Category: Child Nutrition

What Are the Best Foods for Kids?

What are the best foods for kids?

No, they aren’t brain foods, super foods, or clean foods…

Best Foods for Kids

Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are eating healthy foods.
Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are eating healthy foods.

In general,  the best foods are healthy foods packed with the nutrients that your kids need, including foods that are high in fiber, low in fat, and good sources of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and iron, etc.

And they are foods that make it easy to avoid things your kids don’t need, like trans fats and too much extra salt, added sugar and calories.

That’s why many of the best foods include things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat milk. Eat enough of them and you won’t have to worry about giving your kids vitamins.

High Fiber Foods

Do your kids get enough fiber in their diet?

According to the latest recommendations, based on their age, the average child needs:

  • 1-3 years old – 19g fiber/day
  • 4-8 years old – 25g fiber/day
  • 9-13 years old (female) – 26g / (male) – 31g fiber/day
  • 14-18 years old (female) – 26g / (male) – 38g fiber/day
Some snack bars have up to 9g of fiber per serving!
Some snack bars have up to 9g of fiber per serving!

Is 19 or 21g of fiber a lot? What about 38g?

When you consider that a high fiber food has 5g per serving and one that is a good source of fiber only has 2.5g per serving, then it might be hard for some kids to reach recommended levels each day.

To help make sure that they do, look for:

  • high fiber foods – beans, broccoli, peas, lentils, pears, prunes, raspberries, shredded wheat cereal, spinach, whole wheat pasta, snack bars
  • foods that are good sources of fiber – air popped popcorn, nuts, apples (with the skin on), bananas, brown rice, carrots, celery, corn, figs, oatmeal, raisins, strawberries, whole wheat bread

And compare food labels, looking for foods with high amounts of fiber.

Iron-Rich Foods

Since many kid-friendly foods have plenty of iron, getting kids to eat iron-rich foods isn’t as big an issue as some parents imagine.

It can be a problem if your exclusively breastfed infant isn’t eating much baby food, your toddler or preschooler drinks too much milk and doesn’t eat much food, or when a kid on a specialized diet doesn’t eat meat or other iron-rich food (vegans and vegetarians).

Fortunately, there are plenty of iron-rich foods, even if your kids don’t eat red meat, including:

  • most types of beans
  • iron fortified bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, including those made with whole grains
  • collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens
  • broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, parsley, watercress, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables
  • raisins, prunes, dates, apricots and some other dried fruits
  • tofu
  • egg yolks
  • blackstrap molassses
  • nuts

Seafood and poultry are also good sources of iron.

And while the iron in non-meat sources isn’t as easily absorbed by our bodies as the iron from meat, fish, and poultry, you can boost that absorption by pairing those iron rich foods with some vitamin C, such as drinking orange juice or eating citrus fruits.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Many kids don’t drink enough milk. That’s not necessarily a problem, as some kids actually drink too much milk, but it can be if they don’t make up for it with other foods to get calcium and vitamin D in their diets.

Some brands of American singles have more vitamin D than a glass of milk!
Some brands of American singles have more vitamin D than a glass of milk!

How much calcium do kids need?

  • 700 mg a day for kids who are 1 to 3 years old
  • 1,000 mg a day for kids who are 4 to 8 years old
  • 1,300 mg a day for kids who are 9 to 18 years old

And when you consider that 1/2 cup of broccoli only has 21mg of calcium, you are probably going to want to turn to milk, cheese and yogurt and calcium fortified orange juice, cereal and bread to make sure your kids are getting enough calcium.

Other foods that are good sources of calcium include tofu, sardines, and salmon.

Foods with Vitamin D

Like calcium, good sources of vitamin D can include milk, cheese, and yogurt, but only because many of these foods are fortified. That’s why ice cream, even though it is made with milk, isn’t usually a good source of vitamin D! Neither is raw milk.

Some non-dairy foods that do contain vitamin D include:

  • fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel (just don’t overdo it on the fish because of the risks from mercury)
  • beef liver and egg yolks
  • some mushrooms

And of course, many foods are fortified with vitamin D, including breakfast cereal and orange juice.

Are your kids getting at least 600 IU/d of vitamin D?

Protein-Rich Foods

Believe it or not, your child likely gets enough protein in their diet.

Kids should eat a variety of protein rich foods though, including lean meats, seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.

“Strategies to increase the variety of protein foods include incorporating seafood as the protein foods choice in meals twice per week in place of meat, poultry, or eggs, and using legumes or nuts and seeds in mixed dishes instead of some meat or poultry. For example, choosing a salmon steak, a tuna sandwich, bean chili, or almonds on a main-dish salad could all increase protein variety.”

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

For most kids, it is the variety of protein that’s the problem, not the overall amounts, as most of their protein likely comes from red meat and dairy products.

What to Know About the Best Foods for Kids

Are you worried that your kids are too picky? Are they overweight, with portion sizes that are too big?

