Who's Influencing Your Children?
As a parent, you make many choices throughout the day concerning the health and safety of your children. Adequate sleep, proper dental hygiene, and getting enough fresh air and exercise are just a few of the many good habits you instill in your children. Yet when it comes to dietary choices, are you making the best choices to protect them from childhood illness, future disability and chronic disease? New research indicates that consuming a plant-based diet (especially during the first 10 years of a child's life) increases a child's resistance to many childhood illnesses and offers powerful protection against developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders in the future. Because of this, it's important to educate your children on the benefits of eating a health-supporting diet.
Children's dietary beliefs are influenced by many factors, especially the media. Guiding your children through the myriad of food commercials and advertisements will be one of the main obstacles you will encounter. In the above 6-minute video, Anna Lappé from Food Myth Busters demonstrates several ways in which large food manufacturers market unhealthy food products to your children and teens. "Every year, some of the world's largest corporations spend billions on marketing, advertising, and lobbying campaigns to shape the way we think about food—much of that money targets our children. In a one year period, the typical child views 5,000 ads for food and drink products filled with sugar, salt and saturated fat. "Watching these ads leads kids to prefer specific brands and triggers them to eat more calories" Anna adds. Experts are also hired to determine which colors, shapes and characters children will be drawn to the most. Processed foods are not only low-cost and fast, they are available to us twenty-four hours of the day and are designed to be highly addictive. Nearly half of the calories consumed by children today come from fat and sugar and one in three eat at a fast food restaurant daily.
Sugar, fat and salt are the three most desired of all flavors. You'll find these three substances in the majority of today's processed and fast foods in super-concentrated forms. These super-concentrated, highly-palatable flavors are not found in nature. They were designed to be consumed in very low concentrations contained in highly-fibrous, water-dense, nutrient-rich foods. These ingredients "seduce our taste buds" by stimulating our brain's pleasure center, causing us to crave the artificially concentrated flavors over the natural flavors in whole, unprocessed foods. Foods that are highly-palatable excite our senses, because they give us the greatest sense of reward with the least amount of effort. Because of this, our ancestors were able to locate the most calorie rich foods available, which contributed to our survival. But today, food manufacturers can artificially increase the calorie density in our food supply far beyond what our ancestors were able to locate in nature. These foods give us a super concentrated level of heightened pleasure, much like the euphoria and neurological excitement that drug addiction produces.
The majority of calories in the typical American diet come from processed and refined foods, followed by high-fat animal products. Only a very small percentage of children are getting the minimum daily requirement for fruits and vegetables. This has led to an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates "1.7 million deaths are attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption." Many of these deaths are attributable to poor food choices made early in childhood. According to Anna Lappé, "What we eat and drink is literally a matter of life and death for American children." By the time a child is in middle school, one in three will already have diabetes, or will develop it soon. Children as young as three years of age already have the beginning stages of atherosclerosis, and by the age of 10, the arteries of all children consuming the rich Western diet show the visible signs of early heart disease.
Switching your child to a whole-food, nutrient-rich, plant-based diet not only provides adequate nutrition for your child, it promotes better school performance, and fewer sick days. Parents can encourage their children to eat healthier by providing nutritious foods and modeling healthy eating habits at home. Participating in meal planning, grocery shopping, preparing a meal, or growing a garden are a few ways in which parents can encourage their children to live a healthful lifestyle.
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