As school starts again and we begin to get back into our routines, the topic of how to feed our children wholesome and healthy snacks is on many of our minds. If you learn what to look for in nutrition labels, it will help you make smart choices.
Though fruits and vegetables are important to include in your child’s diet, eating healthy means providing lots of different types of food throughout the day to get them all the nutrients they need. A balance of carbohydrates, fat, protein and fiber is important to ensure children maintain a stable blood sugar level and healthy energy. As we all know not all carbs, fat or protein are created equal thus it is imperative that we are providing them with that which is nutritive and nourishing.
Labels are an important way for producers to tell you about the characteristics of their products. Learn what to look for in food labels to help you provide a balanced and healthy diet for your child.
Whether buying produce, whole grain snacks, dairy or meats, when buying organic foods, look for the “USDA Organic” label. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has national standards for the use of the word “organic.” Only foods in the categories “100% organic” and “organic” may display the USDA Organic Seal. Other foods with varying levels of organic ingredients may be labeled as follows:
- 100% organic – All of the ingredients are organic (excludes water and salt).
- Organic– 95 or more of ingredients used are organic.
- Made with organic ingredients– 70% of the ingredients are organic. Can appear on the front of package, naming the specific ingredients.
- Contains organic ingredients– contains less than 70% organic ingredients.
- “Natural”– this is a label that is not regulated and can mean anything. It is a marketing term and does not guarantee anything at all.
The USDA Organic label is not the only “organic” label you can trust. Many small farmers cannot become certified because costs are high, but if you frequent local farmers markets and get to know the farmers, you’ll learn that many of them use organic methods to raise their food.
There are plenty of sham labels out there that you should understand. Become familiar with what labels really mean to make Greener Choices for your family. This link from Consumer Reports explains the different things we see on labels, like “free range” and “no antibiotics”.
KNOW what to avoid
The label “Organic” alone does not ensure the quality of a product. Many snacks “containing organic ingredients” for example may also contain a lot of sugar, preservatives, or additives.
Here is a basic list of the “Top Ten Food Ingredients to Avoid”:
- Foods with 10 ingredients or more. Wholesome foods tend to have very few ingredients because they only contain ingredients that are essential to making that product. For example, organic peanut butter should contain peanuts many list a lot of other unnecessary ingredients that serve as stabilizers, sweeteners and preservatives so the food can outlive your kids’ childhood. Bread should contain about 5 or 6 ingredients, HFCS(see below) should not be one of them.
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Enriched and bleached flour (be careful because it may say “whole grain” or “wheat” on the package… it’s not necessarily 100% wheat flour)
- Trans fats/hydrogenated vegetable oils
- Artificial colorings
- Saturated fats
- High-sugars/refined sugars
- High sodium (we should not consume more than 2 grams/2000mg of sodium per day)
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Sodium nitrate
It is very scary to think of all the additives and chemicals that are added into our foods supply to increase product shelf life thus guarantees the bottom line of the product. It is a shame that our society has been made to believe that it is necessary; all these additives, colors, chemicals etc are actually decreasing our health.
Take charge of your family’s nutrition and health. Don’t let yourself be fooled by large words printed on labels that lead you to believe it’s a healthy choice. Take time to learn which labels really mean something and read all of the ingredients on the label (even those in fine print). When it comes to helping our little ones grow healthy and happy, it’s worth taking the time to do it right. After all… we only get one chance to get it right.