The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

In my last post, we looked at if the Banting Diet is safe for children.  It most certainly is not a safe diet for kids.  Youths, who are still growing and developing, are especially sensitive to changes in diet.  A healthy diet can do them an enormous amount of good and an unhealthy diet can do a tremendous amount of damage.  The Banting Diet is downright dangerous for children and teens.

Dangerous for Children and Teens

Actually, low carb diets can be dangerous for anyone.  Cutting out an entire nutrient group is not ideal to the human condition.  But children are especially sensitive, as they are growing and developing.  In fact, it could actually be downright dangerous.  Dr. Fuhrman, a well-known medical doctor, points out on his blog just how dangerous low-carb diets can be for kids:

Most recently, a sixteen-year-old girl who had no history of medical problems died after two weeks on the Atkins diet. When the paramedics arrived, she was pulse-less, and the electrocardiogram revealed ventricular fibrillation (a usually fatal loss of normal heart rhythm). Her emergency room evaluation showed electrolyte imbalances that occurred as a result of eating a diet of meat, cheese, and salads for two weeks. She was doing the diet together with her mother.

Of course most cases won’t be this extreme!  But the fact is that low carb diets of any kind can be dangerous and a high animal fat diet like the Banting Diet poses even greater risks.  The “low fat” diet that was touted as healthy for so many years has now been shown not to be the fastest way to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean that suddenly switching to the opposite extreme is the best reaction.

Animal fats are saturated fats, which themselves carry lots of disease-causing potential.  Saturated fats “have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.”  Their chemical structure means that we digest them differently than unsaturated fats.  This can lead to the development of high cholesterol, which is showing up in younger and younger populations. It is also a major risk factor for heart disease.  Indeed, reducing saturated fats specifically (as opposed to fats overall) is the most effective way to prevent coronary heart disease in women.  The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of saturated fats to no more than 7% of your diet – well below what the Banting Diet insists on!  It is no coincidence that kids placed on a balanced vegan diet showed drastic improvement and major reductions in their heart disease risk factors.  Those kids were eating basically the exact opposite of the Banting Diet!

Bear in mind that the Banting Diet is doing more than just restricting carbohydrates and promoting animal fat consumption, the dangers of which we have already discussed.  The Banting Diet is also restricting the intake of other foods, too.  The whole long list can be found here.  We’re not just looking at a diet that cuts out wheat, like in a gluten-free diet.  This is a diet where corn, peas, agave, and any kind of fruit juice is absolutely forbidden.  Fruits are also on a highly restricted list, so you can have them, but only in small amounts.  For example, three small figs or one small banana is all the fruit you’re allowed each day.  Notice I said ‘or’ – not ‘and.’  This is not much fruit for a child, who needs that nutrition to thrive.

Children need a balanced diet in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals they need for their bodies to develop.  Lacking enough of certain nutrients can have long term effects even beyond what science can currently fathom.

What Do You Want For Your Children?

After reading all of this, what do you want for your children?  Hopefully you want to provide them with a balanced, healthy diet.  Hopefully your goal is to reduce their disease risks and give them the foundation they need to grow and develop optimally.  Doing so will help them live a healthier life, regardless of what choices they make later in life.

The Banting Diet is dangerous for adults and doubly so for children.  Tamzyn Campbell may be a nutritionist, but just having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are always right.  Similarly, not having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are wrong.  I hope I have made a strong case here for why Tamzyn Campbell, nutritionist though she may be, is wrong, dreadfully wrong, and therefore dangerous.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here are the words of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. (whose father is one of my top nutrition idols):

One of the best examples of the low carb misconception is the Atkins program and Paleo both of which emphasize  meat which is so deleterious  to health.  And certainly not for children.

You are right to be alarmed about the Banting Diet……for anyone, especially children.

Do what is right for your children and choose a healthy plant-based diet.

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

This week an article came out touting the Banting Diet for children, starting from the age of 6 months.  The Banting Diet is yet another trendy Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, emphasizing eating lots and lots of animal fat.  The nutritionist in the article claims this is a healthy diet for kids – but is she right? Is the Banting Diet really safe for kids?

What is the Banting Diet?

The Banting Diet is a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet.  It is similar to other carbohydrate-restricting diets in that most carbs are forbidden but it is different from diets like Atkins because instead of emphasizing eating lots of protein, the Banting Diet emphasizes eating lots of fat, particularly animal fats.

In fact, the number one rule of the Banting Diet is to eat a lot of animal fat.  Eating lots of animal fat is the number one solution on the Banting Diet.  Hungry? Eat more animal fat!  Getting the urge to snack (snacking is strictly forbidden)?  Eat more animal fat!  If you’re on the Banting Diet you might as well make eating more animal fat your mantra.

The other half of the Banting Diet focuses on reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing calories with fat.  Skip the milk and go for the cream; double cream is even better.  Even too much dairy is disallowed because it contains too many carbohydrates.  Instead, go straight for the butter, as much as you want.  Avoid carbs if at all possible, including disguised carbs like quinoa, peanuts, legumes, and beans. Starchy vegetables are also a no-no. Also avoid having too much fruit and too many nuts because they also have carbs and sugars.

Finally, the Banting Diet tries hard to distinguish itself from Low Carb High Protein diets like the Atkins diet by emphasizing that you are not to have too much protein.  In fact, you should choose the smaller protein portion if you eat out.  Choose the fattiest cut of meat you can.  And eat ALL the fat.

Is the Banting Diet Safe for Kids?

In a recent article, nutritionist Tamzyn Campbell claims the Banting Diet can benefit children by reducing obesity.  She claims it can even be started as young as six months, with severe carb restrictions waiting until six years.  But is she right?  Is it really healthy to feed a baby or even a child a diet overwhelmingly high in animal fats, with little to no grains and very little fruit, nuts, and protein?

Let’s consider first what experts say about the nutritional needs of children.  Children are growing and developing at a very rapid pace, in ways that adults are not.  Not only are children physically developing and growing quickly, but their brains are also growing and developing, with new brain cells growing and new synaptic connections being forged every day.  The way that children develop now, in their youth, will dramatically impact their health in the future, for the rest of their lives, including their mental and emotional health in addition to their physical health.

In order to achieve this rapid level of growth, children need to take in very high levels of vitamins and minerals, nutrients they need to grow and develop.  Their nutritional needs are different from that of adults and diets that severely restrict one major food group (carbohydrates), no matter what the source, are creating a danger for kids’ health.  A vegan diet, for instance, might omit animal sources of protein, but vegetable sources of protein are still permitted and encouraged.  The Banting Diet, on the other hand, emphasizes a very specific source of one food group (fats, from animals only – the Banting Diet goes so far as to claim that seed oils are toxic) with the exclusion of another entire food group (carbohydrates).  This will necessarily have an effect on growth and development.  Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association notes that:

[I]n children going through a development process, there can be permanent inhibition in their reaching full genetic potential when an entire group of macronutrients is eliminated from the diet. It doesn’t matter if it is fat, protein, or carbohydrates, it’s just not healthy.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Joan Carter, a Registered Dietician at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine emphasizes the differing dietary needs of kids:

Low-carb diets are not a good choice for kids because children are nutritionally different than adults, and these diets are restrictive in many of the nutrients they need.  Growing children need more calcium than adults, and their tissues need vitamins and minerals that come from fruits, vegetables, and grains. With diets that restrict these and other important nutrients, it shortchanges kids in a way that can affect their growth and development.

