Category Archives: nutrition

EnviroParents w/ UPDATE

by Stacey

My Fussbucket partner Kristin recently watched Al Gore’s movie on global warming called “An Inconvenient Truth.” Since then this whole business about the frightening state of the environment has been bugging her. Makes me think they were on to something with the title of the movie.

She’s decided she wants to start a Green Parenting Group and has proposed the idea on a parenting listserve here in Seattle. This is from her post:

I haven’t been a big environmentalist, but I am getting motivated to take
responsibility for my family’s impact. I also want to look at what I’m
teaching my kids about consumption and their interconnection with
everyone (and everything) else. Since I’m so new to this whole thing,
I’d love to meet up with other families working through these projects
too.

I think this is a great idea. If it takes off, I’m hoping Kristin will report back here on her progress and give us some words of wisdom. In the meantime, I remembered this article from the NY Times last month on smart ways to eat organic without breaking the bank.

The key is to be strategic in your organic purchases. Opting for organic produce, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact, depending on what you eat. According to the Environmental Working Group, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables, like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

So how do you make your organic choices count? Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, whose new book “Raising Baby Green” explains how to raise a child in an environmentally-friendly way, has identified a few “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet, the article says.

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,’’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

This reminds me of the time I was in the grocery store before I had kids and the woman in front of me had a cart filled to the brim. I watched as she unloaded her stuff and was increasingly horrified to see not one, not two, but three gallons of milk on the conveyor belt. I asked her about it and she said her kids drank milk all the time. I considered suggesting she buy herself a cow instead.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Yuck. I didn’t know this. They look so innocent all dirt-covered and funny-shaped. Okay, organic potatoes it is.

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. Commercial food firms now offer organic brands in the regular grocery store, but my daughter loves to go to the health food store and grind her own peanut butter.

We’re lucky not to have the dreaded peanut allergy in our house (although the jury is still out on Sascha). But every school I know of has at least one kid who is allergic. Growing up, my brother ate peanut butter sandwiches everyday for about seven years. These days, Sage is lucky if he gets one a week because he can’t bring it to school in his lunch.

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

Ketchup? What are we Ronald Reagan? Frankly, I’m more disturbed by this: “For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake,” than I am about this: “Recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.” But whatever. Eat organic ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

Yay, apples! For a complete list of Dr. Greene’s strategic organic choices, visit Organic Rx on his website.

Now for an amusing and unrelated segway: Greenpeace wants to name a whale and has gone to great lengths to dream up a long list of 29 earth/crunchy names (Paz, Manami, Libertad, etc.) for people to vote on.

The 30th name? Mr. Splashy Pants, with 65 percent of the vote and garnering 16 times the votes of the leading next contender. “Based on the earnestness of the rest of the site, this appears to be an unintended consequence of enviro culture clashing with popular culture,” writes my friend Jon at the National Resources Defense Council, who I thank for the tip. “Run,” he advises, “Cast your votes.”

UPDATE: Check out Kristin’s new blog – “Going Green Family.”  It’s got tips on going green for the holidays and easy ways to make your home more eco-friendly.

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Filed under consumer culture, education, family, kids, life, nature, nutrition, parenting

Sugar Highs and Lows

by Stacey

Even if you’re not a parent, you know that sugar makes kids hyper. Right? Well, maybe not. According to this article in the LA Times, it’s a matter of debate among nutrition researchers.

Experts disagree about whether the sugar high and sugar crash truly exist. Many say the evidence contradicts such stories. “There is no scientific basis to the idea that sugar and/or candy has any major effect on children’s behavior, particularly if they eat OK,” says Dian Dooley, professor of human nutrition, food and animal sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Others think sugar has plenty of skeletons in its closet. “The bottom line is that the ingestion of too much high-glycemic carbohydrate causes a rapid rise and then fall of blood sugar,” says Dr. David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston. “This triggers a series of metabolic and hormonal changes that can affect appetite and behavior for hours to come.”

No one doubts that sugar, which turns into glucose in the body, is one of our two main sources of energy (along with fat). So it seems to make sense that if your child eats 30 pieces of candy on Halloween night, he’s going to be bouncing off the walls. (And right on into the bathroom.)

