Feeding our children is about so much more than just filling their bellies. It’s about providing nourishing food that will help fuel their growing bodies, brains and even emotional selves. They need the proper nutrients to perform well, maintain health, fight disease and become healthy adults.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet that we feed ourselves, and our children, tends to be high in processed foods, partially-hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates, toxic chemicals and low in nutrients.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average child over the age of two consumes 3,400mg of sodium per day; 1,300mg over the recommended amount.
Another study published by the USDA showed that most school-aged children follow a diet that is low in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and high in both sodium and saturated fats. Approximately 18 percent of school-aged children are overweight and an additional 15 percent were categorized as at risk of becoming overweight. Besides the risk of becoming overweight, this type of diet can lead to a variety of health problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, liver disease, stroke, asthma, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
Many of the pesticides that cover our foods also contribute to health problems among children. The Environmental Protection Agency states that children are especially sensitive to pesticides since their organs are still growing and developing, and in relation to their weight, they eat and drink more than adults, increasing their exposure to pesticides in both food and water. Consuming too many pesticides, which cover all fruits and vegetables unless they are certified organic, can also block the absorption of nutrients necessary for healthy growth.
A recent study showed that organic produce contains higher concentrations of antioxidants, while conventional foods are found to have higher concentrations of pesticides and the toxic metal cadmium.
One of the most commonly used pesticides, Organophosphate insecticide (OPs), has been found to be the worst culprit, and according to the Environmental Working Group, over one million children under the age of five consume it in unsafe amounts. Some of the foods most commonly eaten by children that expose them to OPs include apples, peaches, applesauce, popcorn, grapes, corn chips and apple juice.
A study out of Harvard published by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that even allowable amounts of a common pesticide could affect brain chemistry in a dramatic way. It was found that children with above average pesticide exposure were two times more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The condition affects about 4.5 million children in the U.S., and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2.5 million take medication as treatment.
Pesticides are not the only culprit wreaking havoc on our children’s brains. A study in the The Lancet showed that eliminating processed foods can help reduce some symptoms of ADHD showing its role in the problem. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged that some food components, including preservatives and artificial food dye, may be associated with adverse behaviors in children.
Artificial food dyes are found in everything from applesauce to fruit flavored drinks and most snack foods. They are made from petroleum and some of the most common dyes including Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are contaminated with known carcinogens and evidence suggests that other colors can cause cancer in animals.
When we feed our children these foods, not only are we increasing their rates of disease, but also we draw our children away from the nutrient-rich foods that they need to be healthy. The only way to limit these risks is to reduce exposure to the foods containing these harmful ingredients and opt for whole, organic foods whenever possible.