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According to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly half of American kids aged eight and under consume potentially harmful amounts of vitamin A, zinc and niacin because of excessive food fortification. Photo by Andy Melton, courtesy Flickr

According to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly half of American kids aged eight and under consume potentially harmful amounts of vitamin A, zinc and niacin because of excessive food fortification. Photo by Andy Melton, courtesy Flickr


E – The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that much of our food—including cereals and snacks eaten by children—is actually over-fortified with excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals that can be dangerous to our health?
             – Diane Summerton, Waukesha, WI
Added nutrients in the processed foods we eat could indeed be too much of a good thing, especially for kids. According to a report from non-profit health research and advocacy group Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly half of American kids aged eight and under “consume potentially harmful amounts of vitamin A, zinc and niacin because of excessive food fortification, outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing tactics used by food manufacturers.” EWG’s analysis for the “How Much Is Too Much?” report focused on two frequently fortified food categories: breakfast cereals and snack bars.
Of the 1,550 common cereals studied by EWG, 114 (including Total Raisin Bran, Wheaties Fuel, Cocoa Krispies, Krave and others) were fortified with 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc and/or niacin. And 27 of 1,000 brands of snack bars studied (including Balance, Kind and Marathon bars) were fortified with 50 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for at least one of these nutrients. EWG researchers based their analysis on Nutrition Facts labels on the various food items’ packaging.
“Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but it when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems,” says EWG research director Renee Sharp, who co-authored the report.  “Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume.”
Sharp adds that excessive levels of vitamin A can lead to skeletal abnormalities, liver damage and hair loss, while high doses of zinc can impede copper absorption, compromise red and white blood cells and impair immune function. Also, too much vitamin A during pregnancy can lead to fetal developmental issues. And older adults who get too much vitamin A are at more risk for osteoporosis and hip fractures.
EWG suggests it’s time to overhaul our food labeling system to better account for how ingredients may affect children as well as adults. “In other words, when a parent picks up a box of cereal and sees that one serving provides 50 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A, he or she may think that it provides 50 percent of a child’s recommended intake,” says EWG researcher and report co-author Olga Naidenko. “But he or she would most likely be wrong, since the Daily Values are based on an adult’s dietary needs.”
EWG is working on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to update its guidelines for Nutrition Facts to better reflect how foods affect children as well as adults. In the meantime, parents might want to consider scaling back on fortified foods for their kids in favor of so-called whole foods (unprocessed, unrefined fruits, vegetables and whole grains) that deliver the right amounts of nutrients naturally.
“Research consistently shows that the nutrient amounts and types found in whole foods provide optimal nutrition as well as least risk,” says Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian and a former ad executive for kid’s cereals and snack bars. “We owe it to parents and kids to make it easiest to choose better quality foods.”
See EWG’s “How Much Is Too Much?” report, www.ewg.org/research/how-much-is-too-much.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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Cook and bake your way to healthier eating this season


(ARA) – The arrival of the cooler weather means different things to many different people – football season, the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, hot chocolate, snuggly sweaters and a vast array of festive flavors that reinvigorate cooking and baking routines.
Surprisingly, these seasonal comfort foods don’t have to wreak havoc on your waistline. Many of this season’s hottest flavors are naturally low in calories, and even offer essential vitamins, minerals and fiber to help you take small steps towards healthier eating while enjoying the foods you love.
“Many Americans face the challenges of eating healthy all year, but maintaining motivation during the winter months is particularly hard,” says Hope Warshaw, registered dietitian and author of “Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy,” published by the American Diabetes Association. “My clients are always asking about simple ways to stay on track. I recommend making small changes to existing routines – such as cooking and baking with a fiber-enhanced product like SPLENDA No Calorie Sweetener Granulated with Fiber -  as an easy way to watch your daily fiber intake add up, gram-by-gram.”
Warshaw also recommends taking smart shortcuts, wherever possible, and incorporating high-nutrient ingredients into your favorite seasonal dishes. With the right knowledge, cooking and baking with a little boost of fiber has never been easier.
Pumpkin
As the ‘star’ in many holiday baked goods such as pies, muffins, breads and more, pumpkin is definitely one of the season’s most delicious and nutritious flavors. Give your favorite pumpkin recipe a fiber boost by ditching the sugar and baking with SPLENDA with Fiber, Granulated, a no-calorie sweetener for foods and beverages with three grams of fiber per tablespoon. “With this product, you get a two-for-one bonus—more fiber with less added sugars,” says Warshaw.
Beans
Nothing signals the arrival of sweater-season like a bowl of chili that warms you from the inside out. Give your chili a fiber makeover by opting for kidney and black beans and tossing in some fiber-rich Swiss chard. Cut calories by skipping the meat or using lean turkey and give your dish an added twist by adding butternut squash and lightly garnishing with pine nuts. The end result: a dish that will keep you full and satisfied all day.
Apples
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This saying has never rung more true – the apple and its skin are among nature’s fruits that are highest in fiber. Skip the season’s candy apples that line grocery store shelves and go for some homemade baked apples instead. Cut down on added sugars by baking your cored apples in a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and all-natural apple juice. Who said satisfying your sweet tooth couldn’t be healthy?
Cranberries
Great as a salad-topper, in trail and snack mixes, or simply enjoyed on their own, dried fruits can be sweet and natural treats with health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, dried cranberries are a great source of vitamins and fiber. Pair the festive cranberry with the fiber-rich almond for a simple snack that will double as brain food and help you stay full and focused in between meals.
Sweet potatoes
A classic in seasonal casseroles, pies and soups, sweet potatoes are on the top of the list when it comes to great-tasting and versatile fiber-rich vegetables. Slice up and drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt to serve mouthwatering, homemade French fries, or bake in a low-fat casserole to enjoy an easy and delicious treat with some serious health benefits.

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