Summer is defined by vacations as much as it is by ice cream and popsicles. n preparation for a Memorial Day weekend barbecue, my mother-in-law said she would have “tons of popsicles” for the kids. I shuddered, assuming she would get the ones that are “all fruit,” but laden with sugar. “It’s a holiday,” I told myself, as I channeled Elsa. “Let it go.”
It was worse…so much worse. A well-meaning, health-conscious woman, my mother-in-law scoured labels and decided upon “no sugar added” popsicles and “skinny” ice cream, which contained lots of hidden artificial sweeteners and added colors. Sadly, it seems we need to learn a new language to read food labels.
As an 8-year-old kid, I wore a boy’s extra-large in snow pants. I dread my 7-year-old having to go through what I did. It’s a crazy world and an even crazier playground. By second grade, kids may not have learned road rage yet, but they know how to make pointed remarks about others’ appearances.
We all want what’s best for our kids. We want to feed them good food and give them ample opportunities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows more additives in our food than any European country, making the choice of what to feed our kids some of the toughest ones we face as parents. While we may not be able to avoid them all, here are the top five additives to avoid.
It’s tempting to choose “no sugar added” or “sugar-free” products. While these products do not contain sucrose, they contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose, sorbitol and aspartame. These sweeteners are found in diet drinks, fruit cups, yogurt and even English muffins! While they may seem harmless, they’re known to exacerbate sweet cravings and make us eat more calories overall.
Cancel the Colors
“Eating the rainbow” should pertain only to colorful fruits and veggies. Food colorings have been liked to hyperactivity, including ADHD, irritability and even depression. Many hues have been linked to tumors in lab rats. Colorings are found in candies, drink mixes, chewing gum, popsicles, toaster pastries, granola bars, fruit snacks, ice creams and marshmallows.
This umami flavor enhancer not only keeps us coming back for more, but is reported to excite brain cells to the point of expiration. Brain cell death is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, comes under multiple names, including natural flavors, yeast extract and textured protein. It’s found in packaged soups, noodles and rice, frozen meals and many other processed items.
Mono- and Diglycerides
Since war was waged on trans fats in 2015, consumers have paid closer attention to the amount of unhealthy fats in our food. Trans fat labeling can be tricky, since nearly a half gram can be found in each serving size, but mono- and diglycerides are even trickier. Derived from oils, these substances are classified as “emulsifiers” instead of the lipids they are. They are, in fact, trans fats, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked to heart attacks. The Institute of Medicine says trans fats have “no known health benefit,” and there is no safe level to eat. Monoglycerides and diglycerides are commonly found in gluten-free pastas, frozen yogurt, low-fat ice cream, peanut butter, tortillas and bread.
A common additive used to strengthen dough, potassium bromate allows bread to rise higher. California is the only state in the nation that requires a warning label on products that contain bromate, but studies suggest it causes thyroid and kidney cancer in lab rats and mice. This is why it’s banned not only in Europe, but in China, Canada and Brazil as well. It can be found in hamburger and hotdog buns, pizza doughs and breakfast sandwiches.
While moderation in everything might sound like perfection, omitting these five additives may make it a bit more of a perfect world.
To get your family’s summer started off right, try this healthy popsicle recipe.
DIY Popsicle Treats
1 ¼ cup frozen blueberries
½ cup apple juice
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 shakes of cinnamon powder
Blend one cup blueberries with apple juice until a pureed sorbet.
Fill each popsicle container to about one third full.
Mix yogurt, syrup, coconut, vanilla and cinnamon.
Layer remaining frozen blueberries between sorbet layer and yogurt.
Use funnel to layer yogurt atop sorbet.
Layer remaining blueberries. Freeze overnight.
Katharine A. Jameson is a Los Angeles-based nutrition counselor and health writer.