Sunday, 10 July 2011

Foods for adults only: Some Foods are not meant for young children, infants

By Syed Akbar


Hyderabad: The front label of a biscuit packet manufactured by a reputed company lists out in bold letters the "goodness" the cookies are loaded with. But the back label issues a warning in fine print that these
biscuits are not recommended for children.
The company might have fulfilled its "legal obligation" of warning that the particular brand of biscuits should not be served to children. But the way the warning is printed in small letters, so as not to draw the
attention of consumers, shows how companies push their food products with utter disregard to the health of youngsters, particularly those in the growing age.
Nutritionists point out that there are foods that are exclusively meant for adults. Feeding such foods to young children may  affect their mental and physical growth, besides causing non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart troubles. Simple or refined sugars - not the table sugar - which seem quite harmless, make children hyperactive. Even the table salt will prove to be counterproductive if consumed in excess quantity. Some cookies contain sucralose and polyols, which may cause problems in children.
Foods not recommended for children may either make them obese or malnourished. These foods are meant for a target group of consumers like diabetics, heart patients and those suffering from hypertension. The metabolism in children gets affected if such foods are served to them. Children up to the age of three years require just 589 mg of sodium, while those between four and six years need 1005 mg. Popcorn,
processed foods, salt biscuits and fried snacks will only increase the sodium intake of children.
One in 10 food products available in the market fall under the category, "not recommended for children", and yet the front labels do not disclose the fact. Such warnings are mostly printed in small letters on
the back labels, particularly at the crimp. This makes the warning quite inconspicuous. Growing children need a balanced diet containing sufficient quantities of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Foods low or
high in sugar or salt or dietary fibre throw the delicate physiology and metabolism of children out of gear.
Says Dr D Raghunatha Rao, senior scientist at the National Institute of Nutrition, "food rich in dietary fibre should not be given to children as they cannot absorb high fibre content. Oats have high fibre. Many
manufacturers do not disclose complete details of the igredients used in their products. They keep it a trade secret".
So, next time you purchase food items with claims of high nutrition and a mix of many grains, do not neglect the fine print on the back label. Make sure that there's no special warning printed on the packet before giving them to children. The same holds good for cookies, chocolates and breads that make tall claims about its nutritional value. The carbohydrate content they mention is largely derived from refined
flours. Whole grain bakery items including biscuits and breads are highly recommended for children.
Doctors recommend that food products containing hydrogenated vegetable oil (vanaspati), refined sugars, refined atta (flour), and food preservatives and additives should not be given to children up to the age of eight.
Dr T Muralidhar Rao, senior paediatrician at Yashoda Hospital, warns that processed foods, items containing monosodium glutamate or ajinomoto, high salt or sugar content, and caffeine should be kept off
the children's menu. 
Diet milk, diet soft drinks, low calorie cookies, chocolates and sweets, cup noodles, frozen foods, and low fibre foods may hamper the growth in children particularly those in the age group of 7 - 14. Even skimmed
or toned milk should not be given to children as these products do not supply the much needed fat to the growing children.
According to CS Madhulika, clinical nutritionist and dietician at the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology, foods containing simple sugars should be avoided for children. They need fatty acids in sufficient quantity for growth. Moreover, the serving sample of foods like oats and ragi should be small. Not more than 20 grams of oats should be given to children per day.
Most of the companies simply declare food additives and preservatives by their international numbers to confuse consumers. Colours like sunset yellow, allura red and quinoline yellow are particularly bad for
hyperactive children. They affect the brain development even in normal children. Artificial sugars like sucralose do not break down in the stomach and thus do not provide any calories. On the other hand, it is
dangerous for children.
The claims notwithstanding, much of the processed foods including fast foods, fried snacks and potato chips do not provide the much- needed vitamins and trace elements to children. According to a document of the Indian Council of Medical Research, deficiencies of micronutrients like some B-complex vitamins particularly riboflavin, folic acid and perhaps vitamin B12 are also common among Indian children.
"Infants and young children grow rapidly and require nutrients not only for maintenance but also for growth. They require relatively more nutrients - almost thrice - per kg body weight than adults. In an iodine
deficient environment, schoolchildren have about 13.5 IQ points lower and exhibit poor scholastic performance," the ICMR report points out emphasising the need for highly nutritious and safe food for children.
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Box item
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Foods not for children

* Children should avoid biscuits and breads containing simple sugars and diet sugars like sucralose and polyols. Sucralose may be good for the tastebuds, but it is bad for the stomach. Polyols are sugar alcohols 
which may act as laxative i.e upset the stomach. Simple sugars will make children hyperactive. No hydrogenated vegetable oils. Eat cookies if they contain just vegetable oilsa and not hydrogenated
(vanaspati).

* Cookies meant for diabetics and containing grains other than wheat will upset the nutritional balance in children, particularly those below six years. Care should be taken while dealing with oats and oats
products as they contain high fibre content, which young children cannot digest.

* Look for whole grain cookies, breads etc. Refined flour, even of wheat, is harmful to children. Maida should be avoided. Carefully look for the ingredients and avoid the product if it contains refined flours
and refined sugars. Chocolates containing high nickel content.

* Avoid processed foods and those containing MSG. No snacks with high sodium content including popcorn. Sugar alcohol or polyols are added in chewing gums to prevent cavities, but on the other hand
impact the stomach. No sweetened fruit juice. Only 10 per cent of total calorie intake of  children should come from sugar.

* No cup noodles or ready-to-serve processed foods including soups and packaged instant foods. Be careful with the ketchups as they contain high sodium  content.

* No diet milk or skimmed milk. Whole milk containing at least 5 per cent fat should be given to children.

* No foods containing high caffeine content including diet soft drinks 

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