Beat label tricks to eat healthy
Dr Birkhauser

You've loaded your shopping cart with all-natural, organic foods packaged in wrappers bearing the images of trees and smiling suns.

Clearly you're buying the best for your family. Right?

Unfortunately, you might want to take a closer look inside your cart. Many foods people think of as “healthy” really aren't. As a pediatrician and mother of two young boys, I'd like to offer parents a few helpful tips to navigate the murky waters of healthy food shopping.

What snacks are misleadingly labeled healthy? Don't be fooled by the term “all-natural.” Just because a fruit juice is “all-natural,” for instance, doesn't mean it contains any actual juice. It's important to read the label.

Also, beware of “healthy alternatives.” When cookies or chips are advertised as being “reduced fat” or “reduced calories,” watch out. A product only has to have 25 percent fewer calories to qualify to use the term “reduced calories” on its label.

Similarly, a food needs to have no more than five calories to be “calorie-free,” and less than a half-gram of fat to be “fat-free.” But that's per serving. So if a serving size is two cookies, and your toddler has just eaten 20, it's not as benign as you may think.

What should parents look for on the nutrition label? The most important thing to look for is serving size.

If you see that something has 100 calories and five grams of fat, you may think, “That's not so bad.” But you don't realize that one package contained three servings, and now your kid's snack has more fat and calories in it than his whole dinner.

We all know that saturated fat is the “bad” fat, and unsaturated is the “good” fat. But there is also a difference between “good” carbohydrates and “bad” ones: You want to make sure the majority of a food's carbohydrates come from fiber, not sugar. Kids' diets are sorely lacking in fiber, leading to all kinds of problems, including constipation.

How important is it to eat organic food? Organic foods may be better for the environment, but they're likely not any better for you.

The trend toward buying organic food seems to me to be primarily a smart marketing ploy aimed at getting parents to pay more – sometimes a lot more – for food.

Parents concerned about kids' exposure to pesticides and hormones need to keep in mind that while it sounds bad (“Hormones in my kids' food!”), much of the concern isn't based on hard science.

In truth, there doesn't seem to be enough good scientific evidence out there to prove that these chemicals, in the quantities that are found in foods, are actually harmful to our health at all. But that's where being a parent comes in – you have the freedom to make that choice for your family.

How can I get my kid to eat better? If you find that your child isn't excited by what you bring home from the grocery store, here's another tip: Take him or her with you.

Give your child healthy choices and then honor the decision he or she has made. When children participate in choosing healthy foods, they are far more likely to eat them.

– Dr. Jennifer Birkhauser is a pediatrician with Hoag Medical Group

To view the original Orange County Register ​article, please click here​