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

[iv] Gallup’s Consumption Habits poll, July 2012, available at

[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!

It’s Time to Say No to Pink Slime

It’s Time to Say No to Pink Slime

Do you know what is in the meat you’re feeding your kids?  Do you feed your kids burgers, hot dogs, sausages, or other processed meats?  Did you know that even if your patties are “100% beef” there can still be nasty additives in it that do not have to be revealed on the label?  Do you want to know what those additives are?  No? Well, for the sake of your kids’ health, knowledge really is power.  Knowledge is important to save your kids from unhealthy chemicals and their effects.  If we want to inspire healthy kids, we have to face the facts about what we are feeding them head-on.

In early 2012, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) agreed to buy 7 million pounds of beef (that’s 3,500 tons) that contained “pink slime,” with the intention of serving it to your children in their cafeteria lunches. What is this “pink slime?” Quite simply put, it is garbage. It is the parts of animals that cannot be used for anything else; things like connective tissues or cartilage. Because these meat byproducts have such a high risk of carrying pathogens (like e. coli) that would be dangerous if consumed, they must be treated with ammonium hydroxide.[i] The US government is feeding your children meat byproducts doused in chemicals for their school lunch. Just thinking about it makes me want to vomit. No wonder our children are becoming so sick.

And it’s not just showing up in your children’s lunch meat – it’s showing up everywhere. “Pink slime” is technically called “lean beef trimmings” (“LBT”), which is literally what it is – everything but the beef itself. When companies “trim” off everything surrounding the beef to make it “lean,” LBT is what is left over. That means it’s full of delicious things like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Companies are loathe to waste anything that might somehow be turned into profit, so they douse the LBT with ammonia hydroxide and turn it into “pink slime.” Then they use this garbage as filler for meat they’ll sell you – and which you will then feed to your family.

And while eating meat byproducts treated with ammonia hydroxide will give you an unhealthy dose of chemicals, it will not protect you from diseases, as the industry claims it will. LBT is treated to reduce the incidence of pathogens such as e. coli, but in testing done from 2005 to 2009, the slime tested positive for salmonella at four times the rate traditional ground beef did.[ii] Ammonia hydroxide can also cause all sorts of health problems, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, or low blood pressure, although it has not been tested to see if it causes cancer or infertility.  Companies are putting this in the meat they are selling without even evaluating it to see if it is safe to eat – and they are encouraging you to eat it regularly, and to feed it to your kids!  Pink slime is poison – and it’s in the ground beef and burgers you’re feeding your children.[iii]

Good luck trying to avoid this pink slime. An executive from Beef Products International (“BPI”) said that in 2008 it was in 70% of burgers.[iv] After the media reported on it in 2012, some major fast food corporations and public schools refused to serve the stuff. In spite of the backlash, two years later, at the end of 2014, demand was back up and sales of LBT are increasing.[v] There is really no way you would be able to tell if the beef you’re buying has been “beefed up” with the stuff – just as with genetically modified organisms, there are no labeling regulations, so it does not have to be declared on packaging[vi]– and it’s indistinguishable from normal ground beef.[vii] Pink slime makes up as much as 10% of commercially available ground beef and there is no way you would know.[viii]  In fact, studies show that ground beef made up of 75% LBT shows no color change at all when cooked, so there is no easy way to test how much LBT is in the meat you’re buying.[ix]

To make matters worse, adding more LBT to food often necessitates adding other things to maintain consistency of flavor and texture. And the other things being added are only making this meat unhealthier than it already is. For instance, to keep hot dogs the right consistency when they are made of 50% LBT, the amount of salt has to increase from 1.5% to 2.5%.[x]   Maybe that is scary enough to make you give up hot dogs forever!

Now that you know what is being added to burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and other processed meats, I hope you will think twice about feeding them to your children.  Next time you look at ground beef or hot dogs in the supermarket, or think about buying something for your kids at that sausage sizzle, remember the pink slime they contain, and all the ammonia hydroxide that comes with it!

