You’ve read about “superfoods” for babies — these are the foods like berries and sweet potatoes that give an extra nutritional boost. Here are the “anti-superfoods,” the bad food for kids. The foods on this list have been shown to have little to no nutritional value and are linked to long-term health problems like obesity and diabetes. If you recognize your toddler’s diet on this list, it might be time to re-evaluate your shopping habits.
1. Soda—Calories from soda are empty and provide no nutritional value for your child (or for you). It’s just sugar in a bottle. A 12-ounce container has about 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is like eating a large candy bar or three bowls of ice cream! Long-term soda consumption is associated with poor bone health, according to one study.
2. Lunchmeat—Processed lunch meats are full of nitrates, which are preservatives used to prevent bacterial growth and add color. Nitrates have been linked to an increased risk for colon cancer. A recent study also found that consumption of processed meats was connected to coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes later in life. Try to avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami, corned beef, and some sausages. If you can’t resist, choose organic meats that are grass-fed or free range for a healthier option.
3. Hot dogs—They’re as American as baseball and apple pie. But they’re also a huge choking hazard for toddlers and have little nutritional value. A typical beef hot dog is very high in fat, nitrates, and sodium. If you have to serve a hot dog, try switching to a healthier alternative like a turkey dog, and cut it up into coin-size pieces. Then cut those coins in half again to make them easier for your child to chew.
4. Fruit juice—Your pediatrician has probably told you to avoid giving your child more than 4 ounces of fruit juice a day. There’s a reason for this. Not only can high levels of juice consumption cause diarrhea, but excessive consumption is strongly associated with weight gain in at-risk children. It’s fine if your child enjoys juice, but be sure to include water and milk just as often in his or her diet. If that becomes a battle, try watering the juice down into a half-and-half mixture to reduce sugar intake—many popular fruit juices are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to a host of health problems.
5. Prepackaged, processed meals—They’re quick and convenient but full of sodium. Your kids may love them, but a high-sodium diet is linked to increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular disease in later years.
6. Foods that are choking hazards—In addition to hot dogs, try avoiding foods that present an obvious choking hazard, like hard candies, nuts, popcorn, gummy candy, chewing gum, and marshmallows.
It can be hard to imagine that what you feed your toddler now will have an effect in 40 or 50 years, but today’s diet will have a dramatic effect on your child’s health in the future. Their taste buds can be “trained” to crave salty, sugary foods that aren’t good for them, leading to a potential lifetime of poor nutrition. Be an advocate for your child’s health and try to model healthier habits yourself.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Association between long-term consumption of soft drinks and variables of bone modeling and remodeling in a sample of healthy German children and adolescents.
Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D
- Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- 2010 Jun 1;121(21):2271-83.
Faith MS, Dennison BA, Edmunds LS, Stratton HH
- Fruit juice intake predicts increased adiposity gain in children from low-income families: weight status-by-environment interaction
- 2006 Nov;118(5):2066-75.
Daniels LA, Mallan KM, Nicholson JM, Battistutta D, Magarey A
- Outcomes of an early feeding practices intervention to prevent childhood obesity
- 2013 Jul;132(1):e109-18.
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