Health

Healthy alternatives

Place emphasis on the importance of good food choices and how bad foods can have a negative effect on the body. Monosodium glutamate is one of the bad choices and when it comes to this I am a nagging mom. If there is one thing you want your child to understand and listen to, this could be it! Don’t eat anything that contains MSG.

Encourage good and healthy products and real foods, and avoid all low-fat, sugar-free or other diet products. Natural foods include butter, cream, coconut oil and vegetables to mention a few. Encourage your teenager to eat high-quality vegetables, protein, eggs and fish. If you can get this far with your teenager, then you are winning the ‘fast food battle’.

Most teenagers will likely still buy junk food, chips and candy, but even here there are better or worse choices to be made. Here are a few tips on some ‘better than’ foods:

Choose juice or soda instead of energy drinks.
Choose sparkling flavoured water instead of juice or soda.
Choose natural chips instead of flavoured chips.
Choose salty peanuts instead of chips.
Choose chocolate instead of candy (which contains chemicals and colorants).
Choose a whole package of ham instead of jam on a sandwich.
Choose homemade hot cocoa with cream instead of the instant chocolate powders available.
Choose lots of sauce with food instead of lots of pasta.
Choose more fat and carbohydrates instead of no fat and carbohydrates (the fat makes you feel full).

Availability
Make sure that there are good food choices at home, in the pantry and in the fridge and allow your teenager to decide how much he or she wants to eat. I often think I have a fridge full of food at home, yet my teenagers open the fridge door and say there is nothing to eat! Ask your teenager to write a shopping list of favourite foods and then you can choose the better things to buy from that list. And buy lots!

Buy a soda maker, soda or sparkling water to reduce the amount of sodas being bought. Many teenagers don’t have the time or patience to make food from scratch so prepare some dishes in bulk and freeze them in portion sizes – these are easy to reheat and provide a ready meal.

I never buy pasta, cereals, rice, juice or soda and have a rule that if my teenagers wish to eat any of these items, they have to go and buy it themselves with their own money. This they do, at times. At home they eat the low-carb meals that I prepare, but outside of our home they eat as many other teenagers do. At least they have a lot of knowledge about what is good and what is not!

Fructose

Fructose is the sugar we most commonly find naturally in fruits and vegetables and is one of the sweetest sugars that exist. Normal white sugar consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Modern research shows that a large amount of fructose is the worst carbohydrate for our health and weight. A hundred years ago the average amount of sugar consumed per person was 15 grams a day. Today this amount is five times more. Fructose increases body weight because it is the carbohydrate that the body most easily converts into fat. It also affects insulin in a negative way.

Fruit is a very ‘sensitive’ subject for many people when it comes to discussing healthy food alternatives. People can react very strongly when we talk about fruit and sugar in the same sentence and as something negative. The good thing about fruit is that it is very tasty. It’s natural candy, I usually say. When it comes to nourishment, however, you will find much more in vegetables than in fruit. The ground where fruit trees are planted often lacks nourishment and the fruit we eat today is very different to how fruit was many years ago. Today the fruits are larger, sweeter and are often not grown naturally.

I think it’s fine for children to eat fruit in reasonable amounts, and preferably together with a meal or protein such as cheese or eggs. This way it will have less effect on blood sugar levels.

Additives

Additives are added to food to preserve or to enhance flavour or taste. Pickling (with vinegar) and salting food has been used for centuries as a way of preserving foods, but more processed foods are being used today and many more additives have been introduced. Each additive has its own unique number, what we know as ‘E numbers’.

Legislation dictates that all additives must be specified on food labels of all foods. The producer can choose whether to use the E number or to write the full name of the additives that are being used. I won’t list all the E numbers but will mention a few that I would like to warn you about.

E numbers from E620 to E650 are taste enhancers. These are used in foods where the original product is of such poor quality or made from poor-quality ingredients that the taste has either vanished or deteriorated or where the product just tastes so bad that even spices cannot improve the taste. E621 is almost the same as yeast extract, which is another name for something that has a similar function as E621 (MSG). It is also known as a taste enhancer.

These taste enhancers may cause headaches, sweating, nausea, heartburn, dizziness and chest pains. MSG/E621 is banned in many children’s foods – that should tell you quite a bit.

Aromas are also used in products of poorer quality so that the natural flavour or taste will be enhanced. Butter aroma, for instance, is very common, as is smoke aroma in bacon. I try not to buy any products with added aroma, which is an artificial aroma. It is always better to keep your choices as natural as possible.

Colorants are also additives to watch out for. They have the E numbers E100 to E180. These are cosmetic additives and are often used when a product loses its colour during the production process. Many producers add colorants to food products to make them look more appetising.

If you look at candy and how children are most likely to choose the most colourful candies from the selection on offer, then you can understand why producers use these colorants. Azo colorants/dyes can cause sensitivity reactions, such as rashes, asthma, runny noses and eyes. There are also suspicions about the effects of food dyes on hyperactivity.

