I spent the weekend with fifth and sith grade students on a confirmation retreat. I enjoyed our time together, and we had many good conversations about life and faith. One of the conversations, however, was unexpected and revealed a great deal about the way that our children are learning about nutrition. We were at the dinner table talking about desert, and one of the girls mentioned that, as long as you had a healthy desert, you could have it at every meal. So I asked for examples of a healthy desert. I got answers from all over the table.
“Fat free ice cream,” and “Sugar free sodas,” and “Low carb brownies”were all menu items on the “healthy dessert” lineup. What I noticed was that these thigs were all considered healthy based on what they didn’t have, rather than what they did. There were no fruits mentioned. Nothing, actually, was mentioned based on the nutritional value of the food.
We are imparting a dangerous food paradigm to our children. We assume that fat-free means less calories and more healthy. That is just not true in many cases. Here is a quote from the Weight-control Information Network, which “provides the general public, health professionals, the media, and Congress with up-to-date, science-based information on weight control, obesity, physical activity, and related nutritional issues.”:
Myth: Low-fat or fat-free means no calories.
Fact: A low-fat or fat-free food is often lower in calories than the same size portion of the full-fat product. But many processed low-fat or fat-free foods have just as many calories as the full-fat version of the same food—or even more calories. They may contain added sugar, flour, or starch thickeners to improve flavor and texture after fat is removed. These ingredients add calories.
The carb-free diet is also a potentially disastrous learning ground for our children. Children are active, energetic and growing. and they need the building blocks of a healthy body to engage that growth and energy Those building blocks are found in carbs, starches, and protiens. Again, the Weight-control Information Network:
Myth: High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are a healthy way to lose weight.
Fact: The long-term health effects of a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet are unknown. But getting most of your daily calories from high-protein foods like meat, eggs, and cheese is not a balanced eating plan. You may be eating too much fat and cholesterol, which may raise heart disease risk. You may be eating too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which may lead to constipation due to lack of dietary fiber. Following a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet may also make you feel nauseous, tired, and weak.
Eating fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate a day can lead to the buildup of ketones (partially broken-down fats) in your blood. A buildup of ketones in your blood (called ketosis) can cause your body to produce high levels of uric acid, which is a risk factor for gout (a painful swelling of the joints) and kidney stones. Ketosis may be especially risky for pregnant women and people with diabetes or kidney disease.
Myth: Starches are fattening and should be limited when trying to lose weight.
Fact: Many foods high in starch, like bread, rice, pasta, cereals, beans, fruits, and some vegetables (like potatoes and yams) are low in fat and calories. They become high in fat and calories when eaten in large portion sizes or when covered with high-fat toppings like butter, sour cream, or mayonnaise. Foods high in starch (also called complex carbohydrates) are an important source of energy for your body.
There is a wealth of information on the Weight-control Information Network website about healthy tips for a healthy lifestyle. Many food and cooking classes will cover health and nutrition in a constructive way, and the things that our kids are learning in school tend to focus on what foods provide rather than what we need to remove in order to make them more “healthy.” Our job, as parents and grandparents, is to give them a stable role model for eating responsibly and enforce the things that they are learning with healthy experiences at home.
Nutrition is no longer a passive subject. In an age where the cartoon network has an enormous impact on the foods that kids desire, which tend to be purple and filled with something, we, as adults, have a responsibility to engage our children in conversations about what they eat and to give them options at the table that will help them learn about eating right.