But sugar in the body isn’t exactly like gasoline in a car, the more you give it the faster it goes. The body has a system to regulate glucose such that blood sugar levels remain stable. This all works through the pancreas, which releases insulin when sugar levels are high and the hormone glucagon when sugar levels dip too low. It’s a finely tuned system that doesn’t always work right. Diabetics don’t produce enough insulin, for example. And even in a healthy person, it can take a little time to restore the system to balance once it’s gotten off kilter, the article says.

In the meantime, does excess sugar produce excess energy? There’s a bunch of studies described in the article, all of which seem to contradict each other. One showed there was no difference in behavior among preschooler and elementary kids who ate sugar or aspartame (an artificial sweetner) and another showed that sugar had no effect on the behavior of normal children or children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But then another study of 5,000 Norwegian teenagers found a link between hyperactivity and drinking sugary soda. Another small study of the effects of sugar on adults found that it had a hypoactive effect, that is it made people tired and sluggish.

Researchers from Harvard may be the ones to shed some light on this controversy. According to the article, Harvard’s Ludwig says that many studies testing for a sugar-behavior link didn’t find one because they compared sugar with other refined starches whose effects on the body are the same because they are broken down into sugar very quickly.”Your glucose level can rise as much after a bowl of plain Rice Krispies as after a bowl of sugar,” he says.

With co-workers, he corrected for this problem in a 1999 study of 12 obese, but otherwise healthy, teenage boys that was published in the journal Pediatrics. The boys were evaluated on three occasions: when their breakfast and lunch had a low, medium or high glycemic index — a ranking of carbohydrates according to how quickly they cause blood glucose levels to rise. All the meals for each subject had the same number of calories.

The high-index meal led to lower levels of glucagon and higher levels of insulin and epinephrine — a stress hormone that, among other things, increases heart rate and blood pressure. “The results show that sugar and other refined starches can trigger counter-regulatory stress hormones that can affect hunger, mental functioning and behavior,” Ludwig says.

This makes sense to me and kind of makes me think that if you give your kid enough healthy food, a reasonable amount of sugar and unrefined starches won’t have a huge effect on their behavior. What do you think? Can you tell if your child has eaten sugar? Are you dreading the highs and lows of tomorrow night?

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Filed under children's health, family, food, kids, nutrition, parenting

Picky Eating is Genetic

by Stacey

Parents of kids who are picky eaters can stop worrying if they’re to blame. According to this NY Times article, picky eating is more a matter of genetics than parenting style.

For parents who worry that their children will never eat anything but chocolate milk, Gummi vitamins and the occasional grape, a new study offers some relief. Researchers examined the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old and found children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited.

The message to parents: It’s not your cooking, it’s your genes.

The study was led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last August. The study found that 78 percent of children’s neophobia (the fear of new food) can be attributed to genes, while the other 22 percent is environmental.

Most children eat a wide variety of foods until they are around 2, when they suddenly stop. The phase can last until the child is 4 or 5. It’s an evolutionary response, researchers believe. Toddlers’ taste buds shut down at about the time they start walking, giving them more control over what they eat. “If we just went running out of the cave as little cave babies and stuck anything in our mouths, that would have been potentially very dangerous,” Dr. Cooke said.

Skepticism towards new food is a healthy part of a child’s development, experts say. And yet, that little cave baby running around eating everything actually sounds a lot like my son Sage. He’s very adventurous when it comes to food and has always had a big appetite. These days his favorite foods are tacos and french fries, but he happily gulped down steamed clams at his grandparents’ beach house this summer which frankly shocked the pants off of me since I was sitting there debating whether I had the courage to forge ahead with the meal on my plate.

Still, doctors say parents should serve picky eaters a variety of food, even if all they want is carbs, pasta, bread, more carbs, and some white flour, please.

“We have to understand that biology is not destiny,” said Patricia Pliner, a social psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “This doesn’t necessarily mean there is nothing we can do about the environment.”

People who study children prone to flinging themselves on the floor at the mere mention of broccoli agree that calm, repeated exposure to new foods every day for between five days to two weeks is an effective way to overcome a child’s fears.

(Tomorrow’s post will talk about other ways to get your kid to eat a variety of foods.)

According to the article, even famous people have trouble getting their kids to eat. Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, has written a book called “Deceptively Delicious” (Harper Collins). “It outlines a series of recipes based on fruit and vegetable purées that are blended into food in a way that she says children won’t notice,” she says. “Half a cup of butternut squash disappears into pasta coated with milk and margarine. Pancakes turn pink with beets. Avocado hides in chocolate pudding and spinach in brownies.”

