What Are Added Sugars?

What Are Added Sugars?

Cookies, candy and sweet treats are what childhood is made of, but we all know feeding our kids too much sugar can lead to a host of problems like childhood obesity, type-2 diabetes, risk factors for heart disease, fatty liver disease, asthma and of course, cavities. Sugar and its many different types can be complicated however, so you may have had questions like what are added sugars? And are added sugars bad?

Added sugars aren’t only found in kid-friendly foods, but can hide under at least  61 different names, be marketed as “natural,” or found in foods that aren’t even sweet.

To make things even more confusing, there are sugars that can be both natural and added sugars—more on that later!

Here, learn what added sugars are, the differences between natural sugars and added sugars, how to read labels and spot these sneaky sugars, and get easy, simple tips for cutting back on them in your kid’s diet.

WHAT ARE ADDED SUGARS?

When we talk about sugar, it’s important to make the distinction between natural sugars, or naturally-occurring sugars like fructose in fruit and lactose in dairy and added sugars. Although these foods have sugar, they also contain other nutrients that kids need in their diets like fiber and calcium, for example.

Added sugars on the other hand, are any type of ingredient that sweetens foods and beverages—whether you can taste it or not. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, added sugars include syrups and other caloric sweeteners.

The USDA says added sugars are:

  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioner’s powdered sugar
  • Cane juice
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Crystal dextrose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated corn sweetener
  • Fructose
  • Fruit nectar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Glucose
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Liquid fructose
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Nectars (e.g., peach or pear nectar)
  • Pancake syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Sugar cane juice
  • White granulated sugar

 

There are also natural sugars like honey, agave and maple syrup that once they’re isolated and added to a food as a sweetener, are actually considered added sugars, Angela Lemond, RDN, told me in this article.

The same can be said for fructose, which is considered natural when it’s consumed from real fruit, but once it’s used as a sweetener in foods it’s added sugar.

Related: What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

In 2018, the FDA considered a requirement for companies to list ingredients such as honey and maple syrup as added sugars on the Nutrition Facts labels by 2020.

In June 2019 however, they issued final guidance stating that single ingredient packages of honey, maple syrup, agave syrup and other pure sugars and syrups do not have to be listed as added sugars.

ARE ADDED SUGARS BAD?

The American Heart Association says kids under 2 shouldn’t have any added sugar in their diets. Kids between 2 and 18 should have no more than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugar a day.

It probably comes as no surprise however, that most kids in the U.S eat too much sugar. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 percent of the total calories for children and teens come from added sugars.

But what may surprise you—as it did for me—is that babies and toddlers consume too many added sugars as well.

According to a 2018 study, 99% of toddlers between 19- and 23- months-old consumed an average of 7 teaspoons on any given day—more than the amount of sugar in a Snickers’ bar! What’s more, 60% of children were found to consume sugar before they turned 1.

Although there is no chemical difference between natural sugars and added sugars, and the body metabolizes them the same way, foods with added sugars don’t have the same nutrients that foods with natural sugars have, like fruit or yogurt, for example.

However, since natural and added sugars are perceived by the same taste receptors on the tongue, our bodies can’t tell the difference between the two.

Foods with added sugars also contribute empty calories to your kid’s diet that can lead to weight gain and can displace nutrient-dense calories from real, whole foods.

Sugar may not make your kid hyper—I beg to differ—but eating sugar can make them feel sluggish and cranky.

Since studies show food preferences are established during infancy, feeding kids too many foods with added sugars could affect their eating habits now and throughout their lives.

How To Identify Added Sugars

Although added sugars can be sneaky, there are simple ways to spot them and cut back on them in your kid’s diet.

Stick to foods without sugar and eat real food

One of the best ways to avoid most added sugars in your kid’s diet is to prioritize whole foods over processed, packaged foods at every meal and snack.

Processed kids’ snacks, frozen meals and soups—even those that are organic, gluten-free or made with real cheese—may seem healthy but many have added sugars.

In fact, according to a 2016 report by the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, 50% of baby snacks and 83% of toddler snacks contain added sugars.

Focus on vegetables and fruits, protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. Depending on their ages, kids need just as many, or more, servings of vegetables than fruit.

Read labels

When it comes spotting added sugars in food, seemingly healthy foods can be sneaky sources in your kid’s diet.

They also may not even taste sweet, making them harder to identify. These can include: 

  • Baby food
  • Baked goods: cookies, cakes, pastries, doughnuts
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Candy and chocolate
  • Canned fruit, fruit cups, dried fruit, applesauce
  • Cereal
  • Dips
  • Frozen foods
  • Granola
  • Ice cream and dairy desserts
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Jams, jellies, fruit preserves, syrups and sweet toppings
  • Juices
  • Ketchup
  • Marina sauce and other sauces
  • Processed snacks
  • Protein, cereal and granola bars
  • Salad dressings
  • Yogurt

The good news is that it’s becoming much easier to spot added sugars. You’ve probably already seen the new Nutrition Facts labels which have a line for added sugars both in grams and as percent Daily Value (DV).

Food manufacturers that have $10 million or more in annual sales have until January 1, 2020 to completely switch out their labels, while those with less than $10 million have until January 1, 2021.

Avoid juice and sugary drinks

In September 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry issued first-ever consensus healthy kids’ drink guidelines.

According to the recommendations, depending on their ages, kids should avoid or limit juice, and avoid all types of sugary drinks including chocolate milk.

Related: Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Since soda, energy and sports drinks, and fruit drinks are leading sources of added sugar in kids’ diets, cutting back is the best way to avoid them.

Make healthy sweet treats at home

Swapping fast food and store-bought desserts with your own healthy, homemade versions is a great way to cut down on added sugars.

Using natural sweeteners like apple sauce or dried fruit without added sugars, and fresh fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, pears, mango, and sweet potatoes are all great ways to cut down on added sugars. 

Roasting fruits like apples or pears for example, also brings out their natural sweetness and is a healthy and delicious dessert swap for other sugary treats.

 

2 New Reports Show Childhood Obesity More Of A Concern Than Ever

2 New Reports Show Childhood Obesity More Of A Concern Than Ever

We all know that childhood obesity is an epidemic and more than a third of kids are either overweight or obese in the United States, but two recent reports show rates of childhood obesity have no signs of slowing down—and addressing the issue now is crucial if we want our kids to live long, healthy lives.

World Obesity Federation: 250 million kids will be obese by 2030

On October 2, the World Obesity Federation released their first-ever Global Atlas On Childhood Obesity, which shows the number of children and teens who are obese is expected to rise from the current estimate of 150 million to 250 million by the year 2030.

While North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have childhood obesity rates that have stabilized at high levels, Africa, Asia and Latin America are most at risk—a result of emerging economies and aggressive food marketing to kids, the report states. In fact, 70% of countries lack policies that restrict food marketing to kids.

At the World Health Assembly in 2013, it was agreed that rates of childhood obesity should be no higher in 2025 than they were between 2010 and 2012. Yet this recent report found that 8 out of 10 countries have a less than 10 percent chance of meeting that goal and the U.S. has only a 17 percent chance.

In the U.S., recent data shows 9.4 percent of children between 0 and 5-years-old are overweight. By 2030, up to 26 percent of children and teens will be obese.

Related: Childhood Obesity: Are Parents To Blame?


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: 18.5 percent of kids are obese

A second report released last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy, includes the best available data on national and state childhood obesity rates as well as recommendations to quickly address the issue.

