Help our kids get healthy

Following the recent launch of Raising Superheroes by co-authors Jonno Proudfoot, Tim Noakes and Bridget Surtees, there has been much emphasis on the way we feed our kids. The book challenges the kids’ food industry and old assumptions with the aim to give children the best nutrition possible. Dr Peter Hill, from Met-S Care and a specialist in Metabolic Syndrome – a cluster of chronic conditions that include, amongst others, increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level (or Type 2 diabetes), excess body fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol (low HDL cholesterol) and high blood fat levels (triglyceride), wholeheartedly supports the notion of changing to the way children are being fed in South Africa.


“We are seeing a steady rise in the already high incidence of childhood obesity globally. And South African children are no exception being ranked in the top five countries with the most cases of child obesity in the world. Studies have found that overweight or obese children tend to remain overweight or obese to the age of 20 and are exposed to a 1.5 to 2 times higher risk of being obese adults. Obese adults in turn face the risk of increased heart disease, diabetes, joint and gall bladder disease, and psychological difficulties. We really need to step up as caregivers and change the eating habits of our kids,” says Hill.


Jackie Dutton, a consultant nutritionist for Met-S Care and mother of two, says the question of what to feed her children plagues her daily. “I fully understand the science behind nutrition and the importance of nourishing my body for energy and vitality. However, how do I manage to incorporate these nutritional principles into my children’s daily diet while simultaneously allowing my children freedom of choice and teaching them to be accountable and responsible for their own health?”


Hill believes this is a challenge many parents face in today’s world where children are exposed to more processed foods than ever before. “This is a very real problem faced by parents as children are becoming sicker and more over-weight and developing metabolic disorders such as Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. More and more of our fresh food source options are being replaced by processed and convenience foods to keep up with our fast-paced lives,” he says.


“Parents simply believe they don’t have the time to prepare simple wholesome meals and resort to convenience foods. These convenience foods offer very little nutrition and are slowly becoming the silent killer of our children’s future health and vitality.”


He explains that processed foods are laden with sugar, hydrogenated fats (trans-fats) and highly-processed grain carbohydrates of GMO origin. These foods illicit an insulin response and encourage our children’s bodies to store fat and stimulate an inflammatory response within the body. Childhood obesity is more prevalent than ever as a result of chronic inflammation which is associated with a poor diet of highly-processed foods. Besides metabolic diseases, a poor diet can also lead to depression, and sleeping and attention deficit disorders. “Removing highly-processed foods containing sugars and starches from your family’s daily diet will halt the potential for your children developing these diseases,” says Hill.


Dutton offers a few simple tips for parents who, like her, want to make a difference in their children’s lives by offer the right kind of dietary choices. She explains that firstly a Low or Controlled Carbohydrate intake doesn’t necessarily mean the end of eating great food. “You and your family need to develop a new affection and palate for healthy food. Simple single ingredient foods should be the foods of choice. If a food has been combined with another ingredient with an unpronounceable name it may be processed. So know what you are eating,” she says.


Dutton believes that teaching kids the motto ‘From Soil to Mouth’ is very handy. “They will learn that if a food came from the ground, then it is probably a safe option to eat.”


“Read the nutritional labels on the back of food products. Educate yourself as to what is in a food so you can make an informed decision as to whether you buy the product and feed it to your family. If the second or third ingredient on the list of ingredients is a sugar or a derivative of a sugar, don’t buy it,” she says.


Hill agrees and emphasises that low carb or controlled carb doesn’t necessarily mean NO carbohydrates but rather the insight into choosing the right carbohydrates at the right time. “Not all carbohydrates are undesirable. Vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, certain nuts and seeds as well as certain whole grains and tubers are healthy carbohydrate sources to fuel your children as they grow.


A good rule of thumb to remember is to include these good carbohydrate sources more frequently if your child is very active. If your child is less active and struggling with their weight then use these carbohydrate sources sparingly and include more healthy fats in their eating approach,” he says.


In terms of healthy fats, Hill recommends incorporating items such as coconut oil, milk and cream; full cream dairy products; real butter (not margarine); olive oil and avocado oil; avocados; eggs and fatty fish into your child’s diet.


“Beneficial protein sources can be found in a variety of tasty foods including fish, prawns, calamari, poultry, non-processed red meat, eggs, nuts, legumes, dairy products and quinoa. So instead of offering your child a sugar-packed, refined, carbohydrate snack opt for a stick of biltong or handful of nuts,” he suggests.


Dutton points out that another point parents need to remember is not to let their kids drink their calories. “Don’t fuel them with sugary drinks including all sugary sodas, cordials and fruit juices. These drinks are laden with sugar and empty calories. Encourage your kids to drink water (plain or sparkling). It may seem a difficult task but if you are following in the same manner then the children will take your lead.”


“Children emulate their parents. So start a healthy eating approach for the whole family. Don’t buy the processed sugary food. The fridge should not be their friend nor the pantry their pal. Also get your kids involved in preparing meals. Teach them to love the food they are preparing and educate them as to how it was grown.”


She also strongly recommends not rewarding good behaviour with a sugary treat but rather offering another incentive such as a family outing or asking your child what they would like to do. “The same goes for feeding children when they are upset. Food should not become an emotional crutch or reward.”


Hill believes that assisting kids in their food decision-making is a life-long gift. “Give your children time to adapt to new healthier foods. Children need to attempt foods over and over again in order to learn to enjoy them. So don’t throw in the towel after the first attempt. New behaviours need to be repeated in order for them to be cemented. Remember that teaching your kids about good nutrition is just as important as teaching them good manners and what is socially appropriate. Invest time in it as you would the other aspects of their upbringing,” he encourages.