Thoughts from the Chair: Healthier Food. Healthier Children.
More Activity Means More Focus on a Healthy Diet
Although we've already touched on several of these points in your July My Healthy Lifestyle newsletter the message of healthier eating is one that always bears repeating, and that's especially true when it comes to our children. Because summer is the time when kids are outdoors more and generally more active, healthy nutrition and good eating habits are even more important than ever as a balance to the increase in physical activity.
The fact that children rely heavily on food for optimal mental and physical energy means parents should pay particular attention to the food and drinks their children are consuming. Since their food habits are evolving and their bodies are continually developing and growing, there is no better time than the present to help guide them in making healthy food choices. Below are four key points that can help guide you along the way:
1. Choose water over soft drinks, fruit drinks and fruit juices.
Water is the best source (and by far the least expensive) to keep our kids hydrated in the warm summer months. Combined with a healthy diet, kids (and adults alike) don't need to drink anything else to maintain their proper hydration. Try to minimize or avoid all soft drinks, including the diet versions. The sugary soft drinks play havoc with their hormones and energy levels and research shows that the sweeteners used in diet versions do the same thing. The fruit drinks, which are deceptively marketed as being "healthier," offer very little or no more benefit than the straight soft drinks.
When it comes to fruit juices keep in mind that some may have even higher sugar content than soft drinks. If you serve them, at the very least dilute them with water. A better solution is to make sure your child has access to water with a whole piece of fruit for flavor and to keep their energy levels high. The whole fruit is the healthier option since in addition to adding some taste it contains natural levels of fiber.
2. Eat plenty of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit.
In order to get all the vitamins and minerals that growing children need, please make sure they eat plenty of vegetables. There should be no restriction on the amount of vegetables our kids eat, but we should place some limit on the quantity of fruit. Although the sugar in fruit is naturally-occurring, too much sugar is never a good thing because it still can contribute to the rising incidence of obesity in children.
Simply put, too much sugar, regardless of the nature of its source, is not a good thing. If your children are active, allow them to eat fruit prior to or right after exercise and play so they get some energy that can be put to immediate use.
3. Limit refined sugars and processed foods.
I never hesitate to describe the effect of refined sugars in our body as "toxic." They are toxic because they contain none of the vitamins and minerals found in whole foods. At the same time, they can cause our bodies to deplete our own stored vitamins and minerals in order to process the sugars.
4. Make sure to include healthy fats in their diet.
As a nation, we have a fat phobia when it comes to what we consume, but in fact, sugar remains the far more significant problem. A diet high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids is crucial for proper brain function and development. Nuts and seeds (especially walnuts) are a great and portable snack for kids and they are high in the healthy fats our children need. Avocados are also a great addition to any meal, providing healthy fats that help supply our children with the fuel they need for that extra activity in the summer months.
Help your kids make the right choices when it comes to food and drink and you will see an increased level of play, happiness and enjoyment as better eating helps contribute to their best summer ever.
Stay healthy my friends,
Chair, My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee
Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel Ballin is the Administrator of Riverside's Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.
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