by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Kids’ diets

May 18 2021

The FDA needs to take action on food dyes

Bettina Siegel’s Lunch Tray blog had an item recently about a new report on the effects of food dyes on children’s behavior (her blog is behind a Substack paywall, but well worth the subscription).

This report makes it time to talk about food dyes again.  For starters, they have only one purpose: to sell ultra-processed (junk) foods.  Research shows that brightly colored candy, snacks, and sodas are perceived as tasting better than the grey alternatives.  The food industry needs cosmetic food dyes.  We don’t, especially if they are harmful.

The 311-page peer-reviewed report, from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA), is a meta-analysis of animal studies and 27 human clinical trials dealing with the neurobehavioral effects of seven synthetic food dyes on children.

Its conclusion:

The scientific literature indicates that synthetic food dyes can impact neurobehavior in some children… current ADIs [FDA’s Acceptable Daily Intakes] may not provide adequate protection from neurobehavioral impacts in children. For some of the dyes… updated safe levels of exposure would be much lower.

The idea that synthetic food dyes are associated with adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children, but that children vary in their sensitivity to these dyes, is hardly new information.

In the mid-1970s, the physician Ben Feingold associated food dyes with hyperactivity in children and developed the Feingold Diet to improve kids’ behavior.

Much of the evidence for the “Feingold hypothesis” rested on anecdotal reports by parents,

Scientists’ attempts to study the effects of food dyes gave mixed results.  For example, as I wrote in a blog post on March 31, 2011, consider two studies published by Science magazine in 1980:

  • Researchers gave pills containing a mix of food additives to 40 children, 20 diagnosed as hyperactive and 20 not.  The children diagnosed with hyperactivity reacted to the food additive challenge but the other children did not (Science 1980;207:1485-87).  But this study used pills rather than foods, mixed additives, and used questionable methods for evaluating hyperactive behavior.
  • Researchers attempted to correct for such problems by using two drinks that looked and tasted the same—one contained seven food colors while the other did not.   The study was designed carefully such that neither the kids, parents, or observers knew what the kids were drinking.  The result:  Twenty of the 22 kids showed no reaction to the dyes.  One child reacted to the dyes every time (Science 1980;207:1487-89).

The interpretation?  Some kids may react to food dyes.

This gave the FDA an excuse to do nothing.  But then,

Today, the FDA says this about color additives in food:

FDA on color additives in food (2007):

So how safe are they? “Color additives are very safe when used properly…There is no such thing as absolute safety of any substance. In the case of a new color additive, FDA determines if there is ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm’ under the color additive’s proposed conditions of use.”

FDA on whether color additives are safe to eat (2018):

Yes, color additives are safe when they are used in accordance with with FDA regulations…our regulations specify:

  • the types of foods in which it can be used,
  • any maximum amounts allowed to be used, and
  • how the color additive should be identified on the food label.

FDA on whether color additives affect the behavior of children (2018)

The FDA has reviewed and will continue to examine the effects of color additives on children’s behavior. The totality of scientific evidence indicates that most children have no adverse effects when consuming foods containing color additives, but some evidence suggests that certain children may be sensitive to them…Parents who wish to limit the amount of color additives in their children’s diet may check the food ingredient list on labels. Parents should also discuss any concerns with their family physician.

Well good luck with that.  The FDA can and should do better.

The bottom line: Food dyes have no health benefits.  Kids don’t need to be eating ultra-processed foods anyway.  They will not be harmed by avoiding food dyes.

CSPI has produced a lengthy and comprehensive comment on the new report. 

Given all of this, it’s surely time for the FDA to take some action.

May 4 2021

What is the FDA doing about heavy metals in baby food?

I’ve written previously about the alarming findings of toxic heavy metals in baby foods.  These toxins are in all foods, but are particularly harmful to infants and young children, a situation that calls for immediate FDA action to set limits on the amounts these foods contain.

The FDA has a Q and A on this issue.  It has also issued previous guidance.

In response to many complaints, the FDA has now issued a plan for action:  “Closer to Zero.

Translation: the agency will propose action levels (limits on allowable amounts), consult with stakeholders, finalize the limits, and then evaluate how the whole thing works to reduce intake levels.

