As a parent, you may have assumed that pre-packaged food for infants and toddlers surely must be healthy; I mean really, what kind of a company would knowingly put these innocents at risk for long-term health issues? If that has indeed been your assumption, then you may be surprised to learn the results of a new study using a comprehensive analysis of foods sold for infants and toddlers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, if you’ve ever read the confusing Nutritional Facts list on such products, you may not be surprised at all.
The health culprits contained in children’s food products are sugar and sodium. A little is fine, too much is a health disaster waiting to happen in the form of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. The harsh reality is that some of these products have more sodium and sugar in them than adult food products.
We’re not talking about natural sugars and sodium contained in food, but added sugar and salt to make the foods “taste better”.
The CDC’s study showed that about one-third of prepared dinners made for toddlers contained at least one kind of added sugar as well as 97% of breakfast pastries and cereal bars. Researchers found that 88% juices and other drinks marketed for infants and toddlers contained added sugars.
On the sodium spectrum, 72% of toddler dinners were found to be way over the recommended limit, with an average of 2,295 milligrams of sodium per meal. The Institute of Medicine recommends that toddlers consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Some foods marketed to infants and toddlers had more sodium than comparable adult foods. Among 34 types of savory snacks for infants and toddlers – a category that includes crackers, some types of rice cakes and mini-hot dogs sold in jars – the average concentration of sodium was 486 mg per 100 grams of food. In comparison, salted potato chips intended for adults have about 450 mg of sodium per 100 grams, the researchers noted in their study, which was published by the journal Pediatrics.
When you take a hard look at what children are eating these days, and the lack of recommended physical activity, it’s no surprise that 23% of American kids between the ages of 2 and 5 (yes, that young) are either overweight or obese. With the added sodium in their diets, obese children are at an increased risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease (the No.1 cause of death in the U.S.), and other health problems. These health issues are starting to show up in teenagers, where once they didn’t develop till much later in life.
The CDC researchers set out to better understand the amount of sodium and sugar in prepared foods designed for infants and toddlers. They scoured a commercial database that includes nutrition information on more than 200,000 prepared foods. They also walked the aisles of Wal-Marts, Targets, Costcos and supermarkets in the Atlanta area to find additional products for their analysis. Altogether, they included 1,074 food items for infants and toddlers in their sample.
The good news is that not all of their findings negative. For instance, among 657 infant vegetables, fruits, dry cereals, dinners and ready-to-serve items that combined mixed grains with fruit, all but two were considered low in sodium. In addition, more than 80% of the 582 fruit, vegetable, soup and dinner items for infants had no added sugars.
However, food content began to change after kids turned 1 and moved on to toddler foods. Cereal bars, fruit and dry fruit snacks for this age group were still low in sodium, but most contained at least one type of added sugar. The most common additive listed was “fruit juice concentrate”, a somewhat creative name for squeezing out most of a fruit’s water and fiber so that only the fruit sugar is left.
The authors of the study expressed concern that starting children on high sodium and sugar foods when they are little could set them up for a lifetime of poor eating habits.
So what can you do as a parent? Become a label investigator before purchasing pre-packaged food for your child (or yourself for that matter).
When reading the Nutrition Facts label on a food, check for four things:
· How many servings are contained in the product. Oftentimes a product – even a small one- contains more than one serving.
· The sodium content per serving
· The sugar content per serving
· The list of ingredients. Added sugars may have names such as high fructose syrup, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup. Added sodium may be listed as monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrite, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
Look at where these items fall in the list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of the quantity they contribute to the overall food. When you see any ingredient listed first or at the top of the list, there’s a lot of it in the food.
For this study, the data on sodium and sugar came from the Nutrition Facts labels that appear on food packages. These aren’t necessarily accurate because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows the figures on the label to be off by as much as 20%, the researchers noted.
Source: Karen Kaplan, http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-sn-infant-toddler-foods-salt-sugar-20150202-story.html