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The Power of Whole Foods

Tiffany Wright
Los Angeles, CA, USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 6, 2008-09, pp. 30-33

Most pregnant women become very conscious of the fact that what they put in their mouths will affect the babies growing inside of them. That focus on nutrition often carries over into a growing focus on nutrition while breastfeeding.

Yet, even though the number of breastfeeding mothers has increased, the obesity rate of teens, children and, more recently, toddlers has skyrocketed (Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Flegal, K.M. High body mass index for age among US children and adolescents, 2003-2006. JAMA 2008; 299:2401-05). Frankly, if we were eating as well as we should be while pregnant and breastfeeding, we would not be so overweight either. Over 30 percent of Americans are obese (Ogden, C.L. et al. Obesity among adults in the United States -- No change since 2003-2004. NCHS Data Brief No 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2007).

There are many elements of a healthy life. There are some simple things that every mother than do that, over time, can have a significant impact on your child's future health and happiness. There are so many articles and news stories about this vitamin and that mineral and what we should eat and then what we should not eat, it can be confusing. In actuality, healthy eating can be fairly simple and basic. Here are some things you can do for yourself and your children to keep from becoming part of the overwhelming trend of obesity.

Sugars and Refined Carbohydrates

Sugar and refined carbohydrates are doing more damage to the American diet than any other component. I often advocate complete elimination of sugar and flour from the diet of adults. For children, however, moderation is the key to dealing with many of the choices they will face as they reach adolescence and early adulthood. If there is a family history of addiction, alcoholism, or obesity, you and your child might be even more sensitive to sugar and refined carbohydrates. If this is the case, it is absolutely imperative that you monitor both your own sugar intake and that of your little ones. If children learn about methods and techniques for moderating the intake of sugar, it will be second nature for them in adulthood.

The relationship between sugar and hyperactivity is a hotly debated topic and scientists have not determined a causal link. As parents, we certainly have seen first hand the effects of cake and ice cream on our children's behavior. But, whether or not you believe there is a link, there are some things that we know for certain. When we eat sugar or refined carbs, our bodies convert these foods into glucose. When the glucose enters the bloodstream, it signals the body to produce insulin, which draws sugar from the bloodstream to use as fuel. The ups and downs of blood sugar are highly regulated and are not usually a problem. However, if you have a problem with sugar, your body overreacts and produces a sharp rise in blood glucose and then a shocking dive. This dive is the "crash" parents see a few hours after a sugary breakfast, soda, or dessert.

It is not always the donuts or candy bars either. Sugar and refined carbs are in most foods that Americans eat. There are hundreds of names for sugar alone (malted barley, maltodextrin, maple sugar, fruit juice concentrate, sorbitol, brown rice syrup, corn sweetener, and high fructose corn syrup). It's difficult to find foods without these ingredients. There is sugar in mayonnaise, catsup, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, and even frozen and sliced deli turkey, roast beef, and chicken.

But how do you know if your children are sensitive to sugar? Consider whether or not they exhibit any of the following signs:

  • Does your child seem bad-tempered, aggressive, or hostile, especially a few hours after eating?
  • Do you notice your child has a "short fuse" and is prone to tantrums and meltdowns?
  • Does your child have difficulty sleeping?
  • Is your child overweight?
  • Does your child have allergies, ear infections, or is he prone to illness?
  • Does your child have mood swings?

Cutting Out the Sugar From Your Diet

Scaling back on sugar and teaching better eating habits are really much easier than a lot of people think. The first thing I suggest is that you, as the parent, completely eliminate sugar from your diet for 28 days. This will require you to read labels, which will be a sobering surprise to find how many products have sugar. You should also feel more invigorated and rested during the day, and you should sleep better at night. There should be a noticeable regulation in your menstrual cycle, your skin should clear up significantly and show a more youthful glow, and you will most definitely lose weight if you have any excess pounds.

Living with a sugar-free parent will absolutely have the effect of reducing the sugar intake of children. The next step is cutting out as much sugar from your children's daily intake as possible. I am not saying they should not ever have birthday cake. I am saying make a healthier version of birthday cake and don't have extraneous sugar around the house.

One of the easiest ways to cut back on sugar is to stay away from fruit juice, sodas, and artificially sweetened drinks, foods, or products (even if they are sugar free). Filtered water is the best bet, but for a special treat, make some fruit water. Simply put your own fruit (strawberries, watermelon, cherries) in water and let them sit for about an hour, remove the fruit, and pour over ice.

Move away from refined carbs (cookies, crackers, pasta, and white bread) and replace them with "whole grain" wheat bread, or skip the bread all together. Wheat and gluten are often hidden culprits in the sugar imbalance in both adults and children.

Paying attention to fats and oils is also an important element in your diet. One debate that has been going on for a while is butter versus margarine. Margarine is one of the worst things a person can eat; it's full of trans-fat, which is a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. You'll find trans-fat in other foods such as mayonnaise and salad dressing, as well as in most packaged snack foods like doughnuts, crackers, cookies, pastries, potato chips, and candies (almost anything you buy off the shelf). There is a recent move to eliminate trans-fats entirely from the food source because it is so bad for the human body.

