When? Healthy? Really Isn't
Once upon a breakfast, plastic trinkets inside cereal boxes lured children to ask for less-than-healthy foods. While conscientious parents may be able to see past the toys and other marketing gimmicks, they can still be easily misled into making poor choices by messages contained on food packaging.
"It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking a food is healthy when it's not," said Vandana Sheth, a Los Angeles registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "I had a client who would give her child granola bars because she thought ?natural' and ?organic' sounded good. She was shocked to learn that the brand of granola bar she was feeding her child had nearly 500 calories, high fat and low fiber."
A recent study by the Prevention Institute found that 84 percent of 58 "Better-for-You" children's food products failed to meet basic nutritional standards. Of the self-proclaimed "healthy" foods analyzed, 57 percent qualified as high sugar, 95 percent contained added sugar, more than half were low in fiber and 36 percent contained excessive sodium.
Parents should be aware that the United States Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines about the use of language on food packaging. For example, "low calorie" means that a food can have no more than 40 calories per serving. Foods touted as being low in cholesterol must have fewer than 20 milligrams of cholesterol.
It's words such as "natural" that can mislead parents. "'Natural' simply means that the product contains no artificial ingredients," Sheth said. "Salt and sugar are considered natural, but just because they're natural doesn't mean they're the best choice." She notes that parents are better off looking for foods labeled "low sodium," "low sugar," "low fat" or high in fiber and whole grains.
Sheth encourages parents to model healthy eating habits starting at the grocery store. "If your toddler sees you choosing fruits and whole grains, (he or she will) emulate it. And learn how to read a nutrition label. Be wary of servings per container and buy minimally processed foods."
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