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Want Your Kids to Eat More Veg & Fruit? Try Smiling!

A while back, I shared some tips for encouraging children to eat healthy foods. Now there’s one more tip to add, courtesy of a new study, published in the journal Obesity: Smile while eating something you want your kids to eat.

Photos of people happily eating a child’s favorite food made them want it even more, while a photo of a person looking “disgusted” by that same food tended to make the children want it less. If a child disliked a certain food, seeing someone with a pleasant expression eating it made the child more open to trying that food.

These results build on a study published in late 2008 in Preventive Medicine suggesting that parents can increase the amount of fruits and vegetables their children eat simply by eating more themselves. For every extra serving of fruit or vegetable eaten by a parent, their child ate an extra half serving.

“We have always known that parents have a tremendous influence on what their children eat,” said Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH). “These two studies demonstrate that this influence extends from simply making fruits and vegetables available for their children, to modeling their own enjoyment of eating a healthy diet.”

Pivonka says that parents can shape their children’s eating habits and help them develop a healthy attitude toward food. “But, be careful not to send mixed signals. Don’t be the mom who insists that her kids eat breakfast and then skips the meal herself or the dad who tells his kids to eat all their vegetables and then won’t eat them himself.”

Some other pointers for modeling positive behavior from the PBH Foundation:

  • Show kids how enjoyable healthy foods can be with comments like “Wow, that tastes good!” or “Look how colorful!”
  • Be a good role model. Eat the way you want your child to eat. Choose a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups, eat in moderation and make exercise part of your regular routine.
  • Don’t ban foods. Kids will encounter cookies, chips and other treats when they’re away from home. Allow them to explore, but at the same time teach them what their bodies need. The goal is to enjoy a varied healthy diet, which allows for occasional indulgences.
  • Get kids in the kitchen. From an early age, involve children in preparing food. Children love being involved; they love feeling like they’re helping. If they feel they’re part of the process, they’re more likely to try the finished product.

For more tips on getting more fresh produce into your diet, do check out the PBH’s Fruits & Veggies – More Matters site. You’ll find a ton of excellent information there, including a database of over 1,000 recipes, many of which can be made in 30 minutes or less, videos about fruit and vegetable selection, storage and preparation, and tips for eating healthy on a budget.

Images by Mr. Wright and Bruce Tuten, via Flickr

Media materials from PBH were used in this article.

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What We Eat & the Quality of What We Eat

A CDC report earlier this year showed just how little produce Americans eat. Now the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance (NFVA) has released a report which offers a perhaps even drearier view of American eating habits.

The NFVA is an alliance led by the CDC and the Produce for Better Health Foundation that aims to improve public health through increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Its “Report Card” evaluates, among other things, progress made by schools, restaurants, supermarkets, and federal and state governments in its 2010 National Action Plan (NAP).

Among their findings?

  • 6% of Americans eat the recommended amount of vegetables on an average day. (Translation: 94% of us don’t eat enough veg.)
  • 8% eat the recommended amount of fruit on an average day. (Translation: 92% of us don’t.)

They also found that while food eaten away from home makes up about a third of the average American’s daily intake (measured in calories), it accounts for just 11% of their produce consumption.

In our post on the CDC survey, we offered a number of suggestions for getting more fresh produce into your diet, as good bodily health is crucial to good dental and oral health. And certainly, the type of food you eat has the biggest impact. A diet based on whole foods, including whole grains and plenty of produce, is healthier than one based on heavily, industrially processed foods – the kinds of foods you find in the center aisles of the grocery store or at fast food joints and other chain restaurants. The former contain more of the good stuff – vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, enzymes and important phytonutrients – and less of the bad stuff: artificial flavors and other additives, preservatives, excess sugar and salt, and unhealthy fats.

But the quality of the food you eat matters, as well. In general, organic is better for you (not to mention tastier) than industrial – that is, food that comes from factory farms. This isn’t necessarily because organic food is more nutritious, as some have hypothesized – the science on this so far appears to be very mixed – but more because of what it lacks: pesticides, herbicides and other chemical additives that can damage or interfere with our health (not to mention that of the planet).

As it has become more popular and more mainstream stores have begun to carry organic produce and meats, we’ve also seen the rise of what amount to organic factory farms. They use the same techniques as conventional farming, only replacing chemical pesticides and herbicides with less toxic alternatives, or find loopholes that let them cut corners without losing their organic certification. As Dave Thier wrote last month in an AOL News article,

Fred Kirschenmann, a North Dakota farmer and distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, served on the National Organic Standards Board when it was establishing the standards for the USDA organic seal.

