What’s clean eating and why is it important for your child? Indeed, eating a diet based on more healthful, minimally processed foods without unwanted ingredients can be beneficial. Get these top three expert tips on how kids can eat cleaner diets.
There are so many things to worry about when you’re feeding your child. Are they eating their veggies? Are they getting enough nutrients? Is their growth and development on track? And a growing concern among many parents is whether children are getting too many artificial ingredients, preservatives, and chemicals in their diets. No wonder today’s parents are often choosing to follow the “clean eating” route in their kitchens and homes.
Clean eating has come to encompass a way of eating that is based on mostly whole foods—whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds—as close to their natural form as possible, with few artificial ingredients, sugars, additives, and chemicals added to the diet. Indeed, it looks like there may be some legitimate benefits for feeding your child a “cleaner” diet. Research increasingly shows that added ingredients, in particular added sugars, have been linked with health risks. Eating too much added sugar can contribute to heart and metabolic issues both immediately and later on in life. On average, U.S. children are consuming 19 teaspoons of added sugars per day. Yet, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children should consume to no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
In addition, too much sodium in foods is a concern for children, as nine out of ten kids eat more sodium than is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. No wonder that one in six children has high blood pressure, which could be attributed to an unhealthful, high-sodium diet.
Then there is the concern over pesticides in foods, which are used in conventional agriculture to grow crops. Pesticides include chemicals used to kill insects, plants, molds, and rodents. According to the Council on Environmental Health, early life exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems, though more high quality research is needed to fully understand the health risks of these chemicals. However, research has shown that children on an organic diet (which includes no synthetic pesticides) have drastic and immediate decreases in pesticides in their bodies.
So, what can you do? One thing that’s extremely important: keep calm and carry on as a parent. Too much worry over every exposure your child faces can lead to unhealthful anxieties and worries for the whole family. Yet, there are many things you can do to help provide a reasonably “cleaner diet” for your young children in order to promote good health today and in the future. Check out my top 3 tips.
3 Tips Toward a Cleaner Diet for Children
1. Focus on Whole Foods. Focus on more minimally processed whole foods, such as grains, pulses (beans, lentils, peas), vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. In the early years especially, avoid highly refined foods, such as sodas, sweetened drinks, fries, desserts, and refined snack crackers, as well as food products that are made with refined juices or fillers.
2. Read the Ingredients List. Flip over the label of the package and read the ingredients list, looking for added sugars, sodium, and preservatives. On the other hand, look for good ingredients that provide rich sources of whole plant foods. Remember, ingredients are listed in order by weight, so if it shows up as the first or second ingredient, pay attention.
3. Prioritize Organic. If you’re concerned about pesticides in your child’s diet, choosing organic foods can dramatically reduce pesticide residues in their overall food supply. But if organic foods don’t fit into your budget, use your food dollars wisely. Don’t waste your money on organic junk foods, like cookies, candy, or chips. Prioritize organic purchases for products featuring fruits and vegetables, where pesticide application is often the most prominent in our food system.
Try some of my favorite kid-friendly health recipes: