Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Partially hydrogenated pantry

I know it’s old news that partially hydrogenated oils are bad news for good health. But I’ve been using margarine and buying certain packaged products without bothering to read labels much nonetheless. I get lazy and thrifty, and I’m really not quite the health nut that I sometimes like to pretend that I am.

But my cousin April is currently obsessed with nutrition and the September 11 post on her blog about the kinds of fats that are good for us and the dangers of hydrogenated oils got me rethinking they way I blindly purchase products like margarine and crackers without attending enough to the labels. So now I’m going to do some more research and consider a switch to real butter and whole milk – if I’m persuaded by what I read.

Two things I do look out for when I’m buying food for Will are artificial colors and flavors. A recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet provides some convincing evidence that this is a good practice. You can read the Lancet article here or the layman’s interpretation of it in this news article. Researchers found (in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study) that artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-olds and 8/9-year-old children. Since Will is plenty hyperactive with his natural toddler energy I’ll continue avoiding those foods when possible.

A quick label-reading journey through the cupboards in my own kitchen revealed three problem products that Will often indulges in. One, Publix-brand graham crackers, contains both artificial flavor (hadn’t read the label to discover that one until now) and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Some Whole Wheat Ritz crackers (I use the “whole wheat” to pretend as if they’re acceptable for Will’s consumption) contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil. And some Publix brand pretzels (which I munch on plenty myself) contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil. I also found an unopened box of fruit roll-ups, complete with artificial flavors – a relic of our bribing-Will-to-pee-with-his-teachers-at-school potty training phase.

When I was pregnant my midwife advised me to shop around the edges of the store: Get your fruits, vegetables, dairies and meats and skip all that packaged stuff in the middle aisles, she said. Of course I’m an edge-shopper too, but I may finally try to take her advice to heart and cut out some of my boxed-up-in-the-heart-of-the-grocery-store purchases even if it means I need to become a little more creative and a little less lazy come snack time.

What healthy snack items do your kids devour? Or is life too short and time too precious for meticulous label reading in your house?

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