Friday, October 10, 2008

This month's Marvellous Mums theme, "A closer look at what’s really in our children’s food".

Children’s Week is celebrated from 18 – 26 October 2008 this year. Schools and early childhood services are invited to host activities that focus the community on the talents, skills, achievements and rights of children and young people.

2008 is the International Year of Sanitation, Planet Earth, the Potato, Languages, and the Reef. One way that Marvellous Mums is participating is to have a “Mr Potato Head” colouring-in competition to celebrate the International Year of the Potato.

Also, all children under 15 will receive free entry to the Melbourne Zoo on Sunday 19 October, 2008.

One of the first reasons behind starting MMs was that I believed by helping a mother love her life, it would inturn help her family. I commend those of you who come to these morning teas, ‘connecting with others and sharing information’. You are helping to impact more than just the lives of other mums, but their entire family too!

Children’s Week is a time to celebrate the right of children to enjoy early childhood and to recognise their talents, skills and abilities. We do this best as mums when we look after ourselves by getting the support we need from those around us.

Each year Children’s Week coincides with Universal Children’s Day on Wednesday 22 October. It is based on articles expressed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, summarised briefly as emphasising play, wellbeing and protection. These are also three areas that I feel passionately about. . .

Last month’s newsletter gave lots of ideas for in-house play activities and this month I would like to look at some startling facts about what is really in the food we eat. I feel that as mothers, the responsibility of caring for our children’s nutritional needs often falls largely on our shoulders and that we should take some time to educate ourselves and those in our support network inorder to protect the health and wellbeing of the precious children in our care.

I firstly began to wonder what was in the food we were eating a number of months ago after a series of really ‘bad’ tantrum weeks with my three year old, unsettled sleep and a few other factors that concerned me. At this same time, my sister-in-law was a few weeks away from being tested for coeliac disease and a wheat intolerance. She was explaining to me how she felt emotionally ‘out of control’ and physically exhausted after being required to eat a wheat diet before the test (after having cut it out of her diet for several months). It made me start to question whether there could be a link between food and the negative behaviour I was seeing displayed. I set out on a quest to find out more about this and after just a few months of reading and research I would like to share with you what I have found out so far and what response I have had to this.

Firstly let me begin by explaining that I am just beginning my journey of discovery into food additives and their effects on our health. I feel that I am still a long way from where I would like to be however I am aware that by gaining knowledge through reading and understanding food lables as well as finding out which additives are the ones to be avoided; I will be able to make simple changes to some of the brands of food I purchase for my family and make a difference to their health and wellbeing. This newsletter does not have enough space for me to go through everything that I am discovering but there are many resources available that are easy to read if you want to investigate this topic.
The two main sources of information that I am drawing from are ‘Additive Alert- Your Guide to Safer Shopping’ written by Julie Eady and the website by Sue Dengate author of the book and dvd ‘Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour: effects of food and additives’.

I used to think that it would be illegal for toxic chemicals to be put in the food we buy in Australia but in actual fact, “Of the 300 or so permitted food additives in Australia at least 30 are known or suspected carcinogens. Many others are banned in other countries because of known health effects, yet are still permitted in Australia” . (According to Wikipedia, carcinogen refers to any substance, radionuclide or radiation that is an agent directly involved in the promotion of cancer) As a consumer, I am beginning to realise that we can not rely on regulating authorities or food manufacturing companies to keep our food safe.

This book also explains how Australia’s testing of food chemicals is not as rigorous as in other countries which is why we have carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic substances (agents that can cause birth defects) legally put in to many of our processed foods. The book outlines many examples of toxic chemicals in the food we eat from peanut butter, icecream cones, baby food and more. BUT the good news is that it also explains how there are choices we can make as shoppers that will greatly reduce the intake of unneccesary and unsafe chemicals and toxins.

After initially feeling very overwhelmed with the shocking information I was reading, I think one of the keys things that I found resassuring was that by knowing what additives are nasty and harmful (because they aren’t all bad) I could choose the products to buy with the least amount of harmful ones in them. As I shopped I felt empowered by making this choice knowing that my family was consuming less of the harmful additives than when I simply grabbed the cheapest option or brand we’d come to like.

By being aware of the nasty additives, you’ll be able to decide for yourself what you want to avoid. There is information available which tells you additives linked to asthma, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, cancer as well as what’s banned in other countries or not recommended during pregnancy etc. Many people these days have food allergies or intolerances but “most people, however, are unaware that their overall physical and mental health may be impacted by the common side effects of many food additives” . And, unfortunately, just because we may not see an immediate effect now it does not mean that there is no effect!

One thing that I have been most shocked about has been the amount of nasty additives I have found to be in what I would consider reasonably healthy food options. It is not just the obvious junk foods that contain these things but so much of what we eat everyday- margarine, ham, bacon, yoghurt, dried fruit, biscuits, Vegemite, bread, fresh pasta, tortilla wraps… the list goes on.

Now before you start thinking ‘it’s just all too hard’, take a deep breath and read on:
- Take your wallet sized list of ‘nasty’ food additives with you next time you go shopping and (out of interest) look at the labels and see how many of your foods may contain these toxins.
- Find out exactly what each number stands for e.g. we know 621 is MSG however as consumers have become aware of this manufacturers have found news ways of disguising MSG in foods using other non-regulated ingredients.
- Look for alternative products that contain less or no nasties.
- Approach change gradually. When I looked at the lables in my pantry I suddenly wanted to throw everything out and start again but remember small changes are better than none at all. Start with things like bread (watch out for 282), margarine, cereal, biscuits, juice, lunch meats and cooking sauces.
- Making changes doesn’t mean not having sweets but it means you are educated to make better choices. Choosing a Chocolate Billabong over a Bubblegum Paddlepop avoids several nasty colours. Likewise, Sara Lee French Vanilla icecream has no additives whilst Signature Range Vanilla has six additives.

You can make a huge difference to your intake of additives by just 1) reading information, 2) applying your knowledge, 3) smarter shopping and 4) choosing lower additive products.

1 comment:

Jane said...

For the past 32 years the non-profit Feingold Association of the US has been helping families find the foods they enjoy in versions that are free of the harmful additives. It really isn't as hard as it may sound. Check out the association's web site at for lots of information.

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