Children also have much higher energy needs than adults.  Not only are kids using energy to run amok with their friends and tear your house apart like whirling dervishes, they’re using that energy to grow and to learn.  Over 20% of our calories are used to fuel the brain.  Restricting carbohydrates, the body’s most ideal source of energy, certainly will not help your child to learn.

Carbohydrates are fuel for the body and they encourage ideal performance.  Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, points out that “carbohydrate loading is used by endurance athletes for a good reason — it gives their bodies an extra storage of fuel so their performance increases dramatically.  In full-grown adults, we know that restricting carbohydrates cuts down on athletic performance and endurance.”  So, too, with children.  Kids need carbohydrates in order to run around and get exercise, something we as parents should be encouraging them to do.  (If your child isn’t getting enough exercise, just putting them on a low-carb diet won’t solve all their problems.  Get them away from the screens and outside with their friends!)

While fat is an essential nutrient like salt, your kids don’t need very much of it.  Fat adds calories, but it’s not the optimum fuel for your tank.  It’s kind of like putting ethanol in a car designed to run on petrol – the car will probably still run, but it won’t be very efficient and it will damage the engine.  A small amount of ethanol mixed into the petrol can be a good thing, but only ethanol?  Not ideal.  So too with fat in kids’ bodies.

Carbohydrates are the ideal fuel for a child’s growing body and they come together with lots of nutrients kids need. Is fruit high in sugar? Sure! But fresh fruit also has enzymes, minerals, and vitamins kids need.  So too with healthy whole grains and vegetarian sources of protein like beans, legumes, nuts, and pseudo-grains like quinoa.

So what happens when the body isn’t getting carbohydrates as fuel?  Essentially the body begins to think it’s starving and in starvation mode it doesn’t work optimally.  The body breaks down fat for fuel, but in the process it creates what are called ketones, which are not good for kids and can actually impair their ability to learn.

Dr. Bruce Rengers, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, explains why this is.  He points out that “ketones have a dulling effect on the brain.”  This is because ketones reduce glucose uptake by brain cells – in effect ketones keep the brain functioning, but at a reduced level from what it should be.  Joan Carter, RD notes, “Essentially, this quasi-starvation mode is not good for alertness, and it’s certainly not good for children.”  She’s right – how could a diet like this possibly be good for children?!

Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

My brother has diabetes.  He developed it when he was just 7 years old, so it dominated his childhood and my teenage years.  It had major impacts on our family.  For families with a diabetic child, it can cause major changes in the family diet.  Here are some ways to eat healthy with diabetes:

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes (which used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes) is when the pancreas simply stops producing insulin.  There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes and diabetics with this form of the disease have to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives (or until a cure is found).  Diet and insulin injections are the best way to manage Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes because it is strongly associated with obesity and used to occur predominantly in older adults.  Not so today.  With so many children today overweight and so many children consuming high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates that spike blood sugars, Type 2 diabetes is now increasingly common among children and can no longer be called “adult onset diabetes.”  With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t regulate it well.  Type 2 diabetes is not as stark as Type 1 diabetes.  Indeed, it is more of a continuum.  Some people have Type 2 diabetes so mildly that it can be managed entirely by dietary modifications.  People who have a more severe form can take medication and people who have a very severe form need insulin injections like Type 1 diabetics do.

No matter how severe the diabetes or what Type, diet is a crucial part of any management program.  Of course you should consult you’re doctor before embarking on a particular dietary program, as I am not a doctor, nor have I even played one on TV (although I was once on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which is fitting because I am actually a lawyer haha!).  My advice regarding diet for diabetics is meant to be practical and helpful, not the be all and end all of diabetes dietary requirements!!

Impact of diet on diabetes

Diet can have an enormous impact on diabetes.  Insulin is a hormone our bodies produce that regulates blood sugar levels.  Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can cause serious illness, coma, and even death, so managing diabetes effectively is really important.  Unfortunately, much of the food kids eat today is processed and full of sugar (it is hidden in all sorts of things you wouldn’t expect).  Kids also eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour, and white potatoes – I like to say, “White flour, white potatoes, and white rice: If it’s white, it isn’t nice!”  Carbohydrates are converted into sugars by the body so it can use them as fuel, but refined carbohydrates are converted into sugars very quickly and simply, so they flood the system.  Think about it: eat one serving of white bread and compare how long you feel full to when you eat one serving of whole grain steel cut oatmeal.

In fact, in cases of Type 2 diabetes diet can even reverse diabetes entirely, just as diet can reverse obesity.  This has been tested in animals and also shown in scientific peer-reviewed studies to work in humans (especially effective if exercise is included).  This works because a healthy diet reduces obesity and heart disease risk factors – even in children.

Diets for Diabetic Kids

The Internet is full of different diets to help reduce or reverse diabetes.  As an adult, you can afford to buy into the starvation diet, but even if it is endorsed by a reputable university’s biomedical department, a starvation diet can be dangerous for children, whose bodies are still developing.  Do not starve your children!

However, the concept still works for kids.  Other studies (see above) show that reducing calorie intake can slow, stop, or even reverse diabetes development.  This is because reducing caloric intake has a twofold benefit for diabetics.  Firstly, if done in a healthy and balanced way, it normalizes blood sugar, avoiding blood sugar spikes and making blood sugar regulation easier on the body.  Secondly, it reduces weight and reducing obesity reduces the incidence of diabetes.

Another demonstrated dietary fact is that diabetics should reduce fat intake.  In more than one of the studies I cited above, fat and especially fatty liver played a stark role in the development and reversal of diabetes.  This is why the healthy vegan diet kids in the recent heart disease study was so effective in reducing heart disease risk factors in children: It was very low fat.

That said, there are three commonly endorsed diets for diabetics, all of which can be healthfully used by children:

The Plate Method

The Plate Method Diet for DiabeticsThe Plate Method is the diet for diabetics that is currently recommended.  It calls for 50% of the plate to be covered with non-starchy vegetables, 25% with starchy vegetables, and 25% with protein, as well as a serving of fruit and a serving of milk on the side for each lunch and dinner meal.  Of course, the efficacy of any diet like this relies on making good food choices. Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli should be cooked in a healthy way, like steaming, roasting, or stir fry, not doused in sauces and oils.  Not all starchy foods are created equal.  Whole grains like brown or wild rice and quinoa are preferable to refined grains like white rice or white bread.  Starchy vegetables like zucchini, peas, and parsnips are more nutritious than white potatoes (and also have more flavor, reducing the need for additives like butter and oil).  Non-fat protein choices like tofu or seitan will always be better than an animal product even if it is low in fat, due to the way in which the body metabolizes animal fats, and also due to the benefit of fat reduction in diabetic diets.  For children, consider serving the fruit during snack times rather than during meal times, thus eliminating the need for kids to have yet more calories in their diets during the day.  For the milk, I recommend making your own brown rice milk or buying oat or almond milk.  If done properly, this kind of diet is incredibly healthy.

