat protein choices like tofu or seitan will always be better than an animal product even if it is low in fat, due to the way in which the body metabolizes animal fats, and also due to the benefit of fat reduction in diabetic diets.  For children, consider serving the fruit during snack times rather than during meal times, thus eliminating the need for kids to have yet more calories in their diets during the day.  For the milk, I recommend making your own brown rice milk or buying oat or almond milk.  If done properly, this kind of diet is incredibly healthy.

A sample lunch would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Sandwich of whole grain bread, lots of hummus (for protein), and roasted spring vegetables or salad vegetables
  • Side of raw non-starchy vegetables (such as cucumbers, mushrooms, and capsicum) with some more hummus to dip them in.
  • 1/2 cup strawberries for morning snack
  • 1 small banana for afternoon snack

A sample dinner would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Stir fry of non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach with tofu over brown and wild rice mix

Diabetic Exchange Diets

There was a time when this method was very popular, but compared to the Plate Method, it seems like a bit of a pain to me.  Foods are divided into six categories: starch, meat (there are no vegan meat substitutes), non-starchy vegetables, fruit, milk, and fats.  Together with a dietician each individual will be given a number of servings to have from each category each day.  This method is easier in a way because it is easier to measure out servings, but it also basically forces adherents to eat a lot of animal protein.  This eliminates the potential benefits of following diets now shown to be effective for weight loss.

Carbohydrate Counting

This method counts each major carbohydrate source as one serving (15 g) of carbohydrate.  The list of carbohydrate sources includes starches, fruits, milk, and sweets.  Of course this does not necessarily lend itself to be the most healthy diet, although it does allow a lot more leniency for kids who won’t take well to being told they cannot have dessert.  That’s because if, say, a cookie counts as one carbohydrate, kids can choose to fill up their carbohydrate quota with unhealthy sources of carbs.  This type of diet requires a lot of parent monitoring because its permissiveness creates a sort of temptation for kids.  It also does not limit sources of other things affecting kids’ diet and weight.  For instance, fat and meat intake are not measured, so a child could eat lots of steak and then carbohydrate count for dessert, which would not be a healthy diet at all.  Of course, a parent who is conscious of their child’s choices and is committed to making good food choices and to dedicating extra time to their child’s diet can make it work.  But carbohydrate counting is definitely the most time consuming of the three methods.

Tips and Advice

  • Feed the whole family the same meals as the diabetic child is eating.  Diabetic children should be eating very healthfully, which will be good for the whole family.  Also, if a child is overweight, it is likely that other family members are also not at their ideal weights and can benefit from a healthy weight loss diet.
  • Don’t starve your kids, but do do portion control.  Don’t allow kids to eat as much as they want.  Overeating is often a contributor to obesity, which can lead to the onset of diabetes.
  • Reduce the amount of packaged and processed foods in your child’s diet.  Even so-called diabetic foods are not necessarily healthy.  Feeding your diabetic child sweets made with artificial sweeteners can cause other health problems.
  • Read nutrition labels.  You may be surprised to see how many carbohydrates are in your favorite foods and snacks.  Be aware that the serving size on a package may not match the serving size of one serving if you are doing an exchange diet.
  • Reduce the amount of fat – fat consumption increases risk of heart disease and diabetics are much more at risk of developing heart disease.
  • Spread meals out during the day.  For instance, breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner.  This will help keep your child from feeling too hungry and will also help the body metabolize sugars and nutrients more evenly.
  • Get your child active!  Diet can go a long way to reducing obesity and diabetes management, but exercise and burning up of some of that energy is also really important.  This is a good time to get your child involved in an activity that gets them moving, whether that is an organized team sport or just neighborhood games.  My gym even offers classes for kids!  You can also make exercise a family activity – going for walks, family bike rides, or hikes in local nature areas are great ways to bond as a family while increasing the health of everyone in the family!

I hope these tips make it easier to find a healthy diet for your diabetic or pre-diabetic child!  Together, we can manage diabetes and maybe even reverse it!

For More Information:

American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org

National Diabetes Education Program: http://ndep.nih.gov

Healthy 100% Whole Wheat Hamantaschen Cookies (Parve!)

Healthy 100% Whole Wheat Hamantaschen Cookies (Parve!)

