Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's Really In That Food You're Eating?

Kim Gerber of Out Of The Box Food
Last night I went to hear Kim Gerber, of Out Of The Box Food, speak. I've been a fan of Kim's site for a while now and was very excited when she agreed to talk to our parents of multiples club. Kim is a mom of twins, home-cook and Children's Nutrition Advocate with a focus on feeding children healthy, unprocessed food. Several years ago, Kim noticed a decided difference in mood and behavior immediately following her children's consumption of processed food. She then began researching and experimenting with recipes to duplicate these foods using healthy, fresh ingredients. Her website offers simple, cost-effective alternatives for like-minded parents who are looking for a way out of the "kid food" conundrum.

What is really in the food we eat?
Kim began the meeting by discussing her passion, which is deciphering and eliminating the additives in the food we feed our children. She told our group how she used to love to take her boys to McDonald's, but began to notice a drastic change in the level of aggression one of her boys would exhibit within a very short time after eating there. She then went on to talk about common foods we all give our kids such as chicken nuggets, ice cream sandwiches, microwave popcorn and chewy granola bars that contain ingredients you would never ingest if you really knew what they were. Included in that list were:
  • Carrageenan: Carrageenan is actually an extract from seaweed, but this doesn't mean it's necessarily good for you. This extract used to be found in baby formula but was deemed unsafe and ordered to be removed. So, it's not safe for infants, but it is somehow safe in yogurt, ice cream, soy milk and more? In fact, carrageenan is believed to be a carcinogen in animals and may also have a role in intestinal inflammation and possibly inflammatory bowel disease in humans. I went through my fridge this morning and found carrageenan in Kozy Shack Chocolate Pudding (whaaa, I am seriously crying about this one) and Trader Joe's Organic Low Fat Yogurt Squishers. *sigh*
  • Sodium Benzoate: Research published in 2007 for the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggests that certain artificial colors, when paired with sodium benzoate may be linked to hyperactive behavior. Additionally, this preservative, often used in acidic foods such as salad dressings, is also used in fireworks! According to Kim's research Sodium Benzoate has been shown to have caused birth defects in animals and may be toxic to genes. Sodium Benzoate can also be found in such varied items as bleached wheat flour and Maple Syrup.
  • TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone): TBHQ is a preservative found in foods such as Eggo Buttermilk Waffles, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and microwave popcorn. From Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: “But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to 'help preserve freshness.' According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause 'nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.' Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.” Have you ever seen how many nuggets a kid can consume? Do you really want any amount of lighter fluid going in your kid's body?
  • Food Coloring And Dyes: There has been a lot of talk, especially lately, about food dyes and their possible link to things such as hyperactivity, ADHD, cancers, reproductive disorders and so forth. In its infinite wisdom, the FDA has decided that the studies conducted are inconclusive and more tests are needed. When it's so easily possible to color food naturally (with things like beet juice, for example), why do we need FD&C Red #40? Additionally, FD&C Yellow #5 is a coal derivative which more than half of aspirin-sensitive people have an intolerance to.
  • Sorbitol: Sorbitol is a sugar substitute that may aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and similar gastrointestinal conditions, resulting in severe abdominal pain for those affected, even from small amounts ingested. According to Kim's research, it also has been shown to alter the absorption of other drugs. 
  • BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene)/BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole): BHT is is a fat-soluble organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive in things like Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, Chex Mix as well as an antioxidant additive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil and embalming fluid. Uh....granola bars and embalming fluid??? Gross! There was some research done in the 1970's that found that BHT could play a role in hyperactivity and possibly cancer. After this, some manufacturers voluntarily removed BHT and have replaced it with the less studied BHA. From Wikipedia: "The US National Institutes of Health report that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals". Hmmm. It doesn't sound a whole lot better, does it?
So what can I feed my kids that's healthy and they'll still love?
Kim's website, Out Of The Box Food is filled with recipes for things kids love to eat, like chicken nuggets, fruit roll ups, fruit yogurt and more. Kim deconstructs popular brands so you can see exactly what is in them, and then offers her own version to try at home. One point she made last night is that for kids, a lot of the selling is in the presentation. So, if you can make a fruit roll up at home that looks as cool as the chemical filled one you buy in the store, they are more likely to eat the healthy one! Also, involving your kids in the process helps them get invested in eating well instead of feeling that they're being deprived.
Eye-opening Reading
Kim's list of books to take a look at if you want a deeper understanding of what is being consumed by your family:
How does all of this affect my family?
Kim simply suggests doing an internet search on any of the following topics to see why what she is so passionate about should be of major importance to you:
  • Do food dyes affect kids' behavior?
  • Food dyes and behavior
  • Common food additives doubles kids' hyperactivity
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children
  • Chocolate The Bittersweet Treat
  • In the News: Dark Chocolate for Health
  • Early puberty for girls is raising health concerns
  • So what really is in a McDonald's Chicken Nugget?
Additional resources and reads
Our terrific club members had so many questions and offered up lots of ideas as well on how to make healthy eating simpler for busy parents. Here is a summary of their ideas along with more of Kim's:
  • Why Can't My Child Behave?: Why Can't She Cope? Why Can't He Learn?, by Jane Hersey - if you suspect your child has a form of hyperactivity, this is a book that may help change his or her life just by changing the food you serve. 
  • Where Is My Milk From? - many people don't realize that different brands of milk come from the same dairy. Find out where your milk is from, support your local economy and make sure your milk comes from dairy that does not support the use of added hormones. 
  • EWG's Shopper Guide To Pesticides - a wallet guide to the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" (foods to make sure you buy organic) and the "Clean 15" (foods that are lowest in pesticides)
  • Substitute Whole Wheat Pastry Flour for any recipes where flour is called for. It bakes better than whole wheat flour and is healthier for you than enriched white flour. Reduce the amount of sugar recipes call for - there is almost always more sugar than necessary in recipes. Substitute applesauce for oil in recipes.
  • There are some great, healthy products from companies such as Applegate Farms, Kashi, Annie's and Dr. Praeger's.
  • Using iPhone apps such as Fooducate, which is free, or the Center For Science In The Public Interest's (CSPI) new 99¢ app called Chemical Cuisine can help make a trip to the market a lot easier. I've had Fooducate for a while and use it all the time. It's super easy and has been really eye-opening and helpful. I just downloaded Chemical Cuisine so I need a little more time to play with it before I can comment.
  • The Feingold Diet - a test to determine if certain foods or food additives are triggering particular symptoms (especially Add/ADHD/Autism etc.). 
  • Moms Rising - An organization that brings important motherhood and family issues to the forefront of the country's awareness. They work to create both cultural and legislative change, on both the national and state levels.
In the end, Kim's advice was one of balance. As busy parents juggling family, work and the pressures of every day life, it can feel overwhelming to take on a subject as complex as overhauling the way our families eat. Kim's suggestion is to find the area you are passionate about and start there. Is it having more organics in your diet? Is it offering more home cooked meals? Is it eliminating processed foods? Whatever it is, take that first step because this subject is profoundly important.

If you would like more information about Kim Gerber and Out Of The Box Food, please contact Kim by email at kimgerber@outoftheboxfood.com, check out her website Out Of The Box Food or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Has this discussion changed the way you look at some of the foods you would normally buy? Was any of this surprising to you? What are your best tips for helping our families eat better? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

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1 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina- Another advantage of organics is having non-genetically modified foods. Large corporations have put a lot of money into claiming GMF's are essentially the same as non-GMF's, but their true reason for existence is to increase corporate and agricultural profits, not to improve the quality of the food itself.

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