According to the report:

  • In 2015-16, 18.5 percent of kids ages 2 to 19 were obese.
  • Black and hispanic kids have higher rates of obesity (22 percent and 19 percent respectively) than kids who are white (11.8 percent) and Asian (7.3 percent).
  • 21.9 percent of kids who live in homes that make less than the federal poverty level are obese.
  • Between 2016 and 2017-18, there were no states that had a significant change in their overall obesity rate.

While most of the news was bleak, there was some progress made for families who participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides healthy food, health care referrals and nutrition education to lower-income women.

The rates of obesity for kids 2- and 4-years-old in WIC decreased from 15.9 percent to 13.9 percent between 2010 and 2016, and that was true across all racial and ethic groups.

Related: 6 Facts About Child Hunger in the U.S. + What You Can Do

The report also included several key policy recommendations at the federal, state and local levels around both diet and physical activity to address childhood obesity including ongoing support and reform of WIC, the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), a program that the Trump administration is threatening to significantly cut.

Additionally, the report includes a recommendation to include children under 2 in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is still in development, urging them to take into account the 2017 Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Young Toddlers: A Responsive Parenting Approach and the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations which came out in September 2019.

They also recommend certain policies around food marketing, such as:

  • All food and drink advertisements and marketing in schools meet the Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines.
  • Soda and sugary drinks should be eliminated from kids’ restaurant menus and menu boards.

     

  • Maintain the nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect before rules about whole grains, sodium and milk were rolled back in December 2018.

Related: Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

Childhood obesity is a complicated problem that requires swift action from government agencies, schools districts, healthcare providers and parents. Although there’s no quick fix, without major changes within the next few years, our kids will face chronic health conditions and our healthcare system will continue to be taxed.

The way I see it however, is that fat or skinny, all kids need to have access to healthy, real food and they need to learn healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

What do you think about the new data and recommendations to address childhood obesity? Let me know in the comments.

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

Last Wednesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of  Pediatric Dentistry jointly issued new healthy kids’ drink guidelines for parents.

Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids as they’re called, are the first-ever consensus recommendations on what constitutes a healthy kids’ drink for kids ages 5 and under as well as the types of beverages parents should limit or avoid.

The new guidelines focus on a handful of key recommendations: breast milk, infant formula, plain milk, and water are best while fruit juice and non-dairy, plant-based milks should be avoided.

This is exciting news because these leading health organizations are finally taking a stance and stating that drinks are just as important as the foods we feed our kids.

Drinks can be a significant source of calories, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats for young kids and they can also fill a void from nutritional deficiencies that are typically a result of picky eating behaviors.

Since food preferences are formed at an early age—even in utero, the first 5 years is a critical time. Plus, serving up a healthy kids’ drink also encourages healthy choices throughout their lives.

What’s more, with childhood obesity still an epidemic and conditions like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the rise, the beverages our kids consume are more important than ever. 

What are the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations?

So let’s take a look at the new recommendations:

All children ages 5 and under should avoid drinking:

  • Chocolate milk and strawberry milk
  • Toddler formulas such as toddler milks, growing up milks or follow-up formulas
  • Plant-based/non-dairy milks (with some exceptions).

Beverages with caffeine, low-calorie sweetened beverages including those sweetened with stevia, sucralose or labeled “diet” or “light,” sugar-sweetened drinks including soda, fruit drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, fruit-ades, sports and energy drinks, sweetened waters, and sweetened coffee and tea drinks should also be off limits.

Infants from 0 to 6 months should only have breastmilk and/or infant formula.

Babies 6 to 12 months should continue to stick with breastmilk and/or infant formula. Once they start solids, parents should offer a small amount of water at mealtimes. Introducing a few sips of water can help them get used to the taste.

Additionally, the healthy kids’ drink recommendations state babies should avoid fruit juice—even 100% fruit juice—because whole fruit has much more nutrition.

Babies 12 to 24 months can be introduced to plain, pasteurized whole milk and plain water to stay hydrated. Although the recommendations say 100% fruit juice is ok, it should be limited. An even better choice? Fresh, canned or frozen fruit without any added sugars.

Children between 2- and 5-years-old should stick with milk, ideally skim milk or low-fat (1%) and water. Again, small amounts of fruit juice are OK, but whole fruit is always better. 

If you’re looking for more details, you can read the full recommendations here.

Related: Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Do the new recommendations include non-dairy, plant-based milks?

In recent years, the amount of people interested in plant-based, non-dairy milks like almond milk, cashew milk, and oat milk have significantly increased. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based milks were up 9% in 2018, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, while sales of cow’s milk were down 6%.

Despite their popularity, the organizations that developed the healthy kids’ drink recommendations say kids under 5 should avoid consuming them.

For starters, many plant-based milks have added sugars to make them taste sweet.

Although many also have added nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D, the amounts can vary by type and brand and studies show our bodies may not be able to absorb these nutrients as well as they can from cow’s milk, the panel says.

The one exception to the recommendation of avoiding plant-based milks is fortified soy milk, which stacks up nutritionally to cow’s milk.

Another caveat is that for kids who are lactose intolerant, have a dairy allergy or follow a vegan diet, unsweetened and fortified non-dairy milks may be a good idea.

Is fruit juice healthy for kids?

The new recommendations about fruit juice in particular, are a welcomed change and something I think can have a significant impact on our children’s health now and throughout their lives.

Fruit juice is often marketed to families as a healthy food for kids, especially those that are organic or not from concentrate.

Although juice has certain vitamins and nutrients and can count as a serving of fruit—a good thing if your kid is a picky eater—in reality, fruit juice is just concentrated sugar. Fruit juice also lacks fiber, something all kids need whether they’re constipated or not.

Drinking too much juice can also lead to cavities, weight gain and diarrhea.

What about healthy fruit smoothies?

The new healthy kids’ drink recommendations do not include a mention of smoothies, but I think it’s something to consider since parents often serve them to their kids to help increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Smoothies are often seen as a health food, yet take a look at most bottled or restaurant smoothies—yes, green smoothies too—and you’ll discover most are filled with sugar thanks to ingredients like fruit juice, honey, raw sugar and loads of fresh fruit.

Sure, fresh fruit has natural sugars and other nutrients, but sugar is sugar.

If your kids like smoothies, make your own at home, using only vegetables and fruit at an 80:20 ratio.

How much water do kids need?

Since infants 6- to 12-months-old should only be offered small sips of water at meals, between 4 and 8 ounces total for the day is enough but it shouldn’t replace breast milk and/or infant formula.

These are the recommendations for water intake for older children:

1- to 3-years old: 1 to 4 cups of water a day

4- to 5-years old: 1.5 to 5 cups a day

Tips for offering a healthy kids’ drink

Substitute sugary drinks
If your kids love juice or another sweetened beverage and you know going cold-turkey isn’t going to work, slowly swap it out.

Try adding water to juice in your kid’s sippy cup or cut down the serving size or amount of servings per day until you can nix it for good.

Encourage drinking water
Pure, simple H2O may not be your kid’s first choice, but water gives their bodies what they need and it quenches their thirst without any unnecessary calories, fat or sugar.

The best way to eliminate juice and sugary drinks from your kid’s diet is to simply stop buying it. At daycare or church for example, you can encourage the people who provide the food to eliminate it too.

Although there’s not much you can do at birthday parties for example, you can do your best to encourage your kid to drink water or milk instead or allow juice in small amounts for that day.

Simple changes like offering a cool new sippy cup, a fun straw or adding slices of strawberries or cucumbers to water, for example, can be enough to encourage them to drink up.

Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric RDN
If you’re avoiding cow’s milk for any reason, it’s a good idea to check with your child’s pediatrician or pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure your child is getting enough key nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D in his diet.

What do you think about the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations? Leave me a comment.

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

In August when Weight Watchers rolled out weight loss app Kurbo, it released a wave of sharp criticism from health experts, eating disorder specialists and parents alike—and once again shined a spotlight on fighting childhood obesity.

Although Kurbo is certainly extreme, it’s not anything new. Just think about weight loss camps or companies who have started to sell fitness trackers for kids in recent years.

Instead of putting kids on diets, segregating food as “healthy” and “unhealthy,” and encouraging kids to track their steps every day, kids need repeated exposure to healthy foods, and they need to have healthy eating and lifestyle habits modeled for them.

So although Kurbo, fitness trackers, or any other adult weight loss solution that’s re-packaged for kids isn’t the solution, the sad truth is that we are still facing a childhood obesity epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects:

  • Nearly 14 percent of children 2- to 5-years-old.
  • More than 18 percent of 6 to 11-year olds.
  • More than 20 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds.

Of course, childhood obesity is just one part of an overall health epidemic in the U.S. Studies show kids who are overweight are at risk for other conditions including type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), both of which are on the rise.

Children who are obese also have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and problems with blood glucose tolerance. Obesity may also play a role in kids who have asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, joint problems and mental health problems. 

In fact, a recent study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham found teens who consume high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in fast food and processed foods that are linked to obesity, are more likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Most of the responsibility of preventing childhood obesity starts at home but schools and communities also play a role especially for families struggling with food insecurity.

Fortunately, there are several companies, including many start-ups, and non-profit organizations that are dedicated to fighting childhood obesity. Here are 15.

 

1. Revolutions Foods

Founded in 2006 by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, two businesswomen and moms, Revolution Foods’ mission is to build lifelong healthy eaters and provide healthy meals to every child who is food insecure. 

To date, the company has designed, produced and delivered more than 360-million

kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals to childhood education centers, school districts, charter schools, and community and after-school youth programs in 15 states. 

With their community partners, they also offer nutrition curriculum, cooking classes, gardening lessons and other education events.

2. Chef Ann Foundation 

If you’re looking to change your child’s school lunch program like I am, the Chef Ann Foundation is an excellent place to start. 

Founded in 2009 by Ann Cooper, an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children, the Chef Ann Foundation is dedicated to providing fresh, healthy school lunch every day. 

With tools, training, resources and funding, the Foundation helps schools create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. 

3. No Fuss Lunch

Founded in 2012 by Gabriella Wilday, No Fuss Lunch provides kid-centric, healthy school lunches, after-school snacks and meals for summer camps that exceed the National School Lunch Program’s standards. 

Their food is made without white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, nuts, GMO’s or MSG and is safe for kids with food allergies. 

4. YMCA

For nearly 160 years, the YMCA has made it their mission to strengthen local communities and improve the nation’s health and well-being.

With programs that provide meals to those who struggle with hunger, teach healthy eating, encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyle habits and strengthen families, the YMCA is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.


5. Sweat Makes Cents

Sweat Makes Cents is a non-profit organization with a particular focus on supporting millennial women who want to find a solution for childhood obesity.

The organization hosts jumping jack challenges, fitness fundraisers and city fitness teams that raise funds for nationwide childhood obesity prevention programs.

6. KidsGardening

Teaching kids how to garden is one of the best ways for them to be exposed to healthy food and learn where real food comes from.

KidsGardening is a national non-profit that offers grants, programs, curriculum, contests, and activities to create opportunities for kids to play, learn and grow through gardening. Approximately 70 % of the teachers who receive their grants say their students have improved attitudes about nutrition. In 2018, KidsGardening reached approximately 920,000 kids.

7. City Blossoms

City Blossoms is a Washington, D.C-based non-profit organization that develops creative, kid-driven green spaces. Their focus is on a combination of gardens, science, art, healthy living, and community building and they work with community-based organizations, neighborhood groups, schools, and learnings centers in the Washington D.C area and across the U.S.

8. Power of Produce (POP) Club

Bringing kids to farmers’ market is a great way to encourage access to healthy food and teach healthy eating habits which can go a long way in fighting childhood obesity.

At Power of Produce (POP) Club at the Oregon City Farmers Market kids get $2 every time they visit the farm to purchase their own fruits and vegetables, and they lean how to plant sunflower seeds, and make salads and jam, for example.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Bring Your Kids To The Farmers Market

9. Hungry Harvest

Founded in 2014 and featured on Shark Tank, Hungry Harvest rescues “ugly” fruits and vegetables from farmers that would otherwise go to waste and sells them in discounted subscription boxes.

For every Hungry Harvest delivery, they also offer their reduced cost produce to SNAP (food stamps) markets and donate to local organizations whose mission is to solve hunger. To date, they have provided more than 750,000 pounds of produce to SNAP reduced-cost markets, food banks and local nonprofits.

10. Farm to School

The National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub that sources local food to be served in schools, establishes school gardens, and brings food and agriculture education into schools.

11. DrumFit

DrumFit, a cardio drumming physical education program for schools, is on a mission to teach kids to love cardio fitness for life. The company provides online video content, lesson plans and routines.

12. The Adventures of Super Stretch

The Adventures of Super Stretch app is a children’s yoga program that can be done at home, and in daycares, schools, and after-school programs. Free, iTunes and Google Play.

13. KaBOOM!

KaBOOM! is a national non-profit that creates safe, community-based play spaces.

Over the last 20 years they have built or improved more than 17,000 play spaces and in 2018 they built more than 3100 playgrounds. KaBOOM! teams up with funding partners to build safe spaces in one day.

14. My First Workout

Founded by Michelle Mille, a certified personal trainer and mom, My First Workout is designed to connect parents with their children and pull kids away from the technology and sedentary behaviors linked to childhood obesity.

The step-by-step strength and conditioning program is designed for kids 5- to 10- years-old and includes fitness equipment, a video and a poster so parents can feel confident performing the exercises with their kids.

15. Wholesome Wave

Wholesome Wave is a national non-profit that makes healthy food accessible and affordable for families who struggle with food insecurity through two types of programs.

Doubling Snap allows people with SNAP (food stamps) benefits to receive double the value to spend on produce at select farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Through their Produce Prescriptions program, people receive produce vouchers from participating hospitals and clinics to purchase fruits and vegetables. In 2017, Wholesome Wave reached more than 973,000 people.

8 Health Risks of Childhood Obesity Every Parent Should Know

8 Health Risks of Childhood Obesity Every Parent Should Know

You already know the statistics: one-third of children in the U.S are overweight or obese and rates have more than tripled since the 1970’s.

Although we hear a lot about childhood obesity itself, what I think is often missing in the message is the why.

We talk a lot about eating right and exercise, which are of course, important to prevent childhood obesity, but what seems to be missing is a focus on the several long-term health consequences of childhood obesity.

Perhaps even more important is that many of the health risks of childhood obesity can affect kids both when they’re young and as adults.

Although many health conditions have physical symptoms and can be diagnosed, some are insidious and may not be detected until much later in life.

Here, read on for 8 health risks of childhood obesity—and why they matter. 

1. Type-2 diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the immediate health risks of childhood obesity include higher than normal blood glucose levels (known as impaired glucose tolerance), insulin resistance, a condition in which the cells cannot use insulin effectively, and type-2 diabetes.

A condition previously only seen in adults, today, cases of type-2 diabetes in kids are on the rise.

