Moms are bombarded with nutritional information. How do you separate the old wives’ tales from the gems, the science from the pseudo-science?
We put some commonly held beliefs about foods to the test:
1. Organic food is more nutritious than conventionally produced food
The UK’s Food Standards Authority (FSA) found in a scientific study in 2009 that there are no important health and nutritional benefits to be gained from eating organic food compared to conventionally farmed food. Detractors say the study failed to look at a number of important areas, such as the high level of antioxidants in organic foods, or the dangers of pesticides and nitrogen in conventional food.
Consumers choose organic because it is more planet-friendly, not genetically modified and does not contain additives like tartrazine, aspartame and MSG, and they believe it tastes better. You’ll be paying 20% to 100% more for organic food.
2. Fresh food is best
Depends what you mean by "fresh". Often what we think of as fresh food has been hanging around in warehouses, markets, shops and your own fridge for weeks!
Frozen and canned foods may in fact retain more of their nutrients than fresh produce. Vegetables are usually picked and packed when they are good and ripe and nutritionally at their peak. The process of flash-freezing means vegetables may be frozen within hours of being picked, reducing the breakdown of chemicals. The heating press in canning does cause some nutrient loss, but not significantly.
TIPS: Foods deteriorate, even in the freezer or the tin, so don’t leave them indefinitely. Check the labels on cans and avoid those with added sugar and salt. Buy small quantities of fresh fruit and veg, eat them and buy again. Or buy in bulk, prepare and freeze.
3. Oranges are tops for vitamin C
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that is helpful to the immune system. Oranges are high in vitamin C, but kiwis have even more. Guavas are another good source. With these options, it should be easy enough to make sure your child gets enough.
TIP: Vitamin C is at its height when fruit is slightly under-ripe.
4. Kids need “kids’ food”
Not so! It’s crazy that most children’s menus feature foods that are beige, bland, oily and full of salt or sugar. Kids are not born wanting chicken nuggets and chips. Introduce your baby to different tastes and textures, so she will come to accept a normal, healthy diet. By the age of 1, a baby’s diet can be pretty much the same as yours, with a few exceptions. By 2, your toddler should be eating a variety of wholesome foods – the same healthy diet that suits the whole family.
5. Babies need bland food
Although Western babies are traditionally served bland foods, there’s no reason why older babies and toddlers who are accepting foods well shouldn’t enjoy a more flavourful diet. Babies learn their food preferences from their families. In fact, evidence suggests that babies become accustomed to the favourite foods of their culture or family through breastmilk, where stronger flavours like garlic, ginger, cumin and other spices are present in tiny amounts.
6. Introduce vegetables before fruit
Traditionally, vegetables are offered before fruit otherwise your baby will get used to the sweet taste and reject the stronger flavoured vegetables. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support this and, as some feeding experts point out, breastmilk is sweet anyway. There really are no hard and fast rules as to the order in which you introduce foods, as long as you avoid the “no-no” foods that could cause allergies or choking, or that are otherwise unsuitable for babies.
7. It’s important to eat a variety of foods
Every foodstuff has a different mix of nutrients, so the more different foods your toddler eats, the better chance she has of getting all the vitamins and minerals she needs.
Irene Labuschagne, registered dietitian at the Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch (NICUS), says, “Children are growing so they need more nutritious food in proportion to their weight than adults. Ideally, a child’s diet should contain a suitable balance of nutritious foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole and enriched grains and cereals, milk and other dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and other protein sources. To provide all the essential nutrients, a child’s meals and snacks should include a variety of foods from each group.”
If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying, says Irene, drawing attention to a study that found that babies showed a significantly increased acceptance of vegetables after being offered them for 10 days.
TIP: When it comes to fruit and veg, serve a variety of colours, as all have their own nutritional advantages. Dark green leafy vegetables, deep orange veg and colourful fruits are tops!
8. Low fat for grown-ups, full fat for kids
Babies under the age of 2 should be given whole-fat milk, as they need more fat for brain development and have high energy requirements. Older toddlers and preschoolers have a varied diet and are usually getting fat from many sources, so low-fat milk is acceptable. Don’t be afraid to give “good fats” like avocado.
9. Sugar makes kids hyper
Irene says, “Tightly controlled research has failed to show that children who consistently eat high levels of sugar were hyperactive. Nor did hyperactivity occur after children consumed single high doses of sugar.” Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA have concluded that the effects of refined sugar and food additives may have a role to play in only about five percent of children with ADHD, mostly either very young children or children with food allergies.
Despite the research, many parents beg to differ! Most of us have seen kids bouncing of the walls after birthday parties. One theory is that excitement, overstimulation, lack of sleep and other factors cause the hyperactivity that we usually blame on sugar. Another is that it could be the artificial additives in party foods.
10. It doesn’t matter if baby teeth decay, as they are going to fall out anyway
Not true! If the baby teeth fall out or are taken out before the right time, this can affect the position of the permanent teeth. Good oral hygiene and healthy eating are habits that are easier to inculcate if you start early.