Boys excited for healthy, yummy hamantaschen

Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrating, as usual, the Jewish mantra: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”  In this case an ancient king of Persia was ruling over much of the Jewish population during the first exile.  His top advisor, Haman, was vainglorious and when Mordechai, the Jewish spiritual leader of the time, refused to bow to him, he was so incensed he convinced the king to permit a decree that all Jews be killed on a certain day.  To choose the day, Haman drew lots (purim in Hebrew).  Unbeknownst to both Haman and the king, Queen Esther was actually Jewish.  She interceded with the king and exposed Haman’s evil plot.  The king hung Haman and his ten sons and issued a decree allowing Jews to defend themselves against his previous decree.  Once again Jews survived in the face of overwhelming anti-Semitism!

Mixing together ingredients

Step 3

 

Today, Jews celebrate this holiday with a variety of customs, one of which is to make “hamantaschen,” triangular shaped cookies.  Some say these represent the three cornered hat Haman wore.  Other people say that they are “ha-mun taschen,” translated from Yiddish as “the poppyseed pockets” in reference to the most traditional filling.  Regardless of what the history of hamantaschen are, they are delicious.  And who doesn’t love a holiday where the tradition is to eat lots and lots of cookies?!

Mixing together hamantaschen wet ingredients

Step 3

 

Of course, having a holiday centered around sweets does present a problem for parents who want to inspire healthy kids.  Just preventing kids from having cookies and sweets would be difficult to say the least, as well as potentially backfiring when they are exposed to such foods away from you.  Also, for Jewish people who want to raise their children with a sense of tradition and love of the beauty of the religion, it would be counterproductive to prevent kids from partaking of one of the most delicious traditions.

Sifting together dry ingredients for healthy hamantaschen

Step 4

 

My solution is to come up with a cookie that is healthy and tasty, but without processed white flour or processed sugars. Even a Google search for “healthy hamantaschen recipe” turns up the usual unhealthy suspects: Eatingwell.com‘s recipe calls for sugar, white flour, canola oil, and butter, while Food.com‘s “low fat” hamantaschen recipe still calls for a half a cup of butter (as well as sugar and white flour).  So I decided to come up with my own healthy hamantaschen recipe – one that is not only parve but can also be converted to be vegan if you substitute egg replacer.

Mixing together hamantaschen dough

Step 5

 

Now your kids can enjoy cookies just like all their friends and still be eating something healthy and good for them!

Healthy whole wheat hamantaschen

100% Whole Wheat Hamantaschen

Please note that the recipe below is for a very large number of cookies – approximately four dozen.  You may want to cut amounts in half to make a more reasonable number… or just freeze the extra for a treat throughout the year!

Ingredients

4 eggs
1/2 cup organic coconut oil (melted)
1 cup agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4&1/2 cups whole white wheat flour (I used regular whole red wheat flour and I would definitely recommend using white wheat instead for these cookies!)
2&1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda (bicarb soda)
1/2 tsp salt
(a few teaspoons of water may be necessary)

Instructions

  1. Gather all ingredients, including filling for your cookies.  This dough dries out especially quickly because it is whole wheat.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C/160 C fan forced and line cookie trays with baking/wax paper.
  3. Whisk together eggs, coconut oil, agave nectar, and vanilla extract.  If you choose to add wet seasonings like zest (see variations below) add those now too.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients well: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (And spices if you are using – see variations below.)
  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon, until you get a crumbly dough.
  6. Knead the dough until you get a smooth dough, adding teaspoons of water if the dough is too crumbly to come together smoothly, or tablespoons of flour if dough is too tacky to be easily worked.  Be careful to knead dough until it is just smooth, as overworking the pastry can make it tough.
  7. Separate the dough into 4-6 balls.
  8. Select one ball and roll it out flat on a floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin until it is 1/4-1/8 inch thick.  Be prepared to work hard here – whole wheat flour is harder to roll out than white flour.
  9. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter or the rim of a 3-inch glass to cut out as many circles as possible.  (Do not use a smaller size or you will not have room for filling!) At this stage I skip to step 11 – I fill and bake as I go to avoid the dough drying out. If you choose to cut all circles first, cover unused circles with a damp cloth or dish/tea towel to avoid drying out while you roll out the rest.
  10. Gather the scraps, add to the next ball of dough and repeat process until all dough is used up.
  11. Place one teaspoon of filling (I recommend healthy plum butter filling) in the center of each circle.
  12. Fold one side over the edge of the cookie, slightly covering the filling and pinch on one end.  Fold the next side, overlapping on the pinched corner and pinching down to seal.  Each of the three sides should have one end over another side and the other end under another side.  This over-under-over-under-over-under strategy will keep your hamantaschen from coming open while baking.  If your dough is too dry, add a tiny drop of water or beaten egg to help it stick (I do this by dipping my finger in, shaking off drops, and then spreading a very thin layer on the offending area).
  13. Place finished hamantaschen on your prepared lined baking sheet/tray. My oven is small so I fit 12 on each tray, but a bigger tray can hold about 20.  They do not need to be widely spaced because they do not expand much.
  14. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and lightly golden.
  15. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before transferring them to a Ziplock bag or plastic container for room-temperature storage.  Cookies can also be frozen.