According to an April 2017 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the rate of newly diagnosed cases of type-2 diabetes in children between ages 10 and 19 increased by 4.8 percent.

2. Cardiovascular and heart disease

Children who are obese have risk factors for cardiovascular disease including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and problems with blood glucose tolerance.

In fact, a 2007 study in the Journal of Pediatrics of 5-17-year-olds found that approximately 70 percent of kids have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and 39 percent had two or more.

What’s more, according to an October 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, children and teens with the most severe obesity also had worse cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

3. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a build up of extra fat in the liver cells not caused by drinking alcohol  has become an epidemic among adults in the U.S.

Yet in recent years, more children than ever are also being diagnosed. Studies show up 38 percent of obese children have NAFLD, a 2.7 fold increase since the 1980’s.

NAFLD is also the most common cause of liver disease in children.

Although it’s unclear of the causes, NAFLD is associated with insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes and high cholesterol, and obesity is a risk factor.

Since NAFLD rarely has any symptoms, it’s been dubbed a silent killer. If fat continues to accumulate, it can progress to non-alcoholic steatosis

(NASH), which causes inflammation and liver cell damage, cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.

4. Asthma

Approximately 9 million children in the U.S. have asthma, a disease which causes the airways to become sore and swollen and causes symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and trouble breathing.

Experts say childhood obesity may play a role.

In fact, a December 2018 study in the journal Pediatrics suggests childhood obesity increases the risk for childhood asthma by 30 percent. Kids who were overweight also had a 17 percent increased risk for asthma.

Although the study doesn’t prove that obesity causes asthma, research suggests weight loss can improve or reverse it. A January 2019 systematic review in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found obese children who lost weight may improve their asthma.

5. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

According to the National Sleep Foundation, between 1 and 10 percent of kids have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes symptoms like snoring, restless sleep, pauses in breathing and bedwetting.

Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart trouble, poor weight gain, learning problems and behavioral problems.

There are several risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, and one is childhood obesity. Studies show up to 60 percent of kids who are obese also have sleep apnea.

The reason is that the tonsils become enlarged from fatty tissues in the upper airway, and fat deposits in the neck and chest encourage the airways to collapse during sleep, Lisa Shives, M.D., said in this article.

6. Joint problems

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, kids who are obese can have problems with the growth and health of their bones, joints and muscles.

Excess weight can damage the growth plates, and alter the length and shape of the bones when they’re fully grown. Being overweight also ups the risk for premature arthritis, broken bones and other serious conditions.

In fact, an October 2018 study out of the U.K. suggests that raising rates of obesity are leading more teens to develop Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE), a debilitating hip disease that requires surgery and can cause lifelong disability.

7. Mental Illness

In the U.S., mental illness is a serious issue for all kids, but kids with obesity in particular  are more likely to be at risk for emotional problems that last into adulthood.

In fact, a 2006 study in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care found obese teens were more likely to have anxiety, depression and low self-esteem than those who had a normal weight.

Of course, the stigma associated with being overweight, social discrimination and bullying all impact an overweight child’s self esteem and confidence.

8. Obesity into adulthood

There’s no question that kids who are obese are more likely to stay overweight into adulthood and face the same heath risks, but those risk factors are also likely to be more severe

Although there’s a clear link between obesity and cancer, research suggests that childhood obesity rates are also causing more young adults to get cancer.

According to a March 2018 study in the journal Obesity, certain types of cancer that were previously seen in adults over 50 such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and thyroid cancer, are now being diagnosed in younger adults (as young as 20), and childhood obesity rates may be to blame.

8 Easy Ways To Cut Sugar From Your Kid’s Breakfast

8 Easy Ways To Cut Sugar From Your Kid’s Breakfast

Experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when it comes to the foods kids are eating—things like cereal, muffins, pastries and sweet extras like jam, juice and sweet spreads—most make up a good portion of the sugar in their diets. 

In fact, according to a 2017 survey by Public Health England, an executive health agency, children get half of their daily allowance of sugar at breakfast.

What’s more, 84 percent of parents surveyed thought the foods they fed their kids were healthy.

When it comes to serving up a healthy, low-sugar breakfast, there are plenty of options if you plan ahead and think creatively.

Here, learn the types of foods to focus on, those to avoid and ways to cut sugar from your kid’s breakfast.

1. Read labels


When purchasing cereal and other breakfast foods, the best thing you can do is read labels and compare brands.

So-called healthy cereals that post claims like “a good source of fiber,” “gluten-free,” and “made with real fruit,” can be just as high in sugar as kid-friendly cereals that have bright, artificial colors and marshmallows, for example.

As the new Nutrition Facts labels continue to be rolled out, it will be easier to decipher labels and understand how much natural and added sugars are in the foods you buy.

Need more tips about what to look for and what to avoid in breakfast cereals? Check out my blog post, How to Pick a Healthy Cereal for Your Kids.


2. Pick protein


When you think breakfast, toast, waffles, pancakes and bagels usually come to mind.

If you’re looking for ways to cut sugar from your kid’s diet however, think about high-protein options which will also satisfy their hunger until lunch.

Serve hard boiled eggs or a frittata which can be made ahead of time and save you time in the morning, or incorporate leftover vegetables into a hash with eggs. You can also think out of the traditional breakfast box altogether and serve high-protein options like beans, tempeh or tofu.

Add a healthy fat like avocado and you have a low-sugar, filling breakfast.


3. Serve dessert for breakfast


Keep breakfast interesting by serving dessert—seriously! Think low-sugar pudding, breakfast cookies and baked oatmeals.

Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding from Skinnytaste.com and Paleo Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding from AgainstAllGrain.com are two recipes I like.

4. Make your own parfaits


Yogurt can be a healthy breakfast option for kids, but most yogurts, whether they’re marketed to kids or adults, are loaded with sugar.

To cut sugar from your kid’s breakfast, read labels carefully for hidden sugars like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.

A safe bet is to stick to plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt, and add fresh or frozen berries, vanilla extract and nuts, seeds or a low-sugar granola for healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber and protein.

If you’re tight on time however, there are some healthy, low-sugar yogurts. I like Siggi’s or plant-based yogurts like Lavva.

For more tips about what to look for in yogurt, check out my blog post How to Pick a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt.


5. Make over muffins

 

Muffins may seem like a healthy breakfast especially those made with fruit and vegetables and topped with nuts, but most muffins are sugar bombs.

For healthier options, look for recipes for low-sugar muffins or egg muffins you can make yourself.


6. Nix the juice

 

Orange juice, apple juice and organic fruit juice boxes are marketed to parents as a healthy option, but they’re also significant sources of sugar.

In fact, a 3.5 ounce cup of apple juice—about one serving for kids—has 9 grams of sugar

If you still want to offer your kids juice, try making green juices with 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent juice. Also, watch portion sizes—4 to 6 ounces is fine.


7. Swap jam and jelly for whole fruit

 

Jam, jelly and fruit preserves seem like a healthy breakfast option—they’re made with fruit after all—but they’re actually highly concentrated sources of sugar.

Although store-bought options are fine when you’re in a rush, a better idea is to serve whole fruit: sliced, smashed or blended.

Whole fruit is also a great swap for honey and maple syrup.


8. Make a green smoothie

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables.

Although it definitely takes a change in mindset, serving vegetables for breakfast is a great way to get more in your kid’s diet.

Although I don’t suggest you make smoothies to sneak vegetables, they can be an easy way to serve vegetables for breakfast and a low-sugar option.

On Sunday or the night before, set aside individual portions of green leafy vegetables and fruit, then add a protein source like almond butter and a healthy fat like chia seeds or flaxseeds and you have a healthy, low-sugar breakfast.

