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Wednesday
Apr162014

8 Myths of Children's Nutrition

With skyrocketing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes rates, we’re seeing children’s health at serious risk these days. It’s more imperative than ever to bring new attention and a critical mindset to kids’ nutrition! We want to do the best for our children and offer them the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, in doing so we’re faced with a plethora of myths around children’s nutrition, many of them the result of big food companies’ marketing messages. In identifying where we’re misled, we’re better able to home in on the good dietary practices that will support our children’s optimal health. Check out what I’d consider the top 8 myths of children’s nutrition, and see which ones you believe hold the biggest sway!

My child eats healthy food and doesn’t need to supplement.

Taking a high-quality children's multivitamin every single day is one of the best and most impactful habits you can create when it comes to your child’s health.  Not only do fruits and vegetables not contain the levels of vitamins and minerals they once did, but this picky population generally isn’t getting enough of these plants each and every day. A multivitamin can offer added insurance and make certain your child is getting adequate nutrients to support a healthy and growing body. When asked about kids and supplements, I also recommend a high quality omega-3 supplement (often missing in children’s diets but needed for optimal brain development) as well as ample vitamin D intake.

Tip: Note that many marketed children’s supplements contain artificial colors, flavors and ingredients. Read the labels and strive for a high quality, pharmaceutical grade brand like this one.

My children take a multivitamin, which means I can worry less about their diet.  

You can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet. Multivitamins and other supplements are necessary and a step in the right direction, but they will never fully substitute what is available in whole foods nutrition.  Real foods supply other nutrients such as protein, healthy fats and phytonutrients – all necessary to support optimal health. Strive to provide high quality meats, nuts/seeds, fruits and vegetables as often as possible throughout the day.

Tip: One of the best ways parents can instill healthy eating habits is to lead by example.

If my kids don’t drink milk, they won’t get enough calcium in their diets.

At least one in three of us doesn’t tolerate dairy well. Whether it be lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy/intolerance, many children resist or don’t feel well after consuming milk and other dairy products. Don’t force them. Because of heavy food marketing, many of us have been led to believe that drinking milk is the only way to get ample calcium to support strong bones.  Encourage other calcium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, kale, fortified almond milk, etc., and encourage plenty of physical activity to support the formation of strong bones.   

Tip: If your child does enjoy milk, purchase organic as often as possible to avoid added hormones, pesticides and antibiotics often used in commercial dairy farming that can be detrimental to your child’s health.

They’re fine eating “kid food.”  

Don’t buy into the notion that there is such a thing as “kids’ food” – a concept created by food companies who want you to buy their specially marketed (and often pricey) products. Found at the grocery store and restaurants, these foods are generally highly processed with less nutritional value. When you analyze them and see the amounts of added sugars and artificial ingredients, it’s no wonder why this population’s health has taken a nosedive. Instead, ignore the marketing messages and think of kids as smaller versions of ourselves: what’s good for us is also good for them.  

Tip: Kids can be picky eaters, but the appearance of foods can make all of the difference.  If you are transitioning your child from a “kid’s foods” diet to a whole foods diet, use these tips to help!

A bowl of fortified cereal is the best way to start their day.

I can remember a time when breakfast cereal didn’t have its own aisle in the grocery store.  Long gone are those days! Breakfast cereals are now one of the most popular (and growing) food categories on the market, and their cartoon mascots are speaking to your children in T.V. commercials, magazine ads and even strategic shelf placement in the grocery store. Although super convenient for the modern family, these cereals are loaded with sugar and a ton of other ingredients not at all optimal for your children and are sure to cause energy/blood sugar fluctuations throughout their morning.  

Tip: Make sure your child starts his/her morning off with some protein. If you need convenience, have your child help out with making a breakfast smoothie/protein shake, or batch cook healthy options (e.g. hardboiled eggs, nitrate free bacon, egg and veggie muffins, etc.) on the weekends.

100% juice must be healthy.

Juice and other sweetened beverages (e.g. chocolate milk, soda, energy drinks, etc) are among the most highly marketed products to the under 18 demographic. With the average beverage containing at least 9 teaspoons of added sugar, these can have a dramatic impact on your child’s blood sugar, setting them up for energy crashes and sugar cravings as well as putting them at risk for detrimental metabolic impact over time. For thirst, encourage water as often as possible or even organic milk/milk alternative.  

Tip: Instead of a glass of juice, try an ounce added into a glass of water to give a little bit of flavor without all of the added sugar.  

They “need” things sweetened in order to taste good.

We’ve got a sugar problem in this country - across all age groups. Because of our highly processed diet, our sugar intake has skyrocketed over the last few decades. For kids, increased sugar intake often comes from sweetened beverages (e.g. chocolate milk, fruit juice, etc.) as well as other less obvious sources such as ketchup, cereals, or even supplements. Food companies contribute to this message in how they market “kids’” food products, but don’t buy the myth. You have the power (especially, but not solely, in the early years) to train your children’s taste buds and help them grow to appreciate the diverse and rich flavors of real, whole foods - no added sugar necessary.

They have no interest in cooking/preparing food.

I encourage my clients to bring their kids into the kitchen as much as possible. Participating in food prep promotes healthy eating, and their involvement increases the likelihood that they’ll enjoy their own healthy creations. I have very vivid memories of grocery shopping and cooking/preparing meals with my parents as a child. These are skills I practiced and took with me into adulthood. Cooking and preparing food is one of the best things you can teach your children to care for themselves and to become self-sufficient.  

Tip: Get them in the kitchen as early as possible, and give them a simple task to complete on their own, such as washing the vegetables, stirring the meat sauce or even setting the table.  

Children can simply eat more fruit to compensate for little to no vegetables in their diet.

Although both fruits and vegetables contain plentiful vitamins, minerals and fiber, they’re not the same thing. Because of their sweetness, kids will more readily accept fruit, but fruit generally contains nowhere near the amount of phytonutrients that vegetables do and is more carbohydrate/sugar dense. It’s important to offer both categories - with the emphasis on a higher amount of veggies - each day. I coach clients to provide vegetables as often as possible to their kids and to think of fruit as “nature’s candy” by limiting them to a couple servings a day for an afternoon snack or after dinner dessert.  

Tip: Does your child refuse veggies? Check out 8 Tips for Parents for suggestions on increasing veggie intake in your house!

Do these myths sound familiar to you? Do you have additional ones to add? Share your thoughts, questions and feedback on the state of kids’ nutrition today, and thanks for reading, everyone!

Written by Anika Christ, Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

 

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