Variations

  • For slightly sweeter cookies, add an extra 1/3 cup agave nectar.  I like mine to be less sweet so I have a slightly reduced amount of sweetener.
  • For a different flavor to your cookies, substitute other flavors for the vanilla extract.  Almond extract is a good one and the thought of using a rum extract is extremely tempting to me.
  • For another way to get a different flavor into these cookies, add in zest or spices.  A couple of teaspoons of lemon or orange zest would be lovely.  Or mix in some spices, such as cinnamon or chai spice.
  • To make it easier for yourself, substitute self-raising whole wheat flour for the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in this recipe.
  • For a more elastic dough that is easier to roll out, consider mixing in a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten during step 4 above.
Hamantaschen dough rolled out and cut into circles

Step 9

 

Hamantaschen with filling

Step 11

 

Step 13

Step 13

I hope you and your healthy, inspired kids enjoy this delicious recipe! Please let me know how they turn out… and have a happy holiday!

Boys eating healthy whole wheat hamantaschen

Hershey’s Follows Nestle in Eliminating Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hershey’s Follows Nestle in Eliminating Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hersheys Chocolate Syrup

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

In its press release, Hershey’s declares:

Hershey is focusing on three key principles:

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

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

Simple Ingredients? 

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

Sharing What’s Inside?

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

Thoughtful and Responsible Sourcing of Ingredients?

Hershey's Chocolate Syrup Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arnott's Tim Tams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem: Bread

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

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

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

Solution: Bake or Bakery

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

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

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

Problem: Spreads

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

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

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

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

Solution: Healthy Spreads

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

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

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

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

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

Problem: Sugary Cereals

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

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

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

Fruity Pebbles Nutrition Facts

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

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

 

Solution: Healthy Breakfast Alternatives

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem: Soft Drinks & Juices

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

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

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

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

Solution: Water, Iced Tea, & Fresh Juice

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

Problem: Snacks

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

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

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

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

Solution: Homemade Snacks, Fresh Fruit, & Healthy Crackers

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

*USDA Economic Research Service

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

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

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

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

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

Is Sugar Making Your Kids Stupid?

Is Sugar Making Your Kids Stupid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart Disease in Children

Heart Disease in Children

Things like heart disease and high cholesterol are appearing in younger and younger people. These are no longer diseases of the elderly, or even of the middle-aged. They are becoming the diseases of our children. One friend of ours was diagnosed with unusually high cholesterol when she was only in her 20s. She changed her diet completely and her cholesterol levels dropped dramatically.

The sad thing is, diseases like atherosclerosis (build of up plaque in the arteries) don’t begin in adulthood when they are diagnosed.  They take years to build up, which means that the food you feed your children today ultimately impact them many years down the line.  Atherosclerosis ultimately leads to debilitating events like blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke.  Our friend who was suffering in her 20s did not develop her condition overnight.  It built up during her childhood and teenage years.

To make matters worse, more children than ever are suffering from conditions like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  All of these factors place children at higher risk of developing heart disease at a young age.  If your child is suffering from one of these risk factors, be sure to have their cholesterol and blood pressure screened.