[i] “Pink Slime. What’s in Your Meat?” Healthy Food In Schools, March 13, 2012, available at


[iii] In 2012, several major fast food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell, have pledged to stop using meat bulked up with pink slime (Michelle Castillo, “Report: USDA School Lunch Meat Contains “Pink Slime.”” CBS News, March 8, 2012), but don’t be fooled – they have not committed to a specific time frame for its removal. And even without pink slime in their burgers, they still won’t be healthy!


[v] Josh Sanburn, “The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back.” Time, August 26, 2014, available at

[vi] See, for example, U.S. Patent No. 5725897 A (issued Mar. 10, 1998).

[vii] Michelle Castillo, “Report: USDA School Lunch Meat Contains “Pink Slime.”” CBS News, March 8, 2012.

[viii] Josh Sanburn, “The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back.” Time, August 26, 2014, available at

[ix] VAN LAACK, R. L.J.M., BERRY, B.W. and SOLOMON, M.B. (1997), COOKED COLOR OF PATTIES PROCESSED FROM VARIOUS COMBINATIONS OF NORMAL OR HIGH pH BEEF AND LEAN FINELY TEXTURED BEEF. Journal of Muscle Foods, 8: 287–299. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-4573.1997.tb00633.x

[x] HE, Y. and SEBRANEK, J. G. (1996), Frankfurters with Lean Finely Textured Tissue as Affected by Ingredients. Journal of Food Science, 61: 1275–1280. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2621.1996.tb10978.x

Happy Australia Day: Healthy Dairy Free Lamingtons!

Happy Australia Day: Healthy Dairy Free Lamingtons!

Akiva examining his lamingtons with glee

Happy Australia Day!  I love ‘Straya and I enjoy celebrating Australia Day, even if I’m not Australian (yet!).  This year I celebrated by spending the day with one of my best friends and our kids at Picnic Point, a famous, heritage-listed lookout right on the Great Dividing Range.

My boys and I celebrating Australia Day

We had a fantastic time! There were free temporary tattoos, free train rides, and free watermelon slices, all of which we gleefully indulged in.  However, they also had one thing we couldn’t partake of: Lamingtons.  Lamingtons are an Australian tradition, especially in Toowoomba, Queensland, where I celebrated Australia Day.  In fact, the very first lamingtons were served to Lord Lamington here in Toowoomba when he came to escape the steamy Brisbane summer heat!  And if they’re a Toowoomba first and an Australian tradition, you can bet they are a central feature of any Australia Day celebration here!

Oil, honey, and flour mixture for lamington cake batter

Oil, honey, and flour mixture for lamington cake batter

What are lamingtons? Lamingtons are basically a type of sweet sponge cake cut into squares, coated with a chocolate icing or syrup, and coated with desiccated coconut.

Whip your eggs until they are nice and frothy before folding into your batter

Whip your eggs until they are nice and frothy before folding into your batter

Of course there is basically nothing about a lamington that is healthy,  From the sugary sponge cake to sweet icing to sugar-coated coconut, it’s a sugar addict‘s dream come true.  It’s also made with white flour and butter, which only serve to make this traditional dessert even more of an addict’s dream come true – and a totally unhealthy nightmare for a health-conscious mum like me.

Making healthy chocolate icing in the blender

Making healthy chocolate icing in the blender

Is it possible, I wondered, to make lamingtons that are still sweet and traditional, but are also healthy?  A Google search didn’t help me at all.  Lamingtons are, it appears, just one of those foods that simply cannot be healthy, ever.

Making an assembly line makes it much easier to put lamingtons together

Making an assembly line makes it much easier to put lamingtons together

So, I wondered, can I make up my own lamington recipe that is healthy? Yes, yes I can.

The finished product: You know you want some. You know your kids want some. Guilt free mini-cakes? YES PLEASE!

The finished product: You know you want some. You know your kids want some. Guilt free mini-cakes? YES PLEASE!