Even oils that do not have trans fats often have an unhealthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fats. Keeping that in mind, commercial vegetable oils that are high in omega-6 oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and canola) are things to avoid. Olive, flax, hemp, and coconut oil are good choices and should make up the bulk of your fat intake.

Don't forget about water! Clean, filtered water is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your body, and drinking water is one of the best habits you can instill in your children. There is no reason for anyone to drink anything else (well, except mother's milk!).

Exercise! Children should spend one hour a day exercising (we used to call it playing). It is crucial that children not be kept in the house all day in front of the television or even reading a book. Not only does exercise feel good, it keeps fat bellies at bay and improves the mood. Exercise can actually treat depression better than medication or psychotherapy.

Speaking of getting out of the house, be sure to get yourself and your children out in the sun. New research has indicated that people who use sunscreen regularly may be lacking in vitamin D. Dr. Elizabeth A. Streeten, assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and nutrition at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, notes in an interview by the Knoxnews that vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced bone strength and increase in certain cancers and even diabetes. Spending 15 minutes a day in direct mid day sun will make sure you get enough vitamin D and has a mood boosting benefit as well. Exposure to the sun increases serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation.

One Meal at a Time

There is no reason to do this all in one day, move slowly if you like. Many changes will happen naturally during your 28-day vacation from sugar. There are also many things you can do to replace sugar and make your transition easier.

Try to make sure your children have protein with every meal. It does not have to be a lot of protein, depending on their age. A piece of string cheese or one egg is enough to stabilize the blood sugar rise that accompanies even healthy foods like oatmeal or a piece of toast. A tablespoon of almond butter will nicely complement a few slices of apples. Other good forms of protein include nuts, nut butters, eggs, beans, tofu, yogurt, and fish. Of course, organic chicken and beef are obvious and great sources of protein.

Breakfast: This meal is touted as the most important one of the day for good reason. However, sugar-coated cereals do more harm than good. Make sure you and your children have a healthy breakfast with protein, and that you eat within an hour of waking up. (See the breakfast recipes on p. 33.)

Snacks: We all like to snack, but children need to snack and should be eating six to eight times a day. They should not have six full meals, however! Having a wonderful, nutritious snack is good for the body and the mood of the family. It is easy to have healthy snacks around with a little planning and forethought. Fruit and cheese make a good snack as long as the portion sizes are right. Have one or two pieces of cheese, the size of a pair of dice, with a half a plum. A little cottage cheese with a few cubes of pineapple is a fun treat, too (or just add a few walnuts). Hard-boiled eggs are a warm, quick, and easy treat or, if you want to be more experimental, you can make deviled eggs. It is a good idea to incorporate vegetables whenever possible. Try carrots or celery with hummus or add a half cup of spinach to the hummus to increase vegetable intake. (See the Hummus recipe on page 33.)

If your family feels like a savory, crunchy snack, avoid packaged potato chips (too much fat and salt, and sometimes hidden sugars!) and try yam potato chips instead (see recipe on page 33). Yam potato chips digest slowly but give the crunch and sweetness that are often craved in a snack. There is no reason to ever have potato chips!

Lunch and Dinner: These meals are usually easier to manage. Remember to have a protein and a vegetable and to keep them simple, natural, colorful, and yummy. Dinner is a great meal to introduce fish (a wonderful source of omega-3 fats). Wild Alaskan salmon is low in mercury and high in good fats. (See the recipe on page 33.)

As parents, it is important that we educate ourselves and teach our children about healthy eating. The status quo or current food sources are not always the most nutritious options. Spend as much time on the diet of your children as you would on birth choices and vaccinations. The effects of healthy eating include better moods, healthy bodies, fewer illnesses, and longer lives. This will carry throughout the generations -- good eating habits truly are a legacy.

Recipes

Pancakes

5 tbs walnuts
1 tsp of baking powder
2 tbs of cream cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp of maple extract
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tbs of coconut oil*

Mix ground walnuts, baking powder, cream cheese, eggs, extracts, and water to blend. Cook in the coconut oil. Top with fruit if desired. (*Coconut oil is rich and sweet and contains fewer calories than other oils, aids digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals, and is converted into energy quickly.)

Salmon Dinner

Salmon
Salt
Pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp ginger, freshly grated
oil

Pat a hand-sized piece of salmon with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and ginger. Place on aluminun foil and drizzle fish with oil; rub in. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and cook for 10 minutes at 350°F.

Breakfast Smoothie

1 cup of organic yogurt
1 cup of frozen organic berries
½ cup of pasteurized egg whites
1 tbs of ground flaxseed

Blend and enjoy!

Hummus

1 16-oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
¼ cup liquid from can of chickpeas
3-5 tbs lemon juice (depending on taste)
1 ½ tbs tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup spinach (optional)

Mix and serve!

Yam Potato Chips

1 raw yam
Olive oil
Sea salt

Slice 1 raw yam, about 1/8 inch thick, and arrange slices in a single layer in a large baking pan. Brush with olive oil and sea salt. Bake at 300°F until crispy; could be up to 60 minutes.

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