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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bad news from the doctor: my child is eating a normal diet.

Over the years, I've told thousands of parents that "there's nothing less healthy than a good, hearty breakfast!"  By that, of course, I'm referring to the typical hotel breakfast buffet:  eggs in every style, pancakes, muffins, and toast accompanied by sausage, ham and bacon.

But one recent report takes us far beyond this catastrophe in a chafing dish. According to the National Health and Nutritional Evaluation Survey, the average US child consumes more fruit juice, starchy vegetables and white bread than recommended, and less in the way of fruits, dark green vegetables and whole grains. "Energy dense" foods like pizza, chips and desserts comprise almost twice the fraction of our diets that they did in 1980.  At the same time, sodas and other sugary drinks make up half of all beverages consumed by children and teenagers - dramatically more than ever before.

Which leads me to one conclusion.  If we want to stay healthy, we have to eat differently than the average American.  If obesity, diabetes and heart disease are the "new normal," we had better commit ourselves and our children to an "abnormal" diet. 

Where is your family on the road from "normal" to healthy?

  • Normal:  No time for breakfast
  • Healthy:  Your family eats breakfast, and enjoys the energy boost!  No, not a donut.  Your M.O. is skimmed milk or non-fat yogurt, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal or a couple of egg whites.  
  • Normal:  Pizza with pepperoni for lunch...and maybe a chocolate chip cookie for dessert
  • Healthy:  You'll encourage your student to go for that slice once in a while, so long as he ditches the meat topping for veggies.  Most days, however, his backpack is transporting a whole wheat sandwich with a low fat cheese slice, tomatoes and sprouts.  Turkey or chicken show up from time to time.  
  • Normal:  Snapple is a staple.
  • Healthy:  "I'm sure our supermarket has a beverage isle; we just don't go there!"  (There IS a beverage that is sugar-free, caffeine-free, preservative-free and a great thirst quencher.  It's called water.)

Nutrition experts tell us that we can't get to healthy by way of self denial.   For most of us, eating is, and should be, fun.   Eating together as a family is good for many reasons (just as eating in front of a screen is bad for many reasons.)   Watch portion size, but don't just take away the fav's - find nutritious substitutes.  Remember that sleep deprivation makes us hungry for all the wrong foods.  And finally, during a winter as warm as this one,  go ride a bike or walk the dog or just go look at the clear blue sky.   It's all part of enjoying - and encouraging - good health.

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