A sample lunch would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Sandwich of whole grain bread, lots of hummus (for protein), and roasted spring vegetables or salad vegetables
  • Side of raw non-starchy vegetables (such as cucumbers, mushrooms, and capsicum) with some more hummus to dip them in.
  • 1/2 cup strawberries for morning snack
  • 1 small banana for afternoon snack

A sample dinner would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Stir fry of non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach with tofu over brown and wild rice mix

Diabetic Exchange Diets

There was a time when this method was very popular, but compared to the Plate Method, it seems like a bit of a pain to me.  Foods are divided into six categories: starch, meat (there are no vegan meat substitutes), non-starchy vegetables, fruit, milk, and fats.  Together with a dietician each individual will be given a number of servings to have from each category each day.  This method is easier in a way because it is easier to measure out servings, but it also basically forces adherents to eat a lot of animal protein.  This eliminates the potential benefits of following diets now shown to be effective for weight loss.

Carbohydrate Counting

This method counts each major carbohydrate source as one serving (15 g) of carbohydrate.  The list of carbohydrate sources includes starches, fruits, milk, and sweets.  Of course this does not necessarily lend itself to be the most healthy diet, although it does allow a lot more leniency for kids who won’t take well to being told they cannot have dessert.  That’s because if, say, a cookie counts as one carbohydrate, kids can choose to fill up their carbohydrate quota with unhealthy sources of carbs.  This type of diet requires a lot of parent monitoring because its permissiveness creates a sort of temptation for kids.  It also does not limit sources of other things affecting kids’ diet and weight.  For instance, fat and meat intake are not measured, so a child could eat lots of steak and then carbohydrate count for dessert, which would not be a healthy diet at all.  Of course, a parent who is conscious of their child’s choices and is committed to making good food choices and to dedicating extra time to their child’s diet can make it work.  But carbohydrate counting is definitely the most time consuming of the three methods.

Tips and Advice

  • Feed the whole family the same meals as the diabetic child is eating.  Diabetic children should be eating very healthfully, which will be good for the whole family.  Also, if a child is overweight, it is likely that other family members are also not at their ideal weights and can benefit from a healthy weight loss diet.
  • Don’t starve your kids, but do do portion control.  Don’t allow kids to eat as much as they want.  Overeating is often a contributor to obesity, which can lead to the onset of diabetes.
  • Reduce the amount of packaged and processed foods in your child’s diet.  Even so-called diabetic foods are not necessarily healthy.  Feeding your diabetic child sweets made with artificial sweeteners can cause other health problems.
  • Read nutrition labels.  You may be surprised to see how many carbohydrates are in your favorite foods and snacks.  Be aware that the serving size on a package may not match the serving size of one serving if you are doing an exchange diet.
  • Reduce the amount of fat – fat consumption increases risk of heart disease and diabetics are much more at risk of developing heart disease.
  • Spread meals out during the day.  For instance, breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner.  This will help keep your child from feeling too hungry and will also help the body metabolize sugars and nutrients more evenly.
  • Get your child active!  Diet can go a long way to reducing obesity and diabetes management, but exercise and burning up of some of that energy is also really important.  This is a good time to get your child involved in an activity that gets them moving, whether that is an organized team sport or just neighborhood games.  My gym even offers classes for kids!  You can also make exercise a family activity – going for walks, family bike rides, or hikes in local nature areas are great ways to bond as a family while increasing the health of everyone in the family!

I hope these tips make it easier to find a healthy diet for your diabetic or pre-diabetic child!  Together, we can manage diabetes and maybe even reverse it!

For More Information:

American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org

National Diabetes Education Program: http://ndep.nih.gov

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy At Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy At Home

Yesterday, we considered some clever psychological ways to trick our kids (and possibly ourselves) into eating healthier when out of the house.  But a lot of the food our kids eat is in fact eaten at home.  Fortunately, there are lots of ways to trick our kids into eating less and eating healthier at home, beginning with the way we do our grocery shopping, and continuing on to the way we serve (and even market) our homemade meals.  Bon apetite!

In the Store

Going food shopping?  We all know it’s a bad idea to go to the grocery store when we’re hungry – it encourages impulse buying, especially of convenience food items.  Shopping hungry doesn’t necessarily make us buy more, it makes us buy worse… and that unhealthy food will feed our families for the next week.

Another grocery shopping trick to still those cravings is to chew gum, especially mint flavor.  Chewing gum tricks your body into thinking its eating and, as your stomach expectantly waits for its (nonexistent) food delivery, you will be able to do your grocery shopping uninhibited.  People who chew gum while shopping buy 7% less junk food.

Begin your shopping trip in the produce section.  Spend some time there.  Browse the vegetables and, if your kids are with you, talk to them about them.  Spend at least 10 minutes there – shoppers who spend this long in the produce section tend to buy more produce than shoppers who rush through… and fresh produce is the healthiest thing you can buy in the entire grocery store, really!

Don’t be afraid to “cheat.”  Who cares what people thing when they see you buying bagged salad?!  They may think you’re lazy, but do it anyway.  We’re all busy mums and bagged, pre-washed salads make it so much easier to serve salad for dinner.  Today, you can buy bags of just greens, but more and more grocery stores are offering complete pre-mixed options that come with other veggies already mixed in, or in separate packets in the bag.  Heck, I’ve even been know to cheat by buying the bagged Asian salad mix – and dumping it into the pan for a quick stir-fry.  If bagged salad means you’re more likely to serve salad for dinner, do it!!!!!  As parents, we tend to feel like better parents if we’re serving our kids fresh vegetables, so why not skip some steps and take credit for being a good parent?  Serve them bagged salad or steamed frozen veggies and feel proud while you do it!

Smart shoppers looking to save money will often buy the economy size, so save yourself some money and buy all means get the healthy option in the biggest size available!  But don’t leave it that way when you get home – subdivide them immediately.  Today you can buy special reusable cereal containers that even come in half sizes.  I have a whole pantry full of them and I use them for everything, from muesli to rice.   Seeing the smaller container when serving will encourage kids to take less.

At Home

Get organized!  People eat less when their kitchens are clean and organized, possibly because it sucks to make food when you know you’ll be messing up a clean, shiny countertop.  The same principle applies to other places where you tend to sit and eat, like at your desk at work.  People surrounded by clutter eat 44% more snacks.  And no matter how organized or nice it looks to leave certain food items sitting on the counter, put them away – studies show that people who leave containers of cereal (even super healthy cereal) sitting on the counters weigh on average 21 pounds (10 kg) more than people who hide their cereal in the pantry.