Healthy, Dairy-Free Lamingtons


2/3 c. organic extra-virgin cold pressed coconut oil
3 tbsp agave nectar or honey
3 large organic free range eggs
1/2 c. self-raising baking flour (*see note in variations if unavailable)
1/2 c. self-raising whole wheat flour (*see note in variations if unavailable)
1/2 tsp. pure organic vanilla essence
1/2 recipe Healthy Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Raw Vegan Chocolate Icing
Approx. 2 c. desiccated coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 170 C (160 C if fan forced), 325 F, or gas mark 3.
  2. Melt coconut oil and mix thoroughly with agave nectar or honey.
  3. Mix in vanilla and flour.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until fluffy and airy.
  5. Carefully fold eggs into the flour, oil, and honey mixture, taking care to integrate as many of the air bubbles as possible.
  6. Pour batter into a nonstick or lined 27 cm rectangular pan.
  7. Bake approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Cover and cool overnight in the refrigerator.
  9. Slice the cake into bite-sized squares.
  10. Dip the cake cubes into the icing, then roll in coconut.
  11. Place finished cakes on a plate and then chill until serving.


  • If self-raising flour is not available, use instead 1/2 c. baking flour, 1/2 c. whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, and a few grains of salt.
  • Add 1/4 c. desiccated coconut to the cake batter to give more coconut flavor and texture, and to make it more traditional.
  • Chill, then whip to stiff peaks (do not over-whip!) coconut cream.  Slice lamingtons in half and fill with coconut cream.
  • Mix it up a bit by flavoring your batter with essences, such as almond, hazelnut, or even rum. (Okay, maybe that last one won’t be so appealing to kids… but you can always make two batches! 😉 )


Levi loving his lamingtons!

Akiva enjoying his healthy lamingtons

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!


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


  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!


  • 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.

How much Calcium do my Kids need and how can they get it?

How much Calcium do my Kids need and how can they get it?

This week I listed 10 great sources of calcium.  But how do you know if your child is getting enough calcium?  Well, the amount they need depends on their age.  These are the recommendations according to the National Institute of Health:

Younger than 6 months 200 mg/day
6 to 12 months 260 mg/day
1 to 3 years 700 mg/day
4 to 8 years 1,000 mg/day
9 to 13 years 1,300 mg/day
14 to 18 years 1,300 mg/day

But if your child is lactose intolerant, you are vegan, or you’ve realized that milk is not actually a reliably good source of calcium, how can you ensure they’re getting enough calcium?  It’s easier than you think!

First, bear in mind that these recommendations are on the very highest end of the spectrum of recommended calcium intakes.  Indeed, adults should consume about 1,000 mg per day but if you consume over 1,4000 mg per day you increase your likelihood of developing kidney stones.  Also take note that these recommendations are for a population that is consuming a lot of animal protein.  The less animal protein you consume, the less calcium you need to consume because you lose less calcium in your urine.  There is evidence that shows that vegans have lower bone density but less osteoporosis.  Interestingly, vegans tend to consume only about half the amount of the recommended calcium intakes but they still develop less osteoporosis than their meat-eating counterparts.  This is, perhaps, because people who consume a lot of animal products lose more than half of their calcium due to excess acid animal protein being excreted as waste paired with calcium as a base.

Next, take a look at my top ten list of vegan sources of calcium, part 1 and part 2.

Now, here are those sources (plus a few others I mentioned in passing), with serving size and milligrams of calcium, in easy chart form:

Type of Food Serving Size Amount of Calcium
Bok Choy ½ cup 79 mg
Kale ½ cup 61 mg
Chinese Spinach ½ cup 347 mg
Collard Greens 1 cup 350 mg
Almonds ½ cup 206 mg
Almond Butter 2 tbsp 85 mg
Sesame Seeds ½ cup 89 mg
Tahini 2 tbsp 130 mg
Soybeans 1 cup 175 mg
Tofu ½ cup 434 mg
Tempeh 1 cup 215 mg
Broccoli 1 cup 95 mg
Amaranth 1 cup 307 mg
Figs (fresh) ½ cup 120 mg
Dates ½ cup 35 mg
Oranges 1 orange 50-60 mg
Blackberries 1 cup 40 mg
Black Currants 1 cup 62 mg
Dried Apricots ½ cup 35 mg
Figs (dried) 2/3 cup 162 mg

At first glance, that looks like it could be really hard to accomplish, but if you make high calcium foods part of your regular diet, it won’t be a problem and it won’t be as hard as you think.  For toddlers under age 4, it’s very easy if you make Chinese spinach part of your regular diet.  One cup covers the dietary requirement for calcium, and it cooks down to just a few bites.  That’s far less than having to drink cups and cups of milk, which you can’t exactly cook down to just a few mouthfuls!

