5 Pitfalls of Kid's Food Industry

Okay so what is a pitfall really… it is a trap that if you aren’t careful you just might fall for. This is even easier to do in the world of busy playdates, two under two, and tantrums in the grocery store. I wanted to pull together a short list of things for you to look out for when you are shopping for your little one at the grocery store.

What makes food no good? Basically it has no nutrient value and can actually cause trouble for your digestive and immune systems.  What does no good food do to you body?  Best case scenario it does nothing - good or bad. Worse case (in my opinion) is it sends your kid into a total behavioral meltdown or causes some form of chronic disease.

When a food has additives, sugars, dyes, chemicals, and fortified vitamins (I know, scary list that we will talk through) it can cause all kinds of reactions in your kid's body. Reactions like a digestive system meltdown leading to diarrhea or constipation. It can cause their immune systems to go into hyperdrive attacking things like food allergens. It can even cause them to have a total mental meltdown over a coloring book.

Watching out for these pitfalls might take you more time in the short term, but in the long term you will have a healthy, happy kid that will demand (being the operative word) much less of your time.

1. Sugar

Y'all this is the worst of them all. Don’t stop reading just because you have heard it before.  It quite literally has a similar reaction in your kid's body to the one you feel when you enter into flight or fight mode. And the worst part, it is in literally everything that you can buy in the aisles of your grocery store.

Sugar comes in so many forms.  It isn’t just the white stuff in the paper bag at the store anymore. Anything ending in -ose on your food label is sugar. Check out this article by Sugar Science to learn more about how and where you are consuming sugar. There are additional concerns about added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and glucose increasing calorie intake with no nutrients.

Interested in reading more? The CDC did a study on toddler snacks and found they often have too much sugar.

Worst culprits: juice, milk, packaged snacks, gummy snacks, Yogurt, bread, and ketchup.

In a study done by the CDC it was found that sugar contributed to 47% of calories in infant mixed grains and fruit, 66% of calories in dried fruit snacks, and more than 35% of calories in dairy-based desserts.  This is way, way more sugar than our kiddos bodies can handle.

Some other negative effects: The list is long honestly but a quick snapshot - the bad bacteria in your digestive tract (the good bacteria is probiotics) feeds off of sugar. Feeding this bad bacteria  can lead to a myriad of digestive related problems.  Additionally, the bad bacteria is what leads to many of our common illnesses. We need the good bacteria to fight off illness and we need to starve the bad bacteria of its’ food source - sugar.  Sugar has been linked to obesity which can lead to many other diseases, including diabetes.   Lastly, it can cause elevated blood sugar in your child.

What to buy instead: Fresh fruit and veggies, foods in their most whole state. See this article on whole food based snacks.

2. Fortified Foods

This was a huge surprise to me, so that is why it made the list. Basically, when food is refined and processed to be packaged for a longer shelf life it is broken down. Broken down just means on a chemical level, bonded nutrients are separated to remove necessary chemicals. In doing this the nutrients we need are significantly damaged or removed completely.

To make up for this nutrients are added back in. You have probably seen this on the front of packages with the word fortified. One common product is Morton salt, it is fortified with Iodine because all of it has been removed in processing, just check out the package.  

This is a label for baby oatmeal cereal. Look at all the vitamins added back into the cereal: zinc, iron,and  B vitamins.

This is a label for baby oatmeal cereal. Look at all the vitamins added back into the cereal: zinc, iron,and  B vitamins.

What does all this really mean?   Fortified nutrients are not as easily absorbed as the natural occurring nutrients. For example a fortified form of iron - nonheme - is only absorbed at rate of 4 percent. To get all the iron you need from, let’s say, rice cereal you would have to eat a lot of cereal. Way more starch than what is good for your kiddo.

Worst culprits: milk and rice cereals.

Some other negative effects: Common fortified ingredients are iron, zinc, DHA, and Omega 3. All of which are essential to your baby’s development.  If they are not getting an adequate amount it can affect their development. 

What to buy instead: Eggs, whole dairy, grass fed/organic meats, and fruits and veggies.  All of these foods provide a much more absorbable form of nutrients for your kiddo

3. Refined Grains

I talked last week about baby’s first foods and addressed some of the concerns with grains, here. The boxed grains and teething crackers that you are buying at the grocery store are a highly processed and refined form of the original grain. This means a few things, but most importantly that the nutrient quality of the food is significantly diminished. Fifty percent of children’s calorie intake is made up of sugar and refined grains. So basically fifty percent of the food they are eating is doing no good for them.

Grains are basically a culmination of everything on this list.  To start because the nutrients are significantly affected during processing they are fortified and added back in (See number 2). Additionally your body doesn’t really know the difference between grain and sugar. Once broken down they look the same to the body. That means that all the effects listed in number 1 also apply here.

Worst culprits: all processed snacks, breads, noodles (like Mac N Cheese) and cereals/cereals bars

Some other negative effects: See number 1 and 2.

What to buy instead: whole organic oatmeal and/or brown rice. You can make it into a cereal by using a food processor before or after you cook it.

4. Food Dyes

The last two on the list are toxins. That means your body sees them as poison or foreign invaders and will work very hard to eliminate them.  Food dyes are added to processed foods to basically just make them look more appealing.  To me it crazy that a toxin is being put in our food just to make it more appealing to our kiddos, so they eat it.

Worst culprits: candy, hot dogs, sprinkles, icing, and basically anything that is colored. Think jelly, filling in granola bars, and Lucky Charms.

Definitely avoid things like RAINBOW Goldfish, as the colors all come from artificial dyes:

Blue 2, Red 40, Red 3,  and Blue 1.

Some other negative effects: The most studied effect is hyperactivity. Some of these studies link the dye back to reactions being caused in the brain.  This article gives more information on how food dyes affect kiddos behaviour Dyes have also be linked to cancer and ADHD. This article has more information on specific symptoms caused by specific dyes.

What to buy instead: Fresh fruit and veggies, foods in their most whole state. See this article on whole food based snacks.

5. Nitrates and Processed Meats

This has been getting a lot of news coverage lately so you may have heard of it.  Nitrates are a chemically engineered form of salt that is used when curing meats. Its’ most common use is actually as a fertilizer in agriculture, so you can probably imagine why you wouldn’t want to eat it. Once the kiddo is exposed to the toxin the only way to remove it from their system is to significantly detox their toxic load.

Hot dog packaging. On the ingredient list you can see Sodium Nitrite. 

Hot dog packaging. On the ingredient list you can see Sodium Nitrite. 

In an article published by the Environmental Working Group they specifically call out infants and children's inability to handle the exposure to nitrates.

"limiting infant exposure to nitrate would be a sensible public health measure. It could be accomplished by minimizing exposure to both foods and water that are high in nitrate..." (NAS 1995 p. 49)

Worst culprits: bacon, hot dogs, and lunchmeat.

Some other negative effects: The World Health Organization released a study in 2015 that linked nitrates and processed meats to the cause of cancer, same level of risk as smoking. See NPR’s summary of the study here.

What to buy instead: Nitrate feed lunchmeat - my grocery store carries the Applegate brand which my kiddo loves. Try cooking an organic sausage instead of a hot dog. Buy bacon from a farmer at a farmer’s market, or ask the grocery store if they carry nitrate free bacon.

You are now equipped to head to the store! Good luck! 

What are some items that you buy instead?