What kinds of dishes and utensils are you using?  Next time you’re looking to upgrade, don’t go with the fancy plates that match the food you’re serving, unless perhaps you’re serving kale on a dark green plate.  People consume 18% more food when they are eating off a plate that matches, so try to choose contrasting colors. And of course there is the age-old trick of using a smaller plate.  Most people have heard about this one already – it’s logically satisfying, since you can’t eat as much if you can’t fit as much on your plate.  Use a smaller plate, eat 22% less.

As for your cutlery?  Go with a bigger fork.  It may be tempting to serve kids with small salad forks rather than the big adult forks, but it’s time to give your kids a promotion to adult status, at least in this regard.  One study found that people who used larger forks ate on average 3.5 ounces less per meal than people who used smaller forks.  That’s because our brains take visual cues to determine how much we have eaten – our stomachs are just too slow to respond.  Seeing bigger bites tricks our brains into thinking we’ve consumed more, while seeing smaller bites makes us think we’ve consumed less.

Don’t stop there – think about what kind of glasses you are using to serve drinks.  Experiments have mainly focused on alcoholic beverages like wine, but it stands to reason that a kid’s equivalent of wine would probably be some sort of juice, soda, or other soft drink.   Soft drinks are a huge portion of calorie consumption by today’s children, so why not trick your kids into drinking less?  People drink 92% of what they pour for themselves, so the amount put in the glass really matters.  Pouring into tall, thin glasses, rather than short, fat ones, encourages people to pour in less, and thus consume less.  Of course, if all your glasses are short fat ones, you can just avoid the whole issue by serving only water at meals, which is what I do.

Keep healthy food around and visible, especially during mealtimes.  Placing a bowl of apples in front of the shelf of potato chips may seem like a hopeless and obvious attempt to get your kids to snack on the right foods, but it actually works.  Kids who are presented with healthy food staring at them when they make food choices are more likely to eat healthier overall during that meal.  Whether it’s guilt, shame, or subconscious influence, I don’t know, but it does work.  Of course, you could just remove the potato chips and replace them with apples completely… but how many of us have that much willpower?

How do you serve meals to your family? I’ve never been a fan of “plating” each dish – in my experience, this leads to a lot of food waste and grumbling because not everybody wants precisely one serving of every thing. Growing up, dishes were all placed on the table and each member of the family took as much of each as they wanted.  Lately, I’ve been lazy and I often serve meals directly from the stovetop in a “get it yourself” kind of manner.  Which of these three methods is best?  Well, studies show that serving yourself from the stovetop rather than family-style at the table results in eating 19% less, so if you are aiming to reduce the amount your kids are eating, go ahead – tell them to get it themselves!

Name the food you serve.  Yes, I know, most foods already have names, but are they names that mean something to kids?  “Green Bean Almondine” may sound elegant to adults (and it has a nice rhyme factor) but it is meaningless to a five-year-old.   To encourage kids to choose to eat the healthier foods you are offering, rename them with names that are cool for kids.  “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” “Popeye’s Super Strong Spinach” and “Silly String String Beans” will sound fun to kids and studies show they’ll eat more of them.

Finally, if you’re not above misleading (or blatantly lying) to your kids, try telling them their meal is less healthy than it actually is.  People who think they are eating fattening, filling, and high calorie foods fill up faster and feel more satisfied, leading them to eat less than if they think they’re eating the diet version.  By all means, serve your kids the healthy stuff… just don’t let them know.

Conclusion

If you employ these tips and tricks you will find your kids are eating far less.  Maybe not the more than 60% less that each of the “at home” tricks listed above add up to, but then again… maybe!  I think it all depends on your starting point.  But if your child has a weight problem or you think he/she is eating too much, these tricks are a completely painless way to persuade them to eat less, without ever needing to tell them you want them to eat less.  So go ahead, serve that rice on a red plate and that pasta with tomato sauce on a white plate – a small one – from the stovetop.  And make sure there’s a big bowl of salad on the table while your kids are eating.  Then, just have patience and wait for the results.

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

 

 

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

If getting your kids to eat healthy food or choose healthy food options is a regular struggle, maybe you’re going about it the wrong way.  Most kids will be happy to learn to eat healthy foods using the techniques I have previously suggested (here, here, here, and here), but some kids really make it a struggle.  What if there was a way to get them used to eating healthier foods without fighting? If only there was some way to trick them into eating healthier.

The idea of tricking kids into eating healthy food may seem disingenuous, but it doesn’t have to be. The idea of tricking kids into eating veggies often means hiding veggies in cake, lying about the contents of a dish, or giving kids green juice in an opaque bottle.  I’m not opposed to disguising the color of an item or hiding vegetables in a food kids already enjoy, but outright lying is only going to damage your child’s trust.  If we want kids to value what we have to say and to really take on board the lessons we are trying to teach them, we have to maintain a high level of trust.

But we can still trick them into eating healthier.

There is a lot of research out there about how different psychological factors impact how much and what we choose to eat.  If we have concerns about obesity, we can start by reducing the amount of food our kids eat, and we can do it all without their even knowing.  We can do it by using psychological tricks.

In a Restaurant

Americans eat 43% of their food away from home, so it is good to have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to eating out.

Where are you eating out?  Most restaurants offer a range of healthy and unhealthy foods, so just picking a “healthier” restaurant may not be enough.  Consider the atmosphere and mood of the restaurant.  Sound and lighting can actually influence what we eat.  A restaurant with dim lighting and loud music will encourage you to eat more calories.  Also consider that certain types of music will enhance your dining experience.  Higher pitched music makes sweet food taste better while deeper notes improve the taste of bitter flavors, so if you’re trying to stick to an enjoyable savory meal and avoid the dessert, find a restaurant that tends to play deep orchestral music, rather than one with a piano in the corner.

Choose the right seat.  In a conventional restaurant, select a spot near a window, which increases the likelihood of ordering salad by 80%.  Avoid dark corner booths where nobody can see you – instead choose a spot near the front door – they increase your chances of ordering dessert by 73%.  And if you can, choose a high-top bar-style table.  These tables make you sit up straighter and reduce the risk of you ordering fried food.

When it comes time to order, resist the urge to order healthy food for your kids, or to pressure them to order that healthy salad.  People who are pushed to eat healthy food make up for it later by “treating” themselves, and you don’t want your kid dipping into the cookie jar as soon as he/she gets home.  (I think a lot of people do this with the gym, too, which is why exercise alone is not enough to lose weight.)  Instead, trick your kids into ordering a healthier option by asking them what someone else they admire – say, Batman or Dora the Explorer – would choose to eat.  Having to order for someone else encourages kids to think more deeply – and often they will change their order.