Adding ingredients like tofu and tempeh in place of nutritionally devoid animal meats will give a huge boost to your kids’ calcium intake.  My kids will easily eat a half a cup of diced tofu, especially if it’s an ingredient in food they already enjoy, like a tray of roasted vegetables seasoned with seasoned salt and nutritional yeast or covered with a sauce, in a soup such as miso or Island Kale and Sweet Potato soup, or blended into a healthy pudding or pie.  You can also fry it for a crispy snack – using a strong oil like coconut or sesame will add a nice flavor to it.

You can also replace some ingredients you currently use with new, more nutritious ones.  Instead of making salad with the typical iceberg lettuce, make salads with bok choy or kale.  Use tahina to make salad dressings or as a spread on vegetable sandwiches.  Replace peanut butter with almond butter.  Mix a bit of amaranth into your baking.  Instead of giving unhealthy snacks, give your kids snacks like almonds (roast them lightly in your oven and dust with spices like curry powder or smoked paprika for unique flavors) or dried figs, dates, or apricots.

Remember that you don’t have to match the dietary guidelines exactly every single day.  If your child has a lot of calcium one day and very little the next, the body is designed to balance it out.  The important thing is to aim for these targets to be the average amount of calcium consumed by your kids every day.

Island Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Island Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Island Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

Kale! Oh, how I love kale.  I love it raw. I love it cooked. I love it in a smoothie.  I even love it in a juice.  To me, kale is simply magical.  But to a kid, kale is not always magical.  Thankfully, I have always found creative ways to cook it to make it palatable, so my kids have always eaten it.

Sautéing onions first

The thing about kale is that the leaves are really tough.  This makes it hard to chew when it’s raw, even if it’s been languishing in olive oil for a while.  Kids don’t really want to chew something for a long time just because you tell them it’s healthy, especially if it doesn’t taste like something kids particularly like, such as chocolate or bubble gum.  So the first rule for feeding kids kale (and getting them to love it) is to cook it.

Raw kale, sweet potatoes, and peppers added to the soup

If you’re going to cook it, you basically have two really good options for kids: boil it (to make it soft) or roast it into kale chips (to make it crunchy).  Because it can withstand being boiled really well, kale is perfect for soups.  My favorite kale soup has long been Food & Wine’s Island Kale and Coconut Soup.  This was the first thing I ever cooked for my husband, back before we even knew we were dating.  It’s vegan. It’s gluten free. And it tastes amazing.

When the kale and sweet potatoes are soft, stir in the coconut milk and heat through, then it is ready to serve!

When the kale and sweet potatoes are soft, stir in the coconut milk and heat through, then it is ready to serve!

I’ve been making this soup as a regular family favorite since the beginning of 2010, before we were even a family, and there’s been an evolution of sorts.  So my version is heavily inspired by, but not identical to, Food & Wine’s version.  I’ve added and subtracted to make it significantly healthier and possibly even tastier.  I’ve also omitted elements, like spicy peppers, that put kids off, so this is a more kid-friendly version.  I’ve also changed it to make it not only vegetarian, but vegan as well.  The best part? Not only is it healthy, but it’s also an entire meal served in one bowl!

How to clean kale

Kale leaves soaking in a salt water soak

Kale leaves soaking in a salt water soak

The first step when you’re working with kale – for any recipe – is to properly clean it.  Kale, whether dinosaur kale or curly kale (or whatever other name for kale you come across), has leaves that are dimpled or curly or otherwise adept at hiding bugs.  I always try to buy organic when I am buying leafy green vegetables because they are so heavily sprayed.  But whether sprayed or not, you are almost guaranteed to find at least a few bugs in your bunch of kale.  I’m really strict about not eating bugs, but if you don’t mind a little extra protein and crunch, that’s up to you.  For everyone else who, like me, doesn’t fancy eating bugs, make sure to wash your kale well!  My husband thinks the most effective way to do this is to first wash each leaf under running water.  You just want to rub your hands back and forth on each side (placing it between your hands accomplishes this well).  This helps dislodge any bugs that might be hiding there.  My favorite way to clean any kind of greens is to do a salt water or vinegar water soak.  I use a salt water soak, which means placing the greens in cold water, mixing salt in until it dissolves, and letting the leaves sit for a few minutes.  The cold shocks bugs, the water drowns them, and the salt makes leaves a bit slippery so the bugs come right off.  Then before I remove the leaves, I rub my hands along both sides of each leaf to help knock off any little bugs that might still be hanging on.  Then I empty my bucket of water and refill it to rinse the leaves, removing both salt and any remaining dirt or bugs.

