Creating Healthy Eating Habits in Today’s Society – What’s the Bottom Line?

by Dr Angel Adams, Dr Patricia Papciak

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

– Michael Pollan –

Image: Baby birds feeding – “Feeding the babies”

There is an overwhelming amount of research about food these days regarding what is good or not good for healthful living. It can be very confusing. It often takes the pleasure away from eating as one tries to remember all those numbers, weight, alkaline versus acidic, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index etc. Parents often see these issues as their own issues and do not address the importance of food for their children. The latest studies reveal how many young people are over weight, obese or even suffering from diabetes. Others battle problems with anorexia or bulimia in an effort to keep up with modern trends in fashion and style. Conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have their own associated dietary problems.

Historically, people grew their own vegetables and raised their own animals; they traded with each other for things they needed. The foods were natural, unprocessed, and organic (and contained no sugar except for the occasional bit of honey or maple syrup). Our ancestors ate foods that grew in their native environment, and they ate seasonal foods. Many of our ancestors ate unpasteurized dairy products and fermented foods. They ate significant portion of their food raw.

Of course with the inventions of radio and television and chemical preservatives, our entire system and style of eating changed. We are influenced by colourful, clever advertising both in stores and at restaurants. Very often our children are drawn to the colour and imagination of publicity artists who work for a £13 billion-a-year global additives industry. Furthermore, toy incentives are used to lure kids in to fast food restaurants. It can be wearisome to keep everything healthy and fresh, and we can get tired of arguing with our children who have been seduced by what they have seen on TV or want what they see at a friend’s house. We lose track of the basic premise that eating is for pleasure, as well as to be strong, alert, healthy and able to do all the things we like to do.

There must be a middle ground that can be helpful and pleasurable at the same time. Before we make suggestions about an overall healthy approach to diet, let’s look at a couple of studies in regards to problems of ADHD. Poor eating habits or eating certain foods does not cause a child to have ADHD; however, research does support the fact that some children are sensitive to foods that can exacerbate their symptoms. Many parents have reported that when their child eats sweets or has a fizzy drink, they see a change in their child’s behaviour. This is most likely due to a drop in blood sugar following a spike. Neuroscientist Richard Wurtman, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT), found through his research that dietary protein triggers alertness, while dietary carbohydrates can trigger drowsiness.

A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine showed that eating a wholesome breakfast with protein lead to better class attendance and learning performance in children. Significantly higher maths test scores were noted. It would make sense that kids with attention problems would do well with a protein-rich breakfast, lunch and snack. This and other research has clearly shown that children who consistently eat breakfast test higher in most academic areas, perform better on standardized tests, behave more appropriately and are less hyperactive than children who skipped breakfast. Children who ate a breakfast rich in protein and fibre rather than sugar were also less hungry at lunch than those who ate sugary cereals.

Many parents report that their children suffer mood swings after consuming brightly-coloured sweets, cakes and drinks. There has been some research in the area of children with ADHD and nutrition from researchers at the University of Southampton who studied more than 1800 three-year-old children, some with and some without ADHD and some with and some without allergies. The research looked at artificial colourings and ingredients which they found radically increased hyperactivity. The results were published in the June 2004 Archives of Diseases in Childhood. Initially, all of the children were fed a diet of whole, fresh foods, with no artificial food colourings and or chemical preservatives. Their behaviour improved significantly during this first week. The next week the researchers continued the whole food diet but also gave the children capsules containing a mixture of artificial colourings, the preservative benzoate, or a placebo. The behaviour of children who consumed the artificial colours or chemicals was substantially worse than when they were eating a whole food diet. This behaviour was across the board and was seen in the children who had ADHD, allergies, and those with neither of those diagnoses.

A real life story about this subject occurred in making the acclaimed British film, This is England, written and directed by Shane Meadows. Meadows hired a “street” casting director to find an unknown talent to play the main character. He found a 13 year old boy, named Thomas Turgoose, living in a run-down part of Grimsby, Lincolnshire. He was found at a youth club for teenagers who were having school attendance problems. He was described as having “such cheekiness and spirit!” Thomas had ADHD and lived on a diet of Coca-Cola and chips and was not able to function in school.