Going to a buffet?  Sit as far away from the buffet as you can – it encourages you to eat less.  Make sure your kids are facing away from the buffet, as well – they won’t be as likely to keep returning for more if they aren’t staring at it.  As above, encourage them to use small plates, rather than large ones.  Walk them through the buffet and look at each option before taking any food.  (Letting them take before looking encourages them to just grab the first things they see and end up eating those things in addition to what they really want.  Buffet-goers who look first only take those foods they really want to eat.)  Finally, if it’s an Asian buffet, teach your kids to eat with chopsticks.  Many Asian restaurants even have some special chopsticks for kids, to help them learn.  People who eat with chopsticks rather than forks tend to eat less, probably because chopsticks force you to eat more slowly, and allow the signal of fullness from your stomach to reach your brain before you’ve eaten too much.

At School

School lunches have improved in recent years… and also haven’t.  Consider packing a healthy lunch for your kids.  People at work who bring bag lunches eat less food than people who eat out, so why not apply this principle to your kids?  You also have more control over how healthy the food is that you are sending your kids.  Healthy lunch ideas like falafel plates, shish kabobs (and more shish kabobs), and roasted vegetables are filling and nutritious.  Homemade snacks like pizza crackers, fruity muffins, and even healthy cookies or mini cakes will be more nutritious than the snacks your kids are likely to eat from the school vending machines – even if they meet new health standards for “smart snacks”.

If you are going to send your child to school with snacks, consider some ways to get your child to snack less.  Try transferring snacks to clear bags.  If you are sending a snack that would normally fit in a sandwich size bag, send it instead in two or three small snack sized bags.  Studies show that snackers who have one big bag are likely to eat the whole thing, whereas snackers with the same amount of food in multiple small bags often only finish one of them.  And if you are concerned that your child might waste the healthy fruit you are sending, try cutting it up – one study found that 48% fewer apples were wasted when they were cut up, as opposed to served whole – and that there was a 73% increase in kids eating more than half of their apples.

Conclusion

These tips will help you trick your kids into eating healthier even if they are eating a lot of their meals away from home.  When kids are not eating at home, where are they most likely to be eating?  Primarily at school and a restaurants (whether with or without parents).  If you use these tricks, you can help get your kids to eat less and to eat healthier.

But that’s not all, folks!  Stay tuned for a new post soon, on how to trick your kids… at home!

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Salt: Dangerous for Kids’ Diets

Salt: Dangerous for in Kids’ Diets

Cooking Salt

Just like sugar, kids today are consuming far more salt than is healthy.  Salt is hidden in lots of foods, from bread to breakfast cereals – in fact, there is salt in almost any processed food you buy.  But salt can be dangerous for your kids’ health, so it is best to reduce their intake whenever possible.

Salt, or sodium chloride, is an essential mineral kids and adults alike need in our diets.  However, kids today tend to eat too much salt.  And too much salt is definitely too much of a good thing.  As with most nutrients that are essential for living, consuming too much salt is harmful to kids’ health.  Here are some of the biggest health risks to children who consume too much salt:

Blood Pressure

It has long been known that excess salt increases blood pressure in adults, but did you know that eating too much salt increases blood pressure in children, too?  A diet high in salt in childhood leads to higher blood pressure later, which in turn increases risk of stroke and heart attack by three times. Kids who use salt at the table have increased systolic blood pressure.[1]  Studies show that this higher blood pressure rises over the years in a steady incline if kids continue to consume too much sodium.[2]  Fortunately, children are incredibly resilient and can recover more quickly than adults.  By reducing salt intake down to recommended amounts during childhood, you reduce your child’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease in adulthood.  In fact, studies show that reducing salt intake is more effective in reducing blood pressure than all the medications currently available![3]

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis may sound like a disease of the elderly, but it is now being detected in young adults.  The problem is that bone loss is difficult to detect in very young adults whose loss may not yet be measurable in the bones themselves.  However, calcium lost in the urine can be detected and kids who consume too much salt actually lose more calcium than their peers who eat the right amount.[4][5]  These losses continue into adulthood.

Teenaged girls are especially at risk.  This is because peak bone mass is reached at the time of puberty, but far too many girls at this age are not consuming enough calcium and potassium while at the same time consume extremely high levels of salt.[6]  If peak bone mass is lower, girls (who are already at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis) have less bone mass to lose later in life, which predisposes them to develop osteoporosis.

Obesity

Okay, so salt is not a direct cause of obesity, but it is a contributing factor.  Have you ever sat down to eat a salty food and then felt thirsty?  This is the reason why salted peanuts and salty pretzels are commonly served at bars – they want to make you thirsty so you buy more drinks.  (Interestingly, for those thirsty for random bits of knowledge, this fact contributed to the Jews winning their Temple back from the Greeks during the time of the Maccabees, which is celebrated during the festival of Chanukah.  A beautiful Jewish woman named Yehudit/Judith fed the Greek general lots of salty cheese, causing him to drink too much wine.  When he passed out she cut off his head and in doing so cut the head off the Greek war leadership.)  Hopefully our kids aren’t slaking their thirst with beer or wine, but unfortunately they are slaking their thirst with something almost as bad – soft drinks.

Sodas and other sugary soft drinks contribute significantly to the obesity epidemic among today’s youth.  After all, 31% of beverages drunk by children from the ages of 4 to 18 are soft drinks.[7] Drinking too many sugary soft drinks has been repeatedly shown in scientific research to be related to obesity.[8]

You might think the link between soft drink consumption and salt consumption would be tenuous, but that is not so. Sales of salt and sales of soft drinks rise together and sale of salt are correlated with obesity rates.[9] Cutting salt consumption in half, from the average 10 grams per day to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended 5 grams per day decreases daily beverage consumption by 350 mL daily, which is approximately one can of soda. Children are especially sensitive to the consumption of excess salt, which causes them to need more liquid. In fact, by reducing a child’s salt consumption by 1 gram per day, the average child drinks 100mL less liquid and 27mL less sugary soft drink.[10] Therefore, reducing your child’s salt intake, even by a small amount, could have a big impact on their overall health and weight.

Cancer

I hate to bring up the big ‘C’ – cancer – but if we want to have healthy kids we have to face reality. When kids eat too much salt it does increase their chance of developing cancer, particularly stomach cancer. That’s because eating too much salt damages the stomach lining, which in turn can lead to the development of cancerous cells.[11] Eating too much salt also encourages proliferation of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with the development of stomach cancer and ulcers.[12] Of course, this is unlikely to afflict your child at a young age, but it can happen, and you do not want to increase your child’s chance of developing this deadly disease later in life. Reducing calcium intake seems to me to be an easy way to reduce risk.