Timeline: It plans to do this starting now, with the aim of finishing the process by 2025.

The FDA must not consider limiting toxic metals in baby food to be urgent.

No wonder some members of Congress have introduced la bill to force the FDA to set limits for the most common toxic metals within a year.  It suggests what those limits should be: 10 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in baby food (15 ppb for cereal); 5 ppb for both cadmium and lead (10 ppb for cereal); and 2 ppb for mercury.

While all this is going on, what are parents to do?

Suggestions from Harvard Health

The FDA is working on doing better monitoring and regulation of heavy metals in commercial baby foods. In the meantime, it’s nearly impossible to know which are completely safe and which aren’t. Babies don’t need solid foods until 6 months of age. At that time it’s perfectly fine to give them soft table foods instead of baby foods. You can also make your own baby food, using steamed or naturally soft foods and a blender. (Storage tip: you can pour a homemade puree into an ice cube tray and freeze it, and then just grab the cubes you need each time.)

Suggestions from Healthy Children

  • Give your child a wide variety of different foods (the more natural colors, the better).
  • Vary the grains. As mentioned above, it’s best to limit rice and rice products (check labels — rice is in a lot of foods marketed for babies, like “puffs”). Try barley, oats, and other grains. When cooking rice, it’s best to cook it in extra water and drain that water off, and to use white basmati and sushi rice, which have less arsenic.
  • Check your water. Old pipes can contain lead, which can leach into drinking water.
  • Avoid fruit juices. Not only can they increase the risk of cavities and obesity, but many commercial juices also contain heavy metals.
  • Make healthy fish choices. Fish contains nutrients that are very healthy for the developing brain, but some fish can contain unhealthy amounts of mercury. Stay clear of big, predatory, long-living fish like swordfish, shark, or albacore tuna; it’s better to choose fish like cod, light tuna, salmon, or pollock.

In the meantime…

Mar 9 2021

More on toxic metals in baby foods: FDA on the job!

Early in February I wrote about heavy metal toxins in baby foods.  A report, Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury, revealed:

  • Arsenic, led, cadmium, and mercury are present in commercial baby foods at levels much higher than considered safe.
  • Their sources: foods raised on contaminated soil and water, and vitamin/mineral pre-mixes.
  • Baby food companies set their own safety standards for toxic metals.
  • The FDA knows baby foods have high levels of toxic metals but isn’t doing anything about it.
  • Some baby food companies refused to share data on this topic.

Politico has been following this story.  It reports:

In response to the “Tainted” report, the FDA now says it will set standards.

The FDA wrote baby food manufacturers to shape up.  The FDA, it says,

 is taking this opportunity to remind all baby and toddler food manufacturers and processors covered by the preventive control provisions of the rule Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food…of your responsibility under the rulemaking to consider chemical hazards that may be present in foods when conducting your hazard analysis….FDA takes exposure to toxic elements in the food supply extremely seriously, especially when it comes to protecting the health and safety of the youngest and most vulnerable in the population.

And the FDA issued a statement to the food industry. 

Toxic elements are in the environment, and therefore in the food supply. The levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium in certain foods depends on many factors, including: growing conditions; manufacturing and agricultural processes; past or current environmental contamination; and the genetic capacity of food crops to take up elements. We share the public’s concerns for the health of America’s children, and want to reassure parents and caregivers that at the levels we have found through our testing, children are not at an immediate health risk from exposure to toxic elements in foods. The FDA routinely monitors levels of toxic elements in food, and if we find that they pose a health risk, the FDA takes steps to remove those foods from the market.

Research has shown that reducing exposure to toxic elements is important to minimizing any potential long-term effects on the developing brains of infants and children. As such, this issue is among FDA’s highest priorities and we are actively working to make progress on identifying and implementing impactful solutions to make foods commonly consumed by infants and young children safer.

In the meantime, here’s what Beech Nut says on its website.

Toxic heavy metals are not good for babies’ health.  Baby food companies need to do much better in getting rid of these things if they want anyone to keep buying their products.

What to do in the meantime?  Feed kids small amounts of as wide a variety of foods as possible.  That’s good advice anyway.

