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Scary Foods

Just in time for Halloween, research casts a quartet of oft-vilified vittles in a less-harrowing light.

FISH

Fear factor: mercury consumption.

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. They’re low in saturated fat and contain high-quality protein, healthful omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and proper growth and development. However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury.

Read more about food safety myths and facts here.

Authorities say . . . The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise young children to avoid some types of fish altogether (specifically shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish) and choose varieties that are lower in mercury.

The sane take. It’s OK for kids to have two meals a week of a lower-mercury option, including shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Read more about the research here.

SUGAR SUBSTITUTES

Fear factor: cancer risk.

Noncaloric sweeteners, a.k.a. sugar substitutes, add sweetness to food and beverages without adding calories — and have long been linked in urban legend with an increased risk of cancer.

Authorities say . . . All noncaloric sweeteners used in food available nationwide have been determined safe and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that food and beverages containing these sweeteners can be incorporated into a healthy eating plan. Due to limited studies in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has no official recommendations regarding the use of noncaloric sweeteners.

The sane take. The overall opinion of health experts is that sugar substitutes are fine for children if used, just like sugar itself, in moderation. Read more about the research here.

FLAVORED MILK

Fear factor: sugar intake.

The AAP suggests that low-fat or fat-free flavored milks with modest amounts of added sweeteners can help optimize bone health and calcium intake in children and adolescents. The operative words here: “Modest amounts.”

Authorities say . . . A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that flavored milk drinkers consume more milk and have lower soft-drink intake than that of exclusively unflavored milk drinkers.

The sane take. Children who drink flavored milk do not have a higher body mass index (BMI) or added sugar and calorie intake than those who do not drink milk. Read more about the research here.

EGGS

Fear factor: cholesterol.

General dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association are that adults eat no more than three to four egg yolks weekly. There aren’t any formal recommendations for children, but like adults they should limit their intake of cholesterol to 300mg each day. A single egg contains about 213mg.

Authorities say . . . Eggs can be a healthy part of your child’s diet and shouldn’t be avoided altogether. Despite being high in cholesterol, eggs are also beneficially high in protein, iron, minerals and B vitamins.

The sane take. Instead of worrying about how many eggs your child eats, it’s more important to plan his overall diet according to the Food Guide Pyramid, where eggs are a part of the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans and Nuts group. Younger children, ages
2 to 6, should get two servings from this food group daily, while older children can have two to three servings. Read more about the research here.

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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