4 Reasons Your Kid Is Always Hungry

4 Reasons Your Kid Is Always Hungry

My daughters love to eat and almost alway ask for seconds or something extra, like a piece of fruit after dinner.

Since obesity, high cholesterol, type-2 diabetes and heart disease all run on both sides of the family, and because I’m also an emotional eater, I often worry that they eat too much.

At the same time, I’m very careful about what I say to my kids about food and try not to make it an issue.

Most kids like to snack but if they’re not torching major calories on the field, you might be wondering why your kid is always hungry or asks for something to eat after he ate just an hour ago.

It’s always a good idea to check in with your kid’s pediatrician since an increase in appetite can be a sign of type-2 diabetes, digestive conditions and thyroid dysfunction, to name a few.

If everything is normal however, here are some possible reasons your kid is always hungry.

1. A lack of nutrient-dense foods

My daughter often complains that her school lunch—usually lentils, veggies and a piece of fruit—isn’t enough. 

She wants more choices like the other kids have, but I try to explain that the foods they’re eating, things like white bread, “veggie” sticks and “fruit” gummies aren’t nutritious or filling.

Most of the kid-friendly foods like granola bars, pretzels, and fish-shaped crackers are made with refined carbohydrates that kids burn through quickly and don’t have the fiber and protein kids need to feel satiated.

At each meal, aim for whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, clean sources of protein and healthy fats.

Healthy snacks should be made up of both protein and fiber, like celery and hummus or an apple with almond butter.

2. Dehydration and thirst

According to an August 2015 study in The American Journal of Public Health, more than 50 percent of children and teens don’t drink enough water each day.

If kids aren’t hydrated, it can also affect their mood, brain function and athletic performance, and lead to headaches, dizziness and constipation.

Since being dehydrated can often be mistaken for hunger, it’s always a good idea to offer water before offering a snack.

Encourage your kids to drink water first thing in the morning too, when they’re most likely to be dehydrated, and sip throughout the day.

Drinking water before a meal can also prevent them from overeating or asking for something to eat.

Stick with water instead of juice which is high in empty calories and sugar, spikes blood sugar and may encourage cravings for other sugary fare.

If plain water is hard for your kids to swallow however, add sliced cucumbers or strawberries for some flavor.

Young kids in particular, usually have to be reminded to drink up and sometimes a new sippy cup or water bottle is the key to get them to drink up.

3. Growth spurts

When it seems like your kid is always hungry no matter how healthy the food is or how often he eats, he may be having a growth spurt.

According to KidsHealth.org, kids grow about 2 1/2 inches per year until they become teenagers. Growth spurts also happen between ages 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys.

Interestingly, they grow more during the spring time than at any other time of year.

Instead of processed, packaged foods, support your kid’s growth with nutrient-dense, whole foods as much as possible.

4. Boredom

On the weekends or on snow days when there’s no school, your kids will probably ask, “can I have a snack,” several times a day.

When my kids ask for snacks just a few hours after eating lunch, it’s usually because they’re bored. 

I try to explain that eating isn’t an activity and food is fuel.

Another ongoing conversation we have is about recognizing their hunger cues. I explain that when you’re hungry, your stomach growls and we eat to not feel hungry, instead of eating until we feel full. 

Having a schedule of meals and snacks with some flexibility throughout the day can help ensure your kid is actually hungry and eating enough each time.

If your kid still asks for a snack but you think he’s actually bored, telling him to wait until the next meal or snack time time teaches him that it’s ok to be hungry—a lesson even adults need.

Is your kid hungry all the time? What strategies have worked for you? Leave me a comment.

What is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

What is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

As a parent, you’re always hearing about the laundry list of ingredients and toxic chemicals you should avoid in your kid’s diet.

Things like artificial food dyes, GMO’s, pesticides, antibiotics, arsenic and one of the worst offenders: high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

But what is high-fructose corn syrup? And is it really that bad for your kid’s health? Here are answers to those questions and more.  

 

What is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

In recent years, there’s been a lot of buzz about HFCS, but the artificial sweetener made from processed corn starch has actually been in use since 1967, when it was first introduced.

Like table sugar (sucrose), HFCS is made up of two sugar molecules: glucose and fructose.

Regular sugar is broken down by the enzymes in our digestive tracks and then absorbed into the body.

HFCS is also made up of glucose and fructose but since the two molecules are unbound, they don’t have to be digested and they’re absorbed into the body at a much faster rate, Mark Hyman MD, states in this article.

Enzymes are added to HFCS to convert some of the glucose into fructose so it has a higher fructose-glucose ratio, making it even sweeter than sugar.

High fructose corn syrup is big business in the U.S.

Since high fructose corn syrup is government subsidized, it’s cheap to make and profitable. According to a 2018 report by Zion Market Research, the global market for the sweetener is expected to be worth more than $5 million by the year 2024.

Manufacturers also use the sweetener since it offers more flavor, stability, freshness, texture, pourability, color and consistency in foods than sucrose, according to one study.

 

Which foods contain high-fructose corn syrup?

High-fructose corn syrup is used in sweet foods, processed foods and surprising foods you’d least expect, including:

  • Cereals
  • Canned fruit
  • Condiments
  • Desserts
  • Granola bars
  • Ice cream
  • Juice
  • Salad dressings
  • Sodas and sweetened beverages
  • Sports drinks
  • Soups
  • Yogurt

Is high fructose corn syrup bad for kids’ health?

Research suggests foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup can spike the blood sugar, lead to inflammation, type-2 diabetes, weight gain and childhood obesity, high triglyceride levels and heart disease.

A landmark April 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was the first to show a link between HFCS consumption and the obesity epidemic.

Yet a few years later, Barry M. Popkin, one of the study authors, pulled back on his theory, The New York Times reported.

Then in 2008, the American Medical Association (AMA), also came out to say that it’s unlikely that high fructose corn syrup contributes more to obesity or other health conditions than regular sugar, and there’s insufficient evidence to limit it or use warning labels on food.

Still, the debate around high-fructose corn syrup and its health effects persisted.

According to a February 2010 study out of Princeton University, rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, despite consuming the same amount of calories.

The same study also found that long-term consumption of HFCS led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially abdominal fat, and an increase in triglycerides, or fats that circulate in the blood stream.

Studies also suggest the ingredient is harmful to the liver.

According to a May 2017 study in the Journal of Hepatology, obese children and teens who had diets high in foods that contain fructose like soda, sweetened beverages and processed foods, had an increased risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

What’s more, 38 percent also had nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more chronic and severe form of fatty liver disease.

Does high fructose corn syrup contain mercury?

Studies show some foods with high-fructose corn syrup also contain mercury.

A January 2009 study in the journal Environmental Health found toxic levels of mercury in food samples containing high-fructose corn syrup.

Yet just a few months later, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) announced that independent testing and expert review showed no detectable levels of the toxin in food samples with the sweetener.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies mercury, a toxic metal that has been linked to a host of health problems and can have adverse effects on a child’s nervous, digestive, and immune systems, as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals that are a public health concern.

Should you avoid high fructose corn syrup in your kid’s diet?

Although much debate continues to exist around HFCS and its harmful effects on our health, there’s no question that limiting any type of added sugars in our—and our kids diets—is ideal.

The demand for high-fructose corn syrup has been on the decline in recent years is promising, but it seems that we’ve replaced it with sugar. 

According to a 2017 report by the USDA, between 2015 and 2016, consumption of refined sugar increased by 6 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say kids should get less than 10 percent of their total daily calories from sugar, yet most kids are getting much more.

