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Healthy food habits begin with family

Throw out the soda and processed foods, bring on the fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy ing

Posted: February 11, 2010 9:55 p.m.
Updated: February 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Grapes are just one of the fresh, healthy snacks enjoyed by the De Sesa family, who prefers organic produce and likes to add blood oranges, nuts, and other nutrient-dense ingredients to main dishes like salads.

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It's not a big mystery where a lot of children's dietary problems start, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a nationally renowned figure on health and dieting.

"If (parents) don't want kids to that stuff - then don't bring it home," Fuhrman said, addressing what he referred to as one of the two biggest obstacles to healthy diets for children.

The first, he said, is that kids eat will only eat what their parents eat. Junk-food habits start at home. The second pitfall goes hand in hand - you can't expect your children to eat any healthier than you do.

"You have to live the life and walk the walk," Fuhrman said. "It seems so basic, but why do you think (parents) are screaming at the schools when they're told we shouldn't be selling junk food at school? They've created these rationalizations where it's not a problem, because the parents are on junk-food diets themselves."

Fuhrman's practice and partner company, EatRight America, both specialize in creating healthier, specific diets for people by taking into account a number of different factors such as medical history and health risks.

He said important steps like structuring regular meal intervals, increasing the number of nutrients in a child's snacks and educating kids to what they are eating will have a long-term positive impact on their lives.

Setting up a healthy diet for your kids is also about establishing regular eating habits, said Sheri Barke, a health professor at College of the Canyons who is also a dietitian specializing in eating disorders.

"I think parents are overextended and kids are overextended and stressed out, and (as a result) suffering from diabetes and obesity," Barke said. "It's about slowing down and talking structure - having a breakfast time and a lunch time and a dinner time."

She said a lot of the problems she encounters in correcting diets is that kids will often refuse to eat when it's dinner time, and parents are unsure of why or what to do when this happens.

This can be the result of the child snacking too much, or unwittingly filling up on calories that don't have a lot of nutritional value, like many sugary, juice box-type beverages made for kids.

"I would say that juice is way overabused," Barke said. "Parents think that juice is a nutritious beverage, but it's very concentrated in calories, and it doesn't provide the same nutrition that a piece of fruit would provide."

Barke, who has two small children of her own, also said it's easy for parents to create bad habits without realizing it.

"A lot of times, adults are using food as entertainment, and so kids are grazing (on snack food lying around) and as a result, they're coming to meals not hungry."

However, she also mentions Ellyn Satter, another dietary specialist, who mentions using snacks to supplement the structure of your child's eating regimen on her Web site.

It's OK if it's healthy or used in moderation to encourage a regular schedule.

"It's up to the parent to determine the when and it's up to the parent to determine what is provided," Barke said. "The kids' job is to determine how much they're going to eat, and whether they're going to eat at all."

Dr. Roger De Sesa has a practice in the Santa Clarita Valley and gives lectures to corporations throughout the area on a wide range of life-management topics that include dietary issues like eating right for your genetic type.

He also has three small children and said he understands well the obstacles that can come with providing a healthy diet.

"I have a very finicky eater, who was a challenge to get to eat healthy - it was a process just like anything," said De Sesa. "And I have another who's naturally just a very good eater."

He said he made the mistake many first-time parents make in not realizing how he could be part of the problem.

"I had to correct my own habits as well, and once I got more involved I saw that I had to change with my son.

"The first step is that you have to do it to eliminate the toxicity (high-sugar, low-nutrient junk food), but to take something away has a very negative connotation," De Sesa said. "I would start by adding in healthier things, steamed broccoli and steamed carrots, which weren't as hard to eat."

De Sesa said there are a lot of ways to eat healthy, even if you're on-the-go. "We'll do hardboiled eggs if we're in a hurry, dried fruits, dried mangoes. We try to stick with a diet rich in raw foods and vegetables as much as we can and avoid the sugary stuff."

Fuhrman said spreading awareness of these types of healthy eating habits was the main goal of his recent partnership with Whole Foods, which specializes in selling organic and natural foods.

Fuhrman was recently approached by Whole Foods' corporate office to create a health plan for the company's employees, and it soon blossomed into a storewide collaboration with healthier options for all age groups.

EatRight America has reviewed thousands of foods as part of its practice, and now the foods' nutritional values are on display at Whole Food's aisles as the ANDI score.

The ANDI score is a scale that assigns foods with an Aggregate Nutrient Density Index or ANDI value.

The number is derived from 23 different nutrients taken into account then divided by the number of calories and multiplied to give it a value on a scale of 1 to 1,000. Fuhrman said one of the fundamental ideas is to maximize vital micronutrients such as Vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and zinc.

"The idea is to pump up the amount of nutrients in the diet per caloric intake," Fuhrman said. "It's not just obesity we're talking about here. It's strokes, heart disease, diabetes and cancer."

For example kale, which is packed with nutrients, has an ANDI value of 1,000, as do collard, mustard and turnip greens - whereas soda, which has virtually no nutritional content, has a score of one.

As a result of the nutrients factored in, neutral items such as bread (10) have relatively low scores as well.

As the products sold in Whole Foods are largely organic, a lot of the processes and chemicals that should be avoided are, Fuhrman said.

The store also offers informational seminars on how to make the most of organic ingredients.

It also helps create meals that are enjoyable and packed with nutrients.

Fuhrman said his family often eats salads spiced up with simple, healthy ingredients like a blood orange, raw cashew nuts, toasted sesame seeds and a little lemon or some blood-orange vinegar.

Getting a family to change its habits is a lot harder than starting off healthy, De Sesa said, but it can be done.

"It takes time, you have to be tenacious," De Sesa adds. "Sometimes being a parent doesn't mean being their best friend."

But with structure, support and familial help, results can be achieved.

"We taught our 10-year-old to read nutrition labels, especially on cereal," De Sesa said. "Now he looks to the sugar first, and the fiber second."

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