Everyone witnessed that Thomas had major mood swings. After the difficult first week of shooting, Thomas threatened to quit. The director stated that “He was staying up late playing computer games; his diet was burgers and sweets. He was playing up because he was tired. Every time he has Coca-Cola he goes really hyper and could drive everyone insane. Meadows persuaded him to eat some healthy food and some protein and he stated “He completely changed. I was getting him on goji berries by the end. First off, Meadows persuaded him to give up Coke in favour of another fizzy beverage: the more expensive Purdey’s. With gentle coaxing, Thomas fell into a routine of healthier eating and living. His concentration improved, and so did his performances in front of camera. It was like a complete transformation. After starring in the award winning film, he went back to school with renewed diligence and sat eight GCSEs, and now he goes to the gym regularly.

Image: Boys from 'This Is England'

Thomas reported to the newspapers that, “I never really cared about anything before, but now I’m into a routine,” he continued; “now I eat healthy food. I mean, I even like salad.”

The following are some suggestions to help empower you as a parent when looking at the impact of the wrong foods on cognitive processes. Here are some strategies to help lesson symptoms of ADHD, but keep in mind that these same kinds of sensible eating habits are obviously good for everyone.

  1. Give your child fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Omega-3 fatty acids improve cognitive functions. We prefer the krill oil variety. The healthy fats are also found in a variety of foods including cold-water fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), avocado, flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed, nuts (walnuts and almonds especially), and heart-healthy oils such as virgin olive oil and organic virgin coconut oil (which is the best to cook with).
  2. Give your child a little protein throughout the day. Protein doesn’t only have to come from low fat meats, it can include eggs, nuts, fish, beans and cheese. The nutrient choline is good for the memory, and is found in eggs, nuts and beans.
  3. Eat real food (organic when possible) and high fibre food which is good for the colon and heart and keep all foods that drain the brain out of your house such as: artificial sweeteners or colouring, high-fructose corn syrup, sugary fruit drinks, colas and juices, refined white sugars and breads, trans-fats and partially-hydrogenated oils, synthetic and processed snack foods and luncheon meats. These are synthetic, foreign, man-made, mind-altering synthetic foods that damage the brain, increase appetite and even contribute to diabetes. Be careful when you go out to meals. You might order a healthy salad but it may be covered with a salad dressing high in sugar content or high fructose corn syrup, or highly refined and processed oils (usually refined soybean oil or other mostly polyunsaturated refined oils). Oils like these are inflammatory to the body and high in omega-6 fatty acids (which create the probability of disease). Watch out for “fat-free” products which are most likely to add extra sugars, etc.
  4. Avoid foods with the six food additives that the studies above show cause adverse effects on a child’s behaviour. The red colour in the pepperoni on pizza is a great example. Look at the labels and stay away from these artificial colourings and preservatives:
    1. Sunset yellow (E110);
    2. Carmoisine (E122) and Ponceau 4R (E124) (both red);
    3. Tartrazine (E102) found in lollies and soft drinks;
    4. Quinoline yellow (E104);
    5. Allura red AC (E129), an orange/red food dye;
    6. The preservative sodium benzoate (E211).
  5. Keep yourself and your child well-hydrated, as water keeps concentration levels up, helps prevent fatigue and keeps the skin healthy. Instead of your child reaching for bottles of sugary or fizzy drinks, give him/her a bottle of water. You can add “zing” to it by adding a slice of lemon, lime or orange. Avoid drinking toxic tap water. In the long run you will save money by installing a water filter in your kitchen because bottled water isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We try to choose spring water (not mineral) from a trusted source if we have to drink bottled water
  6. Don’t skip the most important meal of the day!! Give yourself and your child a healthy breakfast to help your brains function better at school. Be sure it contains some protein and some fibre found in whole grains, vegetables and fruits. A good example of a healthy breakfast might be:
    • A hard boiled egg, an orange, and a bowl of whole grain cereal with semi-skimmed milk.
    • A protein smoothie with extras like pineapples, frozen blueberries, and perhaps some almond butter, oatmeal or ground flax seed (which has huge health benefits). You can add goji berries, organic cacao, or manuka honey (all super foods).I have a Kenwood Smoothie 2 go in which the mug to drink form fits right on the blender which makes it quick and simple to use.