Since foods that contain high fructose corn syrup also lack the nutrition kids need to grow and develop at a healthy rate, it’s one more reason to limit or avoid the sweetener altogether.

By focusing on real, whole, healthy foods instead, you can ensure your kids are getting the nutrition they need to be healthy now, and throughout their lives.

 

 

10 Easy Ways To Slash Sugar From Your Kid’s Diet

10 Easy Ways To Slash Sugar From Your Kid’s Diet

Homemade cookies, your hometown ice cream shop and trick or treating on Halloween are what childhood memories are made of.

But let’s face it: kids can get sweets almost anywhere whether it’s the school cafeteria, on the sports field, in your local bank or in your own pantry.

What many parents don’t realize however, is that it’s not only the sugar that shows up in desserts or treats that are problematic, but also the sneaky sources that are in everything from cereal to yogurt.

Diets high in sugar are proven to lead to weight gain and obesity, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease—all conditions that can follow kids throughout their lives.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of our total calories for the day.

For kids 2 and older, they should have less than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

Yet studies show most kids—even babies and toddlers—are getting much more than that.

The good news is that even cutting out small amounts of sugar can make a dramatic difference in your child’s health.

According to a February 2016 study in the journal Obesity, obese children who reduced the amount of sugar in their diets but didn’t change the amount of calories they consumed had improvements in their blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL “bad” cholesterol after just 10 days. Researchers also saw significant improvements in their blood glucose and insulin levels.

So how do you slash sugar from your kid’s diet? Here are 10 ways.

1. Become an avid label reader

With more than 60 names, sugar is seriously sneaky and can hide in places you’d least expect it, such as:

  • Cereal
  • Yogurt
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Granola
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces
  • Dips
  • Granola, protein and cereal bars
  • Canned fruit and fruit cups

When you’re grocery shopping, make a habit of reading labels and comparing brands to ensure you’ll make the best choice.

2. Forget juice

 

Although juice has historically been seen as a healthy food for kids, it’s anything but.

Juice is high in empty calories, sugar, and carbohydrates, and drinking it can lead to weight gain, cavities and diarrhea.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says if you’re going to give kids juice, limit it to between 4 and 8 ounces a day depending on their ages while infants under 1 should avoid it altogether. 

Another option is to make homemade juices at home with 80 percent green leafy vegetables and 20 percent fruit, but still watch the portion sizes.

Although the sugars in homemade juice are natural, the calories and sugar can add up fast and they’re also processed in the body the same way as added sugars.

3. Cut sugary drinks too

Soda, sweetened ice teas, lemonade, sports and energy drinks, fruit punch, apple juice and chocolate milk make up a majority of the amount of sugar kids get in their diets.

In fact, between 2011 and 2014, 63 percent of kids consumed a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Water is the best beverage to offer your kids but if they have a hard time giving up the sweet stuff, start by diluting their drinks or gradually replacing a few with water until you’ve completely eliminated them from their diets.

Or, serve water with slices of cucumber or strawberries for a hint of natural flavor and sweetness.

4. Serve kids real, whole foods

 

The more sugar your kids eat, the more they’ll crave. 

What’s more, foods made with white, refined carbohydrates including flour, white breads and pastas, and white rice can spike your kid’s blood sugar and lead to sugar cravings.

To curb their preference for sweet foods, serve healthy, whole foods at every meal and snack.

Focus on protein and healthy fats, green leafy vegetables and fruits, including those with a low glycemic load like apples, pears and strawberries.

Depending on their ages, kids need just as many, or more, servings of vegetables than fruit.

5. Add healthy fats to your kid’s diet

Healthy fats found in foods like eggs, salmon, olives, avocado and coconut oil help kids feel satiated and curbs their sugar cravings.

Despite what we’ve been told for years, fat doesn’t lead to high cholesterol, heart disease, type-2 diabetes or obesity.

Need more proof? I recommend you read Food: What The Heck Should I Eat by Dr. Mark Hyman.

6. Ditch the dried fruit

 

Dried fruit can be a convenient, portable snack but they’re little sugar bombs kids don’t need.

Fresh or frozen whole fruit is always better and lower in sugar. Save the dried fruit for the occasional treat or dessert instead.

7. Purge the processed foods

 

Processed kids’ snacks, kid-friendly frozen meals and soups—even those that are organic, gluten-free or “made with real cheese”—may seem healthy but many have added sugar.

The only way to avoid these sneaky sources of sugar is to purge your pantry and replace your child’s meals with real, whole foods.

8. Make homemade treats

 

I don’t think kids should be deprived of desserts, but making your own homemade versions helps you to control the ingredients and the amount of sugar.

With upgraded ingredients like oats, applesauce, pumpkin, nuts and seeds and cacao nibs, you can make healthy, delicious treats for your kids.

And if you let your kids bake with you, even better. Cooking with your kids teaches them about healthy foods and how to prepare healthy meals.

9. Curb “natural” sugars that are actually added sugars

 

Agave, honey, and maple syrup might be natural, but once it’s separated and added to a food as a sweetener, it’s actually an added sugar.

In fact, the FDA may even require companies to list honey and maple syrup as an added sugar by 2020.

Although I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying a drizzle of pure maple on pancakes, for example, keeping tabs on the overall amount of sugar in your kid’s diet will ensure he’s not going overboard.

Replace sugar with natural sources of sweetness

To slash sugar from your kid’s diet, choose whole foods that add flavor and sweetness.

Add fresh or frozen vegetables to plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt or apples, cinnamon and vanilla extract to oatmeal, for example.

Roasting fruits like apples or pears also brings out their natural sweetness and is a healthy and delicious dessert your kids will love.

 

10 Things I Do To Keep My Kids Healthy + Prevent Childhood Obesity

10 Things I Do To Keep My Kids Healthy + Prevent Childhood Obesity

With more than one-third of children who are overweight or obese in the U.S., obesity and obesity-related chronic health conditions will be a lifelong reality for our children if we don’t do something about it now.

Although my kids are healthy, we have relatives on both sides of the family who are overweight or obese.

There’s also a strong family history of hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, anxiety, depression and mental illness, so taking steps to keep my kids healthy is one of my priorities as a parent.

Here’s a list of things I do to keep my kids healthy now and throughout their lives. One word of caution: these ideas are meant to inspire you, not make you feel like a failure.

1. I cook and eat with my kids

Cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner (yes, seriously), is perhaps the best way to keep my kids healthy.

I know exactly what goes into their meals and how the meals have been cooked and I can better control how much they eat than when we eat out.

I also cook with my kids, which has made them more likely to eat healthy and try new foods.

In fact, a November 2014 study in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found kids who took cooking classes or cooked at home ate more fruits and vegetables, were more willing to try new foods, and had an increased confidence in their ability to prepare meals.

Studies show eating family meals together—something we do every night—is also positively associated with kids who eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

2. I serve vegetables at most meals and snacks

Look in my refrigerator and you’ll find plenty of vegetables: broccoli, cucumber, celery, peppers, asparagus, and salad.

Veggies have filling fiber that satisfy kids’ hunger, balance their blood sugar, and take up space in their bellies to keep them feeling fuller longer.

Eating vegetables at every meal and snack is also one way to prevent them from gaining weight.

My kids eat salads and vegetables for lunch and dinner, they often have a fruit and vegetable smoothie for breakfast and munch on carrots and cucumbers for snacks, for example.

3. I watch their portion sizes

Although my kids eat a healthy diet, they often eat too much. They frequently ask for seconds or for fruit after dinner.

