Although you want your children to eat healthy, whole foods, you can’t always avoid processed food items, especially when you are in a rush and need to get some sort of meal on the table. Always scan the ingredients list of the food you are considering, to make sure it doesn’t have certain additives you want to skip.
Aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, saccharine — just as there are a lot of ways to sweeten a food naturally, so there are a lot of ways to sweeten a food artificially. The promise of artificial sweeteners sounds too good to be true: a much sweeter taste with zero calories. While you may think the reduction in calories will help you and your children lose weight or avoid unwanted gain, some studies have shown that people who ate products containing zero-calorie sweeteners actually gained weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, some sweeteners, such as saccharin, have been shown to cause cancer in rats, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food producers tend to add sodium nitrite to bacon, hot dogs and other meat products to boost the color and to add more flavor. The only problem is that when you cook the sodium nitrite-preserved meat, chemical changes occur that produce nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. If you can’t give up the bacon or your children beg you for hot dogs, look for brands that claim to be nitrite- or nitrate-free. Some brands also add acids to the meat that prevents the nitrosamines from forming, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Artificial Food Dyes
Unless you are eating blueberries, you really shouldn’t be eating blue foods. The same goes for bright yellow, red or green foods, unless you are eating a fresh fruit or vegetable. While some food products are colored with natural dyes, derived from plants such as beets or annatto, plenty of other foods are dyed with artificial coloring. When scanning the ingredients list, keep an eye out for Blue 2, Red 3, Green 3 and Yellow 6, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends avoiding completely. While some studies have shown connections between these dyes and cancer in rats, others also believe that exposure to food coloring can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD in some children.
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
Since 2006, the Federal Food and Drug Administration has required all food products to include the amount of trans fat in each serving on the nutrition facts label. Trans fats have been shown to raise the levels of bad cholesterol in a person’s bloodstream, raising her risk for heart disease, according to the FDA. Unfortunately, a loophole in the FDA’s rules allow some food products to claim they contain zero grams of trans fat per serving, even if they contain half a gram or less. To completely avoid your and your children’s exposure to trans fat, scan the ingredients list, looking for partially hydrogenated oils.