We all know the basic diet no-nos for our kids: no corn syrup, less sugar, fewer chicken nuggets. You might be surprised to hear that there are a lot more of them out there, and you could be giving them to your kids every day.
Every parent wants to give their child the best they can, and that’s especially true when it comes to food. Did you know, however, that even the most conscious of parents could be exposing their children to toxic substances each and every day? Here are some of the harmful materials you could be giving your children without even knowing it.
Most people probably hear about arsenic on some of their favorite crime shows, whether true or fictional, but it’s something you could actually be feeding to your own children. The inorganic, more toxic form of arsenic is present in rice in pretty high levels because it leaches from the soil into the water rice grows in. Large amounts can eventually begin to affect children’s learning abilities, which is important to be aware of when you consider how many foods made for young children are made from rice.
Thankfully, the FDA has set limits for the amount of arsenic that can be present in rice-based products for children, such as rice cereal. For most parents, though, any amount of arsenic sounds like too much. Try feeding your children different types of grains or give them yogurt, avocados, cooked vegetables, or soft fruits in place of rice-based snacks.
We all know that pesticides are typically used for growing fresh produce, but many people probably believe that a quick rinse of water can get it off. However, many pesticides can actually penetrate the produce itself and make their way into your kids’ bellies no matter how much you wash them.
One particularly toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, is present on many fruits that young children eat often. “The testing that’s been done for residue finds it on apples, berries, melon (even on the inside), oranges, bananas—the kinds of fruits that are on the table for children,” says National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman.
Though organic produce isn’t necessarily pesticide-free, organic farmers are only authorized to use pesticides that are plant- or mineral-based, or those that will naturally break down quickly.
For the safest produce, try to buy organic when you can and make you sure wash your produce thoroughly no matter what.
Even though they’re only prescribed by doctors when absolutely necessary, many people are consuming antibiotics each and every day, maybe without even realizing it. Much of the meat we consume today contains antibiotics—growth hormones, too—given to animals as they grow to combat the growth of bacteria that can occur due to unsavory factory farming practices.
For farmers, it’s a good deal—with antibiotics they can pack more animals into smaller spaces without worrying about the spread of disease, and they can produce larger animals in a much shorter span of time with growth hormones. However, these substances remain in our meat even after it has hit our tables and can cause many different issues such as antibiotic resistance, cancer, and early puberty.
It’s not something that’s always possible for everyone, but families should definitely try to buy organic meats when they can. Grass-fed beef and dairy products are great choices, too—studies show that grass-fed beef actually contains more calcium, vitamins, and minerals than grain-fed.
If either of these options don’t fit into your budget, just look for labels that certify the meat is antibiotic- and growth hormone-free.
Aside from the fact that processed meats are pretty much bound to contain antibiotic- and hormone-laced meats, they generally contain a slew of other things that are just plain bad for you.
Among meat that might come from questionable parts of various animals, things like hot dogs can also contain nitrites or nitrates, corn syrup, and “flavor.” Unfortunately, kids are the ones who end up eating things like this most often, and they can suffer because of it, too.
A study by the World Health Organization actually shows that eating a little less than two ounces of processed meat a day can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer by up to 18 percent.
The obvious answer is to give children quality meat that you’ve cooked in your own kitchen, but there are a lot of parents who need a quick fix every now and then.
Don’t be afraid to reach for a hamburger or hotdog every now and then, but buy brands that use quality meat and minimal fillers.
Brominated Vegetable Oil
Did you ever think that you’d find oil in drinks? If your kids consume citrus-flavored sodas or sports drinks even occasionally, it’s something that they’re taking in more often than you think.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is an ingredient that’s used to prevent the citrus flavor in these drinks from separating from the rest of the liquid. While that sounds innocent enough, give your kids too many sodas or sports drinks and they could end up with bromine toxicity, which can cause problems with the skin, memory, and nerves.
Consumption of products with BVO has actually been found to leave trace amounts of the substance in the fat within the brain and different organs. Fortunately, it is not used in too many products today.
That’s not to say that you won’t find it anywhere, though. It can still be found in the regular and diet versions of one particular neon-green soda—we’ll leave the guesswork up to you.
If you consume any citrus-flavored drinks on the regular, make sure to check the labels and maybe opt for something with a little less sugar in general.
While phthalates aren’t something you’ll find in your food, you could be packing your child’s lunch in them every day.
They’re a type of chemical often found in plastic that are considered to be endocrine-disrupting, meaning that they can disrupt your body’s normal hormone production, and children are especially susceptible. It’s common to find phthalates in higher-fat dairy products, as milk is often packaged in plastic, as well as transported in plastic tubing during processing and packaging.
The worst part is that even buying organic won’t help, because the standards that apply to organic products don’t necessarily apply to their packaging.
Because phthalates are often found in the fat within dairy products, you can always opt to buy lower-fat versions of your favorite products. This probably isn’t the best route, though, as low-fat products are usually more processed than their full-fat counterparts.
Instead, try to buy products that are packaged in glass when you can find them.
If you’ve walked through a grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed that many of the cans and packages you see now boast that they are “BPA-free.”
BPA stands for bisphenol-A, which is a chemical that is often added to plastic and the lining of cans to make them stronger. Like phthalates, it is also known to disrupt hormone production and can leach into food pretty easily, especially canned foods.
It was once so prevalent that it was even found in bottles, plastic baby food containers, and sippy cups, though the FDA no longer allows these items to be made with plastic that contains BPA. It’s probably because even low levels of BPA in young bodies have been linked to delayed brain development, reproductive system damage, behavioral issues, and cancer.
Thankfully, manufacturers have made it pretty easy to ensure that you’re buying something in a BPA-free package—they’re now proud to put the claim right on the label.
For items packed in cans or plastic, make sure you can see that you’re buying a BPA-free product. When you can, try to buy products packed in glass.
Whether it’s for themselves or their children, most parents tend to think that an artificial sweetener is better than a ton of real sugar. After all, you get the same sweet taste with none of the harmful side effects of sugar, right? Not so much.
For one thing, even though aspartame isn’t real sugar, its sweet taste only helps to keep your sweet tooth alive, and it’ll keep your body craving sugar. Not only that, but tests performed on both humans and animals strongly suggest that aspartame may be linked to cancer development.
In general, it’s a good idea to try to cut down on all sweet treats, whether they’re sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners. When you or kids have the occasional treat, however, stick to things that are sweetened with real sugar.
Even better? Look out for items that are sweetened with things like honey or maple syrup instead—in moderation still, of course.