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Food Additives

Pyridoxine hydrochloride. Niacinamide. Thiamin mononitrate. Sodium ascorbate. The gobbledygook on food label ingredient lists may sound suspicious, like chemical additives you want nothing to do with, never mind feed to your child. But wait. Pyridoxine hydrochloride, niacinamide, thiamin mononitrate, and sodium ascorbate are not toxic food additives, but beneficial ones. They are vitamins you're likely to find in your child's breakfast cereal. Luckily, not all of the nearly three thousand additives to food approved by the FDA are so hard to decipher. Household names such as salt and sugar are common additions to foods.

Food additives serve a number of purposes including keeping food fresh, boosting the appearance and flavor of food, increasing nutritional value, helping baked goods to rise, and fostering consistent flavor and texture. For example, the antioxidant nutrient beta-carotene provides margarine with its yellow hue; alginate, derived from seaweed, serves to maintain desired textures in dairy products; and alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) keeps the oils in foods fresher. Enrichment of foods replaces nutrients that are lost during processing, such as the B vitamins that are stripped away when milling flour for white bread. Fortified products provide nutrients not present in the original version of the food. For example, nearly all of the milk in the United States contains added vitamin D. And iron is often added to grain products to boost their nutrient profile.

While most additives are safe, many have pitfalls. Some, such as the sulfites used on produce and shellfish and in commercially produced bread products, can trigger allergic symptoms in certain people, especially those with asthma. Vegetarians who eschew animal products should know that some food components are derived from animals. For instant, the cochineal extract used as food coloring is extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle. Sodium nitrite is added to maintain the red color of cured meats including bacon, ham, and hot dogs. Sodium nitrite helps reduce the risk of the foodborne illness botulism, but it also forms potentially cancer-causing nitrosamines in your body.

In My Experienced: Avoid These Additives
Not all food additives are suitable for children. Here are the ones that I avoid giving to my children and the reasons why.

Aspartame and saccharin. These low-calorie sugar substitutes are a boon for people with diabetes but essentially unnecessary for the rest of us, and for children. If your child needs artificially sweetened foods to keep his calorie intake under control, maybe he's eating too much. Give children the real thing in smaller amounts instead of artificially sweetened foods.

Nitrates and nitrites. These additives are not safe. Plus, they're found in cured meats such as ham, bacon, and hot dogs, which offer little nutritional value and lots of sodium and fat.

Caffeine. A drug that causes little tikes to bounce off the wall. You don't need that from sugary soft drinks or bottled water, and neither does your child.

Olestra or Olean. A synthetic fat that provides no calories at all because it passes through the body undigested. In doing so, it takes with it beneficial carotenoids that may help prevent cancer and heart disease in your child decades later. So far, olestra is found primarily in snack chips, another food lacking nutritional merit. When my children have chips, they eat small servings of the high-fat variety.

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Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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