Fruit isn’t a big deal of course, but I try to teach them about portion sizes so they will learn healthy eating habits.

One way that helps them understand healthy portions is to encourage them to use a measuring bowl or cup.

When I allow them to have a packaged snack, I also talk to them about reading food labels. I explain the serving size and servings per container so they know how much they can eat and how much they have to save for another time.

4. I don’t buy a lot of processed, packaged foods

Crackers, cookies and granola bars are really easy and convenient, but most are high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, all of which can negatively affect their health and lead to weight gain.

Many of the kid-friendly foods and snacks are mostly refined carbohydrates, which lack fiber, spike their blood sugar and increase their sugar cravings.

When my kids are allowed these snacks, they know it’s a treat and not something they’ll eat every day.

5. I read labels and watch sugar

Like most parents, I watch my kids’ intake of obvious sources of sugar like cookies and candy but sugar is sneaky and can show up in surprising places like cereal, yogurt and barbecue sauce too.

Kids should consume less than 25 grams of added sugars a day and with the new Nutrition Facts labels being rolled out this year, it will be easier than ever to decipher between natural and added sugars.

I make it a point to read labels and check the added sugars, but I’m also cognizant of natural sugars, which can be concentrated in foods like dried fruit, for example.

6. I get my kids moving

I’ll admit it: making sure my kids get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise every day is one area that’s challenging for me.

Between working full-time, school, homework, after-school activities and other obligations, it’s hard to carve out time.

Although it’s not ideal, my daughters take gymnastics class 1 to 2 times a week and then I find opportunities to get them up and moving.

For example, we’ll take a walk before dinner or go on a bike ride. When it’s raining or cold, we might play a game of Twister or have an indoor dance party.

7. I limit screen time

Much to my chagrin, my kids love the iPad just like every other kid in America. “I hate those iPads!” is something you’d hear me say if you were a fly on the wall.

Screen time makes my kids tired and irritable and they get addicted to it.

Studies also show too much screen time is linked to sedentary behaviors, which can lead to childhood obesity and other chronic health problems so I often set a timer and set limits.

In fact, a January 2014 study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found teens who spent more than 2 hours a day behind a screen had a higher body mass index (BMI) as well as metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increases their risk for heart disease and stroke.

In August 2018, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement about the issue and strongly suggest parents limit all screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day.

8. I prioritize their sleep

Making sure your kids get enough sleep is just as important as eating healthy and exercise.

Without enough shut-eye, their hunger hormones can get all out of whack and make them more likely to reach for junk food and skip breakfast, one study found.

I do my best to make sure they’re in bed every night at the same time or within a half hour. If that means that our reading time is cut short, so be it. Sleep is too important.

9. I don’t serve juice and sugary beverages

Consuming fruit juice, soda, sports and energy drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages can easily spike a kid’s blood sugar and lead to weight gain.

According to a January 2018 review in Obesity Facts, 93 percent of studies found a positive association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity.

I let my kids have juice or lemonade for a special occasion like a friend’s birthday party, but otherwise they only drink water, homemade green smoothies or green juices.

10. I lead by example

I eat healthy and exercise for my own health and well being but it’s a really important way to keep kids healthy.

Although they don’t always like that I leave every morning for the gym, they know that it makes me healthy and happy, which makes me a better mom.

 

What are some habits you have to keep your kids healthy? Let me know in the comments!

Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

Childhood obesity continues to be an epidemic in the U.S., with more than one-third of kids who are either overweight or obese.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century and overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and suffer from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Although the nation has made inroads in creating awareness and affecting some change, parents will always be their children’s primary influence in all areas of their lives.

But when it comes to childhood obesity, are they to blame?

Pediatricians’ part in childhood obesity

For most parents, pediatricians are the first people they turn to when they have questions about their kids’ health. Pediatricians also play an integral role in preventing childhood obesity.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

Even when families have sufficient knowledge of healthy behaviors, they may need help from pediatricians to develop the motivation to change, to provide encouragement through setbacks, and to identify and support appropriate community resources that will help them successfully implement behavior changes.”

The AAP says pediatricians should encourage parents to be healthy role models, encourage a healthy lifestyle by offering healthy foods, having family meals and persuading kids to increase their physical activity and reduce their screen time.

Despite the responsibility pediatricians have however, the education and tools around childhood obesity are lacking.

According to a September 2010 report by the Association of American Medical Schools, U.S. medical schools offer an average of only 19.6 hours of nutrition education within 4 years of medical school.

That’s not even a day devoted to learning about the one thing that can make or break kids’ health.

And considering most pediatricians only have between 11 and 20 minutes to spend with parents, they’re extremely limited in the knowledge and guidance they can offer.

Despite all this, some physicians say parents are ultimately responsible for childhood obesity.

According to an August 2015 poll by SERMO, a social network for physicians, 69 percent of doctors think parents are either completely or mostly to blame for childhood obesity.

According to one pediatrician:

Clearly, parents need to shoulder some of the responsibility, and the blame. As parents, we have to set an example and to promote within our families healthy eating and healthy exercise. 

However, children are beset on all sides by their non-parental environment as well, which includes access to cheap, high-caloric foods; glitzy advertisements; a raft of screen and video entertainment; low-nutritional value school lunches; and on and on. Parents can be perfect role models, and still lose in this effort.

But at least they stack the odds more favorably for their kids.”

Is childhood obesity genetic?

When a child’s parents, grandparents and other family members are also overweight, it’s natural to chalk up childhood obesity to genetics and studies show there’s some truth to that theory.

According to a February 2017 in the journal Economics & Human Biology, 35 to 40 percent of childhood obesity is inherited from parents. The more overweight parents are, the more overweight their children are likely to be, the same study found.

It seems however, that what the study authors dub “intergenerational transmission,” is a combination of both genetics and food environment.

Experts say that although genetics play a role in our propensity for many diseases including obesity, we can also “turn on” and “turn off” our genes with diet and lifestyle.

According to the Harvard School of Medicine:

“…genetic factors identified so far make only a small contribution to obesity risk-and that our genes are not our destiny: Many people who carry these so-called “obesity genes” do not become overweight, and healthy lifestyles can counteract these genetic effects.”

Parents influence their child’s obesity risk

The healthy choices parents make also have a significant impact on their child’s risk for obesity, and research backs it up.

Take a July 2018 study in the journal BMJ, which included data from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII), one of the largest prospective investigations that look at the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women.

The study, which included more than 24,000 children, showed 5.3 percent of children became obese within 5 years, between ages 9 and 14.

Children whose mothers had a normal body mass index (BMI), participated in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week, didn’t smoke and drank alcohol in moderation, were 75 percent less likely to become obese than children of mothers who didn’t have those healthy habits.

What are we feeding your kids?

Food environment, including the foods that parents bring into the house, pack for school lunch, order at restaurants, serve for family gatherings, and bring on play dates, to the park or for after-school sports also play a role in the childhood obesity risk.

This is particularly important when kids are young and can’t purchase food at the store on their own or eat out with their friends, for example.

Kids who have access to plenty of fruits and vegetables, are much more likely to eat healthy than those whose pantries are filled with processed junk food.

In fact, an October 2014 study in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that encouraging and modeling healthy eating, setting limits on foods, and having healthy foods available at home are all positively associated with kids’ diets and their weight.

Studies also show that eating family meals together increases the likelihood that kids will eat healthy and may reduce their risk for childhood obesity.

Regardless of how diligent we are at feeding our kids healthy, food is everywhere and it has created an “obesogenic” environment that’s hard for any parent to contend with.

