Children’s health is often in the news these days, with obesity being a regular headline and behavioral problems such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also making habitual appearances.
Schools and governments in numerous countries are intervening with programs that limit access to certain foods and drinks, while various bodies opine on whether this actually helps or hinders. This of course opens the debate on the role of schools versus parents in deciding what children eat and drink.
However, children tend to copy what they see, so if you took heed of the advice in my last column (TT, Jan. 20), then your new healthy habits should be rubbing off on them. Also important is a healthy attitude toward eating. Too much emphasis on what cannot be eaten and an unyielding insistence on exercise can backfire, as seen in a national poll in the U.S. that found 30 percent of parents observed behaviors in their children that could be linked to eating disorders.
Also, there is often confusion between weight and health. Growing children may be of an appropriate weight, but if they are not ingesting adequate nutrients, they may well be unhealthy or at least amassing future health problems. This was the topic of a study linking high fructose consumption in teens to symptoms associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Fructose is metabolized differently from glucose and is believed to create unhelpful by-products during processing by the body. Under investigation is whether industrial processing increases the synthesis of these by-products, compared to consumption via natural forms of fructose such as whole fruits.
Good habits can lead to good health, and there is a growing trend in using diet, exercise, stress management and sleep as the first line of treatment for conditions such as ADHD. While it may not quell symptoms entirely, a good breakfast before school and a nutritious snack midmorning can help maintain concentration during lessons, while kicking a ball around the yard or a walk with the dog can provide a simple outlet for excess energy.
If you are committed to making changes, here are some commendable eating habits to help you get started:
–Eat a healthy breakfast every morning. Healthy means fresh fruit, whole grains and protein, for example, papaya, muesli (with nuts) and plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey, or a fruit and yogurt smoothie with scrambled eggs on whole-grain toast.
–Drink water. If it helps, add a squeeze of lemon or a small amount of fresh juice. Take a refillable 600-milliliter bottle to school or work and aim to drink all of it throughout the day. Then move to refilling it and finishing it again (1.2 liters).
–Don’t ban any foods, just consume in moderation and of the best quality you can afford. For example, chocolate: choose a high cocoa content and keep it to a couple of squares daily.
–Eat three meals a day at regular times. That way your body knows when to expect food and should make less effort to store fat.
–Only snack if hungry, and try to include protein, for example, an apple and cheese, crackers and peanut butter, or carrot sticks and hummus.
Sources: Science Daily (www.sciencedaily.com), Georgia Health Sciences University (news.georgiahealth.edu). Julie Godfrey, B.Sc. (Hons), is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see www.foreverhealthyco.com or email [email protected].