I thought I’d seen it all when I was cruising the yogurt section of my supermarket and spotted blue, cotton-candy flavored yogurt for kids. Manufacturers are all too aware that children are compulsively drawn to Technicolor food and those that are sweet or salty. Since getting kids to eat well is an exercise in triage as you figure the pros and cons of cost, time, and availability you might be tempted to take the path of least resistance: chicken nuggets, flame colored mac ‘n’ cheese, blue yogurt. That’s fine sometimes. But the chemical additives—preservatives, flavors, and colors—found in these types of food have a disproportionately greater health impact on children than on adults.
Pick “preservative-free.” Preservatives help extend the shelf (or refrigerator) life of food, but their ingredients are often unsafe. For instance, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which keeps oils from going rancid, is listed as a probable human carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services (remarkably, the FDA says it’s okay to eat it). The other biggie in this category to look for on labels—and to avoid—is BHT, or butylated hydroxytoluene.
Color them naturally. Conjure those blue yogurts, neon-colored fruit drinks, and snacks: You don’t need to read the label to know these artificial colors can’t be good for your kids. In particular, avoid FD&C blues #1 and 2; green #3; and yellow #5 and 6.
Keep an eye out for GMOs. Genetically modified or engineered food (GMO or GE) is a way for farmers to create heartier, pest-resistant crops—for instance, by breeding a pesticide right into the grain—and so far is limited principally to canola, soybean, and corn. GMO foods are commonly used for animal feed, but have entered our lives quietly in the form of additives to packaged food. We don’t have an exact figure for how pervasive GMO processed foods are, but roughly 60 percent of processed food in the U.S. grocery stores contain at least one soybean product, and more than half of our soybean crops are genetically modified.
There are no long-term health safety tests or labeling for these foods. U.S. government regulators and biotech companies say GMO foods are safe, but they’re banned throughout Europe. Some research shows a worrisome impact on plants and wildlife, and that food allergens may be transmitted through bioengineering, according to the watchdog group Beyond Pesticides.
In the meantime, if your child is prone to food allergies, give her natural and GMO-free (some labels will tout it) snack alternatives, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, cheese, and yogurt—which may even be a sound policy for the non-allergic.
Taken from Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home. Reprinted by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2009 by Healthy Child Healthy World. To read more from Christopher Gavigan and many others, pick up your copy of our book, today.
Find out the 6 other worst preservatives and additives to avoid by picking up a copy of our book!