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The childhood obesity epidemic and where FAT fits in…

It has been reported that worldwide, 20 million children under the age of 5 are overweight.
How worrying is that?

Think hardening of the arteries, Type-2 Diabetes and an almost certainty that these overweight children will become obese adults.

Physical appearance is one very sad side effect, though just as important to consider is the child’s emotional and mental health.

Poor nutrition can result in various adverse effects such as ADHD, Dyspraxia (lack of co-ordination and/or the ability to move with ease), as well as mental heath issues.

The changes in the last 20-30 years that have adversely affected the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of children can be attirbuted to the fact that FAT was (sometimes still is) regarded as the enemy.

Instead of fat, we were offered CARBOHYDRATES unfortunately in the shape of foods such as chips, processed cereals and white bread which flooded the market, becoming abundant both on supermarket shelves and in school canteens.
The rationale used and explained was that these carbs were/are better than fat. Perhaps the word itself was plainly confused, in that if you ate fat you would be fat? You just need to cast your mind back to the classic food pyramid that was used extensively in schools during this period to know what I mean….

What most of us grew up being taught about "healthy eating." Image credit: US Dietary Association (USDA)

What most of us grew up being taught about “healthy eating.” Image credit: US Dietary Association (USDA)

With the above in mind, the issue then relates to the type of carbohydrate that a child eats rather then carbohydrates themselves.

It should be made clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with carbohydrates; those derived from wholefoods i.e. fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
However it is the other types, those high-GI carbohydrates that will see your child experience soaring blood sugar levels and over time nerve and blood vessel damage along with the possibility of Type-2 Diabetes.
High-GI carbohydrate foods include bagels, chips, white bread, most cereals, and instant porridge. At the same time all of these options may still be considered by many as low-fat and “healthy” choices. Especially it would seem from the food pyramid when compared to fat. The biggest issue with the pyramid is the lack of differentiation between low and hi-GI foods as well as saturated and unsaturated fats; simply put the difference between real food and processed food.

So why are those above high-GI choices not the best for any of us?

What happens during their processing is that many of these simple carbohydrates are stripped of their wholesome goodness so when we eat them they create a similar reaction in our bodies as pure sugar would.
Insulin then acts fast to deal with the rapid rise in our blood sugar. Seen as an irregularity in body, this can lead to HYPERGLYCEMIA (unsafe peak in blood sugar) and HYPOGLYCEMIA (unsafe low levels of blood sugar).

Our brain, being a hugely sugar dependent organ relies on a stable supply of sugar in order to function in a correct manner.
Should there be irregular highs and lows through consumption of high-GI carbs, the immediate result is poor memory as well as a lack of concentration and attention. This is worrying for anyone though especially in growing and developing children.

Up or down; neither is a good thing for our brain or bodies. Instead a consistently moderate level of blood sugar with controlled insulin levels is what each of us needs to operate well and children are no different.
Should a child consume a bowl of chocolate cereal for breakfast; they will experience elevated blood sugars, as opposed to a wholegrain cereal which will release energy at a much slower rate.

Overall, both these cereals will have negative consequences however upon comparison the latter is a better option.
Children eating a diet rich in high-GI carbs will not only observe the above issues though their weight will be duly affected.

This is easily put to the test with your own children (or yourself)!!

Use rolled oats, instant porridge and a protein-dense breakfast like eggs on grain toast as 3 options to try on any given day.
Those children consuming the instant porridge will require a snack soon after, whereas those eating eggs and the rolled oats will feel full, satisfied and energetic for much longer. Behind the scenes those who ate the instant porridge will experience a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar following their breakfast whereas in the other scenarios there will be no mid-morning crash nor inability to focus at school.

A brilliant start to the day! Eggs, grain toast, good fats in the avocado and some fresh tomato

A brilliant start to the day with slow releasing energy! Eggs, grain toast, good fats in the avocado and some fresh tomato.

The conclusion drawn in simple terms would be that children will naturally eat less and feel more satisfied on a diet rich in low-GI foods, healthy fats and wholefoods. Weight and performance will stabilise and taken into adulthood will be a positive approach to eating. In turn it would be safe to say they can better avoid the pitfalls of diets and disorders related to food and eating in their future.

Pulses, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables are what we should be encouraging our children to eat as often as they want/need, with no real restrictions.
Therefore, not all carbohydrates are the same. A healthy, well balanced and nutritious diet assists to create balanced; both emotionally and physically; children and adults.
Make the effort to read the glycaemic index (GI) and the carbs (%) per portion when you next peruse the supermarket shelves… Fascinating reading!!

Viv xx

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