Nearly 3 in 10 American children are living with a chronic health condition, ranging from developmental disorders and autism, to cancer, cardiovascular problems, and arthritis, and 33% of these can be blamed on environmental factors. Today’s children are growing up with too much sugar in their food, contaminants in their drinking water, and poison in their air – and as a parent, it can seem overwhelming and straight-up impossible to protect them from it all[2,3,4]. But, because of certain labeling laws in place to protect us, as consumers, we can help minimize the toxins they are exposed to on a daily basis.
And, while there certainly are foods that no one should be eating – there are a few we should especially be protecting our children from.
Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese, straight from the box, is a known kid’s food. What’s not to love about that creamy deliciousness? Well, for starters – the ingredients.
Phthalates, for instance, are a group of chemicals used to make plastic stretchier and cosmetics less likely to crack. But, because of their potential health impacts, like causing recurrent miscarriage, and testicular cancer, altering hormone levels and other systemic effects, they were banned for use in the US in children’s toys in 2018[5,6] So, while this harmful ingredient may not be in your children’s toys, it might be lurking in their dinner. An independent study identified significant levels of phthalates in 29 of 30 cheese samples tested, and that powdered cheese mixes contained four times more detectable phthalates than natural cheese. One of the researchers participating in the study theorized that the manufacturing process “the plastic tubing, the gloves, the gaskets“, and his suggestion really isn’t far off. Scientists in London have identified these chemicals in food packaging and food contact materials, and these have “been found to contaminate food sources directly.”[8,9]
Another issue found in macaroni and cheese (and most noodles, really), which can effect up to 80%+ of the population, is the fact that their flour has been enriched[10,11]. While many people may not realize it, a large percentage of the population carries a mutation in the MTHFR gene, and this was passed down from our parents. Though some remain unaffected, this mutation puts one at risk for cardiovascular disease, B-vitamin deficiencies, cancer, autoimmune disease, anxiety, and depression. Food manufacturers attempted to ward off folate deficiency by adding folic acid into their products, but unfortunately for those with the MTHFR mutation, this is an issue. Folic acid, the synthetic version of folate (vitamin B9), cannot properly be metabolized by those with this mutation, and thus, they begin to collect and accumulate in the tissues and organs. This can eventually lead to autoimmune issues and certain types of cancer[13,14]
One in every three children has at least one sugary drink, most often juice, per day, according to a new study out of California. And, while this sugary sweet drink wins the favor of many kids, it’s our job as parents to explore the health effects caused by our children’s diets.
Many people tend to think of fruit juice as a health food – after all, fruit is healthy. But, unfortunately for us, the manufacturing process of these store-bought juices makes these products much less healthy than one may think. Because they lack fiber, these drink options remain relatively high in sugar, and this imbalance, that isn’t seen in whole fruits, leads to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes in children who drink juice often. When considering the difference between fruit juice and whole food, it’s important to know that four ounces of 100% apple juice contains 13g of sugar on 0g of fiber. Half an apple has only 5.5g of sugar and 1.5g of fiber – and fiber aids in digestion.
Obesity is a growing problem around the world, and by four years old – nearly 20% of all children are considered obese. When looking at juice from a weight-management standpoint, their sugar content can be compared to other sugar-sweetened beverages, like soft drinks and energy drinks, and high fruit juice intake is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Weight, and following issues, aren’t the only cause for concern when it comes to juice. One study found that apple and orange juice were five times more corrosive to the teeth than Coca-Cola Light. Dental health should be especially concerning to parents, with over 40% of children experiencing at least one cavity by 11 years old.
They always say the most important meal is breakfast, it jump starts your metabolism, aids in concentration, and even has an impact on your mood. And, since the Kellogg brothers began mass marketing their products since the early 1900s, breakfast cereals have been a common breakfast for many American families. For children, breakfast cereal remains one of the top-marketed food product to them, with kid-friendly cereals higher in sugar and sodium, and lower in fiber and protein. In fact, of the breakfast cereals marketed to children, more than half failed to meet nutrition standards, and contained way too much sugar. In the cereal world, unhealthy, sugar-laden options are three times more likely to be marketed to children, and these choices have proven to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.