But others in the article say hiding veggies doesn’t teach your child to enjoy eating different foods and it may do damage to their trust in you if they find out what you’re up to. And anyway, we all know that spinach brownies act as a gateway food to other, more exotic fruits and vegetables.

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Filed under child development, children's health, family, family life, food, kids, life, nutrition, parenting

The Science of Grandma

by Stacey

Sometimes scientists wonder, what’s the point of Grandma? She’s past her childbearing years. What’s she really got to offer? I just learned this by reading this post on the NY Times health blog.

Are grandmothers an evolutionary necessity? The contributions of older women to society have long been debated by anthropologists. In the animal world, females often don’t live much past their reproductive years. But in our world, women live into their 80s and beyond — a fact that may be explained, in part, by evolutionary forces.

Or by advances in modern medicine. And nutrition. And seat belts. And…

But it’s good to think objectively about grandmothers. Otherwise, we might get all mushy and gushy thinking about how much they love the grandkids and give ’em presents and want to hug and and kiss them all the time. That would be bad.

Today many women feel marginalized once they reach menopause. But research suggests that far from being a burden to societies, grandmothers have played an important role in the evolution of human longevity. Studies of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, Venezuela and Eastern Paraguay — societies that offer insights into how humans evolved — consistently show that Grandma is doing much of the work.

Go Grandma! Get in there and pull your weight! “Researchers have even measured the muscle strength of men and women in these communities and weighed the baskets and bundles carted around by them,” the post says. “Often, the scientists find, women in their 60s are as strong as women in their 20s.” Grandma’s carrying the heavy load and science says, that’s the way it should be!

The research is the basis for the grandmother hypothesis that may help explain why menopause occurs. The basic idea is that an end to a woman’s reproductive years allows her to channel her energy and resources into caring for her children and grandchildren, thereby providing her descendants with a survival advantage.

I understand that if you’re really into evolution, you may feel the need to find a survival of the genes reason for everything in the world. But can’t you leave Grandma out of it? She’s worked hard already, raising those kids of hers. Can’t she get a break and do her own thing for once? Damn, if you’re telling me that once this ride with my little ones is over I’ve got to start the real heavy lifting, I might as well pack it in right now. I say kick back Grandma! You’ve earned it.

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Filed under age, family, family life, grandparents, life, milestones, mothers, nutrition, parenting, scientists

The Open Post

by Stacey

Last week I read numerous blog posts skewering Bill Maher for criticizing women who breastfeed their babies in public. On his show Real Time with Bill Maher, he said the following:

Look, there’s no principle at work here other than being too lazy to either plan ahead or cover up. It’s not fighting for a right. It’s fighting for the spotlight you surely will get when you go all “Janet Jackson” on everyone. [laughter] And get to drink in the “oohs” and “aahs” from the other customers because “You made a baby!” Something a dog can do.

What an ass. (The part about breastfeeding comes at the end of this video of the segment, “New Rules.”)

My question is, Why go there Bill? We like your liberal politics. Breastfeeding mothers aren’t the enemy. Why piss us off?

And by the way, you’re an idiot. You wouldn’t be sitting there on television spouting off at the mouth if some woman however many years ago hadn’t wiped your ass everyday and fed you whatever the hell it was you ate way back then so you could grow up to be a functioning human being. Unless you were an orphan, show some respect. You know not what you speak.

Whew! Okay what’s up with you all? What do you think of Bill Maher? And what else is on your mind these days?

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Filed under baby, breastfeeding, child care, children's health, entertainment, family, family life, kids, life, media, mother love, mothers, nature, nutrition, parenting, television

Plastic Problems

by Stacey

A group of concerned scientists are sounding the alarm about a chemical found in baby bottles and toddler sippy cups, among other the household products. An article in last week’s LA Times reports that several dozen scientists have recently signed a consensus statement that an estrogen-like compound called bisphenol A or BPA that leaches out of polycarbonate plastic, is causing an array of reproductive problems in humans.

In their statement, the 38 scientists say they are confident that BPA, which mimics the female hormone estrogen, alters cells to switch genes on and off, programming a fetus or child for reproductive disorders later in life, and that the levels that harm lab animals “are well within the range of … BPA levels observed in human fetal blood.”