The food industry alone spends $10 billion dollar a year on food marketing. Brands use bright colors and recognizable characters on their packages and target kids on social media.

Supermarkets strategically place kid-friendly foods in locations where kids are most likely to ask for them.

Fast food restaurants include toys in their meals and restaurants host “kids eat free” nights.

Schools serve cookies, ice cream and potato chips in the cafeteria and have food available in vending machines, school stores and in the classroom.

Food also shows up in the least likely of places at places like convenience stores, bookstores, museums, banks, the dry cleaners, and even at church.

Food is just one part of the puzzle

Parents also teach and influence their kids in habits that have nothing to do with food but still contribute to childhood obesity.

For starters, we know physical activity plays a part in preventing childhood obesity but studies show most kids don’t get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Other habits like allowing kids to eat in front of the TV, have their devices at the dinner table or eat in the car—even if it’s on the way to practice—can also affect their weight.

Blaming parents isn’t the answer to childhood obesity

There’s no doubt that parents play a significant role in preventing childhood obesity. Regardless of how strong outside factors are, the onus is still on them to offer healthy foods and teach their kids healthy habits.

Positive change cannot occur however, if we blame parents.

Shaming parents for not reading to their kids, playing with their kids “enough” or even yelling when their kids misbehave, isn’t necessarily going to motivate them to be better parents.

Childhood obesity is a complex problem and the individual factors that affect a child’s weight can vary family to family.

For example, parents can eat healthy, exercise and encourage their kids to do the same, but if their kids are teens and would rather read a book, parents are limited in how much change they can affect in their kids.

Parental stressors may also affect a child’s risk for childhood obesity. According to a November 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics, multiple parental stressors such mental illness, employment status and financial strains are directly associated with a child’s risk for obesity.

When it comes to childhood obesity, I believe the solution is multi-faceted.

It starts with parents who want their kids to grow up healthy, know how to eat healthy and have healthy habits.

By educating ourselves, becoming aware of all the factors at play, seeking support from a pediatrician, a registered dietician nutritionist or a therapist, if necessary, we can stay the course and prevent childhood obesity.

When it comes to parenting, nothing is easy, straightforward or perfect, but it’s our job to stick with it.

What do you think: are parents to blame for childhood obesity?

10 Reasons Kids Should Eat Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Childhood Obesity

10 Reasons Kids Should Eat Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Childhood Obesity

If you’re a parent, you know your kids should eat healthy, but have you ever thought about the why?

Maybe it’s because you know a healthy diet is vital for their growth and development.

Or perhaps you’re sick of their picky eating behaviors and you want meals times to be peaceful.

If you’re an emotional eater and struggle with your weight, or have family members who do, you’re probably concerned about your child becoming overweight too.

With more than one-third of children who are overweight or obese, childhood obesity is definitely a good reason for your kids to eat healthy.

But fat or skinny, all kids should eat healthy. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. We’re a nation of (very) sick people

In the U.S., we’re facing a health crisis and 50 percent of Americans have at least one chronic health condition, mental disorder or substance use issue, a September 2016 study in the journal Psychology, Health & Medicine found.

We’re facing skyrocketing rates of:

  • ADHD and ADD
  • Allergies
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Obesity
  • Reflux
  • Skin problems
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Type-2 diabetes

Perhaps the most compelling reason kids should eat healthy is because food can prevent them from getting sick.

In his book, Food: What The Heck Should I Eat?, Dr. Mark Hyman states:

“Food is the most powerful drug on the planet. It can improve the expression of thousands of genes, balance dozens of hormones, optimize tens of thousands of protein networks, reduce inflammation, and optimize your microbiome (gut flora) with every single bite. It can cure most chronic diseases; it works faster, better, and cheaper than any drug ever discovered; and the only side effects are good ones—prevention, reversal, and even treatment of disease, not to mention vibrant optimal health.”

 

2. Mental Health

According to a 2017 report by World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects a whopping 322 million people worldwide.

As someone who has struggled with both anxiety and depression since childhood, I won’t tell you that nutrition is a cure-all for all people with depression and anxiety.

Food cannot override low levels of neurotransmitters, genetics, past trauma, low self-esteem and stress, for example.

But it can make a huge difference to improve mental health as it has done for me.

For some people, diet alone is enough.

Studies suggest nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D can support mental health.

In fact, a September 2014 study in the journal BMJ Open found consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with mental well being in both men and women.

3. Boosts Brain Power

You can hire a tutor and encourage your kids to study harder, but for kids to learn, concentrate, and excel in school, they need to eat healthy.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are important to focus on.

According to a December 2017 study out of the University of Pennsylvania, kids who eat seafood at least once a week have higher IQ scores that are 4 points higher on average than kids who eat fish less frequently or not at all.

What’s more, a healthy diet is important for kids’ brain health when they’re young and throughout their lives.

In fact, a July 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found in older people, a Mediterranean diet with foods like fish, nuts, olive oil and avocado is associated with improved cognitive function.

4. Sports and Athletic Performance

Playing multiple sports and joining travel teams are all great, but without the right nutrition, your kids won’t fuel their bodies with what they need to build muscle, strength and endurance.

Without a healthy diet, they’ll be sluggish and their athletic performance can suffer.

An April 2013 article in the journal Paediatrics Child Health states the right amounts of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and hydration are essential for young athletes’ growth, activity and athletic performance.

5. Gut Health

A healthy gut is linked to a strong immune system but leaky gut syndrome or “intestinal hyperpermeability” is something that can develop over years due to a poor diet.

Although controversial in the Western Medicine world, leaky gut syndrome is believed to occur when the tight junctions or cells that line the inside of the intestines open up and allow undigested food particles and pathogens in, which causes problems in the gut and throughout the body.

Experts say a diet high in processed foods, sugar and synthetic food additives, which disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut can leady to leaky gut.

6. Sleep

Sleep plays an important role in kids’ health and affects their overall function, mood and behavior, school and athletic performance.

But it’s an often-overlooked factor when it comes to eating healthy. Eating foods low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep and more awakenings at night, a January 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found.

Without enough sleep, kids are also more likely to make unhealthy food choices. Studies show the less sleep they get, the more likely they are to make unhealthy food choices.

In fact, an August 2018 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that kids who regularly fell asleep after 11pm were 4 to 5 times more likely to eat less than three breakfasts a week and 2 to 3 times more likely to eat junk food at least 5 times a week.

7. Eye health

A healthy diet can keep support your child’s eye health.

For example, vitamin A helps the eyes see in low light conditions and keeps the cornea healthy and lubricated.

Omega-3’s can prevent dry eye syndrome, often a result of too much screen time.

Research suggests lutein, a carotenoid or plant pigment found in pumpkin and green leafy vegetables could improve learning, memory, focus and concentration.

A healthy diet can also prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration later on in life.

8. Prevents some types of cancer

Cancer isn’t something any parent should have to worry about but laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating can prevent certain types of cancer into adulthood.

A June 2017 review and multiple meta-analyses in the journal Nutrition Reviews found a healthy diet can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers.

9. A longer life

It’s no surprise that eating healthy can prevent disease and extend your life.

But a March 2014 study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found people who eat 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day cut their risk for premature death by 42 percent.

10. Your future grandchildren

What your kids eat now can set the stage for the way they eat throughout their lives and those choices can affect their fertility, whether they’re male or female.

What’s more, 2015 guidelines from The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics state that not only is optimal nutrition before and during pregnancy important for women but it can affect their future generations as well.