As plaque builds up, your child’s likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke in adulthood increases.  But his/her likelihood of having a tragic event even during childhood increases, too.  Sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease are four things that could happen even in childhood if your child develops heart disease.*

Traditional teaching suggest that reducing or cutting fats and cholesterol out of one’s diet is sufficient to combat these impacts.  But cutting out fatty foods and foods high in cholesterol is not enough. Sugar is also a cause for concern. Studies now show that the more added sugar consumed, the higher a person’s blood levels of unhealthy fats and the lower her blood levels of “good” cholesterol. It can also lead to higher levels of unhealthy cholesterol.**

Ultimately, any extremely high-energy calorie-dense food is suspect.  Both fats and sugars are addictive, and both are common in calorie-dense foods.  Some people claim that to combat obesity, we need to eat less.  But in reality, we need to eat less of certain items.  By all means, eat as much salad as you want!  But eat less high-calorie salad dressing.  Kids today are eating more snacks high in fats and sugars, like sweet muffins, white breads, and candy, as well as drinking a lot more high calorie beverages like sodas, energy drinks, and juices.

Parents can also counteract these behaviors by encouraging their children to get more exercise.  When I was growing up, we spent all our playtime outside running around our neighborhood, riding bikes, swimming, and playing tennis.  But too many kids today spend their days in school sitting at a desk, then come home to sit while doing homework or play video games.  Even if you suspect your child will still be eating high energy foods out of the house, counteract the possible negative effects by getting your kids up and moving.  Restrict how much TV they can watch or how much time can be spent playing games.  Encourage them to join a sports team where they can play with other kids to make it more fun.  Try to expose them to many different options so they can find something they actually like doing.  Most public schools include a variety of after-school sports programs to choose from, so it doesn’t have to be expensive.

In summary, unfortunately, it is true that more and more children are developing heart disease.  Tragic events like heart attack and stroke are uncommon in childhood but the arterial buildup that leads to them begins in childhood.  Sadly, sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease can and do occur in childhood.  Fortunately, this condition is reversible, especially in children.  The solution is to feed your children less calorie-dense foods, which means reducing both sugars and fats in their diets.  Try also to boost the amount of physical activity they get.

*McGill HC Jr1, McMahan CA, Herderick EE, Malcom GT, Tracy RE, Strong JP, Origin of atherosclerosis in childhood and adolescence. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Nov;72(5 Suppl):1307S-1315S.

 

** Welsh JA, Sharma A, et al. Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults. JAMA. 2010; 303:1490-7.

Nutrition Facts Labels Should Include a Line for Added Sugar

Nutrition Facts Labels Should Include a Line for Added Sugar

Ostensibly, governments mandate labeling requirements for consumer benefit.  They are there to help us make healthy food choices, to have awareness of what we are eating and feeding our kids, and to avoid foods to which we are allergic or might otherwise might make us ill.

However, food labels can also be incredibly misleading.  Just look at this list of some of the different names for sugar that can be on labels.  Look at this list of ingredients in Nabisco Wheat Thins, which include several types of sugar so that they don’t have to list sugar as high up in the ingredients list, and also so people won’t notice as much because it’s not all called “sugar.”  These are things companies do to intentionally mislead consumers into thinking their product is healthier or less sugary than it really is.

When we look at ingredients labels, we notice there is a separate line for sugar.  But there is nothing to indicate whether that sugar is naturally occurring or added.  Take this label from Smooze Fruit Ice Simply Coconut flavor, for instance:

Smooze Fruit Ice Simply Coconut Nutrition Label Australia

 

One might think that because Smooze is advertised as a healthy alternative to ice cream, that it would indeed be healthy.  It is mostly fruit juice, so of course one would expect there to be some sugar.  This flavor is 16.3% sugar, though, while pure coconut milk contains less than 3% sugar.  Most people would probably be surprised to find out just how low in sugar pure coconut milk really is.  They probably wouldn’t think twice about the amount of sugar in this “healthy” treat, let alone looking at the label and realizing that not only is cane sugar an ingredient, but maltodextrin and fructose are also sweeteners!  This treat is 80% coconut milk, 16% added sugar, and 4% other things.

Of course, this happens to be a dessert, so the fact that it turns out to be high in sugar probably isn’t too surprising.  But what about something we think is healthy?

