7 Steps to Safer Food
Avoid Unhealthy Fats
Fifteen percent of Americans 6 to 19 years old are overweight—and the percentage is increasing. Although you can avoid saturated fats and cholesterol by reading labels, trans fatty acids, which also contribute to heart disease, will not have to be listed on labels until January of 2006. Trans fat lurks in the very foods most heavily marketed to children: French fries, candy bars, cookies, baked goods, chips, and pretzels. Try to limit the amount of these in your family’s diet, as well as commercially prepared salad dressings, vegetable shortenings, and anything containing “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil.
In addition to being saturated and artery-clogging, animal fat can harbor dioxins, chemicals linked to cancer and endocrine and immune-system disorders. “Because dioxins persist in the body, what your child eats now will be with him or her for many years to come,” cautions Dr. Gina Solomon, a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist. The fattier the animal product, the more likely it is to have higher levels of these chemicals, Solomon says. “Personally, I select low-fat or non-fat dairy products wherever possible,” she adds.
Avoid Nervous-System Toxicants in Fish
New cautions about fish consumption seem to be emerging every few weeks. Recent headlines warn about polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in farmed salmon and tuna high in mercury. Both chemicals can harm brain development. “And mercury accumulates in muscle meat instead of in fat, so you can’t trim it away,” Solomon points out. (Read more about making smart seafood choices for kids, here.)
Demand Healthier Food and Drink at Schools
Many financially strapped school systems rely on revenue from the sale of such items as candy bars and sodas sold in vending machines, and fast food supplied by Pizza Hut, which is available in 98 percent of our nation’s senior high schools. Americans ingested an average of 55 gallons of soft drinks per person in 2001. The impact on kids’ waistlines is all too evident, but such high sugar consumption also promotes tooth decay. Ask your PTA and school administration to change what kids are offered.
Talk to Kids about How Ads Pitch Food
You’re up against big bucks—and the wiliest of marketing minds—when you try to wean your child from junk food. According to a report released in February 2004 by an American Psychological Association (APA) task force, the average child in our country views 40,000 TV commercials a year, with the most common products marketed being “sugared cereals, candies, sweets, sodas, and snack foods,” says task force chair, Brian Wilcox. It also found that viewers under the age of 5 can’t reliably distinguish between programming and ads, while those younger than 8 tend to accept ads “as truthful and accurate because they fail to comprehend the advertiser’s motive to exaggerate…”
What’s a parent to do? Limit television time. Watch with your children, and point out and discuss the difference between programs and commercials.
Finally, every chance you can, take kids to a farm stand, pick a ripe, sweet fruit and give them a bite of the real “real thing.”
This is a story from The Green Guide.
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