Step 1:Cleaning Out Your Kids! (as seen on Good Morning America)
In response to our Good Morning America segment, Additives, Allergies and ADHD: Is There a Connection? (have you seen the great comments that you posted to the story? Click here to read more!), we would like to take this opportunity to address the most frequently asked questions.
1) What chemicals do I need to avoid?
The British study cited in the Good Morning America segment is from The Lancet, their equivalent of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The chemicals of concern are additives used to enhance the colors and flavors of foods. They include synthetic colors for yellow, red and blue (including yellow #5 which is found in our mac n cheese boxes here in the US!) as well as the preservative, sodium benzoate (used in carbonated drinks). These synthetic colors, additives and preservatives are made in laboratories using chemicals.
Due to British parents’ growing awareness and concern over the results of these studies, Kraft UK, Coca Cola UK and Wal-Mart’s division in the UK, Asda, all voluntarily agreed to remove these additives and preservatives from their products in the United Kingdom.
“Kraft Foods UK has no products aimed at children that contain the ingredients highlighted in the study. For example, with our recent Lunchables reformulation in the UK, we reduced fat and salt, as well as removed artificial colours and flavours.”
So, what’s an American mom to do?
2) What do you feed your family?!
Blue yogurt: Replace blue yogurt with WHITE yogurt and allow your kids to mix in any of the following: jelly, honey, chocolate chips, cheerios, even sprinkles (especially for those of you who have kids (like mine) who may not adjust well to this transition).
Fluorescent orange mac n cheese noodles: Replace the bright orange brand with the white cheddar brand (it really does help reduce your child’s unnecessary exposure to synthetic chemicals).
Or if your kids are like mine and freak out, then stick with the bright orange, only don’t use the ENTIRE packet of bright orange powder the next time you mix the box up – use ¾ of the pack of fluorescent orange powder mix, then slowly cut back to 70% of the pack, then 50% of the pack…..until they are less dependent on seeing that bright orange bowl of noodles!
The important thing is to remember not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Cut the Colors
If the corporations aren’t going to voluntarily eliminate these colors from their boxes of cereals and mac n cheese here in the US, we can do it ourselves. As you try to reduce the amount of artificial colors that your kids are exposed to, they might (just maybe?!) have a bit of a conniption not getting blue yogurt, but you will feel so much better about the choice (and so will they!). So a great first step is to Cut the Colors.
Less is more
Your goal is to try to reduce your children’s exposure to processed foods that contain these chemical additives, colors, flavors and preservatives. In the meantime, look for the following:
- Ingredient lists with FEWER ingredients
- Ingredients with SHORTER names
- Ingredients that you can PRONOUNCE
- Ingredients that your GRANDMOTHER cooked with
Learn to Cook (this was scary to me!)
If you learn to cook, you will lose the chemicals.
Now I am no Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray or anyone even resembling a chef. I burnt everything from noodles to pancakes in the process of learning to cook, so I am sure that you will be more successful at this then I was! But you can do it!
The point is, in the US, prepackaged, processed meals are loaded with chemical and synthetic additives and preservatives to PRESERVE and ADD to their shelf life (in the stores or in the freezer). If you cook your own food, even just one night a week, you will win Mother of the Year for your efforts!
Cook it once, eat it twice
Given the amount of time that I now spend cooking, I want to stretch those meals as far as they can go! So, instead of nuggets, I put chicken breast in a frying pan with olive oil and water, sprinkled it with garlic, salt and pepper, put a lid on top of it and steam away. The kids have it for dinner, and then get it again in either tortilla wraps or as a sandwich for lunch the next day.
Oh, how we wish that organic food was affordable, because by law, organic food is not allowed to contain these synthetic chemicals!
Sadly, it is these very USDA laws that make organic food more expensive, since organic farmers must adhere to strict additional standards and regulations when it comes to ensuring the safety of their products.
In the meantime, if you can afford to choose ONE THING in your kitchen to convert to organic, consider choosing something that your children consume a lot of (in our case it was milk, in yours, it might be juice, in others it might be bread). Just making that one change will help reduce a huge heaping of chemicals in your kids diets!
NOTE: given that different children have different allergies and sensitivities, make sure to read ALL labels before feeding your children, especially as manufacturers often change their ingredients unannounced.
This is a slow and steady process. It will not happen overnight (even though you may want it to!), so if sprinkles HELP you to wean your children off of the colored yogurt, then that is great! Eventually, you will “run out” of sprinkles….won’t you?!
This post is dedicated to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, who has spent the last several decades educating America about our food supply. On behalf of mothers everywhere, we are extremely grateful for his courage, his work and his tenacity.