Asthma

Even when I was growing up, asthma was a common childhood ailment. Most children do not die of it, but it complicates their lives, makes it hard for them to participate in all activities they might want to, and is a frightening and unpleasant feeling.  Consuming too much salt can worsen or instigate asthma in kids. This is because high sodium consumption increases bronchial reactivity,[13] making children who consume high amounts of salt more prone to asthmatic attacks.[14] This is related to the excess amount of calcium that is lost when too much salt is consumed.[15]

Kidney Disease

Our kidneys today work hard to filter toxins and other nasty things from our bloodstream. Today, they have to work harder than ever, as our environment is filled with toxins that enter our bodies primarily via the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Consuming too much salt puts our kidneys under extra unnecessary stress that can, over time, cause them damage. This is because eating too much salt causes the production of protein urea, which is a major kidney disease risk factor.[16]

Less Salt, Better Health

I hope these are enough reasons to convince you of the impact too much salt can have on your child’s health and wellbeing. Cutting down on salt might be challenging if you rely heavily on processed foods, but with many alternative products on the market, you can usually find some that are healthier. If we want our kids to lead healthier lives, we need to reduce the amount of salt in their diets. Let’s inspire healthy kids!

Australian Lake Salt

[1] Gregory J, L.S., Bates CJ, Prentice A, Jackson L, Smithers G, Wenlock R, Farron M., National Diet and Nutrition Survey: young people aged 4 to 18 years. Vol. 1: Report of the diet and nutrition survey. 2000, London: The Stationery Office. 271-336.

[2] Geleijnse, J.M., D.E. Grobbee, and A. Hofman, Sodium and potassium intake and blood pressure change in childhood. Bmj, 1990. 300(6729): p. 899-902.

[3] Rose, G., Strategy of prevention: lessons from cardiovascular disease. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed), 1981. 282(6279): p. 1847-51.

[4] Goulding A, Everitt HE, Cooney JM, Spears GFS. Sodium and osteoporosis. In: Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, eds. Recent advances in clinical nutrition. Vol 2. 1987:99-108.

[5] Cappuccio, F.P., et al., Unravelling the links between calcium excretion, salt intake, hypertension, kidney stones and bone metabolism. J Nephrol, 2000. 13(3): p. 169-77.

[6] Geleijnse, J.M., et al., Long-term effects of neonatal sodium restriction on blood pressure. Hypertension, 1997. 29(4): p. 913-7.

[7] He FJ et al. Salt Intake Is Related to Soft Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents: A Link to Obesity?  Hypertension. 2008; 51, 629-634.

[8] Ludwig DS et al. Relation Between Consumption of Sugar-sweetened Drinks and Childhood Obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet. 2001; 357, 505-508.  James J et al.  Preventing Childhood Obesity by Reducing Consumption of Carbonated Drinks: Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial. British Medical Journal. 2004; 328,1237.

[9] Karppanen H, Mervaala E: Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2006; 49, 59-75

[10] He FJ et al. Salt Intake Is Related to Soft Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents: A Link to Obesity?  Hypertension. 2008; 51, 629-634.

[11] Tsugane, S., et al., Salt and salted food intake and subsequent risk of gastric cancer among middle-aged Japanese men and women. Br J Cancer, 2004. 90(1): p. 128-34.

[12] Karppanen, H. and E. Mervaala, Sodium intake and hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis, 2006. 49 (2): p. 59-75.

[13] Goulding A, Gold E. Effect of dietary sodium chloride loading on parathyroid function, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, calcium balance and bone metabolism in female rats during chronic prednisolone administration. Endocrinology 1986; 119:2148-54.

[14] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1833904/pdf/bmj00299-0028.pdf

[15] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1834783/pdf/bmj00308-0056b.pdf

[16] He, F.J., et al., Effect of salt intake on renal excretion of water in humans. Hypertension, 2001. 38(3): p. 317-20

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Last month I posted a series about American school lunches and the changes they have undergone during Michelle Obama’s leadership.  The lessons we can learn from this “experiment” in good childhood nutrition are applicable all over the world.  However, at the time I was writing, there was no scientific report yet out about the impact of these changes on kids, although I did share about one inspirational case study.  That report was released just days after my post on the subject!

Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future is a report by Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA and Jeffrey K. O’Hara, PhD that was released at the end of February.  This report highlights that although healthier school lunches on their own will not solve the childhood obesity epidemic or make our kids instantly healthy, they do have a meaningful impact.  Kids who eat the healthier school lunches consume more fruits and vegetables, which is really important when so many kids today eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day.

Obesity is a huge problem for the children of today.  Obese children are ten times more likely to become obese adults.  With one third of kids in America overweight, this means we are raising a generation of unhealthy children who will become unhealthy adults.  The United States alone spends $210 billion treating obesity-related diseases every year.  And those are just the obesity-related diseases, not the figure for all diseases that could be prevented with a healthy diet.  This affects everyone in society, as we are all affected by the economy that bears the brunt of this heavy burden.

Minorities are especially at risk, with African American kids 43% more likely to be obese and Hispanic American kids 59% more likely to become obese.  Interestingly enough, minorities are also those groups most likely to be granted free or reduced lunch status, as minority groups in America have a greater likelihood of having a lower socioeconomic status.  In a surprising twist of fate, this could actually be a good thing – it means they are most likely to benefit from positive, healthy changes to school lunch regulations.

Lessons from the Lunchroom reveals some surprising proof that healthier school lunches have a meaningful impact on kids who consume them.  The report analyzes kids’ eating habits over time and concentrated on kids who consistently eat school lunches, i.e. kids on the free or reduced lunch program.  This study found that kids in the fifth grade who receive free or reduced lunches ate three more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than their peers.  This benefit carried forward into the future as well, with the study finding these same kids ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers three years later.

Three more servings per week of fruit and vegetables on the face of it may not sound like a lot, but with 30% of 6-year-olds consuming fruit less than once daily and nearly 20% of 6-year-olds consuming vegetables less than once daily, adding an extra three servings of fruit and vegetables per week into kids’ diets can make a huge impact on their overall nutrition and health.

Furthermore, this study confirms yet again that positive dietary habits formed young continue to impact kids.  It is never too late to start teaching kids good nutrition habits!  However, the younger kids are, the more likely the changes are to stick.  Repetition helps as well.  Kids who take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch every single day are more likely to eat that fruit or vegetable and are also more likely to form a lasting habit.

Remember, as taxpayers we are all paying for school lunches.  School lunches are subsidized not only directly, in the form of free or reduced lunch programs, but also indirectly, through agricultural subsidies.  Later in life taxpayer dollars help underwrite the healthcare system that pays for obesity-related diseases.  The health of our nation’s youth depends on us making a statement and pushing for healthy change!

This is of concern to all of us, now.  This is not some nebulous issue or even something that requires you as an individual to overhaul your local school lunch program (although I applaud you if you do attempt this!).  This is an issue that each and every one of us has a stake in and has a say on.  The report’s press release says it well:

By September 30, 2015, Congress must again reauthorize the National School Lunch Program and related programs—another chance for Congress to improve school nutrition. UCS recommends that Congress maintain the gains made in the 2010 law, while increasing funding to programs that support serving nutritious produce in schools. Congress should also increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches to assist schools with providing healthier lunches.

