As we prepare our children for the new school year, it’s time to think again about one of the most important and least understood aspects of their daily lives: nutrition. What’s good for them, and what’s not. We’ve all heard it many times, yet many of us ignore it—or at least don’t do much about it. We do so at our children’s peril.
Since the 1920’s parents and experts have suspected that certain foods and ingredients ramp up their children’s behavior and contribute to weight and related health problems. Research has proven this to be true.
Reduce Sugar in Your Child’s Diet
Eating foods loaded with sugar can wind a kid up so much during recess or break that it is difficult for them to concentrate and properly focus when they return to class. After coming down from a sugar-high, they end up feeling sluggish and tired due to their rapidly lowered blood sugar levels and are even less able to concentrate and do well in class.
Get Rid of Toxins
Check out the ingredients on your children’s favorite school snacks and find out what some of those long names actually mean. Be realistic and pull a variety of candy bars and chips from the vending machine. It’s scary! Many of the common preservatives, dyes, artificial flavors, MSG, etc. on the labels have been linked to all sorts of health and behavioral problems. For example, scientists have discovered that a combination of artificial colors and sodium benzoate preservatives in the diet results in increased hyperactivity.
When it comes to ingredient labels, a simple rule of thumb is this: If you can’t pronounce it don't eat it! Synthetic additives and preservatives can collect in the fat stores of your body, increasing in toxicity over the years.1
Parents who try to do the right thing by giving their children a regular piece of fruit, take notice. Pesticides that linger on conventionally grown produce make matters worse. That’s why it’s better to feed your family fruits and vegetables that are labeled “Organic.” At Down to Earth we seek out and offer a wide selection of organic produce, which is grown without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; ionizing radiation or GMOs. Our organic dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Set a Leaner Diet
Hawaii's childhood obesity rate is growing twice as fast as the national level, which has doubled in the past 20 years. The obesity epidemic is now associated with a steep rise nationally in Type 2 diabetes. This used to be considered an adult disease but, sadly, it's now occurring in 10- and 11-year-olds, resulting in complicated health problems and soaring costs.2
Brooke S. Evans, a graduate student of the University of Hawaii could not have said it better, as I quote from his white paper, “Obesity in Hawaii: Health Policy Options”:3
“The problem of obesity is fast becoming a serious concern in Hawaii. Although the average prevalence for the State is 17.6 percent—a rate lower than many other states—research suggests that for certain populations in Hawaii, obesity rates are some of the highest in the country and reaching epidemic proportions.”4 For certain communities in Hawaii, studies show that childhood obesity rates may be twice that of the national average.”5
Evans goes on to report that, “Obesity in childhood, particularly adolescence, is a predictor for obesity in adulthood. The age-old myth that children will grow out of their “baby fat” has not proven true in this day and age, with prevalence rates of pediatric obesity rapidly increasing in the State. Childhood obesity is not simply a passing phase, but a condition that follows the child into adulthood.6 Overweight children past the age of six have a 50 percent chance of remaining overweight into adulthood.”7
Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases is linked to a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet. An excerpt from a position paper of the American Dietetic Association agrees:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that …Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”8
To add strength to this argument, consider a scientific review in the April 2006 edition of Nutrition Review, which shows that a vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. The study was conducted by Dr. Susan E. Berkow and Dr. Neal D. Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). They found that vegetarian populations tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions linked to overweight and obesity. These findings are the result of data collected from 87 studies. The data showed that the weight-loss effect does not depend on exercise or calorie-counting. In commenting on the findings, Dr. Barnard said:
"There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat." Insulin sensitivity is increased by a vegan diet, allowing nutrients to more rapidly enter the cells of the body to be converted to heat rather than to fat.”9
Whether it’s a health concern or just good old fashion misbehavior, helping your kids get a proper diet can be a big part of solving many common health and behavioral problems.
For optimal health and performance at any age, but especially for children, it is important to consume a vegetarian, organic and natural diet. A vegetarian diet based on whole foods such as grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy products offers all the required calories and nutrients for healthy growing kids. There is absolutely no need to worry about protein, iron, and other nutrients as long as children are eating a variety of whole plant-based foods and dairy products.