Ten Ways to Help You and Your Children Obtain Optimum Weight and Better Health
by Cathe Olson
I went to a talk last week about the state of our children’s health and the statistics are pretty scary. Right now 2/3 of Americans are overweight and 1/3 are obese. The CDC predicts that of children born in the year 2000, almost half of the Latino and African American kids will contract type 2 diabetes before they graduate high school; the stats are only slightly lower for Caucasian children—about 1/3. As we continue to eat more and more processed food made with white flour and high fructose corn syrup, American’s health continues to decline. We may be raising the first generation of children to live shorter lifespans than their parents. We can stop this trend but we’ll have to change some eating and behavior habits that have become commonplace in our society. Following are ten things you can do that will have a huge impact on your health—and the health of your children.
Turn off the TV
Or limit viewing time. Studies have shown that TV viewing time correlates to the severity of obesity. Not only is watching TV a sedentary activity, your children are bombarded with commercials. The average child watches 40,000 commercials per year—the most common products marketed to kids are sugary cereals, candy, sweets, soda, snack food and fast food. Studies showed that obese and overweight children increase their food intake by more than 100% after watching food advertisements on television. Adults and kids often eat snack foods while watching TV. It’s easy to eat a whole bag of chips or cookies without realizing it.
Cut out soda and other sweetened drinks
Sweetened beverages like soda, ice teas, sports drinks, fruit drinks—even 100% juice are full of sugar and calories. Regular consumption has been linked to obesity. For some reason, the calories you take in through beverages don’t signal your body to feel full. Drinking one 16- to 20-ounce sweetened beverage a day can cause you to gain 25 to 30 pounds a year.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that build healthy bodies and strengthen your immune system. The fiber keeps your digestive system healthy, and unlike juice, the fiber slows the absorption of sugar and signals the body when it’s full. Plus they’re low in fat and calories.
Limit sugary snacks
Eating a lot of refined sugar overworks your pancreas and adrenals which can lead to diabetes. Sugar is quickly turned to fat so even if a dessert is low-fat, it is not necessarily low in calories. Refined sugar also increases triglycerides which can lead to heart disease. If all that weren’t enough, refined sugar actually robs nutrients from your body in an attempt to metabolize itself.
Eat some vegetarian meals
Most likely, if you’re reading VegFamily, you already eat vegetarian meals every day but this is a great one to share with your nonveggie family and friends. Meat and dairy products are high in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Suggest they consider eating a meatless meal once or twice a week—share your great vegan recipes with them. Bean soups like minestrone, split pea, and vegetarian chili are delicious and filling. Try zucchini and broccoli on pizza instead of pepperoni or sausage.
Eat at home
Food from restaurants, especially fast food, is incredibly high in fat, sodium, and calories. Keep a well-stocked pantry and a repertoire of easy meals that can be prepared quickly. Check out the article Recipes for a Busy Family or the cookbookVegan Express for ideas. When you do eat out, avoid deep fried foods—request a baked potato, fruit, or salad instead of French fries. At Asian restaurants, ask that your tofu not be deep fried.
Cut down on processed foods
Processed food like crackers, chips, cookies, and baked goods are high in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. Those are the foods that we typically overeat. For snacks, eat fresh fruits and vegetables—perhaps with soy yogurt, peanut butter, or hummus as a dip. A whole wheat English muffin with jam or a homemade muffin is great when you want something a little sweet.
We’ve all done it—eaten a whole box of cookies or bag of chips without thinking. Rather than sitting down with the whole bag or box, take a reasonable amount of chips or snack food and put them in a small bowl. Put the bag or box of snack food away. Then sit down and eat your snack. When you bake a batch of cookies, leave enough out for everybody to have a couple—then put the rest into the freezer for another occasion or to pop into your kids lunchboxes.
Food companies will try to trick you any way they can. They know parents are looking for healthy foods for their children so they’ll use works like “all natural”, “100% vitamin C”, “made with real fruit juice”, “lightly sweetened”, along with pictures of fresh, nutritious fruit. Don’t be fooled! Out of 37 foods featuring fruit in the product name or pictured on the label, 19 had NO FRUIT AT ALL and most of the others had less than 10% fruit. Stick to foods you recognize—buy fresh fruits and vegetables. They have no labels to decipher and they’re less expensive too.
Be an example
Spend time with your children gardening and cooking. Kids are much more likely to eat meals that they have had a part of creating. Take them grocery shopping and read labels together; take them to the farmers market and let them choose a fruit or vegetable to try; have them plan a meal. Take time to exercise together. Model a healthy lifestyle and they’ll follow. They may not admit it but they look up to you and try to imitate you.