5 Ways to Reduce Intake of Food Additives

By Jessica Brown, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When buying packaged products, it’s important to limit our consumption of common food additives. Direct food additives are natural or synthetic substances added to foods during processing to help enhance flavor, texture, appearance or nutrition, or to extend shelf-life.

Well-known additives include high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener; sodium nitrates, a preservative; and monosodium glutamate or MSG, a flavor enhancer. However, there are nearly 4,000 direct food additives registered on the Food and Drug Administration database.

Food additives to look out for include:

Humectants and Anticaking Agents

  • What they do: Stabilize foods through moisture control to maintain texture, reduce microbial activity, and prevent clumping.
  • Commonly added to: grated cheese, marshmallows, baked goods, baking powder, flour and cake mixes.
  • Examples include: Sugar and salt are commonly used humectants. However, most anticaking agents are made from synthetic substances such as silicon dioxide and aluminosilicates.

Emulsifiers

  • What they do: Prevent separation, provide a smooth texture, and extend shelf-life.
  • Commonly added to: mayonnaise, salad dressings, peanut butter, chocolate, and ice-cream.
  • Examples include: Egg lecithin, monoglycerides and diglycerides (naturally present in seed oils), guar gum, and carrageenan. Synthetic forms include carboxymethyl cellulose and polysorbate 80.

Stabilizers, Thickeners, and Gelling Agents

  • What they do: Provide a consistent texture and mouth-feel.
  • Commonly added to: jams, yogurts, soups, sauces and dressings.
  • Examples include: Cornstarch, pectin, and lecithin. Although synthetic versions exist such as carboxymethyl cellulose and methyl cellulose.

Color Additives

  • What they do: Enhance the natural colors in a food, compensate for color variation in foods, or add color to an otherwise colorless food.
  • Commonly added to: candies, breakfast cereal, beverages, and snack foods.
  • Examples include: Synthetic colors such as Yellow No. 5 and Blue No. 1. Plant, animal or mineral colorants are also added to foods such as grape skin extract, annatto, beta-carotene, or cochineal extract.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a policy regarding the emerging child health concerns related to the direct and indirect food additives.

5 tips to reduce your family’s intake of food additives:

  1. Read ingredient labels
    • Compare products while at the grocery store. Many manufactures are making comparable products with less food additives.
    • Identify hidden sources of food additives such as silicon dioxide in spices or polysorbate 80 in dairy products.
  2. Decrease intake of processed foods
    • Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and animal products with minimal processing.
    • Make dishes from scratch when feasible to control which ingredients are incorporated into your food.
  3. Eat locally
    • Farmers markets or CSA (community supported agriculture) deliveries are a wonderful way to reduce food additives not only by choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, but in local canned and bottled products too.
  4. Make simple swaps
    • Make air-popped popcorn in place of microwaved popcorn
    • Swap blocked cheese for shredded cheese
    • Choose butter instead of margarine
    • Use maple syrup or honey in place of pancake syrup
    • Incorporate fresh herbs and spices instead of marinades and sauces
    • Choose plain chips and crackers more often than flavored options
    • Swap plain yogurt for flavored varieties and add your own toppings
  5. Get creative in the kitchen
    • Make your own salad dressing, dips, or taco seasoning
    • Use fresh citrus or herbs to flavor sparkling water

Use natural ingredients to decorate your cookies this holiday season. Use beet juice or powder for red icing, and wheatgrass juice or matcha powder for green icing

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers additional information on food additives.

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Powerful Health Benefits of Pumpkin

By Sue Freck, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When pumpkins appear outside of your favorite market or store, it’s one of the first tell-tale signs of fall.  These days, they come in so many artisanal varieties, shapes, sizes and colors that they make the perfect accent to fall décor, in addition to classic jack-o-lanterns shining on the porch.

But besides their visual appeal, pumpkins are one of the most versatile and nutrient-dense vegetables in the squash family. Pumpkins are a powerhouse squash in that they are very low in fat; have zero cholesterol; are rich in dietary fiber; and are chock-full of vital antioxidants, minerals such as potassium, and vitamins. Those vitamins, such as Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, can be found in the flesh of the pumpkin. The fleshly part of the pumpkin also contains the potent antioxidant, beta-carotene, which gives it its vibrant orange color, but is also converted by the body into essential vitamin A.

One cup of canned pumpkin (not the pie mix with added sugar) contains about 83 calories, 7 grams of fiber and 504 mg of potassium. Add cooked or canned pumpkin to breakfast smoothies, Greek yogurt, or baked goods such as pancakes, muffins, or breads for a nutrition boost. Cubes of roasted pumpkin can be added to salads, stews, soups and pastas.  Additionally, scooping out the pumpkin seeds and roasting them is a quick and easy source of dietary fiber and fatty acids, which are essential in maintaining heart health. Try extending these health benefits to your canine friends by adding a couple scoops of pure canned pumpkin to your dog’s food or add to your favorite homemade dog biscuits recipe.

