If we are what we eat, then American kids are Fritos. That’s just one of the major findings from the new USDA Dietary Guidelines. Fries and chips are the only “vegetables” on the list of top 25 calorie sources; fruit juice is the sole “fruit” to make the leaderboard.
The prevalence of these foods plays a big role in the childhood-obesity epidemic, which affects far more than our children’s waist sizes. Many chronic conditions are on the rise among kids, including asthma, allergies, diabetes, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And all of these conditions have been linked to what kids eat. Improving children’s diets in the following three areas that were addressed in the report would go a long way toward helping our kids stay healthy:
Go low when it comes to salt. Most kids over 2 consume too much sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure. White bread is kids’ biggest source of salt because they eat so much of it. Excess sodium is also hidden in many processed, frozen, and restaurant foods. The fix: Go with low-sodium whole grains when choosing bread. Eat at home more often, and choose fresh foods over frozen or processed products.
Get off the SoFAS! This acronym may be the next buzzword in the childhood obesity discussion. SoFAS—“solid fats and added sugars”—make up a whopping 35 percent of our calories and have almost no nutritional value. These unhealthy fats, which are solid at room temperature, are found mostly in butter, stick margarine, and red meat. That means they’re in many children’s-menu staples: pizza, hot dogs, bacon, French fries, and desserts. The fix: Whenever possible, avoid these foods and use oils to replace solid fats when cooking.
Watch the added sugars. Sugars are healthy in whole foods like fruits and milk because these foods also contain nutrients that signal the body to use the sugar correctly. But when they are added to nutritionally empty foods (like many desserts), the natural process is thrown off. The fix: Make sweets an occasional treat in your family. Most important: View these findings as a road map to dietary change. Your children’s health depends on it.
Alan Greene, M.D. is a pediatrician and the author of the bestselling Raising Baby Green. He lives in Danville, CA.