Learn to make healthy food choices and help avoid kid-friendly junk foods, but still make sure your growing kids are getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need.

A registered dietician can be especially helpful in planning a healthy eating plan for your kids if you are still having trouble.

More on the Best Foods for Kids

Which Vitamins Should My Kids Take?

All kids need vitamins.

So which vitamins or supplements should you give them?

“The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that healthy children receiving a normal, well-balanced diet do not need vitamin supplementation over and above the recommended dietary allowances, which includes 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D a day in infants less than 1 year of age and 600 units/day for children over 1 year of age.”

AAP on Where We Stand: Vitamins

It depends. Most kids don’t actually need to take any extra vitamins.

Which Vitamins Should My Kids Take?

Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are getting enough vitamins and minerals.

Wait, if all kids need vitamins, then why don’t you need to give them extra vitamins?

That’s easy. Most kids should get enough vitamins from the foods they eat.

Are your kids missing out on something? Then that would be a clue on which vitamins and minerals they would need to take.

Does your child have a chronic medical condition?

Are they on a special or restrictive diet?

Even if they are a little picky or don’t eat as much as you like, do they eat some foods from each food group, leading to a balanced diet by the end of the week?

In general, to see what your child might need, focus on your child’s intake of:

  • iron – can be low (anemia) in preterm babies, when infants are exclusively breastfeeding and not eating foods with iron, toddlers and preschoolers who are drinking excessive amounts of cow’s milk and not eating foods with iron, other kids who don’t eat many foods with iron, and teen girls who have heavy periods
  • vitamin D – can be low when infants are exclusively breastfeeding and don’t take a daily vitamin D supplement and older children who don’t eat or drink enough foods with vitamin D, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and orange juice
  • calcium – can be low when children don’t eat or drink enough foods with calcium, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and orange juice
  • fluoride – can be deficient when children mainly drink bottled water, soda, and juices, but since too much fluoride can lead to tooth staining, it is best to get fluoride from drinking fluoridated water – offer it daily once your child is about six months old
  • vitamin B12 and folate – can become classically low in vegans (who don’t take a supplement) and kids who drink goat milk that’s not fortified with vitamin B12 and folate
  • vitamin C – rarely low, which would cause scurvy, as most fruits and fruit juices are high in vitamin C

What other things do parents think about supplementing?

  • protein – while many parents worry that their kids aren’t getting enough protein in their diets, protein is rarely the thing that they are missing out on, as only about 20 percent of our calories need to come from protein.
  • calories – if your child is a picky eater, you might think that they aren’t getting enough calories and might think of supplementing them with a shake or two to boost their calories, but keep in mind that these typically end up replacing meals, leading kids to eat even less food and teach them to just drink their calories
  • vitamin K – typically only a problem for breastfeeding newborns who didn’t get a vitamin K shot, as vitamin K is found in many foods
  • vitamin A – since milk and many other foods are fortified with vitamin A, this is rarely a vitamin that we worry about being low. Supplements are also a concern, because too much vitamin A can be toxic.
  • potassium – few people worry about their potassium intake, but maybe they should. Most of us don’t eat enough foods with potassium.
  • magnesium – since magnesium is so easily absorbed, this is rarely a mineral that we get concerned about being low.
  • vitamin E – most kids get enough vitamin E in their diet, so a supplement probably isn’t necessary unless your child has a malabsorption problem or abetalipoproteinemia
  • iodine – most kids get enough iodine thanks to salt iodization, but extra iodine is recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
  • zinc – many foods contain zinc, so zinc deficiency is rare
  • fiber – giving kids extra fiber can be a good idea if your kids don’t eat enough high fiber foods, especially if they are having stomach issues
  • probiotics – although taking probiotics is one of the latest fads, there is little evidence that probiotics are helpful for much of anything in healthy kids
  • fish oil – another fad, there is likely no benefit to giving your kids omega 3 fatty acids

So which vitamins and supplements do your kids need?

Best Vitamins and Supplements for Kids

Once you figure out which vitamins and minerals your kids need, you have to figure out the best way to make sure they get them, understanding that the answer isn’t always going to be a gummy vitamin.

You also will likely need a different supplement if you are actually treating a deficiency vs if you are just trying to prevent your child from developing a deficiency in the first place.

So the best supplement(s) might be:

  • a multivitamin with iron – keeping in mine that gummy vitamins typically don’t contain iron, so if your main concern is that your child isn’t getting enough iron, then you should give your child an iron vitamin or a multivitamin with iron. Also low in calcium. Either liquid (infants), chewable, or tablets.
  • a multivitamin without iron – keeping in mine that in addition to not containing iron, these types of multivitamins also often don’t contain very much calcium. Often available as liquid (infants), gummies, chewables, and tablets.
  • a vitamin D supplement – was your child’s vitamin D level low or do you just think that he doesn’t get enough vitamin D in his diet? These are typically available as liquid, gummies, chewables, and tablets.
  • a calcium supplement – These are typically available as gummies, chewables, and tablets.
  • a vitamin D supplement combined with calcium – These are typically available as gummies, chewables, and tablets.
  • an iron supplement – if  your child’s iron was low, then they will likely need an iron supplement, like Feosol, Niferex, or Fer-In-Sol. Either liquid or tablets.
  • a fluoride supplement – do you live in an area where the water isn’t fluoridated? Do you use a reverse osmosis system that filters out fluoride? Usually available as a prescription only. Or you can buy ‘baby water’ with added fluoride.

