Last week I wrote about non-food related tips about reducing kids’ exposure to chemicals, or toxins. As I promised, this week here are some food-related tips. I have written more in detail about some of these in my past blogs, but here is just a quick mention of some concerns related to food and chemicals.
1. Minimize Use of Processed Food
There are different levels of processing in processed food. For example, frozen veggies and fruits, bagged salad or pasteurized milk count as processed food because they were in some fashion altered from their original form. However, they are minimally processed (meaning you can still recognize the original animal plant source). On the other hand are the highly processed foods made out of multiple processed ingredients whose original source you do not recognize anymore. In short, the higher the level of processing, the worse the quality of the food is because it contains sugars and saturated fats, additives, preservatives and other chemicals that are not good for our health.
Try to avoid the highly-processed food when feeding your kids and introduce as many fresh fruits and veggies as possible. Try to make as much home-made food from scratch as you can. And when time does not allow and you have to buy food pay attention to ingredients and the level of processing.
2. Minimize the Use of Canned Food
Canned food comes in different processing levels (think about canned sauerkraut and spam – two opposites). But with cans, there is an additional concern about the can lining. Studies have shown that many can linings contain bisphenol A (or BPAs) that have been linked to many health problems, and that can leach from the lining into the food. I wrote about these last week when I talked about plastics.
So, try to avoid using canned foods if you can. Many products come in jars as well, so try to research that avenue. If you are using the cans try to find out which producers do not use BPAs in their lining. Also, make sure you do not scrape the sides of it when you take the food out.
It is also important to find a balance and weigh things out. I, for example, feed my kids occasionally with canned sardines. I try to choose brands that I know do not use the BPAs in the lining. But, after weighing costs and benefits I think I would feed it to them regardless. Why? See the next tip.
3. Carefully Choose Fish
Fish is an important source of protein and healthy omega fats. But not all fish are the same in terms of nutrition. The ocean pollution with heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and more recently with plastics has left its toll on fish as well. When we talk about saltwater fish, usually the bigger the fish (or the higher it is in the food chain), the more mercury it contains. This is due to the process called bioaccumulation. So, with this in mind, I recommend that you try to feed your kids smaller fish.
For example, in my opinion, sardines are among the healthiest fish out there. They barely contain any mercury and they are very rich in omega fats. However, in some countries, it is hard to find fresh sardines. For that reason, I sometimes feed my kids the canned ones.
One more thing about the fish – try to avoid farmed fish as well. Fish farming is bad for the environment and usually, fish are fed with growth hormones and antibiotics that tend to linger in their bodies and thus the fish meat we eat.
4. Pay Attention to Where the Meat Comes From
In one of my first blogs, I have written extensively about problems with meat. Meat is an important source of protein and a staple in many diets. However, not all meat is produced in the same fashion. A lot will also depend on your country of residence. The European Union is a little better in terms of what it allows when it comes to raising animals for meat. But in general, industrially raised meat is filled with growth hormones and antibiotics that we ingest when we eat it. Animals are administered hormones and antibiotics in order to grow faster and not to get sick. When we or our children eat such meat we also ingest much of the hormones and antibiotics that remain in the meat after the animals are slaughtered.
Why is that bad? Some studies suggest that the continuous ingestion of the small amounts of growth hormones through food can lead to cancers. And constant ingestion of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. The latter issue has become so serious worldwide that the United Nations have recently taken on a task to examine how to curtail worldwide increase in antibiotic resistance caused by animal feed.
So what you can do for your kids is to try to buy organic meat (though, again depending on your country this will have different implications). If “organic” is not regulated (like for example in Serbia), or in other words, it can mean anything, try to buy meat from a local farm or from someone you know. Ask them about their practices with animals and their feed.
In the end, you can always reduce the animal protein in your kids’ diet and increase the plant-based one.
5. Try to Buy Organic Produce Whenever You Can
Conventional fruits and vegetables are sprayed with dozens of pesticides. These pesticides remain on the produce and end up in our bodies when we eat them. The lifelong exposure to this kind of food can have various health implications since many pesticides are considered carcinogenic.
What can you do? Well, try to buy organic produce whenever you can. Again, if “organic” is not regulated try to find a local farm and find out how they grow fruits and vegetables. In Serbia for example, go to “pijaca” and talk to the farmer. Since growing organic produce requires a lot of work and takes some risk, it is likely that a farmer will spray the produce. But, ask her what she put on the spinach and how often, then come home and try to do some research to determine what the produce was sprayed with.
This is how I approach feeding my kids. Some things take time and research but once you figure it out it is a breeze.