Processed Food Facts for Your Family’s Health

Last updated on August 30th, 2015 at 10:54 pm

Facts about Processed FoodDecisions that we make when it comes to food and nutrition can often be very emotional. It’s emotional in the sense that people have strong opinions one way or the other on a given topic when it comes to food choices. And for good reason – food is literally the fuel that keeps us alive. In my practice, many tell me that they avoid processed foods, and avoid giving them to their children. This is one of many topics in nutrition that I challenge you to think more critically about because not all topics are as cut and dry as they seem. And our emotions can keep us from thinking logically on a subject.

I heard Mario Ferruzzi, PhD and food researcher from Purdue University, speak about this subject at a food conference recently. He systematically explained food processing in the United States, and it was so informative that I wanted to share it with you here.

What is food processing?

Food processing is a set of methods and techniques used to transform raw commodities and ingredients into finished food products for human consumption. That definition basically tells us that everything we eat is processed. Unless you are picking food right out of the field and putting it in your mouth, you are eating processed foods!

Why do we process foods?

Food Safety. We want food to be safe from high bacteria levels that would cause us to get sick. There are many ways that food is processed in order to make it safe for people. One example is thermal processing like infrared heating, blanching and pasteurization. Thermal processing can degrade heat sensitive vitamins, but it can also help preserve and aid in the bioavailability in others.

Another way is through non-thermal processing like fermentation, freezing or using ultraviolet light In the formulation of products, they might add antibacterial components to the foods to ensure a safe product.

Food Quality and Shelf-Life. We want our food to look and taste palatable, and we want those foods to hold their nutritional components. The food industry will add things like flavors, chelators (slows the degradation), buffers (controls the pH) and antioxidants to processed foods to ensure that over time those products will maintain a high quality look, feel and taste.

Product Conversion. Foods need to be processed into something that most consumers will actually eat. That means you need to make sure the food looks good and edible. In the case of produce items, the processing begins at harvest. The farmers must harvest the crop and transport it to a plant where it can be properly washed, cut and then packaged for transport. Even organic, free-range meats must be processed for human consumption. You are getting the idea of product conversion here.

The government conducts regular studies on the nutrition status of Americans, and they make nutritional modifications to the food supply in cases where nutrients are chronically low. An example would be the addition of iodine to salt in the 1920’s to address the issues of goiter. Another example is the fortification of iron and folate in flour, bread and ready-to-eat cereals. The addition of nutrients would also be a form of processing.

Salts and Sweeteners. Salt is added to food for a variety of reason. One major reason is because salt is a flavor enhancer. Another reason is that it helps preserve a product by lowering the water activity and keep bacteria growth low. Salt also helps maintain elasticity in products such as dough.

Sugar is also a flavor enhancer. But sugar is also widely used as a bulking agent, so if you remove sugar from a product, something else must be put in its place. Sugar also helps control the moisture and structure of a food product.

As you can see, salt and sugar provide more than just flavor. There are structural and antibacterial functions as well. But either way, eating too many foods with added salts and sweeteners can negatively impact your health.

Fats. Many products use added fats to increase not only flavor, but also shelf life. Partially hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, are often used in processed foods to increase their ability to sit in your pantry without molding. Trans fats have been shown to increase cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. We certainly want to minimize foods with added fats, particularly trans fats.

There are varying levels to processing of foods. Here it is broken down:


Minimally processed foods – like bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts — are often simply pre-prepped for convenience.


Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned beans, tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.


Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.


Ready-to-eat foods, like crackers, granola, and deli meats.


The most heavily processed foods often are frozen or pre-made meals like frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.

The Bottom Line

You cannot say that all food processing is bad because everything we eat is “processed” in some form or another. We do want to encourage the consumption of foods in their most wholesome form when possible. On the level scheme provided above, eat mostly from the lowered numbered levels and choose foods without added salts and sugars.

Tips to Soothe Your Crying Baby

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:42 pm

Why do even healthy baby's cry?One of the toughest sounds to hear as a new mom is your baby crying. But consider this: Crying is the only way your baby can communicate at this stage. After all, he can’t yell out, “Mom, my diaper’s dirty!” or “I need a nap!”

To soothe your crying baby, first look to see if there’s a problem: Is he hungry? Tired? Does he need his diaper changed? Does he seem too hot or cold? Over time, you’ll start to hear differences in his cries for help, and these will quickly clue you in to his needs. In the meantime, go down the checklist – if you hit on the right issue, the crying will likely subside.

If your baby has no pressing needs, he may be crying just to let off steam. Play around with the expert soothing techniques below and find the one that works best for your baby. Mommy to the rescue!

1. Encourage sucking. If your newborn can find his hands, he probably can’t get enough of sucking on his fingers – or yours! Sucking is a natural reflex that a 3-week-old baby is likely to use when he’s upset or needs to settle down. Once breastfeeding is established, many moms find that pacifiers are the key to contentment, soothing and distracting a fussy baby almost instantly.

2. Wrap and rock. Mimic the environment your newborn inhabited before he was born: Wrap him snugly in a receiving blanket — he’s used to the confined space – to make him feel secure. Sing lullabies or play mellow music – the womb was noisy with the sounds of your heartbeat and your voice. Or try gently rocking him in your arms or while sitting in a rocking chair. Your baby is used to the smooth, rhythmic motion from your natural body movements during pregnancy. You can also try placing your crying baby in a motorized infant swing to help calm him down.

