What do a can of corn, a take-out pizza, a reusable water bottle, a bright green yogurt, and an inflatable pool toy have in common? They all contain food additives or chemicals that can be dangerous for children.
Over the last few decades, the number of chemicals added to foods and other products has skyrocketed. We have created all sorts of plastics that are used in innumerable ways. We add preservatives to foods to keep them fresh. We add chemicals to foods to make them look more appealing. We have made food packaging to keep food fresh. We add chemicals to lotions and beauty products to make them feel, look, and smell nice… the list goes on and on of the ways we have invented and used chemicals.
We did all of it for what seemed like good reasons at the time, but we are learning that many of those chemicals can cause real harm.
In a policy statement entitled Food Additives and Child Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns about these harms — and points out that they often are worse for children. Children are smaller, so their “dose” of any given chemical ends up being higher. They put their hands in their mouths more than adults do, so they are likely to ingest more. Their bodies are still developing, so they can be more at risk of harm — and they are young, so the chemicals have more time to do more damage.
In particular, the policy statement warns about:
- Bisphenols, such as BPA. They can act like the hormone estrogen and interfere with puberty and fertility. Bisphenols can also increase body fat, and cause problems with the immune system and nervous system. They are found in the lining of food and soda cans, plastics with the number 3 or 7, and cash register receipts, among other places. They used to be found in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups; while this has been banned, older bottles and cups may still contain them.
- Phthalates. These can also act like hormones, interfering with male genital development, and can increase the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. They are ubiquitous, found not just in plastic packaging, garden hoses, and inflatable toys, but also in things like nail polish, hairsprays, lotions, and fragrances.
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs). They can lead to low-birthweight babies, as well as problems with the immune system, the thyroid, and fertility. They are commonly found in grease-proof paper, cardboard packaging, and commercial household products such as water-repellent fabric and nonstick pans, among other places.
- Perchlorate. This chemical also interferes with thyroid function, and can disrupt early brain development. It’s found in some dry food packaging — it’s used to decrease static electricity — and sometimes in drinking water.
- Artificial food colors. These have been found to increase symptoms in children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. They are found in all sorts of food products, but especially those marketed for children.
- Nitrates and nitrites. These can interfere with the thyroid, as well as with the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body. They can also increase the risk of certain cancers. They are used to preserve food and enhance its color. They are commonly found in processed foods, especially meats.
So what is a parent to do about food additives and chemicals?
These chemicals are truly everywhere, and impossible to avoid completely. Here is what the AAP suggests:
- Buy and serve more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed meats, especially during pregnancy.
- Since heat can cause plastics to leak BPA and phthalates into food, avoid microwavingfood or beverages in plastic containers. Also: wash plastics by hand rather than putting them in the dishwasher.
- Use more glass and stainless steel instead of plastic.
- Avoid plastics with the numbers 3, 6, and 7 on them.
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food, and clean all fruits and vegetables well.
And here are a few more ideas:
- Cut back on canned foods and beverages in general.
- Cut back on fast food and processed foods.
- Read labels. Get to know what is in the products you use.
- Look for lotions, soaps, and other products that are made naturally — and are fragrance-free.
- Consider making your own home cleaning products. You’d be amazed what a little baking soda or vinegar can do.
The idea isn’t to get paranoid (although that’s an understandable feeling) ;the idea is to get informed — and to make some simple changes that can go a long way toward keeping children and their families healthier.
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire
Related Information: The Harvard Medical School 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able
,1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
Psalm 65:9 You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
Proverbs 1:5 A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
Acts 12:24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
Proverbs 11:24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
Ezekiel 8:6 And He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, so that I would be far from My sanctuary? But yet you will see still greater abominations.”
Ephesians 4:16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
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