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DIY Popsicle Treats are healthier alternative to sugar-laden store-bought options.

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Summer is for fun. Time for vacations, cookouts, campfires, ice cream and popsicles. It was Memorial Day weekend and we had invited ourselves to barbecue at my in-laws. My mother-in-law said she would have “tons of popsicles” there for the children and I shuddered assuming she would get the ones down the street that are “all fruit” with the exception of the eight pounds of sugar added. “It’s a holiday,” I told myself, as I channeled Elsa, “let it go.”

It was worse … so much worse. She had tried to be healthy. A well-meaning, health-conscious woman, she scoured labels and decided upon “no sugar added” popsicles and “skinny” ice cream, which contained lots of hidden artificial sweeteners and added colors. Sadly, it seems we need to learn a new language to read food labels.

As an 8-year-old kid, I wore a Boys XL in snow pants. I dread my 7-year-old having to go through what I did. It’s a crazy world and an even crazier playground. By second grade, kids may not have learned road rage yet, but they know how to make pointed remarks about others’ appearances.

We all want what’s best for our kids. We want to feed them good food and give them ample opportunity. The FDA allows more additives in our food than any European country, making the choice of what to eat some of the toughest ones we face as parents. While we may not be able to avoid them all, here are the top seven additives to kick to the curb when it comes to our kids (and ourselves).

Artificial SweetenersIt’s tempting to choose “no sugar added” or “sugar free” products. While these products do not contain “sucrose,” they contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose, sorbitol and aspartame. Sucralose is chlorinated sugar, which makes it fly under the caloric radar as “zero calories.” It’s found in diet drinks, fruit cups, yogurt and even English muffins. While they may seem harmless, artificial sweeteners can exacerbate sweet cravings and make us eat more calories in general.

Cancel the Colors“Eating the rainbow” should only pertain to colorful fruits and veggies. Food colorings have been liked to hyperactivity, ADHD, irritability and even depression. Many hues have been linked to tumors in lab rats. Colorings are found in candies, drink mixes, chewing gum, popsicles, toaster pastries, granola bars, fruit snacks, ice creams, crackers and marshmallows.

Not-So-Natural FlavorsWe are aware of the term ‘artificial’ enough by now to steer clear of it except on rare occasions, but the “word” natural offers us the assurance that the product is just that — natural. When it comes to flavorings, both artificial and natural flavors are derived in a lab and chemically processed. Artificial flavors are surprisingly the fourth most common ingredient listed on food labels and are actually regulated more stringently than their “natural” counterpart. From water, cereal, yogurt, kefir, chewing gums and condiments to marinated meats, “natural flavors” are found everywhere.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)This preservative has been deemed “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. It’s been said to be an endocrine disruptor and can be found in granola bars, processed meats, packaged nuts, soups, chips, canned beans and spaghetti sauce.

MSG – Monosodium GlutamateThis umami flavor enhancer not only keeps us coming back for more, but is reported to excite brain cells to the point of expiration. This is something we simply cannot afford, as brain cell death is associated with neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. MSG comes under multiple names including natural flavors, yeast extract, hydrolyzed corn and textured protein and is found in packaged soups, noodles and rice, frozen meals and many other processed items.

Mono- and DiglyceridesSince war was waged on trans fats, consumers have paid closer attention to the amount of unhealthy fats in our food. Trans fat labeling can be tricky, since nearly a half gram can be found in each serving size, but mono- and diglycerides are even trickier. Derived from oils, these substances are classified as “emulsifiers,” instead of the lipids they are, subsequently avoiding the trans fats line on the nutrition label. They are, in fact, trans fats which the CDC has linked to heart attacks. The Institute of Medicine says trans fats have “no known health benefit” and there is no safe level to eat. Monoglycerides and diglycerides are commonly found in gluten-free pastas, frozen yogurt, low-fat ice cream, peanut butter, tortillas and bread.

Potassium BromateA common additive used to strengthen dough, it allows bread to rise higher. California is the only state in the nation that requires a warning label on products that contain bromate, but studies suggest it causes thyroid and kidney cancer in lab rats and mice. This is why it’s banned not only in Europe, but in China, Canada, and Brazil as well. It can be found in hamburger and hotdog buns, pizza doughs and breakfast sandwiches.

While moderation in everything might sound like perfection, omitting these six additives might make it a bit more of a perfect world.

DIY Popsicle Treats

Ingredients

1¼ cup frozen blueberries

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½ cup apple juice

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 shakes cinnamon

Method

Blend one cup blueberries with apple juice until a pureed sorbet.

Fill each popsicle container to about one third full.

Mix yogurt, syrup, coconut, vanilla and cinnamon.

Layer remaining frozen blueberries between sorbet layer and yogurt.

Use funnel to layer yogurt atop sorbet.

Layer remaining blueberries.

Freeze overnight.

Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram: @foodforthoughtwithkat.