Again, remember that unless your child has already been diagnosed with a deficiency, you can often work to get your kids to eat more foods with these nutrients instead of giving them an extra supplement, including vitamin fortified foods.

Look to you pediatrician and a registered dietician if you need extra help.

More on Which Vitamins Should My Kids Take

 

Sugar and Added Sugar

What do you think about when you think of sugar?

Candy and junk food?

It is important to remember that sugar is also naturally present in milk, including breastmilk and baby formula, and in fruits, and vegetables, etc.

That means that not all sugar is bad sugar.

Types of Sugar

Most of us have learned to limit or avoid certain types of sugar, like high fructose corn syrup, but you don’t have to avoid all sugar. In fact, if you eat fruits and vegetables, it would be awfully hard to avoid sugar.

You probably thought that sugar was sugar, right?

Nope.

There are many different types of sugar, with the most common types including:

  • glucose – found in many fruits and in corn syrup
  • fructose – fruit sugar
  • sucrose – sugar cane, sugar beets (a combination of glucose + fructose)
  • maltose – barley or malt sugar (a combination of two glucose molecules)
  • lactose – milk sugar (a combination of galactose + glucose)

Honey, a sweetener like sugar, is also made up of glucose and fructose, but they are not combined together. In general, honey contains much more fructose than glucose, which is why it is so sweet.

What about table sugar? That’s sucrose.

Still, like most other types of sugar, table sugar is broken down by enzymes in our body to glucose, with each gram of glucose providing four calories of energy. If you don’t need that energy at the time, that glucose gets converted into fat and is stored away.

Good Sugar vs Bad Sugar

While it’s become popular to worry about how bad sugar is for us, that’s not really what you should focus on. Instead,  learn more about the the differences between naturally occurring sugar and added sugars.

A large strawberry contains about 1 gram of natural sugar. They are low in sugar, unless you dip them in sugar before giving them to your kids.
A large strawberry contains about 1 gram of natural sugar. They are low in sugar, unless you dip them in sugar before giving them to your kids. Photo by Ken Hammond

If there is a bad sugar, it is the added sugars in foods that help us get too much sugar in our diets.

Also, when you eat or drink something with naturally occurring sugar, even though you are getting some sugar, you are also getting many other vitamins and minerals in your diet. For example, when you drink milk or eat an orange,  you get other nutritional benefits, unlike drinking a soda or eating a piece of candy.

So while you do get sugar from all of them, that’s all you get from the soda and candy.

That’s why it is often said that junk food is filled with empty calories.

Has someone got you shocked about the sugar content of your child’s lunch consisting of a PB&J sandwich, applesauce, and fruit punch? Then swap the applesauce for an apple and the fruit punch for low-fat milk or water.

Identifying Added Sugars

A new food label with added sugars is coming - by January 2020...
A new food label with added sugars is coming – by January 2020…

How do you know if the foods you are eating are high in sugar?

Just check the Nutrition Facts label and look at the amount of Sugars listed under Total Carbohydrates.

That can be misleading though, as it doesn’t differentiate between natural sugars and added sugars. At least not yet.

For that, we have to check the ingredients list and look for clues that the food item contains added sugars, including that it contains things like:

Hidden Sugar on Ingredients List
agave nectar invert sugar
anhydrous dextrose lactose
beet sugar malt syrup
brown sugar maltose
confectioner’s powdered sugar maple syrup
corn syrup molasses
corn syrup solids nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
dextrose pancake syrup
fructose raw sugar
fruit juice concentrate sucrose
high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sugar
honey white granulated sugar

New rules from the FDA will hopefully soon make it easier to recognize added sugars on food labels, as they add information about the amounts of added sugars in foods.

Limiting Sugar in Your Diet

Although some people are concerned that sugar is an actual poison – it isn’t – the most common reason to avoid added sugar is to simply avoid extra calories.

Sugar itself doesn’t cause diabetes or ADHD or any number of other things it gets blamed for, except maybe getting cavities.

If you get too much sugar in your diet and you become overweight, then you could develop type II diabetes. Getting too much fat in your diet is also an easy way to become overweight though, especially if you don’t exercise everyday.

How much sugar is too much?

“Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”

WHO on Sugars intake for adults and children

In general, you don’t usually want to get more than 10% of your daily calories from free sugars. Unfortunately, most people get too many calories in their diet, and too many of those calories are from free sugars.