Pumpkin can enhance the nutrient content and flavor of many of fall’s family meals and snacks, savory or sweet. Here is a no-fuss delicious pumpkin recipe:

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Recipe from Taste of Home

  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1-1/4 cup steel-cut oats
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups 2% milk

Optional toppings: toasted chopped pecans, ground cinnamon, and additional brown sugar and milk

Directions: In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients; stir in water and milk. Transfer to a greased (use coconut oil or canola spray) 3-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, on low 5 to 6 hours or until oats are tender, stirring once. **Note: This recipe can also be made in a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot on a manual setting, adjust pressure to high and cook for 10 minutes.

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6 Ways to Eliminate Trans Fats in Your Family’s Diet

By Vanessa Chrisman, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Trans fats, found in processed foods, are an inexpensive way to extend the shelf life of foods. While trans fats have been helpful for food manufacturers, they’re considered harmful for humans—which is why it’s so important to eliminate trans fats in your family’s diet. They are unnaturally produced through the process of hydrogenation, where hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil. This process converts the oil into a solid fat at room temperature.

Trans fats are most often found in fried foods, savory snacks, frozen pizzas, baked goods, margarines, ready-made frosting, and coffee creamers.

Consuming trans fats has been linked to increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowered levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and increased plaque in blood vessel walls. This increases the risk for developing heart disease. the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that these partially hydrogenated oils are not safe for human consumption. Earlier this year, the FDA ban on trans fats began. The FDA has estimated that this ban on trans fats may prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 coronary heart disease deaths in the U.S. annually. The World Health Organization has called for a worldwide ban of artificial trans fats by 2023.

While the ban on trans fats has already begun in the United States, manufacturers in some cases have been given an extension on the compliance date to 2020.

Below are some ways to avoid eating foods that contain trans fats:

  1. Eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats, fish, nuts, and lean poultry. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid inner aisles where you’re more likely to find processed foods that may contain trans fats.
  2. Cut back on consumption of processed foods. Eat these foods less often and in smaller portions.
  3. Not all processed foods contain trans fats. When you do eat processed foods, avoid processed foods known to contain trans fats such as chips, cookies, donuts, icing, cakes, biscuits, microwave popcorn, crackers, fried fast foods and frozen pizzas.
  4. Read food labels and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient.
  5. Avoid stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Swap this for olive oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil when baking or preparing meals at home.
  6. Whether dining in or out, avoid fried foods. Choose foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled.

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Intermittent Fasting: Is it Safe for Kids?

By Leah Blalock, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Over the years you’ve heard different forms of fasting, including intermittent fasting, promoted for weight management and disease prevention, but do these techniques work and are they safe for children? Studies have shown that reducing typical calorie consumption, usually by 30-40 percent, extends the lifespan by a third or more in many animals. When it comes to calorie restriction in humans, however, the jury is still out. Even if calorie restriction does not help anyone live longer, a large portion of research has supported the idea that limiting food intake reduces the risk of diseases common in old age and lengthens the period of life spent in good health.

Intermittent fasting (IF) may be an alternative to traditional dieting for adults but has not been studied in children. However, research results on benefits of intermittent fasting has not been consistent. While some studies have shown potential benefit, others have shown no difference with regards to weight loss/weight maintenance, blood sugar control, and blood lipids.

Three methods of intermittent fasting

Research does suggest that the timing of the fast is key. There are three kinds of intermittent fasting, all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. The 16/8 method or time splitting method, involves skipping breakfast and restricting daily eating period to 8 hours, (such as from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.). Then there is then a 16 hour fast in between. The Eat-Stop-Eat or “alternate day” method involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. The 5:2 method allows 20-25 percent of estimated caloric needs on fasting days and unrestricted intake on non-fasting days.

How effective is intermittent fasting?

One trial which involved randomly assigning participants into alternate day fasting, caloric restriction, and control groups showed the alternate day fasting group had a high dropout rate. There was no significant difference in weight loss, blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance between the fasting and restriction group. In addition, The LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) rose significantly in the fasting group compared to the restriction group.

A recent study involving adults with type 2 diabetes compared the 5:2 diet to caloric restriction and found that both interventions had similar improvements in hemoglobin A1C (a marker of blood sugar control), fasting glucose (blood sugar) levels, and lipid levels. The safety of intermittent fasting for a person with diabetes depends on their medications and risk for hypoglycemia.