So go forth and contact your representatives in Congress! Let them know what you think and agitate for change.  Together, they will listen to us.  Together, we can make a change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also published a snazzy infographic summarizing the report, which you can share with your friends:

New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in Kids

New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in Kids

We think of our children as immune to certain diseases we associate with old age.  We don’t expect them to get arthritis or to have a stroke.  Yet, sadly, with childhood obesity on the rise, more and more of our children are at risk for heart disease.  Just as type 2 (once called “adult onset”) diabetes has become commonplace among the youth of today, risk factors for heart disease are on the rise in younger and younger children.  The good news is, you can turn it around, and it’s easier than you think.

Earlier this month a study came out in The Journal of Pediatrics showing just how powerful switching to a healthy diet is.  Researchers wanted to evaluate how effective different diets were at reducing risk factors for heart disease in children.  Many studies of this nature have been done on adults, but this one is specifically targeting precursors of heart disease in children, which I have mentioned before is an increasing concern, with 70% of obese 5-7 year old kids exhibiting at least one risk factor for heart disease.

The current mainstream guidelines for reducing heart disease risk are those put forth by the American Heart Association (AHA).  While many doctors and individuals have long criticized their standards as being far from sufficiently rigorous, the AHA has been loathe to further restrict their recommended diet.  Perhaps they are concerned that being too strict will frighten people away from keeping to the recommendations.  But in the meantime, their diet is far from ideal.  So, what exactly are the AHA recommendations?

Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars and sweeteners.  As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish — at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds.  Also try eating some meals without meat.  Select fat-free and low-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry (skinless).  Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

On the AHA diet, which is definitely healthier than the average diet, kids did see their diets improve and become healthier.  But how much healthier?  1/3 – 30% – of their calories were still coming from fats, although less than 7% of those calories came from harmful saturated fats.  Because they reduced meat intake, daily cholesterol intake dropped to less than 300 mg/day.  Sodium intake also dropped to 1,500 mg/day.

To determine if this diet is truly the ideal in reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease in children, researchers, led by Dr. Michael Macknin, tested both the AHA diet and an alternate vegan diet.  He and his team of researchers selected 28 obese children between the ages of 9 and 18 to participate in the study, which ran for 4 weeks.  They then randomly selected children to participate in one of the two diets.  At least one parent of each child in the study was also required to stick to the diet.  This makes it much easier for kids to stick to the diet, follow through with the study, and maintain a positive attitude.  The addition of this provision is actually a good example of what I repeatedly have said: Lead your kids by example.  If you want to inspire healthy kids, you need to also be eating a healthy diet!  Participants in the study also attended two-hour educational nutrition information sessions once per week, which affirms again what I have repeatedly said: Kids need to be educated about how food affects their health so they will be motivated to make healthy decisions.

What was the vegan diet like?  Children on the vegan diet were given plants and whole grains, although they limited their intake of fatty plant foods, like nuts and avocados.  They were given no animal products and no added fat was used in food preparation.

As a result, and no doubt in spite of a bit of cheating and leniency, consumption of animal proteins dropped from an average 42 grams per day to just 2.24 grams per day.  The percentage of calories from fat was just 18% (compared to 30% for the AHA diet), with only 3.6% coming from saturate fats (compared to 7% on the AHA diet).  Clearly, the vegan diet is a dramatically healthier diet than the AHA guidelines, if we look just at nutritional intakes.  (Of course not all nutritional values for foods were tested, but we can easily make an educated guess that those children on the vegan diet were consuming more vitamins and minerals, as their diets included more nutrient dense vegetable and whole grain ingredients.)

What were the results of the study?

Children on PB had 9 and children on AHA had 4 statistically significant (P < .05) beneficial changes from baseline (mean decreases): body mass index z-scorePB (−0.14), systolic blood pressurePB (−6.43 mm Hg), total cholesterolPB(−22.5 mg/dL), low-density lipoproteinPB (−13.14 mg/dL), high-sensitivity C-reactive proteinPB (−2.09 mg/L), insulinPB(−5.42 uU/mL), myeloperoxidasePB/AHA (−75.34/69.23 pmol/L), mid-arm circumferencePB/AHA (−2.02/−1.55 cm), weightPB/AHA (−3.05/−1.14 kg), and waist circumferenceAHA (−2.96 cm). Adults on PB and AHA had 7 and 2, respectively, statistically significant (P < .05) beneficial changes. The significant change favoring AHA was a 1% difference in children’s waist circumference. Difficulty shopping for food for the PB was the only statistically significant acceptability barrier.

In layman’s terms, this means that kids on the plant-based diet showed significant improvement in nine different categories: body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, insulin, myeloperoxidase, mid-arm circumference, weight, and waist circumference.  High sensitivity C-reactive protein is one measure of inflammation in the body and is a major indicator of heart disease risk.  Myeloperoxidase is an enzyme necessary for healthy body function, but in elevated levels is associated with risk for coronary artery disease,* to the point that high levels over a 13-year period was shown to have more than doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.**

In contrast, children on the AHA diet showed statistically significant improvement in only four areas: mid-arm circumference, weight, waist circumference, and myeloperoxidase.  Clearly, the vegan diet was more effective in reducing risk factors for heart disease.  However, the AHA diet did show a 1% change in waist circumference, which shows it was good for losing weight in the right places.  On the other hand, the vegan diet resulted in greater health benefits even if those benefits were more internal than external.

(If you are an adult reading this and want to reap the benefits, you can.  Children’s bodies are more reactive to changes in their diet than adults, so they show more significant results more quickly, but adults also showed major benefits.  On the plant based diet, adults benefits in seven of the risk factor areas, while on the AHA diet they benefited in two of the risk factor areas.  If you put your child on one of these diets and you join him/her, you will also stand to gain – or, in this case, to lose! Haha!)

Dr. Macknin’s conclusion was:

As the number of obese children with high cholesterol continues to grow, we need to have effective lifestyle modifications to help them reverse their risk factors for heart disease.

 

We’ve known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease. This study shows that the same may be true in children too, though more studies are needed.

Of course this study was limited in scope, as not many children were tested.  Also, the study ran only for four weeks.  But just think about that!  Statistically significant benefits in nine areas were found in children on a plant based diet in just four weeks!  That’s such a short time.  It is really amazing.

The one complaint participants on the low-fat vegan diet had was that food was expensive and difficult to find.  It does not need to be this way.  Of course if you are buying convenience foods, it will be more of a challenge and more expensive.  Processed foods in the vegan market are niche, and fat-free vegan foods even more so.  I would suggest that more foods be made at home and less processed foods consumed, to take a page out of the paleo diet book.