They concluded that “early life exposure … may result in persistent adverse effects in humans.”

In addition, this week a panel of experts at the National Institutes of Health Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction is meeting to discuss the possible harmful effects of BPA and to decide whether federal regulation is necessary. But the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, claims the plastic industry has corrupted the government’s review and that the findings of the 38 scientists accurately reflect the dangers of BPA.

The compound is “one of the highest volume chemicals in the world,” the LA Times article says, “and has found its way into the bodies of most human beings.” It is also found in large water cooler containers, sports bottles and microwave oven dishes, along with canned food liners and some dental sealants for children, the article says.

The scientists — including four from federal health agencies — reviewed about 700 studies before concluding that people are exposed to levels of the chemical exceeding those that harm lab animals. Infants and fetuses are most vulnerable, they said.

The statement was accompanied by a new study from researchers from the National Institutes of Health that found uterine damage in newborn animals exposed to BPA. That damage is a possible predictor of reproductive diseases in women, including fibroids, endometriosis, cystic ovaries and cancers, the article says. It is the first time BPA has been linked to disorders of the female reproductive tract, although earlier studies have found early-stage prostate and breast cancer and decreased sperm counts in animals exposed to low doses.

The plastic industry denies any harm from BPA and cites the fact that both the Japanese and European governments have convened panels to review the data and the panels found the evidence inconclusive. So far no government agency here or abroad has restricted its use. The article says that Europe’s food safety agency decided in January that the data were inconclusive, largely because of metabolic differences between mice and humans, and because it is uncertain that the amounts people are exposed to pose a health threat.

No studies have been conducted looking for effects in people, and one goal of the scientists who signed the statement is to generate human research, the article says.

Jerrold Heindel, a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who organized a meeting last fall to begin drafting the statement, said even though there have been no human studies of BPA, there is now so much animal data that the 38 experts believe that human damage is likely. More than 150 studies have found health effects in animals exposed to low doses.

“We know what doses the animals were given, and when we look at humans, we see blood levels within that range or actually higher,” he said.

An environmental advocacy group called Environment California has some useful information for parents on this distressing topic. They did a study of baby bottles and found BPA in Avent, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo, Gerber and Playtex brands. Products that don’t have BPA include Medela, Bornfree baby bottles and sippy cups, and any brand of glass bottles.

Here are some more tips from the California EPA on how to minimize your kids’ exposure to toxic chemicals from plastic. It’s worth a read.

I’m feeling really down right now about this topic, but I’m motivated to make some changes in my kitchen. My goal: no more plastic storage containers for food, no more cling wrap for covering leftovers, and no more toxic sippy cups or bottles. Not sure I’ll get all the way there, but I’d like to try.

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Filed under baby, baby bottles, bisphenol A, BPA, children's health, family life, fears, food, kids, life, nutrition, parenting, plastic, pregnancy, safety, sippy cups, toddler, toxic toys, toxins, toys

Gerber Baby Food RECALL

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by Stacey

I don’t know what the deal is with recalls this summer, but today’s news is about Gerber Organic Rice and Organic Oatmeal Cereals for babies. Last Friday, Gerber Products Co. recalled all packages of the cereals because of potential clumping which can pose a choking hazard. The company said it received complaints of choking, but no reports of injury.

According to the company statement, “A limited quantity of product may contain lumps of cereal, which do not dissolve in water or milk and pose a potential choking hazard.”

If you use this product here’s what you need to know:

The product has been distributed in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. If a consumer has Gerber ORGANIC Rice or Gerber ORGANIC Oatmeal Cereal, they should not use the product and call the Gerber Parents Resource Center 1-800-443-7237 or 1-231-928-3000 to return the product and receive a full refund.

Gerber ORGANIC Rice and ORGANIC Oatmeal Cereals are sold in 8 ounce boxes and all codes are being recalled. Gerber ORGANIC Rice UPC Code is 15000 12504. Gerber ORGANIC Oatmeal UPC Code is 15000 12502. These numbers can be found on the bottom right side of the box.

According this AP story, Food and Drug Administration compliance officer Sandra Williams said the agency was aware of the voluntary recall “and we concur.”

Gerber dominates the U.S. baby-food market, with the company holding a 79 percent share, according to Morgan Stanley.

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