When clinical nutritionist Stacy Roy takes her daughter Neela trick-or-treating this Halloween, she thinks about the ingredients in the candy provided — but not just for that night.
That’s because Roy, who lives in Petaluma, Calif., took a more relaxed approach to the sweet treats collected by Neela, 8, on Oct. 31. His take is modest and thoughtful, while remaining educational. year round of potentially harmful additives and other chemicals in food, and promoting a balanced approach to candy that helps keep children happy and healthy.
As a California resident, Roy is also a strong supporter of the California Food Safety Act, a landmark law sponsored by EWG and Consumer Reports that ended the use of food in brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben and Red Dye No. 3. These chemicals are linked to serious health problems, such as hyperactivity, damage to the nervous system and an increased risk of cancer. The law would force these chemicals out of popular candy sold in the state.
Because of the size of California’s economy, candy makers and other food producers can’t make one batch of products just for sale in that state and another batch that contains harmful chemicals. for sale in the rest of the US. remove these four substances completely, wherever they are sold. That means healthier food for all Americans.
EWG spoke to Roy, who specializes in digestive issues, about how parents and caregivers can encourage kids to have a healthier relationship with candy – and make that candy safer.
Q. How did you develop your interest and career in nutrition?
A. About 20 years ago I was diagnosed with endometriosis and had surgery without success in reducing my pain and symptoms. At that time, I stumbled upon a book about nutrition and endometriosis, which led me to change my diet – and relieved me of my pain.
That put me on the path to changing careers, because up until then I had planned to be a physical therapist. Now I work with adults on nutrition, including a lot of work on women’s health and digestive conditions. I’m really interested in the hormonal implications of food additives, because many of these chemicals are (gastrointestinal) irritants.
And my daughter has celiac disease. It’s not an allergy, it’s an autoimmune disease that can cause a lot of damage to the gut and has the potential to cause other health problems.
Q. Halloween for kids is all about trick-or-treat candy. How do you handle that?
A. My approach can be more relaxed than other parents. To me, Halloween is just one day. I am more concerned about the constant exposure to food additives that can occur throughout the year. That’s why I don’t limit my daughter, because I don’t want her to feel deprived, and that approach helps her to focus on moderation. It is important to be careful.
We definitely go trick-or-treating, which he loves and we enjoy because it’s fun. This year we are going to be contestants on the TV show “Survivor,” and my husband is the host, Jeff Probst.
Neela eats a lot of candy on Halloween, and that night she chooses her favorites to keep, and leaves the rest outside her bedroom door for the “switch witch.” In the morning the “switch witch” took the candy. and replaced it with a toy or some art.
That’s one way we’re really trying to make it fun, and not trick-or-treating at all in terms of restrictions. It worked for our family, but I also realize that it doesn’t work for all families.
Q. Do you have other tips on how parents can talk to their children about food?
I think most of these avoid outright bans. I work with adults, and they are the same. A black-and-white approach to simply restricting something makes the brain want it more, and that’s why many diets fail. Just imagine that you can’t have it.
I really want my child, and the people I work with and their children, to have a healthy relationship with food and love it, and not be afraid of it. That’s why balance and moderation are important.
From a young age, we worked with our daughter to cook and garden and get her excited about eating that way. It really helped introduce him to new textures and flavors.
Q. How can California’s new food safety law help kids eat healthier?
No parent wants to go to the grocery store and tell their children that there are unhealthy items on the shelves. They should be able to go to the store and just get food. Parents don’t need to be detectives to understand what’s in the food they buy — not just for Halloween.
The law makes it easier and better to know that what you feed children is healthier. You don’t have to worry about hormonal implications or digestive disorders from these four additives.
This makes it easier for people to be more moderate in what they buy rather than just avoiding something completely because it has one of these additives in it.
Many of the adults I work with have children, and additives can be confusing for parents. They know candy isn’t nutrient dense, but when they buy things that seem healthier, like yogurt or vitamins, parents don’t need to screen for additives the same way. That’s why I’m very supportive of the law – because four of these food additives are banned.
Q. Did you know that children in other countries already get candy without the four additives?
A. Yes, I am well aware that in China, the European Union, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the same manufacturer that sells candy in the US makes the same product but with a much shorter ingredient list and nothing’ y many of these additives.
Manufacturers already have these safer formulas and recipes. Our food system really needs to catch up.
I know the new law is only for California, but I really doubt that a company will make a safer product just for California, so I hope it will have an effect on the whole country.
Q. What are the next steps you would like to see California take in food safety?
A. Titanium dioxide was another chemical in the original additives bill but it was removed, so I think it’s a good next (ban). It is now banned as a food additive in Europe.
I also think our food labeling laws could use a lot of work.
I’ve been involved in a lot of parenting and nutritionist groups, and figuring out what to feed the kids is a lot of work. Some countries do things better, limiting food for things like wheat allergies or celiac disease. It is not a priority here, although many children are diagnosed with allergies or celiac disease.