But, making your kids fat isn’t the only concern with breakfast cereal – it also may be contributing to the development of cancer. In August, 2018, agrochemical giant Monsanto was court-ordered to pay $289 million to a man diagnosed with terminal cancer, who blamed their product, RoundUp, for his disease. The reason this is worrisome, and related to children’s breakfast cereals, is because glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, has been identified in 43 of 45 samples of breakfast cereal tested by an independent laboratory. While the daily health limit of exposure to glyphosate is approximately 160 ppb for children, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, and 29 other cereals had higher levels of glyphosate detected. Some samples tested higher than 1000 ppb. Based on evidence of its potential role in cancer, in 2015 the World Health Organization classified glysophate as probably carcinogenic to humans.
Of all the food that children eat, breakfast cereals are among some of the most brightly colored and laden with food dyes. Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Trix, and Cap’n Crunch are just a few cereals targeted at children that contain high levels of these petroleum-based colors. One manufactured chemical, benzidine, can be found in the most commonly used food dyes. This chemical has been known to cause cancer in humans, but is assumed to be safe in food dye use. Food dye consumption is also affecting the brains of young children, contributing to one of the most chronic disorders, ADHD. Children diagnosed with this condition are encouraged to practice a lifestyle free of artificial dyes, and this seems to be most successful when practiced by the entire family.
In the United States alone, 20 billion hot dogs are bough and consumed annually, and they are one of the most commonly loved food by kids. This bun stuffed with heavily processed meat and condiments seems to be an American favorite, but most people are completely unaware of its health implications. Of course, the identical link-look seems a bit suspicious, because what looks that symmetrical in nature, and hot dogs are far from natural. And, as with many things, further from natural means more harmful to your health.
According to the CDC, more than 100 million Americans are now living with diabetes – and most of these cases can be attributed to diet. In people eating diets full of processed meats, like hot dogs, their risk of diabetes and heart disease seems to be increased. The impact these food choices have is actually quite astounding. Just one serving of processed meat was found to increase the risk of heart disease by 42% and the risk of diabetes by 19%. Start adding up those second and third helpings, and the risk gets scary. It is thought that the processing agents may be negatively impacting health.
On top of it all, processed meats are classified, by the American Cancer Society, as a Group 1 known human carcinogen. This assignment means that we are well aware of this product’s ability to cause cancer in humans, yet it remains on the market anyway. Each serving of processed meat was found to increase the person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. These meats also increase the risk of developing stomach cancer, and this has a lot to do with the additive of nitrates as preservatives, which are also known to cause cancer in humans[33,34].
I know, I know – I’m just killing all the fun here. But, chocolate milk (as tasty as it may be) is just not one of those things you want on the menu for your kids. One of the primary places that flavored milk is accessible to children is through school, and as parents, we should be fighting against these unhealthy choices. Without stating the obvious, since we’ve already discussed the health implications of sugar over-consumption, chocolate milk is obviously the less healthy option because of its sugar content, which can be twice as high as white milk.
In popular chocolate flavorings, like Hershey’s syrup, the first listed ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup. Because of the way high-fructose corn syrup is digested in the body, it is rapidly deposited into the liver, and has been known to cause metabolic dysregulation, and an imbalance in the blood sugar levels. Because high-fructose corn syrup is so loaded with sugar, long-term ingestion has been shown to lead to a decrease in consumption of solid foods, and this can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The chocolate powder, like Nesquik, is even worse than the syrup – containing ingredients like carrageenan, soy lecithin, and synthetic vitamins. Carrageenan, a processed derivative of seaweed, helps prolong the shelf-life of many milk based products. It has been banned by the USDA Organic regulators, and in 2003 was prohibited by the European Union for use in infant formula. The concerns about this additive stem from its effects on the digestive system. Consumption of carrageenan has been known to induce stomach ulcers and abnormal growths in the digestive tract, as well as overall inflammation, and could play a role in the development of intestinal disease, like inflammatory bowel disease[37,38]. In truth, because of the lactose present, milk is sweet enough as it is, and simply doesn’t need these added, harmful, ingredients to taste good.
