Good health – it’s all in the family

Parents’ dietary habits influence the health of their children even before birth, especially in matters of weight management and its associated health factors.

Parents’ dietary habits influence the health of their children even before birth, especially in matters of weight management and its associated health factors. By Stephanie Oley.

According to recent research, the dietary habits of parents don’t just influence the health of their babies. They influence the health of these youngsters right through to adulthood.

“Scientists have recently compared the offspring of healthy-weight and overweight mothers and found that offspring of the latter were more likely themselves to be overweight in adult life,” explains Darwin-based nutritionist, Clare Evangelista. This is due to poor in-utero development of the offspring’s energy-balance regulation system, which predisposes them to insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.

But rather than supplementing in any one nutrient, it’s important to aim for a naturally balanced, healthy diet following Australian national health guidelines.

A generous variety of plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, grains (and derivative products such as bread and pasta) and legumes, should form the bulk of your family’s meals. They contain essential minerals, vitamins and fibre.

Protein foods such as dairy, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and nuts should comprise the second-greatest volume of food intake. Foods containing mostly fats and sugars – such as sweets, cakes and chips – have minimal vitamins and minerals, and should be eaten rarely.

Nature and nurture

Eat well during pregnancy and your child will likely favour these healthy foods in later years. “The foods eaten by a breastfeeding mother alter the flavour of breast milk slightly which can have a lasting effect on a child’s food preferences,” explains Evangelista.

Early on in a child’s life, good eating and exercise habits may have health outcomes in the short term and long term.

Overweight children tend to remain overweight in their adult years, so it’s important to establish good eating habits early. “Family mealtime has a strong positive effect on child and adolescent eating behaviours, and these behaviours can be carried on to adult life. Adolescents who participate in family meal times are more likely to eat healthy foods, and less likely to have nutritional deficiencies,” says Evangelista

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