Milk and Juice

With the recent increase in overweight and obese children, experts have pointed a finger at whole-fat milk and juice as culprits. In moderation, however, both milk and fruit juice have a place in a healthy eating plan.

Milk is an excellent source of calcium, protein, complex carbohydrates, as well as of vitamins A, D, and B12. Two-year-olds should drink whole-fat milk because the fat in milk is a good source of calories and energy. Fat is also good for nerve development. From the age of three on, children can drink lower-fat milk.

Essential

Reading nutrition labels is a must for healthy eating. Two ingredients you should always stay away from are high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. These chemically altered substances have been linked to weight gain. Having no nutritional value, their presence is an easy way to determine if a food is unhealthy.

Juice is a slightly different matter. There are two types of juice: the type without added sweeteners and the type that is really just a lot of sugar with some fruit juice and water added. To distinguish between the two kinds, examine the nutrition label. If it lists “high-fructose corn syrup” or “added sugars,” then it's a juice to stay away from.

Fresh orange juice and cranberry juice sweetened with other juices rather than sugar are the healthiest juice varieties. Apple juice and white grape juice have little nutritional value and are also high in calories. Healthy juices contain antioxidants that fight free radicals — chemicals that age the body. They also contain vitamins and sometimes added minerals, such as calcium.

Juice becomes a problem when consumed in large amounts. Eight ounces of juice a day (comparable to one adult glass) is not a caloric problem, but more than that means taking in a lot of calories without additional nutritive value. Your child should drink plenty of water. If she likes juice, you can always cut the juice with water to reduce the calories she's drinking. If your child comes to depend on the sweetness of juice, as many two-year-olds do, offer her milk or water sometimes. Milk is much better than juice as far as supplying nutrition.

Plenty of readily available foods are full of added sugar, which increases their calorie count without adding nutrients. Spaghetti sauces, canned soups, and frozen and boxed entrées often have added sugars and preservatives (chemicals such as MSG) that add flavor but can also make a food needlessly fattening. After all, fresh spaghetti sauce consists simply of tomatoes, olive oil, and spices. A lot of added sugar isn't necessary.

If possible, always choose the least-processed foods in creating meals for your two-year-old (and the rest of your family). Your addition of oil, butter, and flavorings will not add nearly the fat and calories as does a manufacturer's heavy hand.

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