Some snacks are widely accepted for the newly weaned, but Rachel Lewis finds out that these seemingly innocent snacks are making nutritionists reel in horror
One word of advice for new parents? Don't supersize your baby! That's what the Dubai-based nutritionist Rashi Chowdhary (www.rashichowdhary.com) warns all of her clients, stressing the importance of healthy eating right from the first mouthful.
"If your child is overweight or obese, it reflects a lot on your parenting skills. You wouldn't allow your child to walk alone on the streets or run across the road. Allowing them to make bad food choices is equally dangerous," warns Chowdhary.
Today, UAE school kids are 1.8 times more obese than US children, according to studies conducted by the cardiology department at the Saif Bin Ghubash Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah. Additionally, the Global School-based Health Survey, sponsored by the World Health Organisation, has found that childhood obesity rates have been increasing consistently by two per cent since 2000 and now an incredible 39 per cent of schoolchildren in the UAE are overweight, according to the Ministry of Health.
To make sure your kid's waistline doesn't go the same way, here are the five foods that parents believe are harmless and have taken to turning to without much thought to the harm they will cause children in the long run. The below foods, say nutritionists across the UAE, must be immediately ditched.
What's in it Juice is a great way for your kids to get one of their five a day, right? Wrong! "Whether fruit juice is fresh or packaged, it is nothing but sugar," says Chowdhary. "Most of the vital nutrients are lost because of a process called oxidation."
The impact A 200ml glass of orange juice contains 6-8 cubes of sugar, which is equivalent to drinking a can of Red Bull, or eating four Oreo biscuits. "The sugar rush from juice causes a spike in your child's insulin levels and having unstable or high insulin levels is the leading cause of diabetes, obesity and heart disease," explains Chowdhary. The faster sugar levels rise, the faster they drop, causing children to crave more sugar.
The alternative Food should always be eaten in its natural form. Give children whole fruits over juices and they will consume less sugar and only natural sugar that their body can process. Through eating fruit, kids will take in more nutrients such as fibre and vitamin C, which will keep them fuller for longer and reduce their sugar cravings. And if the child is thirsty or craving a drink? There's nothing better than water - and the sooner you get them used to drinking water throughout the day, the better.
What's in it "Spreadable cream cheese, just like processed cheese slices, is made up of approximately 30 per cent fat and contains high levels of sodium," explains Chirine Watfa, a dietician at Health Factory, Dubai (www.healthfactory.com). Children ages 1 to 3 should be consuming no more than 100g of sodium a day, but one wedge (21g) of spreadable cheese contains around 21g of sodium.
The impact "Sodium is linked to a higher risk of blood pressure," says Watfa. High blood pressure can result in cardiovascular disease, particularly among children who are overweight or obese.
The alternative "It would be much better if we served our kids pasteurised cheeses such as akkawi, halloumi or feta," says Watfa. "Although the sodium content is high, this can be reduced by almost half if you soak the cheese overnight in fresh water and then wash it before consumption." The fat content of these cheeses does not exceed 18 per cent, which is acceptable for growing children due to its good content of fat-soluble vitamins essential for their growth.
What's in them Despite their "healthy halo", frozen yogurt treats are not all they seem. "If the froyo you feed your child is fat-free, then you can be sure it has large amounts of sugar, sometimes even more than the regular versions," warns Chowdhary.
The impact Isn't what you might be hoping for. Parents often give froyos to their child believing they contain probiotics, which will increase the healthy bacteria in the gut. "Factors such as shelf life, stomach fluids and extreme temperatures can prevent the healthy bacteria from surviving and reaching the gut," explains Chowdhary.
The alternative The probiotics in natural yogurt will reach your child's stomach and the protein content in natural yogurt is 12 grams, versus a tiny four grams in frozen yogurt. The calcium content in frozen yogurts will never measure up to the real thing either and the colourful toppings such as gummy bears and Snickers bars are simply empty calories. "Freeze natural yogurt and add agave syrup or fresh dates to make it more appealing to your baby," suggests Chowdhary. "Make your kids eat real food from the very beginning and you'll never regret this decision."
What's in them 100 grams of French fries (a medium serving of fries from McDonald's is 113 grams) contains approximately 320 calories, 38 grams of carbohydrates and 17 grams of fat.
The impact "Most of the fat in fries is trans fat, which clogs your arteries and causes cardiovascular disease," explains Watfa. Potatoes by themselves are a great source of vitamins B and C, potassium and magnesium, but when they are deep fried, the damaged fats and high levels of sodium outweigh the healthy nutrients.
The alternative Swap fries for mashed potatoes: 100 grams contains only 100 calories, 16 grams of carbohydrates and four grams of fat. "Add a portion of milk or cheese to the mashed potatoes for better insulin response, more protein and vitamins A and D," suggests Chowdhary.
What's in them Doughnuts are devoid of any healthy nutrients, which are essential for brain function or cognitive growth. Doughnuts contain 40 per cent trans fats and 300 calories a piece.
The impact Doughnuts are a rich source of sugar, which causes stomach fat and skin problems. "Doughnuts contain trans fats that your baby's body cannot process and will have an adverse effect on his heart. They also contain refined flour, which has been bleached white with toxic chemicals, causing your baby to gain weight around his waist," explains Chowdhary.
The alternative Swap doughnuts for a slice of whole-grain bread with crunchy peanut butter or almond butter. Add one or two teaspoons of Nutella if your child misses the sugar.
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