This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Allan Olson, a family practice resident at the University Health Center here in Lafayette. Allan is 61 years old, yet is on the long and stressful road of residency that makes a doctor. How does he do it? For one, he takes care of himself with a healthy diet. And there is no better time to learn to eat right than as a kid. Read more:
How can parents have the biggest effect on their children’s health? Providing a safe environment and promoting physical activity top the list. However, your guidance with the greatest potential involves something we do every day- eating. Nutrition is a huge opportunity to help your kids feel good and be well prepared for their day. Furthermore, your food leadership will create habits to insure good health for their whole lives.
What foods are best? Research is showing that whole food, plant-based nutrition provides the maximum benefits for children and adults. This means a diet consisting of vegetables and fruits and less animal products (meat and dairy). Avoiding fast food and processed food (any food that comes from a factory) is also important to eat well. These contain too much fat, sugar, and salt for your body.
For many people this will be a major change in the foods they eat, and it is important to say that such changes need not happen overnight. The key is to begin selecting foods which consist of plant products that have not been fried or processed, frozen or boxed. Start using these foods in your family’s diet, and eventually meet the majority of your meal needs with them.
Food choices can influence whether kids develop certain chronic diseases. Childhood obesity has become much more common, as have diabetes, asthma, and constipation. Studies show most obese childen will become obese adults, and can expect to develop adult diseases early in life, like high blood pressure and heart disease. In other words, obese kids will live shorter and more miserable lives. While many factors lead to these diseases, food is among the most important causes, and the most effective cure!
Two examples of how diet can influence health and illness: Many children with constipation are cured when milk is removed from their diet, and fruits and vegetables added. Some studies show best results when all dairy is stopped. Know that eating milk and cheese is a matter of choice, not necessity, for children and adults. We do not absolutely need milk or other dairy in a healthful diet.
Asthma provides another example. Asthma has become very common in children. Asthmatic airways become inflamed, breathing becomes difficult, and kids wheeze. Often kids with asthma also have allergic runny noses and itchy skin. These can be treated with medications, but we are finding that in many children they can be prevented with a plant-based diet. Specifically, the antioxidants in plant foods seem to both prevent and treat the inflammation in allergy and asthma.
Now food companies have seized this idea and manufacture foods with added antioxidants, touting them as more healthy. However, studies suggest that antioxidants in processed-food are much less effective than in whole foods. It seems the whole food must be eaten to get the health benefits, and that natural foods contain other beneficial components besides the antioxidants.
Here are some more hints on diet. Breakfast really is the most important meal. Be sure your kids eat it every day, if only some fresh fruit. Have your kids eat at home as much as possible, at the table with the whole family. This is an important social time for families, and you can be sure your kids are eating right.
Avoid sugary drinks like soda and other canned or bottled drinks. Even those which are sugar-free and artificially sweetened are not good. Sugar-free drinks still do not keep off the pounds! The best drink is water, though some sports drinks are okay for electrolyte replacement while exercising, or if your child is sick with vomiting and diarrhea.
Finally, eating should be fun! Invite your kids to help you plan meals based on plants. Include their ideas in selection and preparation. Make trying new foods an exciting challenge. Your children may need to try a particular food a dozen or more times before they like it. Your choices for their diet will help shape their choices- for life!