Doctor’s Tip: What our children eat affects their current and future health
We keep reading that childhood obesity is on the rise in the U.S., and — as we export our lifestyle worldwide — in the rest of the world as well. Experts tell us that this is the first generation of kids in history that won’t live longer lives than their parents. We can no longer call type 2 diabetes adult-onset diabetes, because so many overweight kids have it.
The food industry does its best to get Americans — starting at an early age– addicted (literally) to salt, sugar and fat (the latter often in the form of added oil). Let’s look at Amy’s Organic Mac and Cheese for example. Parents think that if it’s organic it must be healthy, so they buy it. One serving has 400 calories, with 16 grams of total fat including 10 grams of unhealthy saturated fat. It also has 640 grams of salt (the maximum safe amount for an adult is 1500 grams, much less for a child). It contains 6 grams of sugar — 4 grams is a teaspoon.
Good nutrition starts in the womb. We know that alcohol during pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome. Eating fish raises levels of PCBs and of heavy metals such as mercury, in the mother and fetus. Eating green leafy veggies increases folate levels in mother and fetus, which is linked to a lower rate of neural tube defects.
After birth, breast milk is the ideal food for infants and toddlers. However, the mother’s diet influences what’s in the breast milk. Many pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins can be passed through breast milk. The best way to avoid pesticides, PCBs, antibiotics and hormone-disrupting chemicals is to eat at the bottom of the food chain (plants).
What we feed our kids can affect their health years down the road as well:
• Heart disease, the number 1 cause of death in the U.S.: The endothelium is an organ that lines our arteries. When we eat animal fat, added oil, sugar, salt or refined food the endothelium is damaged, our arteries constrict, and become prone to develop plaque (hardening of the arteries). The first sign of heart disease is fatty streaks in the endothelium, which can even occur in newborns of mothers with high cholesterols. By the time American kids are in their late teens, most have evidence of frank hardening-of-the arteries.
• Cancer, the number 2 cause of death: Our bodies are made up of 2 billion cells, some of which are always mutating. If your immune system is optimal by eating a plant-based diet, the mutant cells are killed off before they replicate and cause cancer. Diet is clearly linked to several kinds of cancer, particularly those of breast, prostate, colon, rectum, uterus and ovaries. The World Health Organization has determined that red meat and processed meat (ham, sausage, lunch meat, bacon) are class 1 carcinogens. Eating poultry is linked to blood cancers.
• Diabetes, a major cause of death and disability: Type 2 diabetes occurs primarily in people with central obesity (extra weight around the mid-section), and this body habitus is clearly related to diet. In addition, animal products have a diabetogenic (diabetes-causing) effect.
• Autoimmune and inflammatory diseases: Autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus and others. Inflammatory diseases include asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In plant-based societies these diseases are rare.
In summary, what your kids eat has implications for their current health and their health years later. Help them avoid addiction to salt, sugar, fat/oil and refined food. Avoid fast food outlets, and if you take them to a restaurant avoid the kids’ menu, which typically offers French fries and fried chicken strips, or mac and cheese. Finally, set a good example — be physically active and eat primarily fruit, vegetables and whole grains at home and when eating out.
Retired physician Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is author of new book “Enjoy Optimal Health, 98 Health Tips From a Family Doctor,” available on Amazon and in local bookstores. Profits go towards an endowment to the University of Colorado School of Medicine to add prevention and nutrition to the curriculum. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, diabetes reversal, nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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