HEALTHY FOODS TODAY FOR A HEALTHY BODY TOMORROW

Before we learn how to encourage our families to eat healthfully, it is important that we understand why this is so essential. There is a common misconception that it is acceptable for children to eat poorly during youth, because they can “catch up” by eating healthy in adulthood. This is not the case for several reasons: first, is it unlikely that children who develop unhealthy eating habits as children will suddenly have a taste for healthy plant-based foods. Research shows that food preference drives food choices (Story et al., 2002), so the food tastes acquired during childhood influence the food choices made as adolescents and adults. Second, an emerging area of study, epigenetics, is beginning to show that what children eat early on in life has a lasting impact on gene expression and chronic disease risk. Epigenetics is essentially the effect of outside factors on how our genes are expressed, or “turned on or off” (Lillycrop et al., 2012; Center for Epigenetics, 2013).  The reality is that children are more likely to practice healthful habits in adulthood if they are learned at an early age.

“Plant foods” simply refers to foods that come from plants, and include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and peas. What are the more immediate benefits of plant foods?  Plant foods are naturally lower calories but abundant in phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins and minerals, making them nutrient-dense. The presence of these essential nutrients provides the rationale for focusing on whole, unrefined, plant-based foods.  Next week, we will expand on each food component with information you can share with your families to help increase their motivation to consume plant foods.

References:

  • Barclay AW, Petocz P, McMillan-Price J, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk—a meta-analysis of observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:627-37.
  • Campbell TM, Campbell TC.  The Breadth of Evidence Favoring a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet, Part I: Metabolic Diseases and Diseases of Aging. Primary Care Reports. 2012; 18(2): 13-23.
  • Carotenoids: Alpha-Carotene, Beta-Carotene, Beta-Cryptoxanthin, Lycopene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin. Linus Pauling Institute website. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/carotenoids/#armd. Updated 2009. Accessed September 11, 2013.
  • Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library website. http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/food-composition/individual-macronutrients-phytonutrients-vitamins-minerals/macronutrients. Updated September 11, 2013.  Accessed September 12, 2013.
  • Dinkova-Kostova AT. Phytochemicals as Protectors Against Ultraviolet Radiation: Versatility of Effects and Mechanisms. Planta Med. 2008; 74(13): 1548-1559.
  • Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences.  Center for Epigenetics Website. http://epigenetics.jhu.edu/. Accessed September 11, 2013.
  • Kanarek RB, Mahoeny CR, Samuel P, Taylor HA.  Effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. Physiology & Behavior.  2005; 85(5): 635-645.
  • Lillycrop KA, Burdge GC. Epigenetic mechanisms linking early nutrition to long term health.  Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012; 26(5): 667-76.
  • Micronutrient Information Center.  Linus Pauling Institute website. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/. Accessed September 12, 2013.
  • Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Functions Foods.  Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8354. Updated August 2013. Accessed September 11, 2013.
  • Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8357. Updated July 2009. Accessed September 11, 2013.
  • Story M, Neumark-Sztainer D, French S. Individual and environmental influences on adolescent eating behaviors. J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102: S40–51.