Island Kale & Sweet Potato Soup


1.5 cups brown rice

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch organic kale, washed well, stems removed, and shredded
2 banana peppers, seeds removed, sliced or diced
3 medium organic sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs or 3/4 kg), peeled and cut in 3/4 in dice
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup organic coconut milk


  1. Add 1.5 cups brown rice and 3 cups water to rice cooker and press button to cook. Alternatively, follow package instructions to cook on the stovetop while you prepare the soup.
  2. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat to melt it.
  3. Add the onion and banana peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Stir in the sweet potatoes and broth, and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes.
  7. Add the kale and stir through, then simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add the coconut milk and just heat through.
  9. Place a generous scoop of rice in a mound in the center of each bowl and ladle soup on top.
  10. Watch your kids enjoy eating kale!


  • If banana peppers are not available try using yellow or red capsicum/bell pepper instead.  It won’t have quite the same flavor, but it gives some extra vitamins and minerals.
  • If you’d like yours more “salty” don’t add salt, use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, All Purpose Seasoning to get a great salty flavor that complements the flavor of the soup and some extra nutrition at the same time.
  • For extra protein, try adding some black beans (rinsed well) or cubed tofu.

Akiva enjoying his kale and sweet potato soup

10 Great Vegan Sources of Calcium (Part 2)

10 Great Vegan Sources of Calcium (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted the first half of my list of 10 amazing natural, healthy, vegan sources of calcium.  These are sources free of animal fats and proteins and boasting high absorption levels or high levels of calcium, or both. That means that no matter where you fall on the carnivore-to-vegan spectrum, these are things your kids can eat.  Allergic to nuts? Try seeds. Allergic to seeds? Try greens.  There should be some good sources of calcium in here for everyone to enjoy, no matter what your dietary restrictions or your preferences! Here are 5 more delicious sources of calcium and some ideas on how you can get your kids to enjoy them, too.

Seeds can be a good source of calcium, especially sesame seeds.  I add sesame seeds to any dish I can find a good excuse to, from stir fries and salads to the top of my homemade bread.  But the best thing about sesame seeds is that they can be made into tahini.  Save yourself a headache and buy tahini paste, which is just ground up sesame seeds. My favorite use for tahini is simply to mix it up the Israeli way: add some lemon juice, a pinch of salt, garlic, and water.  I make a sauce for the Asian bowls mentioned above by mixing it with garlic and miso.  (My kids love sauce. They will eat just about anything provided it has sauce on it.  They don’t care what kind of sauce, as long as it is sauce.)  It also adds a beautiful creamy element to salad dressings.  In the words of my friend Nat, “You can work tahini into just about anything!” His wife Mandy also made an amazing fudge, deliciously chocolatey and so melt-in-your-mouth that my mouth is watering and my stomach is grumbling just to think of it! And guess what? Her fudge contained tahini!  Sesame seeds really can make their way into anything.  In fact, sesame seeds are a popular dessert ingredient in the Middle East.  If there’s one high-calcium source you can count on getting into your kids, it has got to be tahini.