Other recommendations are a little more restrictive.

“The committee found that it is reasonable to recommend that children consume ≤25 g (100 cal or ≈6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day and to avoid added sugars for children <2 years of age.”

AHA on Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children

But remember, this is the sugar that you get from candy, cakes, fruit drinks, donuts, and soft drinks, etc.

A teaspoonful of sugar is equal to 4g of sugar or 16 calories.
A teaspoonful of sugar is equal to 4g of sugar or 16 calories. Photo by Samantha Celera (CC BY-ND 2.0)

In general, it is not the sugar that they get from whole fruits, plain yogurt, or milk.

For example, don’t be mislead by scary claims, like yogurt might have more sugar than a Twinkie. Unless it is a kid’s brand, with a lot of added flavorings, the sugar in yogurt is mostly from naturally occurring milk sugar and sugar from added whole fruit, while a Twinkie is almost all added sugars.

Once you start being more mindful of how much sugar your kids are getting and you limit sugary drinks and candy every day, it becomes easy to get under about 25g of added sugar each day.

Avoiding Added Sugars

To help your kids avoid added sugar, it can help to:

  • drink water
  • limit or avoid soda, fruit drinks, and other sugar-sweetened drinks, including sports drinks
  • drink low-fat white milk without extra flavorings
  • avoid sugary cereals
  • choose canned fruits with water over syrup when not eating fresh whole fruit
  • limit candy, cakes, cookies, ice cream, and other junk foods
  • choose plain yogurt without added sugars instead of a flavored yogurt and then add fresh fruit to it

Even 100% fruit juice should be limited, and avoided all together if your infant is under 12 months old.

And don’t make the mistake of limiting added sugar, but then turning to high fat foods!

Healthier alternatives can include more nutrient dense foods, including beans and peas, eggs, fat-free and low-fat milk and cheese, fruits, lean meats and poultry, seafood, unsalted nuts and seeds, vegetables, and whole grain foods.

Most importantly, learn to read food labels to look for added sugar in the foods your kids eat and then avoid those food and watch their portion sizes. When you do allow your kids to have a treat, don’t go overboard with a 24 ounce soda or letting them eat a pint of ice cream.

Learn to eat healthy.

Remember that it’s not all about sugar, fat, carbs, or any other one thing. A registered dietician can be helpful if you need more help planning what your family eats.

What to Know About Sugar and Added Sugar

Learn to avoid added sugar in your child’s diet as part of an overall healthy eating plan.

More About Sugar and Added Sugar

What’s Wrong with Homemade Baby Formula?

Once upon a time, before we had commercial baby formula, didn’t everyone make their own homemade baby formula if they couldn’t breastfeed or were separated from their baby?

Not necessarily.

Some parents hired a wet nurse and others simply fed their baby wheat containing porridge or milk from camels, cows, goats, or even pigs. Of course, wet nursing was the safest option by far.

History of Homemade Baby Formula

There were recipes for ‘baby formula’ though, which often “consisted of a liquid ingredient (milk, beer, wine, vegetable or meat stock, water), a cereal (rice, wheat or corn flour, bread) and additives (sugar, honey, herbs or spices, eggs, meat).” These recipes were missing foods with vitamin C and were later missing vitamin D, iron, and protein, as they were mixed with more water and less meat and eggs.

Before commercial baby formula was widely available, public health nurses had to sometimes teach new moms how to make their own formula.
Before commercial baby formula was widely available, public health nurses had to sometimes teach new moms how to make their own baby formula.

Fortunately, there were several major breakthroughs in the mid-nineteenth century that offered hope to babies who couldn’t breastfeed, including the invention of the rubber nipple and other feeding devices, improved methods of hygiene and later pasteurization, and the first commercial baby formula.

Many of the first baby formulas basically looked like homemade recipes, such as the Leibig formula – a powder made up of wheat flour, malt, and potassium bicarbonate that was added to diluted cow’s milk. Later, there were recipes to make baby formula from condensed and then evaporated milk (mixed with corn syrup).

And eventually, in the 1950s, we got the commercial baby formulas that we still use today.

What’s in Baby Formula

Like breastmilk, baby formula has three main components that provide the calories:

  • a sugar
  • fats
  • proteins

Different combinations of these proteins (cow’s milk vs soy), sugar (lactose vs corn syrup), and fats (vegetable oils), etc., help produce cow’s milk based, soy based, and elemental baby formulas.

And then, to make it more like breastmilk, lots of other stuff can be added to baby formula, including DHA, probiotics, and nucleotides, etc.

Enspire, the newest formula from Mead Johnson, also adds lactoferrin, Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM), and prebiotics, to try and make it their “closest formula ever to breast milk.”

What’s Not in Baby Formula

Are you still confused about what’s in your baby’s formula?