We shop in bulk at farmer’s markets, often going once a week to stock up on fruits and vegetables.  I then use these to make healthy meals for my family.  Perhaps tomorrow I will post a recipe for an easy fat-free vegan tomato soup.  I often make big batches of this comfort food when tomatoes are in season and freeze containers for use later in the year. I find prices in farmer’s markets are 30%-50% lower than in supermarkets, I can support local farmers directly, and the food is more fresh.  On my last trip to the farmer’s market, I got 10 kg (22 lb) organic grapes for $10!  In the US, some farmer’s markets are even offering to double food stamps, so even people on food stamps can take advantage of the findings in this fantastic study.

With childhood obesity on the rise, we as parents have the power to combat it.  It’s not as hard as it might seem – even if you cut back and begin to follow the AHA guidelines, your child will benefit.  Go gradually and slowly transition to a more plant-based diet.  Even I cannot claim to be vegan (we eat a small amount of dairy and a tiny amount of fish once a week, but lots and lots of eggs), but take the steps you can in the right direction and it will only benefit you and your kids.  I know if my kids showed one of these risk factors for heart disease, or showed signs of obesity, I would not hesitate for a moment to switch to an even healthier diet than the one we are currently on.  We all have to start somewhere! Go ahead, take the plunge – or at least the first step – in the vegan direction!

*Zhang R, Brennan ML, Fu X, Aviles RJ, Pearce GL, Penn MS, Topol EJ, Sprecher DL, Hazen SL (November 2001). “Association between myeloperoxidase levels and risk of coronary artery disease”. JAMA 286 (17): 2136–42.doi:10.1001/jama.286.17.2136

**Heslop CL, Frohlich JJ, Hill JS (March 2010). “Myeloperoxidase and C-reactive protein have combined utility for long-term prediction of cardiovascular mortality after coronary angiography”. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 55 (11): 1102–9.doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2009.11.050

Does “Healthy Obese” Really Exist? Why Not to Let Your Kids Become Overweight.

Does “Healthy Obese” Really Exist? Why Not to Let Your Kids Become Overweight.

“I’m not fat, I’m just big boned!” goes the classic joke.  But it’s not such a joke anymore.  For years, the trend of “healthy but obese” has been booming.  This comes as no surprise, in a day and age when more and more people are overweight.  Nobody wants to admit they are fat and even if they are willing to accept their obesity, they do not want to accept that this extra weight on their bodies could be putting their health at risk.  This is even more true when it comes to our children.  As parents, we want to feel that we are doing what is best for our children, not that we are making them sick or shortening their lifespans!  The concept of “healthy obese” has become a trendy copout.

What is “healthy obese?”  Healthy obese is when an individual is classed as “obese,” with a BMI (body mass index) over over 30, yet who has normal cholesterol levels, good blood pressure, and no diabetes or other metabolic risk factors.  These people claim it is okay to be obese because they are also presenting as healthy in blood tests.  People claim there is nothing wrong with having this extra weight because it poses no additional health risks.  However, until recently there were no long-term studies done to prove this.

The problem is that people who are “healthy obese” do not tend to stay healthy in the long term.  The mere fact of being obese, even “healthy obese,” dramatically increases your chances of becoming “unhealthy obese” in the future.  In a study published a few days ago in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists followed over 2,000 people for 20 years to assess their long-term health outcomes.  Over the course of the study, researchers periodically tested the subjects on five indicators of metabolic health: cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, fasting glucose levels, and insulin resistance.

By the time the twenty years had elapsed, more than half of the “healthy obese” had becoming “unhealthy obese,” at a rate nearly eight times that of control subjects who were not obese at the outset of the study.  In most cases, “healthy obesity” leads over time to “unhealthy obesity,” with the risk of becoming unhealthy increasing as more time passes.

While this study focused on adults, its message for children is clear: obesity is not healthy.  Even if your child appears healthy, obesity is setting them up for an unhealthy future.  This could be due to the obesity itself as a risk factor, or it could be due to the unhealthy habits that led to the obesity in the first place adding up over time.  Either way, obesity puts your child at risk of an unhealthy future.

This is why it is essential to emphasize a healthy diet for your kids.  Ensure they eat well and maintain a healthy weight – and by “healthy weight” I mean not an “obese healthy” weight! – so they can live longer and thrive.

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

For the past couple of days, I’ll admit it, I’ve been pretty hard on the Paleo Diet.  Could it be more obvious that I’m not a fan of low-carb diets?  I believe that the key to inspiring kids to eat a healthy diet is an appropriate balance of healthy foods.  The Paleo Diet never claims that foods like whole grains and legumes are unhealthy – it merely claims they make you fat.  And because the Paleo Diet is a low carb weight loss diet dressed up like an ideological attempt to get in touch with our cro-magnon roots, its true goal is not to get adherents to eat healthy, as one might first assume, but rather to get adherents to lose weight through carbohydrate deprivation.

Fresh fruit - banana, strawberry, pineapple, blueberry

Statements like this one, from http://ultimatepaleoguide.com/

Eat high-sugar fruits in moderation. They’re great for you, but it’s easy to overdo it. Remember, your caveman ancestors didn’t have access to Florida’s orange groves 24/7, so you probably shouldn’t try to eat a bushel of oranges in your next paleo diet meal.

bring to light this wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing issue with the paleo diet.  My friends, our caveman ancestors would have eaten a bushel of oranges a day on days when oranges were in season. Of course they would have! It would have been folly not to.  Our ancestors would also have dried fruit and eaten it all year round.  But when it was in season, they would have eaten as much fresh fruit as they possibly could have. And it’s healthy for your kids to eat lots of fruit!  It’s far better than sweets and the sugars it contains won’t make your kids fat.  They can eat as many bananas and oranges as they want and as long as they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, they won’t get fat from fruit.  (Incidentally, there is even a whole group of fruitarians out there who eat only fruit, but the health impacts of this kind of extreme diet on children is a post for another day.)  Don’t kid yourself, folks – the paleo diet is a low-carb weight loss diet and nothing more.

Having said all of that, the paleo diet does have some good points, some things that do make it advantageous for children’s health.  It advocates completely eliminating all sweets and processed meats.  This is fantastic! And by cutting out carbohydrates on the Paleo Diet, potato chips, French fries, white bread, and white rice are no longer being consumed.  These are really fantastic steps.  If more people would adopt these basic tenets of the paleo diet it would go a long way to reducing the obesity epidemic among our children.

But these benefits do not outweigh the health dangers of putting your child on the paleo diet I have explored in the last two days.  Cut out the processed foods, the white grains, and the sweets, and you’ll start seeing some of the paleo diet benefits over time.  But if you cut out the good stuff, too, like legumes and grains, restrict the vegetables your kids can eat, and increase their meat consumption, you are putting them at risk of serious health problems.  As adults, we can make the decision to put our health at risk.  We can decide to do foolish things that we know will make us sick.  But should we really enforce these decisions – which we know will have negative consequences – on our children, too?

I think not.

Take the good parts of the Paleo Diet and apply them in your kids’ diets right now.  I promise they will do a world of good.  But leave the rest behind.

Read more about the Paleo Diet:
What is the Paleo Diet?
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 1)
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)