Beans can also pull their weight as good sources of calcium.  Soybeans are a fantastic source of calcium and come in so many forms that there is seemingly endless variety.  Steam or boil fresh or frozen soybeans, sprinkle on a pinch of coarse salt, and then pop them from the pods using your teeth, which makes them a fun food to eat.  (Make a contest to see who ends up with the most empty pods in their bowl at the end of the meal.)  Use them as a side dish instead of peas or lima beans.  Tofu and tempeh are two popular foods made from soybeans that are great alternative ways of eating this calcium-rich food.  Tofu can go in soups, stir fries, or just be baked and eaten on its own.  The texture and mouthfeel of tofu can vary dramatically, from silky soft tofu great for making puddings and faux cheesecakes to hard tofu that, when crumbled, can easily pass for ground meat.  And the texture changes yet again depending on how it is cooked.  The same exact tofu will feel and taste very different depending on how it’s cooked: soft when boiled, chewy when baked, or crispy when fried.  Tempeh has a very different texture to tofu, but also varies according to the many ways it can be cooked.  I love it in stir fries, but I have fried it on its own in sticks as a snack, or even baked it.  Tempeh and tofu are both a bit on the bland side when it comes to flavor.  If you like bland things, this makes them awesome.  If you don’t like bland things, they’re still awesome, because they have an amazing ability to absorb the flavors of marinades and sauces.

A classic good source of calcium is broccoli.  I find that most kids I know (including myself when I was a kid and my kids today) love broccoli.  My youngest brother-in-law would not touch vegetables for years (now he’s practically vegetarian, so there’s always hope for you to steer your kids to a healthier diet!), but he made one exception: he would eat as much broccoli as you could give him.  As a kid, I remember loving broccoli because I called them “little trees” and today when I hear a child calling them that it brings back great food memories.  As a child I loved them steamed with a bit of butter or olive oil and salt on top.  Today my favorite (and my kids’ favorite) is to roast them with just a touch of olive oil, seasoned salt, and lots and lots of nutritional yeast.  (Everyone knows cheese and broccoli are a match made in heaven, but cheese isn’t exactly the healthiest ingredient around. Nutritional yeast gives a great cheesy flavor, but with none of the unhealthy animal fats and proteins, plus a superfood boost of B vitamins.  We love it.)

Grains are generally not a great source of calcium, but guess what – there is one grain that’s really high in calcium: amaranth.  This amazing grain is really a superfood, with 15% fiber, 14% protein, and a high level of lysine, an animo acid found in few foods, not to mention the high level of calcium! Unlike acidic animal proteins, vegetable protein won’t leach calcium from your bones, so the calcium you consume in amaranth will be beneficial, as will the protein. You can serve it as a grain side dish, using it to replace grains like rice, quinoa, or couscous.  Treat it as you would those grains, boiling it at a ratio of 1 cup amaranth to 3 cups of water and then proceed with your recipe.  You can also mix it with other grains, such as rice, when making a dish like pilaf.  You can also mix it into soups and stews like you would grains like barley, and amaranth flour can be used as a healthy thickening agent in soups.  Doing this will encourage your kids to eat it without them even being aware they’re eating something “strange” and new.  Finally, try serving it to your kids for breakfast instead of oatmeal!  Just simmer the grain in fresh-squeezed fruit juice and add spices or fruit.  My recommendation is to simmer it in fresh-squeezed apple juice with some cinnamon and raisins mixed in. Yummmmmm! You can also substitute amaranth flour in your baking.  Just substitute 20-30% of the flour called for in the recipe with amaranth flour and your kids will never know they’re getting calcium and protein in their desserts!

Finally, get your kids to eat fruits high in calcium!  Figs are a great source of calcium.  Fresh figs are so tasty they almost melt in your mouth.  Caramelize them by roasting them for a hot dessert treat.  You can also add chopped up dried figs to all sorts of dishes, like oatmeal, cookies, or just as they are for snacking.  To our kids, dried figs rank very highly on their list of foods they’d like to have as a special treat (heck, we can even bribe them to behave or do a chore by promising a few dried figs for good behavior… little do they know we’re really giving them their daily calcium by doing so!).  Other fruits also contain calcium, but not as much.  Oranges, blackberries, black currants, dried apricots, and dates all also contain some calcium, although nowhere near as much as figs.  So let your kids enjoy some sweet treats and get the calcium they need!

Those are my top ten great healthy vegan sources of calcium.  Of course you can boost your calcium intake by giving your kids a multivitamin or feeding them vitamin fortified foods.  However, the calcium uptake rate from these sources is highly debated.  It certainly will not hurt your child to take a daily multivitamin, but to ensure they’re getting what they need, feed them a good balance of natural vegetable, fruit, and grain sources of calcium.

Here’s to strong bones and a healthy foundation for a lifetime of success!