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Subtle changes in diet and lifestyle can save your life

As we stare down the barrel of a brand new year, it’s a perfect time to examine the lifestyle and eating habits of both you and your children. In today’s society, we don’t think twice about a $300 handbag or a $50,000 Mercedes, but we won’t spend money on good quality food to nourish our bodies. 
Food is medicine and it is most helpful to change our focus a little bit. Too many people’s eating habits look more like they are filling a hole than nourishing their bodies. And as parents, we need to realize our kids notice our eating habits. We need to teach them that food is important. 
I just finished a two-year fellowship on integrative medicine, which focuses on a wellness-based approach to your health. The fact that 75 percent of chronic diseases in the U.S. are related to diet and lifestyle was very eye-opening to me. 
Unfortunately, with so many parents working and juggling hectic schedules, the first thing to go is all too often healthy eating. But we can’t sacrifice our health for convenience. This is why diseases like obesity, diabetes, depression and auto-immune diseases are so prevalent today – even in children. 
I try to tell parents that we need to try to eat like our great grandparents did. They ate whole food. My grandmother was a schoolteacher, but every meal she made was a meat and three vegetables. Not meat and macaroni and cheese made from orange powder. 
Below are just a few small changes you can make that will have a huge impact on your child’s health. It can all start by simply reading labels to look for some of the big red flag items.
Kill the high fructose corn syrup
High fructose corn syrup shows up in places you might expect, like junk food, but it’s also in places you might not think, like bread. It’s everywhere and it’s a marker for poor-quality food. Most parents are loading their children up with it and don’t even know it. Start reading labels. 
Eat more fiber
The best sources are raw vegetables and fruit. Flax seeds are also awesome. You can put them in a salad or yogurt. Stay as close to whole grain as you can. If I can get a mom to buy a seven-grain bread instead of Wonder bread, that’s progress. 
The number-one culprit with children and sugar is what they are drinking. Sodas, Capri Suns and even Gatorade are loaded with highly processed sugar and have zero nutritional value. I recommend just switching to water. 
You can even add a little bit of juice in or try club soda with a little juice so it’s fizzy like a soda, without the massive amounts of sugar. Stay away from things like Crystal Light and those “sugar free” drinks as well because they are sweetened with NutraSweet, which is a whole other topic.
Limit processed food
Parents ask me why kids aren’t as healthy as they used to be and it is absolutely the sheer number of processed foods we are feeding them. When I was little, my lunchbox had an apple, a turkey and cheese sandwich, some chips and maybe a Little Debbie. That’s not ideal, but there is some real food in there. 
Now kids’ lunches consist of a pre-packaged Lunchable, which is processed meat and processed cheese product. 
The best way to begin to learn what is processed is to read the label. If you see high fructose corn syrup or anything that is partially hydrogenated, that’s a sign of poor quality food. 
If it has an ingredient that you can’t pronounce, you generally don’t want it. Also, use your head. When you look at Gatorade, for example, do you know of a day-glow blue substance that occurs naturally? No. 
The key to promoting healthy eating in your child is to first open your eyes and pay attention to what you are feeding them. Read labels. Research what some of these mystery ingredients really are. Then begin to clean up their diet. Get the sugar out and increase the fiber. Eat with your family. 
Teresa White, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician with Tennessee Pediatrics in Thompson’s Station and is a credentialed physician with Williamson Medical Center. 

Posted on: 1/9/2014


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