Particular colorants/food dyes that you should watch out for are:

E102 tartrazine (yellow)
E104 quinoline yellow (yellow)
E110 para (orange)
E122 azorubine (red)
E124 cochineal red (red)                                                                                      E129 allura red AC

Colorants/food dyes can be found in many products, including ham, margarine, marzipan, ready-made cakes, jam, curry, tinned berries, sausage, sauce, yoghurt, cereal, and candy and soda. My tip is to write a small note about which E numbers to avoid and keep that note in your wallet so that you can easily check when doing your shopping.

We know very little about the foods we eat, where it’s from, how it is made and what it contains. Which substances are we eating that we don’t really know about? Many additives are chemically produced and can be modified and manipulated to produce the results that the manufacturer requires. These products can, for example, be given a longer shelf life or can be manipulated in such a way that they do not need refrigeration.

In today’s world we do not prioritise planning, shopping or preparing food. Everything must be quick and time effective. Increasingly we are ordering food deliveries so that we don’t even have to go to the grocery store to do the shopping ourselves and fast foods are used daily by millions of families.

Many people think that good, natural and organic foods are too expensive but looking back just a few years, we spent very little of our income on food.

Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

Vitamins are nutrients that are necessary for our bodies to function normally. Most vitamins, minerals and antioxidants cannot be produced by our bodies and are found naturally in the foods we eat. They are a necessity. Besides providing nourishment they are necessary for the body’s metabolism. Vitamin D is absorbed from the sun’s rays, but all the other vitamins come from the food we eat.

The best thing is to eat a healthy combination of a variety of foods, which will provide our bodies with whatever nutrients we need. In this way you will seldom need to take extra supplements of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Water-soluble vitamins
Water-soluble vitamins are vitamins that dissolve in water. Our bodies cannot store these vitamins, which means it’s easier to have a deficiency, and an excess passes right through the body and is excreted when we urinate. We therefore need to eat foods that are high in water-soluble vitamins regularly.

Water-soluble vitamins are: vitamins B (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 12) and C.

Fat-soluble vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins need fats from the foods we eat in order for our bodies to be able to absorb these vitamins. If your diet is mainly made up of carbohydrates, your body will first burn the carbs before burning fat. We need to eat fat so that our bodies can benefit from these vitamins. If your diet is low in fat, your body will not be able to absorb these vitamins and they will pass right through the bowel. Fats are a necessity.

Fat-soluble vitamins are: vitamins A, D, E and K.

Minerals
Minerals are elements and are necessary in order for our bodies to function properly. Many of the modern foods we buy have lost their natural minerals because the minerals in the soil that is used for growing have been depleted. Meat from wild animals (venison), organic and biodynamic vegetables contain more minerals than other foods.

Minerals are: iodine, iron, calcium, potassium, chromium, magnesium, manganese, sodium, selenium and zinc.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants is a collective name for substances that protect our bodies from free radicals. Free radicals can cause cholesterol to become rancid, which has a negative effect and causes heart problems.

Smoking and excess sugar in the blood increases the amount of free radicals. White sugar (sucrose) increases the speed of ageing and is closely related to the risk of cancer.

Antioxidants are found naturally in the food we eat, in particular: mushrooms, onions, berries, brightly coloured vegetables, broccoli, cabbage and cabbage-like vegetables. You will also find antioxidants in green tea, red tea (rooibos) and in dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. Through eating good and natural foods we provide the body with the best way to obtain antioxidants.

Supplements
If you suspect a deficiency of any mineral, vitamin or antioxidant, then you should consider a supplement. In most cases you can read about which deficiency you may have and will recognise the symptoms that determine the deficiency. You can also do various tests by consulting your doctor.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for the growth and strength of teeth and bones. It is produced when your skin is directly exposed to the sun (UVB). In the northern hemisphere vitamin D is the most common supplement taken. In Finland, for example, children are given a vitamin D supplement until the age of 18. Adults, children and teenagers should take vitamin D supplements during winter.

Omega-3 and omega-6
Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential, but we tend to take in too much omega-6 in comparison to omega-3. Ideally we should have a 1:1 ratio or, at most, 1:3 omega-3 and omega-6.

Oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil and margarines are usually very rich in omega-6. Too much omega-6 can cause inflammation and increase joint aches and pains.

Omega-3 plays a vital role in the development of a foetus’s central nervous system and is therefore important during pregnancy. Omega-3 reduces the effects of omega-6 and protects against blood clots, eye disease and dementia. It also protects against heart disease, high blood pressure and arrhythmia, as well as stiff and painful joints. Omega-3 protects the skin against pigmentation, and improves skin conditions such as dry skin, dandruff and eczema.

Omega-3 also helps against depression and mood swings, and has an anti-inflammatory effect. In children, an omega-3 supplement has been shown to improve learning difficulties, dyslexia, concentration disability and ADHD.

We should all increase our intake of omega-3, particularly children. A good source of omega-3 is fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. It is difficult for the body to absorb the necessary amount of omega-3 from vegetables and greens because only a small amount is converted.

If you eat fatty fish 3–5 days a week you won’t need any omega-3 supplements, but if you do buy omega-3 supplements for your child, then make sure it’s not with added omega-6!