    • Cottage cheese with a sprinkling of whole grain cereal, blueberries, and sliced almonds, apples, citrus, or berries.
    • Oatmeal, flaxseed, blueberries, almonds or chopped cashews with a little cinnamon and honey. Those are four power foods, full of fibre, nutrients, protein and good fats.
    • A green smoothie that includes spinach, basil, avocado, (you choose your favorite greens) and blend with fruit such as pears, or mix a melon and cucumber/kiwi fruit in a blender (it is so refreshing). Have a side of scrambled eggs.
    • Yogurt, with sliced banana, whole-grain granola, and walnuts.
    • An omelet (made with Omega-3 enriched eggs) with a side of whole wheat toast. You can substitute, cheese or tuna or organic tofu for the eggs if your child has an egg allergy. You can freeze the tofu first. It then crumbles nicely and looks like scrambled eggs. Add a little tumeric to give it a yellow colour and add any veggies you like.
    • A whole grain English muffin or bagel with low-fat cream cheese and chopped Brazil nuts
  7. Eat smaller more quality meals. This tends to make a person feel more satiated rather than filling up on dense fatty foods that are inclined to make one feel hungrier. Research suggests that more frequent smaller meals is the way to go, rather then larger meals, especially later in the evening. We realise that often kids with ASD are notorious for eating the same thing every day because they are cognitively rigid and are fussy eaters. Try to provide nutritious meals and snacks and let your child choose what and how much to eat. Keep adding new healthy foods with colour and make it a game to see who can be brave or wise or silly to eat something new. Research shows that emotional power struggles will not help improve his/her eating and may even have a negative effect in the long run. We know it’s hard, but try not to show disapproval or frustration with your child’s rigidity in their presence. Let your child control his eating gentle suggestions form you. A routine with eating can help fussy eaters learn to trust their own satiety cues and improve their own appetites.A note of caution: If your child continues to be underweight or is losing weight, then logically, higher calorific meals are needed, and you will need to take your child to a doctor to seek advice as soon as possible.
  8. Set an example for your kids. Perhaps seeing your own kitchen as one of those colourful imaginative places is what you and your children need. Parents must make an effort to have a colourful fruit bowl that draws young people to it. A colourful vegetable bowl in the refrigerator can do the same trick. Children might not like to think in terms of food groups, such as proteins, grains, vegetables and fruit; but they may have fun trying to make a meal that includes all the colours of the rainbow. Sit down with your children and play a game by asking them how many colours can they imagine in fruit or vegetables? Make lists of all the fruits and vegetables of different colours:
    • White: potatoes, apple, pears, jicama, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, parsnips, onions, cauliflower, mushrooms.
    • Yellow: corn, bananas (this could fall into the white category), squash, yellow tomatoes, mangoes, lemons, peaches.
    • Orange: oranges, cantaloupe, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots.
    • Red: tomatoes, watermelon, beets, raspberries, strawberries, radishes.
    • Green: kiwis, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, brussel sprouts, honey dew melon, peas, beans, artichokes, celery.
    • Blue: blue berries.
    • Purple: grapes, figs, some radishes.
    • Brown or Black: raisins, blackberries, black beans or kidney beans, lentils, olives.

    Children can have great fun approaching meal time by making a colourful plate. If you have a space for a child to have a garden or even a couple of pots, most children love to watch things grow. The growing and preparation of food can change the vision of children and also help them into adulthood away from media pressure. Next time you are in a book store, allow your child to pick out a cook book that has colourful pictures and teach him/her to follow a recipe. Next time you go to the grocery store take your children with you and tell them you are low on yellows or greens of fresh raw foods and see what they can find. Let your child help you with creative cooking. The food may not taste that good at first while they are in training but eventually it will get better and their self-esteem will rocket. Ask them to choose recipes, serve and clean up. Make your world of food more interesting than the one on television. Make it healthy and tasty and desirable.

Bon appetit!

Thanks for taking the time to read this Monday’s Motivational article.

Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share, or post them on this site by leaving a comment below.

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