While it might make you feel better to feed your baby goat milk, it won't make your baby feel any better, and could make them sick...
While it might make you feel better to feed your baby goat milk, it won’t make your baby feel any better, and could make them sick… (CC BY-ND 2.0)

It’s possible that you are just confused about what you think is in your baby’s formula?

Kristin Cavallari has written that she made her own homemade baby formula because “I would rather feed my baby these real, organic ingredients than a heavily processed store-bought formula that contains ‘glucose syrup solids,’ which is another name for corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, carrageenan, and palm oil.”

So what are glucose syrup solids and why are they in your baby’s formula?

While cow’s milk based baby formulas use lactose (glucose plus galactose) as their source of sugar, non-milk based formulas usually use use sucrose (cane sugar) and corn syrup solids (glucose).

Should you worry about cane sugar in some organic formulas?

What about the corn syrup in formula? Isn’t that bad for them?

No. These are just different types of sugar. Even maltodextrin is simply glucose polymers made from corn starch that is used as a thickening agent in baby formula and other foods.

And no, corn syrup solids don’t have anything to do with high fructose corn syrup.

Goat Milk Formula

In addition to warning about making homemade formula, pediatricians have long warned about feeding baby’s goat milk and goat milk based baby formula.

Goat milk is very high in sodium and protein, giving almost three times the amounts present in breast milk. And cross-reactivity that occurs between proteins means that babies who are sensitive or allergic to cow’s milk will likely have problems with goat milk too.

“It is recommended that formula-fed infants who are allergic to milk use an extensively hydrolyzed, casein-based formula. This type of formula contains protein that has been extensively broken down so it is different than milk protein and not as likely to cause an allergic reaction.”

FARE on Formula for Infants with a Milk Allergy

Of course, that doesn’t keep folks from pushing “false and potentially dangerous information” about what some think are benefits of goat milk for infants.

What’s Wrong with Homemade Baby Formula?

In her latest book, Kristin Cavallari, known for dangerous stance against vaccines, even offers a recipe for a goat’s milk baby formula that is made with:

  • filtered water
  • goat milk powder
  • pure organic maple syrup – provides calories from sugar
  • extra virgin olive oil – provides calories and monounsaturated fats
  • unflavored cod-liver oil – for extra vitamin D and vitamin A
  • unsulfured blackstrap molasses – for extra iron and calcium
  • coconut oil – for omega-6-fatty acids
  • probiotics

In this homemade formula, much of the sugar, protein, and fat and half of the calories comes from goat milk.

The majority of the sugar comes from the maple syrup though, which is just sucrose. Just like the sucrose from cane sugar that folks complain about in some organic formulas.

Extra fat comes from the olive oil.

What about the other ingredients?

They provide extra vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin A, and iron.

What’s missing?

This homemade formula seems to be missing folate. Goat milk is deficient in folate and can lead to megaloblastic anemia and it is one of the main reasons babies should avoid unfortified goat milk.

And it is missing enough vitamin D to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

Cavallari’s recipe seems to add just 100IU of vitamin D to the whole 32 ounce batch (from the cod liver oil). That’s just 10IU per 100ml, about 6 times less than baby formula. Keep in mind that it is recommended that infants get at least 400IU of vitamin D each day.

Remember that formula is fortified with vitamin D and breastfeeding babies are supposed to take a vitamin D supplement. Depending on your water filter, this homemade baby formula recipe might also be missing fluoride, which infants start to need beginning at around six months.

Can You Find a Safe Homemade Baby Formula Recipe?

You probably can, especially if you use a full fat milk powder that has been pasteurized and fortified with vitamin D and folic acid and the right combination of other ingredients to get enough calories, protein, fat, sugar, and all of the essential vitamins and minerals that your baby needs to gain weight and development normally.

“FDA regulates commercially available infant formulas, which are marketed in liquid and powder forms, but does not regulate recipes for homemade formulas. Great care must be given to the decision to make infant formulas at home, and safety should be of prime concern. The potential problems associated with errors in selecting and combining the ingredients for the formula are very serious and range from severe nutritional imbalances to unsafe products that can harm infants. Because of these potentially very serious health concerns, FDA does not recommend that consumers make infant formulas at home.”

FDA Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula

You will almost certainly have to give your baby a multi-vitamin each day too.

Also, you will have to make sure you are mixing all of the ingredients of your recipe correctly and safely, so that you don’t contaminate any of the batches.

But it still won’t be any better for your baby than store bought formula.

So just like skipping your RhoGAM shot, skipping your baby’s vitamin K shot and delaying or skipping vaccines, you will have some very big risks and absolutely no health benefits.

What to Know About Homemade Baby Formula

Stick to breastmilk or an iron fortified baby formula until your baby is at least twelve months old. There are no benefits to feeding your baby a homemade baby formula and there are certainly some risks. Those risks go up even more if you use raw goat milk or leave out key nutrients.

