Warning: Food News Harms Your Child's Health

by Sarah Henry on November 11, 2009 · 11 comments

in food research,kids & food

Anyone else wonder how to handle scary food news consumed by our kids?

I have an 11-year-old vegetarian, who loves tofu, dipping baguette into balsamic vinegar, and a few canned food products, such as coconut milk.

His teacher is encouraging the class to track current events by tuning into the news. To date, all that’s done is help my boy develop a fear of bridges that collapse or kill.

Oh, and put him off his food.  Consider:

  • On Monday, our local paper revealed that eating just one tablespoon a day of some brands of balsamic vinegar could raise a young child’s lead levels by more than 30 percent. Now my son worries that his fav appetizer, and its potential link to lead-induced lower IQ, will mess up his mind.  (Find a list of vinegars with lower lead levels here.)
  • In the news last week, a Consumer Reports investigation found canned foods, including soups, juice, and green beans, contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic material linked to loads of horrible health abnormalities. My 5th grader has sworn off canned tomatoes and black beans. Help: Are there any BPA-free cans out there?
  • At least tofu, and its main ingredient soy protein, wasn’t touted as a potentially dangerous food in the last 10 days, though it has been in the recent past, with reports of males developing breast tissue and other nightmarish stuff no pre-pubescent boy wants to think about.

Beyond buying fresh, organic, locally sourced fruit & veg, checking labels for icky additives and unknown, questionable ingredients, and minimizing the amount of refined sugar, simple carbohydrates, and saturated fats our kids consume what’s a parent to do?

I subscribe to nutritionist Marion Nestle‘s simple premise: Variety, balance, and moderation and Michael Pollan‘s poetic: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. But I’m not sure such messages are much comfort to confused kids scanning the morning paper over a bowl of porridge.

What do you tell your children about the potential dangers of canned goods, seafood, tofu, balsamic vinegar, or any other foods that wind up in alarming headlines? And how do these stories influence your own choices at the grocery checkout? I’m all ears.

Flickr photo by Mykl Roventine, used under the Creative Commons license.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

FRESH LOCAL AND BEST November 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

There is no simple answer. For my family, I try to deconstruct all of the foods out there and recreate it myself from scratch, you learn so much about your food in the process. It’s much easier to try to can and stew your own tomatoes, a lot harder to try to recreate balsamic vinegar, but it starts with trying. For example, I would have never thought that making my own coconut milk was feasible, but I’ve made it for myself, and I’m glad to have tried and going forward it gets much easier. I still do not have a good solution for balsamic vinegar, it’s such a hard problem!

Reply

Sarah Henry November 30, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Sound advice, F,L,&B. Thanks for sharing your first-hand knowledge.

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Cindy November 12, 2009 at 7:10 pm

It’s so sad to hear about your son being scared to eat tasty foods. I really wish kids were not so burdened. The only thing I can think to do is to allow him to keep tracking the news and point out the pattern of what seems to be a new food crisis every week or so. It’s what catches our attention. As much as we’d like to, we will not eat perfectly and we will not have perfect bodies. I was just reading some excellent analysis on a blog called Junkfood Science that does a great job of pointing out that studies are often flawed and the press can easily get it wrong. If he’s really going to give up foods, maybe you could do some research together to determine if it is based on valid information.

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Sarah Henry November 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Great suggestions, Cindy. I think I’ll encourage the news tracking and point out the phenomenon of food crisis reporting.

Since I write about health news myself, I know only to well that studies can be flawed or limited — or the press can make more of a finding than is actually there.

Putting the headlines in perspective may go a long way to alleviating some fear.

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Melissa November 12, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Sarah,

Great post, and good question – one that I stuggle with even now with a child half your’s age. Thus far, we’ve used food issues to our advantage to discourage him from processed and fast foods, but I’m sure that this will grow more complicated as he gets more information on his own. Variety and focusing on foods from the farmers’ market is the best that I come up with and noting that a little BPA and lead is unfortunately unavoidable and probably won’t kill you. Hey, we’re all still standing.

Melissa
http://www.littlelocavores.blogspot.com

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Sarah Henry November 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Good points, Melissa. Variety & moderation usually stand us all in good stead.

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Anna November 12, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Bisphenol A was something we immediately eliminated from our household – as best we could. Traded in all the old baby bottles. Drink less bottled water, etc. I do understand there is a concern with chemicals leaking into canned foods. I’m guilty for still using some canned products – but what’s a Mom to do? All change can’t happen at once. Little, baby steps.

BPA-free cans out there? Probably not. How about old-fashioned glass canning jars? That may be the next big step for farmers at local markets or CSAs to sell to consumers. Summer’s harvest all jarred up for winter sale.

Soups, juice and green beans. Those seem like the easiest to avoid in canned varieties. Except for beans, everything else seems widely available in glass variety. At least you’re raising a child with awareness of where food comes from. That’s amazing for an 11-year old!

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Sarah Henry November 30, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Anna,

You’re right, old-fashioned glass “canning” is back in vogue and one way to avoid the BPA-tainted can conundrum.

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Cee November 13, 2009 at 6:36 am

I had no idea about canned goods! My daughter doesn’t eat meat (just a toddler), and we tend to rely on canned beans for the ease of preparation. I’d love to know more about this topic!

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Sarah Henry November 30, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Hi Cee,

Check out the links under the canned goods paragraph (just click on the highlighted words) to learn more about this matter. And, I suspect, I’ll revisit
this subject in future posts, so do check back.

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