Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Real" Nutrition

When Kiddo was in Daycare I used to go around and around with his Daycare Grandma about pre-fab kids' drinks like Kool-Aid and Capri Sun. She thought I was silly worrying about such a thing when I insisted he drink only milk, juice, or water. "They have vitamin C!" she'd say. "They're sugar and red dye number 6!" I'd cry.

I was browsing through one of the many parenting newsletters I get and ran across a link to the article Is That Really a Healthy Snack? I felt a wee bit smug that most of my dietary concerns are addressed here.

Some selected quotes:
Just because the packaging includes the word fruit doesn't mean the snack is healthy.
My kids don't get fruit rollups, or chewies, or any thing resembling them. If you read the ingredients, the first thing you'll see is "High Fructose Corn Syrup" which means that there's more liquid sugar in that item than any other ingredient.

...the crackers certainly aren't whole wheat because real wheat isn't the color of jack-o-lanterns.
Of course we're talking about the florescent cheese and cracker combos, which aren't a bad snack per se, but aren't really a good one either. Better than high fructose corn syrup, I suppose.

What about good ol' Kool-Aid? "Liquid candy," says Dr. Nestle, and Dr. Shulman adds, "Just sugar!"
Ah-HAH! I was right all along! Not that it takes a degree in chemistry to understand what when you add two cups of sugar and a dye packet to water you get... sugar water.

With all the misleading advertising, how's a parent supposed to know what constitutes a healthy snack for her children? Remember these simple guidelines:
  1. If your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as a food eaten in her day, it's probably high processed and junky.

  2. If a food is wrapped in a wrapper that crinkles, it's probably not a great idea.

  3. If the snack comes in colors not found in nature—neon green, arctic blue, bright orange, shocking pink, rainbows, polka dots, or stripes—consider a piece of fruit instead!

Part of it, really, is learning how to read labels. Sure, the fat and carb count is important, as are the vitamins, but I skip right to the ingredients. What's first? What's second? Ingredients must be listed so that what ever there's most of comes first. The FDA has a handy guide that's not terribly confusing, but I actually prefer this one on Kids Health. has this article on ways manufacturers "clean" their nutrition labels to make them look not quite as unhealthy.

Here's a practical exercise for you. Take a look at Digiorno Pizza
-Harvest Wheat Thin Crispy Crust - Supreme. Healthy? Or just junk in disguise?

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