3. Hold tight. Snuggling your baby close to you – holding him in your arms or in a soft carrier or sling – has been shown to reduce crying and help forge a strong mother-baby bond. Don’t worry about spoiling a newborn with too much holding or carrying. Young babies need lots of love and attention; when you give it freely, you’ll be rewarded by less crying and greater contentment.

Keep in mind that many babies tend to have crying jags in the afternoon or evening. Don’t take it personally! Your baby isn’t crying because you’re a bad mom. In fact, newborns generally cry anywhere from one to four hours a day as they transition to this new strange life in the big world. Try to stay calm yourself, getting help from family and friends when you need a break.

Lack of sleep and big changes in your old routine may hit you hard during this time in your parenting career, but hang in there! Try to think of this as a brief extension of your pregnancy. Rest when your baby sleeps, eat regularly, and enjoy every moment with your bundle of joy – babies grow up fast!

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-09-2013 to 12-15-2013

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:43 pm

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:
At What Age is it Safe for Your Child to Sleep With a Pillow?

Walking on Thin Ice: Facts That Could Just Save Your Life

Last updated on August 29th, 2015 at 07:37 pm

Danger - ice breaksIn Chicago this morning the thermometer read a frigid -9F (-23C). We had our first real snow of the season last weekend and the ice rinks are almost ready for use. Winter is here!!!! But drowning knows no seasons. When we think of ice and snow, we don’t think of drowning, but the risk remains, particularly in those areas that were open water and are now ice or so snow-covered you don’t even know there is ice underneath, and possibly water underneath too thin ice.

Here is some ice trivia that may just save your life:

  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly-formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially-thawed ice may not.
  • Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
  • Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
  • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support.
  • Ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.

Here are some general ice thickness guidelines, but always contact local authorities to verify conditions before you venture out:

For New, Clear Ice Only

2” or less – STAY OFF

4’’ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot

5” – Snowmobile or ATV

8” – 12” – Car or small pickup

12” – 15” – Medium truck

If someone does fall in, here are some tips from the State of Minnesota:

  • Call 911 for help immediately if you or someone nearby has a cell phone.
  • Do not run to the edge of the hole – there is a good chance you will also fall in, especially if it was a lighter child or a pet that broke through the ice.
  • PREACH – shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
  • REACH ‑ If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.
  • THROW ‑ Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.
  • ROW ‑ Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim in over the bow. It’s not a bad idea to attach some rope to the boat, so others can help pull you and the victim to safety.
  • GO ‑ A non‑professional shouldn’t go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.
  • If the situation is too dangerous for you to perform the rescue, call 911 for help and keep reassuring the victim that help is on the way and urge them to fight to survive. Heroics by well‑meaning but untrained rescuers sometimes result in two deaths.

Frozen water can be every bit as much fun as liquid water if you know how to be safe – so grab your skates and get out there – after you check to make sure the ice is safe!

Thanks to my Canadian friend, Kerry Grier, for sharing some great ice facts with me for today’s post, they definitely know their ice up north!

5 Digital Ways to Build Important Bonds with Grandparents

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:43 pm

Building bonds with grandparentsWhen we were kids, we likely spent time getting to know grandma by baking cookies with her. Or we went fishing with grandpa, or played a game of Monopoly after Sunday dinner. These bonds are important support for kids.

These days, though, extended families are more likely to be spread out, more than an afternoon’s drive from each other.

The good news is, today’s grands are also more tech-savvy than they were even five years ago. In 2012, 53 percent of American adults over the age of 65 used the Internet and email, according to the Pew Research Center. This is the first time in history that at least half of senior citizens are web fluent.

Those two trends make for the perfect opportunity to try out some of the new sites and apps that grandparents can use to stay close to their grandkids. If your parents live far away, you’re probably already using Skype to keep them in the loop on your kids’ daily lives. Here’s what else is worth a try:

Face Juggler: This new app lets you take photos of multiple people, swap the faces, then share the new portraits via email. It sounds silly, but makes for some addictive fun. My 10-year-old neighbor, Christopher Bein, has tried this out: “Grammy Lois said she hasn’t laughed so hard in a long time!”

Scoot & Doodle: This website is a shareable doodle pad. All you need are Gmail addresses and a mouse. It’s the new drawing-together-at-the-dining-room-table – and the perfect way for grandparents to interact with their grandkids online.

Grandparent Games: Set up a free account to connect your parents and your kids face to face to play interactive activities together. There’s also a mobile app.

Instagram: You and your tween or teen may be using it, yet you probably haven’t thought of encouraging your parents or in-laws to join. But why not? It’s a social network based solely on photo sharing, something most grandparents love. It’s really appealing to seniors who aren’t quite ready for the Facebook scene.

Ancestry app: Researching your family tree is more popular than ever with our parents’ generation. They, in turn, relish sharing their discoveries with their grandchildren. The Ancestry app lets grandparents and their favorite kids build their family tree together. They can learn the history of previous generations and record their findings at the same time.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-02-2013 to 12-08-2013

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:44 pm

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:
Top 30 Sexting and Cyberbullying Acronyms EVERY Parent Should Know