Dec 16 2020

Holiday gift idea—for kids: Chop Chop Eatable Alphabet

Chop Chop Family’s website teaches kids to cook.  It publishes Chop Chop magazine.  And it has just produced the Eatable Alphabet.

This is a box of stiff cards from A to Z, aimed at teaching kids ages 2-6 to cook up a storm.

For fun, I picked the letter M: Mushroom, or seta in Spanish.

Flip the card over, and you get a cooking lesson:

  1. Count out 4 mushrooms.  Slice teh mushrooms and put them in a bowl.
  2. Add 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon oil, and pinch of salt.
  3. Mix well and enjoy!

The cards also suggest activities.  E for Egg (huevo), for example, suggests:

Move.

Sit on the floor and hug your knees to your chest.  Roll around on teh ground like an egg rolls around on a table.

Have a kid of age 2-6 in your family or pod?  These will keep them busy for hours.

I can’t think of a better holiday gift.  And for older kids, check out the magazine.  It’s good too.

ADDITION:  If you are looking for items for kids, Food Tank lists 26 books about food to Nourish Kids’ Minds.

Feb 19 2020

Formula companies push “toddler milk”

Formula companies must be desperate for sales.  They are spending four times what they used to on advertising of “toddler milk,” formula ostensibly aimed at children who no longer need infant formula and are perfectly capable of eating real food.

So says a new study in the journal Public Health Nutrition.  The study comes from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, now at the University of Connecticut in Hartford, a group specializing in research to inform policy.

The report points out that increasing sales of toddler formula come at a time when pediatric authorities specifically recommend against feeding toddler milks to young children.

Why?  Because young kids do not need them and the milks contain unnecessary added sugars.

As the paper points out, “These findings also support the need to regulate marketing of toddler milks in countries that prohibit infant formula marketing to consumers.”

The advertising of toddler milks gets around those policies and should stop.  Right now.

Oct 25 2019

Weekend reading: Kid Food (!)

Bettina Elias Siegel.  Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World.  Oxford University Press, 2019.

Image result for siegel kid food

I did a blurb for this book but it is so good, so well written, and so important that nothing I can say can do it justice.

Everyone who cares about what kids eat must read Bettina Siegel’s fabulous Kid Food.  This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field.  Kid Food provides the evidence and the resources; it should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies—right now.

The book is a treasure for what it says about feeding kids in America today—an instant classic.  Its Appendix alone makes the book a must-have: it lists resources for how to feed kids but also for how to advocate for them.

I could have picked excerpts from anywhere in the book but I’m taking the easy route and quoting from the book’s ending as an example of why this book is so worth reading.

Right now, American children are being shortchanged daily by a diet that feeds but doesn’t nourish, that staves off immediate hunger but opens the door to later disease.  The factors leading to this tragic outcome are all too human: naked corporate greed; parental ignorance, confusion, and fatigue; practical necessity, for those who can’t afford healthier food; and, in the case of “treats,” even simple love and affection.   Improving the current paradigm will require not just pushing back against powerful corporate interests, but also shifting a deeply entrenched food culture.  That’s a very heavy lift, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t make it any less urgent or critical.  And the good news is, there is no shortage of opportunities to pitch in.

Sep 27 2019

Weekend reading: Healthy drinks for kids

HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org has issued recommendations on what kids should drink in collaboration with impressive co-signers:

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
  • American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Heart Association

The recommendations for parents vary by age.  For example, for infants up to age 6 months:

Only breast milk or infant formula (or water)

  • No juice
  • No milk
  • No flavored milks
  • No transition formulas
  • No plant-based milks
  • No caffeinated beverages
  • No diet drinks
  • No sugar-sweetened beverages

This is an important report.  About half of toddlers are given sugary beverages.  Let’s hope this is an incentive to stop this practice.

Here are the documents:

 

Oct 25 2018

Do kids need foods just for them? Hint: not after infancy

This is a collection of articles from the industry newsletter, FoodNavigator.com, about marketing foods to kids—kids’ food.

Really, kids would be much better off eating the healthy foods their parents eat.  They don’t need food aimed just at them.  Much of this is about selling products to busy parents.  Here’s how companies do it.