For lunch, Megan Gaule usually can be found eating a green salad covered with strawberries or raspberries and a homemade dressing as flavorful as it is colorful. A vegan, she tries her best to stay away from the harmful chemicals and additives often found in processed food.
“I find it really empowering to constantly remind myself that what I eat is a choice, and I’m choosing to nourish my body instead of harm it,” Gaule says.
With growing attention on food additives and chemicals, many parents are becoming more conscience about what they feed their children and what they eat as well.
“Chemicals are found in most foods that we eat. The most common ones prevent food from spoiling as well as added fortifiers,” says Dr. Raquel Hernandez, MD, MPH, director of medical education at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The most common food additives include salt, vitamins C and E, compound sugars, BHA and BHT. BHA and BHT are added to prolong the shelf life of foods.
Vitamin fortifiers are safe and are added because it has been determined that children are not getting enough of some nutrients in their regular diet, Dr. Hernandez adds.
BHA and BHT are used to prevent oils in food from oxidizing, which can affect flavor and color of foods and makes them able to withstand room temperature without spoiling.
Despite being labeled an anticipated carcinogen, the data from current studies regarding BHA and BHT are inadequate to 100% link BHA to cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. “Right now there are is no correlation to long-term side effects in kids when it comes to fortifiers and BHA or BHT,” Dr. Hernandez says.
When it comes to additives consumers should take note of, many are easily recognizable. “Enhanced salts and sugars are the worst,” Dr. Hernandez says. “On labels, sugars are reported as carbohydrates. … There are hidden sugars and salts in almost everything. Parents are so busy looking for organic foods, but sugar and salt are hitting us right in the face.”
Another hiding place — reduced fat snacks. When the fat is reduced, sugars and salts often are added so that the food’s taste will stay the same.
“We spent so much time thinking fat was worse for us but the amount of sugar and salt directly affect obesity,” Dr. Hernandez says.
In addition, sugary beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks, are often the main source of added sugars in children’s diets, resulting in extra calories and increased obesity risks.
It is never too late to change the way you and your family are eating. The hardest part is to find healthy foods, Dr. Hernandez says. Make sure that you are reading and fully understanding food labels.
“I tried to focus on what I was adding rather than what I was taking away. When I would give up a food that I really like but was awful for me, I’d try to replace it with something good for me that was similar,” Gaule says.
“Your body craves what you feed it. Changing your diet is a process that takes time, but the longer that you eat a diet free (or mostly free) from chemicals the less you will crave the foods that are chocked full of them,” Gaule says. She says it took about three weeks for her taste buds to change. Then, she really began to enjoy and crave the flavors of healthier foods.
“It is definitely challenging switching from eating a diet full of chemicals and preservatives to eating clean, but it’s a lot easier to do it in small steps versus the cold turkey method,” she says. “When I tried to give up unhealthy food all at once, I failed. Then I gave up one thing at a time — first gluten, then dairy, then white sugar, then meat, then any other processed foods I was eating — it was a whole lot easier.”
It can be a challenge to cut chemicals from your diet. While some of them are harmless, it is important to remember that what you feed your child will help them form habits and opinions of food. Preventing the intake of so many chemicals is always better than dealing with the ramifications of a bad diet later in life, Gaule says.
“I know that staying away from chemicals and additives has done wonderful things for me.”
Avoid products with these ingredients.
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
- BHA and BHT
- Food dyes (blue, yellow, red)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Potassium bromate
- Sodium nitrate and nitrite
- Sodium sulfite
- Sulfur dioxide
- Trans fat
Lisa L. Thompson moved to St. Petersburg, FL in 2008 from Buffalo NY, after graduating from the University at Buffalo School of Management with a Masters Degree and Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.Throughout Lisa’s life and education, recurrent interests have always been for writing and food. Whether in writing for her school newspaper, starting an MBA Newsletter in graduate school, or most recently starting a food blog Blissfullyhomemade.com, Lisa has always found an enduring passion for stories of food and how it applies to life.Recently reflecting into her childhood Lisa learned that in 1920 her family immigrated to the United States from Eastern Italy to Brooklyn, NY via Ellis Island and quickly started a pasta company that is still family owned and operated today. Now, with two toddlers of her own, Lisa has rediscovered an inherent passion for good food and how tangible good food discovery is for children. Revising recipes, understanding ingredients, and learning how the supply chain of food works is something that she is passionate about. Lisa corresponding understands that her said passions are equally as important when teaching good food nutrition to her children. In joining Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine Lisa is excited to share local food stories, good food traditions, and enriched food education to our readers.