Tag Archives: fruits

The kindergarten guide to health.

I often get the opportunity to speak about exercise, nutrition, and health. Sometimes the message is tailored to a specific audience. Other times I have the challenge of providing information that would be relevant for everyone, from students in preschool to their parents and grandparents. It turns out that the advice I would give the youngest children applies to everyone. My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week includes four tips that are appropriate for all ages.


Eat a rainbow

Of fruits and vegetables, of course. You have probably heard that you should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In truth, you should get about twice that. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals and are a good source of fiber. It turns out that dark and brightly-colored fruits and vegetables are rich in these essential nutrients. For example, even though spinach and iceberg lettuce have about the same number of calories, spinach contains significantly higher levels of iron and potassium. Red and orange fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant vitamin linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Eating a variety of colors will make sure you get all of the essential vitamins and minerals and make meals and snacks more interesting.

Play every day

According to the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines, children should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day, with an emphasis on vigorous activity. While this recommendation can be met through sports, there are benefits to unstructured play, especially in younger children. The important thing is that kids have opportunities to be active at school and at home. Like children, adults should be active every day, preferably doing something we enjoy. Since adults don’t spend time running around playgrounds, we get much of our activity through exercise, but the benefits are the same. Regular activity is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight, improving strength and fitness, and preventing disease in adults and children.

Eat breakfast

Children who eat breakfast every day perform better in class and on standardized tests, have fewer absences, and are less likely to be overweight. A good breakfast can improve memory, attention, and alertness in kids and adults. Eating breakfast is also associated with healthier choices for meals and snacks throughout the day. This is important for losing and maintaining weight. In fact, 80% of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off report eating breakfast every day. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!

Don’t spend too much time watching TV

Or playing video games, or in front of the computer. A typical child spends almost as much time each week in front of a screen as they do in school! This is a major contributor to childhood obesity for two reasons. First, what we now call “screen time” is mostly sedentary, replacing opportunities for activity. Second, television viewing exposes kids to advertisements which promote eating foods that are high in sugar, fat, and calories. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of TV time per day. Kids who limit their screen time also get more sleep and do better in school. By the way, these same problems apply to adults, too. So do the benefits of reducing screen time.

As I write this I am reminded of the essay “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum, which recounts simple lessons we learned as children that are relevant at all ages. I think the idea that the simplest lessons apply to everyone holds true for exercise, nutrition, and health information, too.

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Stealthy Healthy Eating

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the many processed foods that include added nutrients, primarily vitamins, minerals, and fiber, to make them healthier. While this seems like a good thing—helping people get enough essential nutrients, even if they eat a poor diet—there are drawbacks to using these foods instead of eating actual food that contains these nutrients.

What if there was a way to get the benefits of eating vegetables without having to eat any vegetables? This may be a dream for millions of American children and adults who don’t eat enough vegetables.

Thanks to creative food processing, the healthy components of vegetables can be added to many foods, including soda, candy bars, and other sweets. Books and websites contain recipes for adding pureed vegetables to brownies and other baked goods. There is even a new line of prepackaged pureed vegetables to use!

The recommended intake of vegetables ranges from one cup per day for young children to 3 cups for adults. A simpler guideline is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. The goal should be to eat a variety of vegetables throughout the week.

There are plenty of good reasons for people to eat vegetables. Most vegetables are a low-calorie source of essential vitamins and minerals. The dietary fiber found in vegetables (and fruits and whole grains) plays a role in maintaining a healthy body weight, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of some cancers.

Fiber is increasingly added to processed foods including granola bars and energy bars. It is possible to get up to half of your daily recommended intake of fiber by eating a single Fiber One bar. That is the equivalent of a cup or more of most vegetables! Considering that many of these snacks are essentially candy bars, they are a tasty way to get fiber.

Vitamins and minerals have long been available as supplements and added to certain foods, including products made from grains like pasta and bread. But now you can get vitamins in many soft drinks, many of which have as much sugar as soda. And calcium is added to a variety of foods from breakfast cereals to snacks.

There are, of course, some benefits of doing this. People who don’t eat a healthy diet can get enough essential nutrients through these products. Some of these foods are low in calories so they can help people who are trying to lose weight.

While these “hidden” nutrients may seem like a good solution for people who don’t eat enough vegetables, this form of stealthy healthy eating may have some negative consequences.

These processed foods may be high in sugar, fat, and calories which could contribute to weight gain. The fact that these foods are designed to taste good—many include chocolate—may lead people to overeat. Aside from excess calories, eating far too much fiber could cause GI discomfort or other health problems.

More concerning, though, is the fact that these foods set an expectation that healthy foods should be sweet. This is particularly problematic in children, who may avoid eating vegetables (and other healthy foods) in favor of sweet drinks and snacks that contain the same nutrients.

Additionally, getting vitamins, minerals, and fiber through processed foods keeps people from learning how to make healthy choices and prepare real food. This has consequences for developing healthy eating habits in both children and adults.

Focusing on getting individual nutrients over eating a variety of healthy foods is thought to be an important cause of the current obesity epidemic. Relying on processed foods with added vitamins, minerals, and fiber may be doing more harm than good to your health.

The bottom line is that you should get your nutrients from real food and balance what you eat with daily physical activity. Remember, good health comes from making smart choices, not from a bottle or a box!