Monday, May 21, 2007


With problems like obesity, diabetes, and other chronic ailments affecting children, it is high time we started giving diet, and eating habits that extra attention. Even in schools a proper effort should be made to drive children into knowing more about health foods, and a diet which is nutritionally complete. Gone are the days when ma’s and grandma’s added that extra sugar, into the child’s daily ‘dose’ of milk, or gave salt to have with fruits etc., to make it tastier or edible to the child. These are habit forming and they stay on life long, creating problems later on in life. In fact one does not have to wait to get to their thirties or forties to experience severe ill health. It starts much early on in life nowadays and that is the reason why we must stress on diet foods for children also. Tubby girls and boys with paunches is a common sight. Why? Are they lacking in enough exercise or is it that they are not aware of the right kinds of foods. There are too many temptations in the market too to blame young children. The media is a powerful tool in today’s world and affects choices. What with cokes, chips, sweets of all varieties, junk food, and foods with preservatives hitting the market stands making it difficult for the child to resist. Very often disruptive behaviors of children are linked to poor food habits. Therefore the quality of foods that we provide to our children is important. It is essential to know what sort of a diet is normal. Our own attitudes and behaviors around eating and our body appearances can serve as a model for children. Our children are our future, it is our duty to nurture them and work hard in helping them form good habits.
As a teacher I take any given opportunity to speak on this issue with the children. Many bring money to schools to eat the savories (read junk food) from the canteen. Mothers also take their mornings easy as all they have to do is give the child money for the lunch break, rather than cooking some nutritious mid-day snack, which is wholesome as well as healthy. Canteens cater to the children’s tastes and sell what sells. Isn’t it high time that we incorporate talks on good diets and the ill-effects of a bad one? Actually maintaining a follow up? If from an early age children are conscious about health foods, the right habits shall be formed, which we realize are so important at a later stage when metabolism is slower and whatever we eat takes double the time to digest.
Doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, health freaks all are doing their bit to impart knowledge to the masses about avoiding junk food. Inculcating a taste for a healthy diet should start when small; it goes a long way in shaping healthful attitudes. Schools should participate in health programs, Canteens should do away with fatty foods, soft drinks, chips, and too much fried foods.
It could be taught how fats can block arteries, in the science class, in the Math class, one could teach children to count the calories of the foods they eat and determine how much they need to cut down or add. Outdoor activities should be packed with a lot of physical activity. Stress on exercise should be given. After all a healthy body houses a healthy mind. Schools and society at large benefit from happy healthy children. It would do well to enforce the “FAT TAX” as they call it, in other countries, and mean to keep the country on their toes literally. Overweight people after all do leave more carbon footprints on mother earth.
Some one sent me this article which is good information, especially mothers of young chidren. It featured in The Economist Magazine,

Jul 17th 2008

Eat your way to a better brain

CHILDREN have a lot to contend with these days, not least a tendency
for their pushy parents to force-feed them omega-3 oils at every
opportunity. These are supposed to make children brainier, so they are
being added to everything from bread, milk and pasta to baby formula
and vitamin tablets. But omega-3 is just the tip of the nutritional
iceberg; many nutrients have proven cognitive effects, and do so
throughout a person's life, not merely when he is a child.

Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a fish-loving professor of neurosurgery and
physiological science at the University of California, Los Angeles,
believes that appropriate changes to a person's diet can enhance his
cognitive abilities, protect his brain from damage and counteract the
effects of ageing. Dr Gomez-Pinilla has been studying the effects of
food on the brain for years, and has now completed a review, just
published in NATURE REVIEWS NEUROSCIENCE, that has analysed more than
160 studies of food's effect on the brain. Some foods, he concludes,
are like pharmaceutical compounds; their effects are so profound that
the mental health of entire countries may be linked to them.

