To Eat or Not to Eat

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Most of the time when someone tells you that you can’t have something, you want it more. The same is true for children. Every day, mothers have to prepare healthy meals and negotiate with children about snacking options and still try to avoid unhealthy stumbling blocks.

To navigate among the grocery store jungle aisles and come out with bags full of healthy, hearty fare, take a few extra minutes and begin to read product labels. Simply follow these easy tips, and then check out the list of super substitutes.

Dye, Dye Birdie.
It seems that all of the fun packaged foods have enough dye in them to color thousands of Easter eggs. A few years ago, an analysis of 21 of the most conclusive studies found compelling evidence that, indeed, artificial dyes could contribute to hyperactivity, restlessness and attention problems in some children – particularly those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. What’s more, the studies suggested that removing dyes from those children’s diets was a quarter to half as effective in reducing those symptoms as giving the kids Ritalin or other stimulants.

Start reading food labels.
When you come across words such as Red 40, Blue 2, Yellow 5 Lake and Yellow 6 Lake, get rid of and stop buying those products. When parents start taking a stand in their own kitchens, that’s when manufacturers will begin eliminating the use of these ingredients in their products. When consumers don’t purchase dye-laden foods, manufacturers lose money and will eventually stop producing them.

Sugar by Any Other Name.
Growing up, most of today’s parents only knew one name for sugar, and it was sugar. Today, there are a myriad of sweeteners out there, ranging from high fructose corn syrup to one of the many colorfully packaged artificial sweeteners available. To cut to the chase and avoid long explanations as to why one may be better for you than another, the best rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution and common sense. If something is made artificially, do you really want to give it to your children? So again, read those labels, and unless the word sugar appears as the sweetener, skip it.

Transport the Transfat.
When reading labels, keep an eye out for the no-no saturated fats, for example partially hydrogenated oils. Some fats are good and some are not so good. Saturated fats have a chemical makeup in which the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms and are typically solid at room temperature. Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods, such as fatty meats, poultry or higher fat dairy products. The main no-no culprits come in the form of baked goods and fried foods, which can contain high levels of saturated fats. Rule of thumb, steer clear of the partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.

Fiber is Your Friend.
According to the American Heart Association, most Americans should be consuming about 25-30 grams of fiber daily, but with the over-processed food jungle out there, it’s not always that simple. Fiber occurs naturally in whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains, but oftentimes busy families don’t get their fill.

Take control of the fiber patrol and plan ahead.
When children come home from school or summer camp, have freshly cut fruit and veggies and dip available, and keep the chips and cookie jar out of sight. The old saying is true, “out of sight, out of mind,” and when children (and parents) are hungry, they’ll nosh on almost anything in sight … so start chopping. Freshly cut fruit will last in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Beth Aldrich is a certified health counselor and author of the book “Real Moms Love to Eat: How to Conduct a Love Affair with Food and Still Look Fabulous.”