More About Homemade Baby Formula

Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Drinking Raw Milk

Understand the many risks of drinking raw milk and don't be fooled by propaganda, such as that 'raw milk heals.'
Understand the many risks of drinking raw milk and don’t be fooled by propaganda, such as that ‘raw milk heals.’ (CC BY 2.0)

Surprisingly, more and more people are starting to drink raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk.

Or maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising as most people associate things that are raw or natural as being safer and healthier for them, often without understand the consequences.

Unfortunately, drinking raw milk can be dangerous, especially for young children.

There are plenty of risks and no real health benefits.

Drinking Raw Milk

Just as you would have thought, is basically “straight from the cow,” and hasn’t been processed or pasteurized.

Although most experts consider pasteurization to be one of the most important health advances of the last century, some people think that it removes nutrients and kills beneficial bacteria. They also claim that raw milk can taste better than pasteurized milk, which if you believe it, is really the only possible benefit of drinking raw milk.

It’s not even a good way to avoid growth hormones in milk, as most milk is now growth hormone free anyway and is labeled rBST-free.

Is raw milk healthier than pasteurized milk? There is no research to support that raw milk is healthier or, according to the FDA, that there is a “meaningful difference between the nutrient content of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.”

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “substantial data suggest that pasteurized milk confers equivalent health benefits compared with raw milk, without the additional risk of bacterial infections.”

Dangers of Drinking Raw Milk

According to the FDA, raw milk can be contaminated with bacteria, including:

  • Brucella species
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Coxiella Burnetii
  • Escherichia coli
  • Enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Salmonella species
  • Yersinia enterocolitica

These bacteria can cause people to get sick, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, and headaches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 200 to 300 people get sick each year from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk.

Another big danger of drinking raw milk that some people may overlook is that raw milk is very low in vitamin D. In addition to being pasteurized, processed milk that you routinely buy in a store is typically fortified with vitamin D, which is important to keep your bones strong.

Since young children are at big risk for getting sick from any bacteria that may be in raw milk and they need vitamin D, it is important that you not give your child raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “children should not consume unpasteurized milk or products made from unpasteurized milk, such as cheese and butter, from species including cows, sheep, and goats.”

We will have to add unpasteurized camel milk to the list, as that seems to be a thing now too.

Keep in mind that kids should also avoid unpasteurized fruit juices, including unpasteurized apple juice and apple cider.

Lastly, raw milk is about the same as whole milk in terms of fat content and calories. Experts recommend that children start drinking reduced fat milk, which has less fat and calories than whole milk, beginning at age two, you won’t be able to do that if your kids are drinking raw milk.

What To Know About Drinking Raw Milk

If you are still thinking of giving your child raw milk, keep in mind that “the AAP strongly supports the position of the FDA and other national and international associations in endorsing the consumption of only pasteurized milk and milk products for pregnant women, infants, and children.”

And remember that you are basically giving raw milk to your kids because you think it tastes better, as it certainly isn’t better for them, is missing key nutrients, and it could be contaminated with dangerous bacteria.

More Information on Drinking Raw Milk:

Preventing and Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

More people seem to be getting the message that too little vitamin D in our diets can lead to health problems. In addition to being at risk of developing rickets (extreme vitamin D deficiency), children with milder forms of vitamin D deficiency can develop weak bones and muscle weakness.

Why is vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is a hormone that helps our bodies absorb both calcium and phosphorous, two very important minerals that help keep our bones strong.

Without enough vitamin D, we absorb 85-90% less of the calcium in our diet! And then, to keep calcium levels normal, our bodies pull more calcium out of our bones, causing osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Some experts also think that a low vitamin D level is associated with other conditions that are not linked to calcium and our bones, including some psychiatric conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics even states that “new evidence suggests that vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining innate immunity and has been implicated in the prevention of certain disease states including infection, autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis), some forms of cancer (breast, ovarian, colorectal, prostate), and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

The role of vitamin D in preventing infections, cancer, or anything else beyond preventing and treating vitamin D deficiency (extraskeletal effects) is far from proven though. In fact, a 2010 investigation by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) didn’t find any evidence to support a role for vitamin D in any other health conditions besides supporting bone health.

Surprisingly to many people, the IOM report also found that most people in North America are already getting enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet and that getting too much can be harmful. They also warned that “the number of people with vitamin D deficiency in North America may be overestimated because many laboratories appear to be using cut-points that are much higher than the committee suggests is appropriate.”

Tests for Vitamin D Deficiency

Although vitamin D testing seems to becoming part of the routine screening tests that some doctors order, it is important to keep in mind that only those at risk for having low levels should be routinely tested.