Last year, for example, the LANCET published research showing that
folic-acid supplements--sometimes taken by pregnant women--can help
those between 50 and 70 years old ward off the cognitive decline that
accompanies ageing. In a study lasting three years, Jane Durga, of
Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and her colleagues found that
people taking such supplements did better on measures of memory,
information-processing speed and verbal fluency. That, plus evidence
that folate deficiency is associated with clinical depression, suggests
eating spinach, orange juice and Marmite, which are all rich in folic

Another suggestion from Dr Gomez-Pinilla's review is that people should
eat more antioxidants. That idea is not new. Antioxidants are reckoned
by many to protect against the general effects of ageing. Vitamin E,
for example, which is found in vegetable oils, nuts and green leafy
vegetables, has been linked (in mice) with the retention of memory into
old age, and also with longer life.

Dr Gomez-Pinilla, however, gives the antioxidant story a particular
twist. The brain, he observes, is peculiarly susceptible to oxidative
damage. It consumes a lot of energy, and the reactions that release
this energy also generate oxidising chemicals. Moreover, brain tissue
contains a great deal of oxidisable material, particularly in the fatty
membranes surrounding nerve cells.

That suggests, among other things, the value of a diet rich in berries.
These have been shown to have strong antioxidant effects, though only a
small number of their constituents have been evaluated in detail. One
group that has been evaluated, the polyphenols, has been shown in
rodents to reduce oxidative damage and to boost the ability to learn
and retain memories. In particular, these chemicals affect changes in
response to different types of stimulation in the hippocampus (a part
of the brain that is crucial to the formation of long-term memories,
and which is the region most affected by Alzheimer's disease). Another
polyphenol, curcumin, has also been shown to have protective effects.
It reduces memory deficits in animals with brain damage. It may be no
coincidence that in India, where a lot of curcumin is consumed (it is
the substance that makes turmeric yellow), Alzheimer's disease is rarer
than elsewhere.

Though the way antioxidants work in the brain is not well known, Dr
Gomez-Pinilla says it is likely they protect the synaptic membranes.
Synapses are the junctions between nerve cells, and their action is
central to learning and memory. But they are also, he says, the most
fragile parts of the brain. And many of the nutrients associated with
brain function are known to affect transmission at the synapses.

An omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), for example,
provides membranes at synaptic regions with "fluidity"--the capacity to
transport signals. It also provides "plasticity"--a synapse's capacity
to change. Such changes are the basis of memory. Since 30% of the fatty
constituents of nerve-cell membranes are DHA molecules, keeping your
DHA levels topped up is part of having a healthy brain. Indeed,
according to the studies reviewed by Dr Gomez-Pinilla, the benefits of
omega-3s include improved learning and memory, and resistance to
depression and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia,
attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia.

Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as salmon, as well as in walnuts
and kiwi fruit, and there is a strong negative correlation between the
extent to which a country consumes fish and its levels of clinical
depression. On the Japanese island of Okinawa, for example, people have
a strikingly low rate of mental disorder--and Okinawans are notable
fish eaters, even by the standards of a piscivorous country like Japan.
In contrast, many studies suggest that diets which are rich in trans-
and saturated fatty acids, such as those containing a lot of deep-fried
foods and butter, have bad effects on cognition. Rodents put on such
diets show declines in cognitive performance within weeks.

In the past few years, several studies have looked at the effect of
adding omega-3s to people's diets--particularly those of children. One
such, carried out in the British city of Durham, was controversial in
that it was funded by a maker of children's omega-3 supplements and did
not include a control group being given a placebo. Despite the
publicity this study has received, Ben Goldacre, author of a book
called "Bad Science" that includes an investigation of it, says the
results will not be released.

Work by other researchers, however, has suggested such supplements do
improve the performance and behaviour of school-age children with
specific diagnoses such as dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder and
developmental co-ordination disorder. Moreover, although more work is
needed to elucidate the effects of omega-3s on healthy school-age
children, Dr Gomez-Pinilla says that younger children whose mothers
took fish-oil supplements (which contain omega-3s) when they were
pregnant and while they were breast-feeding do show better cognitive
performance than their unsupplemented contemporaries.

Eating well, then, is one key to a healthy brain. But a word of
warning--do not overeat. This puts oxidative stress on the brain and
risks undoing all the good work those antioxidants have been up to. For
those who would like a little practical guidance, THE ECONOMIST has
some suggestions for dinner (see menu). So why not put the Nintendo
brain trainer away tonight, and eat your way to intelligence instead?

See this article with graphics and related items at

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