Intermittent fasting does not appear to offer superior metabolic or short-term weight control advantages compared to caloric restriction. However, some people may find intermittent fasting easier to maintain. Those with a history of disordered eating should not attempt any sort of fasting diet. When restricting food, there is an increased release of dopamine in the brain when you do eat. This could increase the likelihood of a binge.

Recent studies continue to show that despite similar calorie intake, physical activity, and sleep, those who skipped breakfast more frequently had higher body mass than those who eat earlier. High caloric intake at breakfast instead of dinner has also been associated with improved weight loss/weight maintenance. Skipping breakfast for children is not recommended because they have already fasted overnight.

Research studies suggest that circadian rhythm fasting combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle can be an effective approach to weight loss. Research also supports adequate sleep as a tool for health (which consists of an overnight fast of 8-12 hours). Improving sleep quality and quantity may improve metabolic health. It is important to focus not just on what we eat, but also when we eat. Limiting food intake in the evening and at night may have beneficial effects on glucose control and energy balance.

Is intermittent fasting safe for kids?

There is not enough evidence in humans to recommend IF at this time. There have been no studies in children and, current studies in adults lack long-term intervention and follow up period.

Intermittent fasting is not recommended for those in periods of rapid growth, such as children and adolescents. IF is also not recommended for people with diabetes on medication, people with a history of eating disorders, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

An intentional approach to eating is recommended for children and adolescents. Follow these tips for helping your child manage a healthy weight:

  • Use planned meals and snacks timed throughout the day to help manage hunger and achieve portion control.
  • Minimize or eliminate sugary beverages.
  • Consume nutrient dense foods including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Cut back on processed and fast foods.
  • Mindful eating is also key to promoting a healthy relationship with food. Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention.
  • Take the time to eat at the table as a family.

Let’s not forget the importance of activity. Exercise is a vital component of any child’s development. It helps to reduce overweight and obesity, increases strength in muscles and can improve concentration at school. Limit screen time and encourage outside play. Families can exercise together to meet the recommended 60 minutes per day.

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Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping

By Alyce Watanabe, Dietetic Technician, Registered at CHOC Children’s

Preparing a healthy meal can be next to impossible if you don’t have the right ingredients in your kitchen. Going to the grocery can feel like a burden if you are not prepared. However, with a little preparation, shopping for healthy foods can be a breeze and save you money in the long run.

Do some prep work before you get to the store to keep from having to go back for forgotten items and to help you focus on finding nutritious foods.

  1. Clip money-saving coupons from weekly ads or use coupon apps on your smartphone.
  2. Create your menu for the week and grocery list before going to the store. Stick to your list.
  3. Shop the store perimeter first. That is generally where fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, and dairy, are located. Processed foods that often contain added salt, sugar and fat are usually found in the center aisles.

Minimize distractions to make healthy choices.

  1. Try to avoid peak hours when stores are busy. Crowds and stress often cause people to make quick choices instead of taking the time to find the healthiest option.
  2. Avoid shopping when you are hungry. A growling stomach can make it tough to resist some of those tempting treats!
  3. Consider leaving young children at home if possible. A tired or hungry child may make it challenging to take the time to read labels. Often, less-healthy items with packaging that appeals to children are kept on shelves at their eye level, making it easy for them to grab and toss in your cart.

Take time to read labels. A quick glance can help you decide between similar items.

  1. Look for whole foods as much as possible. Choose whole fruit over juices to provide fiber and help you feel full for longer.
  2. Consider canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. They last longer than fresh items and because they are picked and canned or frozen at peak ripeness, they may contain more nutrients. Watch the sodium content of canned vegetables.
  3. Foods with fewer additives, in their more natural state, tend to be healthier. Many people look for foods with a maximum of five ingredients.
  4. Watch the portion size on the package. Sometimes foods are listed as two or more servings even when you would probably eat the entire package in one sitting.

Aim for variety and try something new! 

  1. Make trying new foods fun for your family by selecting a new or unfamiliar fruit or vegetable each week. Search online to learn about the food and find recipes.
  2. Substitute something for your usual routine. Consider using sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes for a new flavor and for extra fiber and vitamin A.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the USDA MyPlate guidelines to make sure you are getting foods from all food groups. While you are planning meals and shopping, think about the foods that will be on your plate.
nutrition
The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups.

Some hints for a healthier table:

  • Balance Calories
  • Enjoy your food but watch portion sizes.
  • Foods to Increase
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose 100 percent whole grains whenever possible.
  • Children under age 2 should receive whole milk because they need the fat for brain growth and development. However, children over age 2 and adults can switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • Choose lean sources of protein such as lean meats, chicken, fish and beans.
  • Foods to Reduce
  • Compare labels for processed foods such as canned soups and frozen meals. Choose those with lower amounts of sodium (salt).
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

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