Are your kids at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

These high risk children can include:

  • exclusively breastfed infants who don’t get a vitamin D supplement
  • babies born to mothers with a vitamin D deficiency, especially premature babies
  • children with chronic kidney or liver disease
  • children with malabsorption syndromes (Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis, etc.), as vitamin D is absorbed with fats in our diet
  • obese children, because vitamin D is stored in fat tissue and is not readily available for use
  • children with dark skin, who live at high latitudes, and/or spend a lot of time indoors (less vitamin D from sun exposure)
  • children taking certain medications, including antiseizure medications and oral steroids
  • children who simply don’t get enough vitamin D – at least 400-600 IU of vitamin D each day, depending on their age. This might include vegetarians, vegans, and children who simply don’t drink vitamin D fortified cow’s milk, soy milk, or almond milk, etc., or other foods that are high in vitamin D.

If your child falls into one or more of these risk factors for vitamin D deficiency, then talk to your pediatrician about testing his vitamin D levels.

Although different tests are available, the test that is recommended by the AAP and the Endocrine Society is the serum 25(OH)D level (25-hydroxyvitamin D). This actually measures the levels of a prehormone of vitamin D, calcifediol, but is thought to give a good idea of a person’s vitamin D status.

This vitamin D test is preferred over testing 1,25(OH)2D levels, another test that is available, as those levels can be normal or even elevated when someone has a vitamin D deficiency. Similarly, measuring vitamin D levels (the active hormone) has not been found to be helpful. Instead, we use 25(OH)D levels as a marker for vitamin D levels.

Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

Is your child’s vitamin D level low?

That question is a actually a little harder to answer than you might realize. According to the IOM, in discussing cut-points for 25(OH)D levels, or what’s low and what’s normal, “At this time, there is no central body that is responsible for establishing such values for clinical use.”

The serum 25(OH)D level is typically defined as low (vitamin D deficiency) in children if it is below 20 ng/ml. Some experts think that a 25(OH)D level above 16 ng/ml is normal for infants and children though.

Experts do agree that a level below 5 ng/ml is a sign of a severe vitamin D deficiency.

Recommendations for treating children with low vitamin D levels depend on their age, and might include:

  • newborns: 1,000 IU /day vitamin D2 or D3
  • children 1 to 12 months old: 2,000 IU /day vitamin D2 or D3
  • children > 12 months old: 2,000 IU /day vitamin D2 or D3

These vitamin D supplements, together with adequate amounts of calcium, are usually continued for at least 1 to 3 months, at which time the child’s serum 25(OH)D level can be repeated to make sure it is responding to treatment.

“The upper limit for vitamin D is 1,000 to 1,500 IU/day for infants, 2,500 to 3,000 IU/day for children 1-8 years, and 4,000 IU/day for children 9 years and older, adults, and pregnant and lactating teens and women. Vitamin D toxicity almost always occurs from overuse of supplements.”

NIH Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers

The Endocrine Society also advises that some children can take 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 once a week as an alternative treatment for vitamin D deficiency. Since you can definitely get too much vitamin D, be sure to talk to your pediatrician and make sure your child is getting the right dose before starting a treatment regimen for vitamin D deficiency.

Preventing Vitamin D Deficiency

Once you get your child’s vitamin D levels back into a normal range, it is important to take steps so that they don’t drop again.

To prevent vitamin D deficiency, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy infants get at least 400 IU of vitamin D each day, while older children – toddlers to teens – get at least 600 IU. This vitamin D should come from some combination of:

  • foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D – salmon, tuna, shitake mushrooms, etc.
  • foods that are fortified with vitamin D – vitamin D fortified milk, orange juice, cheese, yogurt, margarine, and cereal, etc.
  • a vitamin D supplement – with just vitamin D, vitamin D plus calcium, or a children’s multivitamin

What about sunlight? Can’t your kids just spend more time in the sun to boost their vitamin D levels?

Although we all have the ability to make vitamin D when we are out in the sun, it isn’t considered a good source of vitamin D. Intentional, unprotected (no sunscreen) exposure to the sun has risks of sunburn and skin cancer. And it is very hard to judge how much sun exposure is necessary to get adequate amounts of vitamin D. The intensity of the sun’s radiation varies greatly in different parts of the world and at different times of year and will also affect how much vitamin D your body makes.

Other Things To Know about Vitamin D Deficiency

  • Raw milk, in addition to being unprocessed and unpasteurized, is unfortified and has very little vitamin D.
  • Although other foods may be fortified with vitamin D, in the United States, only milk, margarine, infant formula, and “fortified-plant based beverages” are mandated by the FDA to be vitamin D fortified.
  • In addition to low 25(OH)D levels, children with vitamin D deficiency will often have low phosphorous, high alkaline phosphatase, and high parathyroid hormone levels. These levels might be checked and monitored when kids are treated for vitamin D deficiency.
  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol, derived from plants) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, derived from animals) are two major forms of vitamin D. Some experts think that vitamin D3 is more potent than vitamin D2, especially at higher doses. Still, these prohormones are converted to the same active form of vitamin D (calcitriol) in the liver and kidney.
  • Some experts think that 25(OH)D levels between 21 and 30 ng/ml are a sign of vitamin D insufficiency in children, as in adults, and are a sign that the child needs more vitamin D in their diet.
  • Although the use of sunscreen can block the synthesis of vitamin D by blocking UVB radiation and has been blamed for lower vitamin D levels in recent years, many people likely don’t use sunscreen properly and don’t use it consistently enough and so “sunscreen use may not actually diminish vitamin D synthesis in real world use.”
  • Taking high doses of vitamin D is yet another nutrition fad which has been linked to serious consequences. Mega doses of vitamin D have been linked to kidney problems and tissue damage. That makes it important to stay below the upper limit that your child can likely take each day without causing harm, which ranges from 2,500 IU/day for toddlers to 4,000 IU/day for teenagers. Most only need 400 to 600 IU/day though.