Early on, Kirschenmann argued that an organic farm shouldn’t be able to “degrade the health of the soil.” But when the board gave that to USDA lawyers, they told it to change the language. Any regulation, the lawyers said, needed to be able to be answered with a simple yes or no – something that can be difficult in the complex world of organic agriculture.

The confusion extends to livestock as well. For instance, organic cows and chickens were required to have “access to pasture.” For some that meant having free-range animals that got the bulk of their food from the outdoors. For others, it meant having a tiny door at one end of a gigantic henhouse.

What the organic laws boiled down to were a list of inputs that an organic farm could and could not use. That led to many farmers getting their certification by practicing what some call “substitution agriculture” – changing the kinds of chemicals they added to the soil without changing the way that they farmed.

“You have organic farmers that don’t really use what would traditionally be used, what good organic practices would classify as good agro-ecological systems” Kirschenmann told AOL News. “They’re just using natural inputs instead of synthetic inputs.”

This, of course, is something that conscientious organic farmers don’t want, for such practices could easily taint the whole industry – and, according to Thier, they want tougher standards, which may in fact be forthcoming.

Proponents of tighter organic standards, however, agree that President Barack Obama’s undersecretary of agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, and the USDA have been working to clarify some of that flexible language. Last year, they changed the “access to pasture” phrase to say that cows must be allowed to graze 120 days a year. And at a series of hearings in Madison, Wis., recently, producers, distributors, processors and consumers told the National Organic Standards Board what they thought was missing from the current certification standards.

For [Mark] Kastel [of the Cornucopia Institute] and others trying to establish a more exclusive organic seal, the hearings were a success: They declared that nanotechnology would not be allowed in organic products and that conventional hops would not be allowed in organic beer. In the contentious egg issue, he said that the board seemed receptive to farmers and consumers asking for stricter requirements for certified organic eggs.

We certainly hope things will continue in this direction, so we can be more sure of the quality of the food we eat – that when we choose organic, we’re getting what we pay for: chemical-free food raised in ecologically sustainable ways.


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Get More Fruit & Veg into Your Diet


Good dental health is part of good bodily health, and that depends on eating well. More, nutritional guidance and support is essential for proper detox and healing when it comes to dealing with dental conditions such as mercury toxicity, root canal infections and cavitations. Consequently, nutrition has always been a key part of our practice.

Sadly, many Americans are notoriously unhealthy eaters, which is one of the reasons why so many are so unhealthy. The standard American diet is loaded with sugars and highly processed carbs, often in combination with too much unhealthy fat. Such foods have been consistently shown to contribute to chronic diseases, many of them inflammatory in nature. Conventional medicine has been of little help, even as evidence continues to mount that eating well is one of the best things you can do to support good health. (A recent article in the New York Times laments the problem of physicians still receiving relatively little training in nutrition.)

One thing that sometimes gets lost in discussions about how we eat is the fact that the problem isn’t just that we eat foods that are unhealthy for us but that these foods take the place of better ones. We eat too many “bad” foods and not enough “good.” This is especially so with fruits and vegetables. According to data recently released by the CDC, less than 1/3 of Americans eat fruit at least twice a day or vegetables at least three times a day. Even then, we tend to eat from a very limited range. The most popular choices? Orange juice and potatoes.

Clearly, we need to do better – incorporating a broad range of produce into our daily diets and eating more of them. But how? Know Thy Health offers seven tips for getting more produce into your diet:

  1. Include a green garden salad with both lunch and dinner.

  2. Include a piece of fresh fruit with your breakfast each morning. And if you choose to have desserts with other meals, choose fruit.

  3. Consider your plate. Let any meat, starch and grain (potato, pasta, bread, rice or other cooked grains) fill no more than 1/3 of your plate. Let the rest be vegetables.

  4. Keep quick and easy snacks on hand by cutting up carrots, celery, jicima and other firm vegetables in advance. Store them in a bit of water in a container in the fridge.

  5. When you eat out, ask for more veg with your entree in lieu of potatoes, rice, pasta or other starch.

  6. Choose to have a vegetarian or vegan meal at least one night a week. Need recipe ideas? VegCooking.com is a great starting point. For global cuisine vegan recipes, visit the International Vegetarian Union.

  7. Widen your palate – and meal possibilities – by making a point to try out at least one new vegetable and fruit each time you go shopping. If you shop farmer’s markets, the growers may be able to give you some good ideas on how to use the food. Otherwise – or additionally – you can find tons of great recipes on sites like allrecipes.com and Recipezaar, which let you search by ingredient.

What are some of the things you do to make sure you eat enough fruit and veg in your diet? Let us know in the comments.


Update: Not long after we published this, the Consumer Reports Health Blog ran its piece on how to get more produce into your diet, which includes more great tips. Check it out.


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