Myths, marketing and what children eat.
It’s big news these days that obesity in children is widespread, that type 2 diabetes in children is on the increase, and that fat kids are becoming fat adults with a myriad of health problems. Despite the widespread acknowledgement that childhood obesity is a major health problem, the California legislature just defeated a bill to get candy and soda machines out of public school hallways. The reason? The schools protested on the basis that vending machines are a major source of badly needed income.
This type of blatant disregard for our children’s health, even from the school systems, means that more than ever it’s up to parents to educate their children about good nutrition. Even first graders can grasp the concept that some foods will make you grow big and strong, and some will make you sick.
What’s healthy for grown-ups is also healthy for kids: minimal sugar and refined carbohydrates, plenty of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, nuts, seeds), plenty of vegetables and some protein such as eggs, chicken, fish and beef. But kids who have developed picky palates would just as soon eat macaroni and cheese or sugary yogurt for every meal. What’s a parent to do?
Over decades of being a family doctor, I noticed that in a household where the parents were eating well, the kids were also eating well. Thus, the single most important thing a parent can do to instill healthy eating habits in their offspring is probably the most difficult: set a good example.
If you’re not eating your veggies, your child will follow your example. If you’re diving for the candy and chips for a late afternoon snack, your kids will want to do the same. At the same time, it’s also important to have the occasional pizza, soda pop, ice cream cone or candy bar. You don’t want to be extreme about food, or about sweets in particular, or your kids will overdo it when they have the opportunity, such as at a friend’s birthday party.
List of Myths About Kids and Nutrition
There are an amazing number of myths about children and nutrition, most of them perpetrated by various sectors of the food industry with an economic interest in having your children eat their products.
As long as my child takes a multivitamin every day he or she is covered nutritionally.
There’s no doubt that a daily multivitamin is good health insurance for children. However, the contents of a multivitamin represent only a small fraction of the important nutritional phytochemicals found in plant foods. It’s a good step in the right direction, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.
If my child ate more low-fat foods he or she would be thinner and healthier.
There are two major problems with low-fat foods. The first is that certain fats and oils are essential to the proper development of a child’s brain and nervous system. They’re a key part of the body’s ability to protect against inflammation, and are the building blocks for the steroid hormones. Many researchers believe that widespread health problems among children such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) and asthma are at least partly related to the poor quality of the fats they eat. The second problem is that most low fat foods have added sugar.
Just one soda pop a day won’t hurt my child.
Intense sugary taste combined with bubbles is irresistible to most children (not to mention adults), but the typical soda drink contains 9 teaspoons of sugar, which will throw blood sugar out of balance and set up sugar cravings. There are other ways to make appealing drinks. For example, combine a small amount of fruit juice with a sparkling water.
If my child wants to be a vegetarian, that’s great and I no longer have to worry about nutrition.
It’s not uncommon for pre-teen girls to become vegetarians, but it tends to be a very poor nutritional choice. The mainstay of a pre-teen vegetarian diet is usually cheese, refined carbohydrates such as bagels, pasta and chips, and a smattering of vegetables. If your child insists on being a vegetarian, insist that he or she eat plenty of nuts, seeds, legumes such as lentils and black beans, whole grains, and try to include eggs in the diet. Tofu and tempeh are fine in moderation (a few times a week), but I don’t recommend daily servings of unfermented soy products like soy milk or soy protein foods.
I shouldn’t let my kids eat too much meat.
Meat is not as big a problem in the American diet as it’s made out to be. It’s what we tend to eat with our meat that gets us in trouble. For example, it’s not so much the hamburger in the fast food that’s harmful, it’s the refined white flour bun, the french fries, and the soda pop that goes with it. Avoid bologna, bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham on a regular basis because they contain harmful preservatives, but other than that it’s perfectly healthy for a growing kid to eat plenty of beef, pork, chicken and turkey. Other high quality sources of protein include fish and eggs.
As long as my child has a glass of milk with his or her meal, it doesn’t matter as much what’s in the rest of the meal.
Milk is not the nutritional superstar that those clever “got milk?” ads would have you believe. Many, many kids have allergies to dairy products; its calcium/magnesium ratio is skewed in the wrong direction; and unless it’s organic, it contains pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. The highest rates of osteoporosis in the world exist in countries that drink the most milk. If milk is a family staple, please at least make it organic. It’s certainly not a substitute for the protein in meat or eggs, and cannot provide the spectrum of vitamins and minerals that vegetables can.
If I can get my kids to eat fruit, that will substitute for eating vegetables.
Okay, eating fruit is better than eating no plant foods, but fruit is definitely lacking in hundreds of the phytochemicals contained in vegetables, and it’s too sweet. Substituting fruit for vegetables will cause blood sugar imbalances and cravings for sugar. Fruit makes a great afternoon snack, and a wonderful dessert, but it’s not a substitute for carrots, broccoli, peas, tomatoes and red peppers, for example.
Note to Reader from Virginia Hopkins
Dr. John Lee was my great friend, mentor, co-author and business partner. This website is dedicated to continuing the work that Dr. Lee and I did together to educate and inform women and men about natural hormones, hormone balance and achieving optimal health. Dr. John Lee was a courageous pioneer who changed the face of medicine by introducing the concepts of natural progesterone, estrogen dominance and hormone balance to a large audience of women and men seeking answers to their hormone questions. Dr. Lee has left us a wonderful collection of writings from his newsletters that are, in large part, freely shared on this website. Enjoy!