In Australia, Weet-Bix is the ultimate breakfast cereal.  It’s basically pressed whole wheat flakes and it is truly quite healthy, especially compared to what else is out there on the market!  Let’s take a look at its nutrition label:

Weet-Bix nutrition facts label

(I cut this off after sugars because that’s what I’m really interested in looking at right now.)  Per 100 grams there are 3.3 grams of sugar.  That’s really not much, as it is only 3.3% sugar.  Most people would assume this sugar is all naturally occurring.  They would be wrong! There is added sugar in Weet-Bix, which accounts for 2.9 of those 3.3 grams per 100.  Whole wheat processed in this way naturally contains only 0.4% sugars.  The rest is added.

okay, so Weet-Bix may not be universally recognized.  Let me pick another victim, one that’s popular in the US, Australia, and around the world: Rice Krispies.  (In Australia they are marketed as Rice Bubbles, but are the identical product.)  Rice Krispies should be considered a really healthy cereal, right?  They are just bland crisped rice.  Not quite…

Side by side comparison of the nutritional labels and facts for plain puffed rice on the right with Kellogg's Rice Krispies on the left

Let’s compare these two charts side-by-side.  On the left is the nutrition facts for one ounce of plain puffed rice.  On the right is the nutrition facts for one ounce of Rice Krispies.  Look at the line for sugars.  Plain puffed rice actually contains no sugar.  All the sugar in Rice Krispies is added sugar.  Indeed, like Weet-Bix, the second ingredient of Rice Krispies is sugar.  This is not a phenomenal amount of sugar but it does prove the point that added sugar is hiding in almost everything we eat, even the “healthy” things!

What we need is a separate line on our nutrition facts panel showing added sugars.  That would make it really easy for us as parents to look at the foods we are buying for our kids and to determine if they meet our standards or not.  I don’t mind foods high in naturally occurring sugars, such as foods containing lots of fruit, but I do mind giving my kids refined and processed sugars.  I am trying really hard to keep my kids from becoming addicted to sugar.  Sadly, many kids today are unwittingly hooked on sweet stuff simply because their parents did not know they were feeding their kids foods with added sweeteners.

If we all advocate for this change, it will do a world of good.  Not only will it enable us to make healthier food choices, but with their sugary not-so-sweetness out there in the open, companies will be much more likely to cut back on the amount of sweeteners added to their foods.  Just adding this one line to the nutrition labels could be a great step toward inspiring healthy kids!

Please, write to your representatives in government to insist that this line be added to the nutrition facts label!

The (Healthy) Icing on the Cake

The (Healthy) Icing on the Cake

Icing in a bowl

Tomorrow is Australia Day, so in preparation for the celebrations I’ve decided to share a recipe for Lamingtons, an Australia Day tradition.  Lamingtons are basically a sponge cake, cut in squares, then covered in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut.  So before I share the lamingtons recipe with you, I want to share with you a recipe for a healthy, raw vegan, gluten free chocolate icing.

What is the difference between icing and frosting? Well, icing is thinner and frosting is thicker! At least that’s my definition!  This recipe is quite thin and so it is good for dipping, pouring, or spreading in a very thin layer.  It is really versatile, too.

Make sure the bananas you’re using are super ripe, as that is a big source of sweetness in the recipe, plus you want them to blend up nice and smooth.

Chocolate icing in blender

Healthy Raw Vegan Gluten Free Sugar Free Chocolate Banana Icing

This icing is amazing.  We just couldn’t stop licking our fingers, and of course the kids loved it!  It is primarily a chocolate icing but the flavors of banana and coconut do come through a bit.  To reduce those flavors, you can try increasing the amount of cacao powder and agave syrup you add, but as I’m happier with some subtle natural flavor coming through I haven’t tried this, so you’ll have to experiment and leave a note sharing how it worked for you!

Ingredients

3 small extremely ripe organic bananas
1/3 c. organic dates
2 tbsp raw organic coconut oil
3 tbsp raw organic agave nectar (honey also works fine)
3 tbsp organic cacao powder
1 & 1/2 tbsp raw organic almond milk

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to blender and blend on high for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Pour into a bowl or container and spread on cakes, cookies, bread, or anything else you can think of!

Variations

  • For a less sweet variety, omit the agave syrup/honey.
  • For those allergic to nuts, substitute oat or coconut milk for the almond milk.
  • To remove the chocolate, substitute 2 tbsp superfine coconut flour for the cacao powder.
  • To change the flavor, remove the chocolate as per the above step, then add in a few drops of the essence of the flavor you want to add, such as vanilla, almond, or hazelnut.  Make sure it is the kind of flavor that is compatible with the flavors of coconut and banana, as these flavors will come through a bit.