Paying attention to the foods our kids are eating most is extremely important in today’s world. The grocery stores are filled to the brim with products that look like food, and taste like food, but really are not food – and are not good for our bodies. Shopping around the outside of the store, in the fruits and vegetables, the meats, and even the frozen section, will help keep you away from most products like these. But, if your food comes with a label, be sure to read it!
Until next time,
1. Focus for Health Chronic Illness and the State of Our Children’s Health
2. American Society for Nutrition OR12-18 – Consumption of Added Sugars Among US Infants Aged 6-23 Months, 2011-2014
3. Current Environmental Health Reports Microbial Contamination of Drinking Water and Human Health from Community Water Systems
4. Internation Journal of Environmental Studies Air Pollution and Human Health Hazards: A Compilation of Air Toxins Acknowledged by the Gas Industry in Queensland’s Darling Downs
5. NCBI Phthalates and Other Additives in Plastics: Human Exposure and Associated Health Outcomes
6. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission Phthalates
7. Klean Up Kraft Testing Finds Industrial Chemical Phthalates in Cheese
8. CNN What Chemicals are in Your Mac and Cheese?
9. Snedeker S.M. Toxicants in Food Packaging and Household Plastics
10. Experimental and Molecular Pathology Prevalence of MTHFR Gene Polymorphisms (C677T and A1298C) Among Tamilians
11. American Society of Hematology A High Incidence of Patients with MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydofolate Reductase) Gene Mutations Noted in an Appalachian Population Seen for Thromophilia at the West Virginia University Outpatient Hematology Clinic, 2006-2008
12. DietvsDisease MTHFR Mutation, Symptoms, and Diet: What You Need to Know
13. NCBI Folate, Folic Acid, and 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate are Not the Same Thing
14. Open Access Text The Hazards of Excessive Folic Acid Intake in MTHFR Gene Mutation Carrier: An Obstetric and Gynecological Perspective
15. UCLA Newsroom UCLA Study Reports Nearly 1 in 3 California Kids have a Sugary Drink Daily
16. Diabetes Care Intake of Fruit, Vegetables, and Fruit Juices and the Risk of Diabetes in Women
17. American Journal of Public Health Reducing Childhood Obesity by Eliminating 100% Fruit Juice
18. Advances in Obesity, Weight Management, & Control Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Fruit Juice Composition in Obesity
19. PLOS One Influence of Various Acidic Beverages on Tooth Erosion. Evaluation by a New Method
20. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Dental Caries (Age 2 to 11)
21. Journal of the American Dietetic Association Examining the Nutritional Quality of Breakfast Cereals Marketed to Children
22. NCBI The Healthfulness and Prominence of Sugar in Child-Targeted Breakfast Cereals in Canada
23. USA Today Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million to Cancer Patient in Roundup Lawsuit
24. EWG Breakfast with a Dose of Roundup?
25. World Health Organization IARC Monographs Volume 112: Evaluation of Five Organophosphate Insecticides and Herbicides
26. Clinical Pediatrics Amounts of Artificial Food Dyes and Added Sugar in Foods and Sweets Commonly Consumed by Children
27. Environmental Health Perspective Diet and Nutrition: The Artificial Food Dye Blues
28. International Life Sciences Institute Artificial Food Dyes and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
29. CDC New CDC Report: More than 100 Million Americans have Diabetes or Prediabetes
30. Harvard School of Public Health Eating Processed Meats, but not Unprocessed Red Meats May Raise Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
31. American Cancer Society Known and Probable Human Carcinogens
32. Global Health Processed Meat Consumption Associated with Increased Cancer Risk
33. The BMJ Processed Meats are Carcinogenic, Says New Review of Evidence
34. EWG Pouring it On: Health Effects of Nitrate Exposure
35. PLOS One Chocolate Milk Consequences: A Pilot Study Evaluating the Consequences of Banning Chocolate Milk in School Cafeterias
36. PLOS One High Fructose Corn Syrup Induces Metabolic Dysregulation and Altered Dopamine Signaling in the Absence of Obesity
37. American Diabetes Association Potential Health Risks from Beverages Containing Fructose Found in Sugar or High-Fructose Corn Syrup
38. Environmental Health Perspective Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments
38. The Journal of Nutrition Carrageenan Induces Cell Cycle Arrest in Human Intestinal Epithelial Cells in Vitro