Children with severe vitamin D deficiency are often managed by a pediatric endocrinologist or a pediatric nephrologist.

More Information on Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

  • AAP – Vitamin D: On the Double
  • The rise and inevitable fall of Vitamin D
  • Help Your Child Build Healthy Bones
  • NIH Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers
  • Study – American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. Pediatrics Oct 2014, 134 (4) e1229-e1243
  • Study – Institute of Medicine Report. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Released: November 30, 2010.
  • Study – The Endocrine Society. Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, July 2011, 96(7):1911–1930.
  • Study – Misra, M. Vitamin D Deficiency in Children and Its Management. Pediatrics, Aug 2008; 122: 398 – 417.

Low Fat Foods for Kids

Although most kids get too much fat in their diets, there is one age group of kids for which you shouldn’t limit fat intake — infants and toddlers under age two years.

These children are still growing and need more fat in their diet than older kids. That doesn’t mean that you have to go out of your way to give your 18 month old French fries or have to avoid naturally low-fat foods, including most fruits and vegetables, but they shouldn’t drink low-fat milk, eat commercially made fat-free foods, or be put on a low-fat diet.

The only exception is toddlers who are already overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, who can switch to low fat milk before age two years.

Finding Low Fat Foods

As you learn to avoid high-fat foods for your children, it is just as important to learn to choose low-fat foods as part of your family’s healthy diet.

It is often easy to choose low-fat foods, as many clues are on the food label when a food is low, including nutrition claims that the food is:

  • fat free (less than 0.5g of fat per serving)
  • low fat (less than 3g of fat per serving)
  • extra lean (less than 5g of fat per serving and 2g of saturated fat)
  • lean (less than 10g of fat per serving and 4.5g of saturated fat)

Nutrition claims that are less helpful when choosing low-fat foods include the terms reduced, less, and light, since they only mean that the food has fewer calories or grams of fat than the regular version of the food.

For example, consider these chips:

  • DORITOS Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 8g of fat and 140 calories per serving
  • DORITOS Reduced Fat Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 5g of fat and 120 calories per
  • DORITOS Light Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 2g of fat and 100 calories per serving

If you thought that the reduced fat chips were low fat, you would have been mistaken. They are not a bad choice, since they are not high in fat. You can find “potato chips” with even less fat though, including BAKED! LAY’S Original Potato Crisps, with only 1.5g of fat, and TOSTITOS Light Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips, which has only 1g of fat per serving.

Low-Fat Foods

Unfortunately, just because something is low in fat doesn’t meant that it is low in calories. So while you want to avoid high-fat foods, you also want to avoid foods that are high in sugar and calories. For example, most of the foods that rank at the top of the list for being low in fat in the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference include candy, soda, and fruit drinks.

“Fat Matters, But Calories Count”

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Healthy low-fat foods can include:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Egg whites
  • Baked potatoes
  • Grapes
  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Breakfast cereals (most brands, although some are high in sugar)
  • Watermelon
  • Air-popped popcorn (without added butter)*
  • Light tuna fish (canned in water)
  • Green peas
  • Wheat bread
  • Pancakes
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Pretzels
  • Vegetable soup
  • Chicken soup with rice
  • Milk – 1% reduced fat and skim milk

In addition to the fruits and vegetables listed above, keep in mind that most raw fruits and vegetables, except for avocados and olives, are naturally low in fat.

What’s missing from the list of low-fat foods? Hot dogs, cheese burgers, French fries, milk shakes, chicken nuggets, tacos, and many other high-fat kids’ favorites.

Hidden Fats in Foods

Many low-fat foods become high-fat foods when parents unknowingly add high-fat or hidden fat ingredients to them, including:

  • oils, which are 100% fat and should only be used in limited amounts, with an emphasis on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils
  • butter and margarine
  • non low-fat cheese
  • mayonnaise (1 tablespoon = 10g of fat and 90 calories)
  • ranch dressing (2 tablespoons = 15g of fat and 140 calories)

Other foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm kernel oil, or coconut oil, are likely also high in fat.

What To Know About Low Fat Foods for Kids

While it is important to learn to identify low-fat foods and high-fat foods so you know what your kids are eating, your overall focus should be on helping your family eat healthy foods every day.

For More Information On Low-Fat Foods for Kids