How to choose safe packaged food for kids

reading food labels is a must now- Parenting resources by ZenParent

While fresh homemade food is a hands-down winner when it comes to choosing the right kind of food items for our kids, we can’t completely get rid of its processed counterparts since from frozen yogurt to ice creams, packaged milk or whipped cream; kids do consume these every now and then. The problem is that some processed foods don’t offer anything more than a pretty packaging, only making them very appealing for children with zero nutritious  or beneficial consumption value. As one can’t always get around these, it is wise to learn to choose these astutely.

As processed foods are made for a long shelf-life, they are loaded with preservatives and are often infamous for stripping off essential vitamins and minerals. But that doesn’t mean that all of them are unsafe or contaminated.

Some foods need processing to make them safe. For example, milk needs to be pasteurized to take away harmful bacteria. Freezing fruits and vegetable preserves can make it handy for use throughout the year. What is important is that we understand what kind of ingredients make processed food potentially risky.

why reading food labels is necessary- Parenting resources by ZenParent

Most packaged foods contain synthetic chemicals like preservatives, artificial colours, taste enhancers and other additives. Food and drug Administration (FDA)of India has made it mandatory for packaged food products to display all food additives, but these labels are not always easy to understand, as most people are not familiar with half the ingredients and the way their codes and product numbers are mentioned. Also, it can take a lot of time to read the labels of each product every time you are down at the super market. Here’s a quick and easy run down on the additives that one needs to avoid while buying processed or packaged foods:

1. Preservatives

Research has shown these preservatives to cause potential damage if consumed. Watch out for these and avoid buying food products containing these:

  • ButylatedHydroxyanisole (BHA): This preservative serves as an antioxidant for food and can be found in Meat, Potato chips and Cereals. A recent study found it to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  • ButylatedHydroxytoluene (BHT): Potent enough to be used as a component in jet fuel, this preservative is often found in vegetable oils and is best avoided.
  • Sodium Bezoate: Often used in Soft drinks, juices and fast foods, this preservative has been proven to break down the immune system and even cause cancer.

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  • Sodium Nitrite: It is commonly used in meat products, as it prevents growth of bacteria. Excessive intake of this preservative has proven to be harmful. So, avoid buying cured meat that contains this preservative.
  • Potassium Bromate: Another preservative to be avoided, which is found in bread products. The food label may not include the name of this compound, but be aware if it as it is generally tagged as “enriched flour”. Even very small doses of this preservative can be harmful if consumed.

2. Artificial Colours

Artificial colours make food look very appealing, making it irresistible for kids. Children get drawn to colourful candies, ice-creams and baked confectionery and it is often very hard for parents to tug them from drooling at them. But high doses of food dyes are best avoided as they have been known to cause hyperactivity or even organ failure/ improper organ functioning sometimes among children. It is wise to choose food products with natural colours and play it safe.

3. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have gained popularity over the last few years as they have been considered calorie-free. Children are also being given sweeteners like Equal and Nutrasweet, which is quite avoidable, as these can cause mood changes, headache and memory loss.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a low cost alternative to sugar used in breakfast cereals, soft drinks, condiments such as ketchup and sauces, jams and jellies. Studies have shown HFCS to lead to weigh gain and obesity.

Read labels carefully and avoid this ingredient in your packaged food.

4. Trans Fat

Vegetable oil is converted from liquid to solid fat to increase shelf life. This is what we see as Trans Fat or Hydrogenated Fat listed on some products. Choose food free of Trans Fat, as it can make food taste good and last longer but it is hazardous for health.

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5. Artificial Flavours

Processing food not only strips food of essential nutrients, but also takes away much of its flavour. Artificial flavours are then added to retain and also enhance flavours. Guess that explains why most packaged foods like chips and other munchies are so unstoppable. Imagine how easily children could get accustomed to these tastes, which will leave them craving for such foods all the time.

MSG found in Chinese foods is a popular artificial flavour/ taste enhancer, which has FDA’s approval when added to food products in low quantities. Be aware to avoid excessive consumption of MSG.

Also, what is claimed as a “Natural Flavour” in most food products like fruit juices and other beverages is essentially a flavour coming from natural sources, where the original ingredient is purified, extracted and added back to the food product. A classic example can be your packaged orange juice, which will taste the same throughout the year, across the world! To maintain uniformity in taste, manufacturers add faux flavours to the juice while packaging. It is necessary to be vary of such additives and make sure they are not consumed too often.

With so many packaged foods hitting the market, it becomes essential for consumers to understand the ingredients and make safe choices. It is our responsibility to make our children aware of healthy eating habits and safe food choices. Let us try to be more aware parents and guide our children towards the same!

Image Source: via Google Images

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