I was having dinner with friends the other night and the question was raised, “are processed foods making my kids crazy”? My answer was “Heck, Yes!” This blog contains the information that led me to that answer.
What a typical American eats has been referred to as SAD (Standard American Diet). This is based on a typical diet that is mainly comprised of food that is packaged and processed. Processed food can be high in trans fat, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, bleached flour, GMO soy/corn/wheat… and as a result devoid of nutrients and fiber. In fact, nutrients and fiber are actually removed from processed foods during their creation so that the texture of the food will be more desirable to the palette. Then they have to artificially add nutrients back into the food so that we can actually eat the processed food.
Avoiding processed food is ideal, but not always possible. As a Mom I know that sometimes you just want to grab something in a packet and run out the door. Ideally you try and eat real whole foods (ones with a mother or grown from the ground) but when that’s not possible, what should you look for? Do not just read the package’s front label, this can be deceiving. You need to educate yourself on the ingredients you should avoid and why, and then look at the entire product’s ingredient list.
Some simple rules of thumb are, the shorter the ingredient list the better, and if you can not pronounce an ingredient then do not buy the product.
A list of ingredients to avoid
Hydrogenated fats (includes shortening, partially hydrogenated oil) – this can raise your LDL “bad” cholesterol, reduce your HDL “good” cholesterol, and shrink your LDL particles increasing the risk of clotting and heart attack. Hydrogenated fats also increase the body’s inflammation.
Refined Grains – (white pasta, white flour tortillas, white rice, white bread) – Refined grains have had the germ and the bran of the grain removed by a chemical process, and then nutrients are often “enriched” back into the product to meet nutritional guidelines. Not ideal at all. To avoid refined grains, look for 100% whole … as the first ingredient.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – Not only is HFCS created using GMO corn, but it also can mess with your hormones. HFCS has been shown in obesity studies to prevent the body from releasing leptin and insulin, the hormones that let you know that you are full.
Glutamates – (Includes, MSG, autolyzed yeast, calcium caseinate, gelatin, glutamate, hydrolyzed corn gluten, hydrolyzed protein, textured protein, yeast extract) – These are flavor enhancers. Glutamates are excitotoxins, which can be devastating to the nervous system.
Artificial Sweeteners – Not only is it a chemical, but it has also been shown to increase your risk of metabolic syndrome and cause autoimmune diseases. Consumption of artificial sweeteners have been linked to causing permanent damage to the appetite center of the brain. These are also considered excitotoxins.
Preservatives and Artificial Colors - Avoid artificial colors with numbers (e.g. Red 40, Blue 2), Potassium Bromate, Sodium Benzoate, Benzoic acid, Sodium nitrate, sulfites (sodium bisulfite, sodium dioxide), MSG and BHA. Avoid processed meats that contain sodium nitrate. BHA is considered “relatively safe” but also a “reasonably anticipated known human carcinogen”… and it’s in a ton of processed foods. Artificial colors have been linked with cancer and behavioral changes. The Center for Science in the Public Interest provides a comprehensive table with a list of safe, relatively safe, and unsafe additives in food.
Processed Food = Crazy Kids
Back to the topic of processed foods and crazy kids, there have been a number of studies on kid’s behavioral problems and artificial colors and preservatives. Some do not believe that it makes a difference, however many studies clearly link hyperactivity with food additives. For example, in 2007 The Lancet reported on a study that showed an increase in hyperactivity of children when they were reintroduced to artificial colors and/or a sodium benzoate preservative (see link below).
Changing your diet to limit your family’s consumption of these ingredients can do you no harm. So why not give it a try? You may feel better and your kids may stop acting “crazy”. Sounds like a win-win to me.
For more information:
Jillian Michaels Master Your Metabolism
The Lancet article on hyperactivity
Center For Science in the Public Interest – Learn about food additives
Environmental Working Group – information portal for all making healthy choices and enjoying cleaner environment.
Shopping Guide to Pesticides and Produce (Environmental Working Group). Includes information on organic foods (the dirty dozen, and the clean fifteen).
Center for Food Safety – Genetically Engineered Food – Shopper’s guide
Kind bars – great snack bar made with wholefood ingredients