Thursday, June 02, 2005

Who's Impressed?

In the June issue of Pediatrics, researchers praise educational intervention as an effective way to modify eating habits for the better based on results from the NHLBI-sponsored DISC study, part of the "We Can" initiative (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition).

Researcher showed that eight- to 10-year-olds could be persuaded to increase their intake of "go foods" and decrease their intake of "whoa foods." At the start of the study (baseline) two groups of children were evaluated and both groups ate approximately 43% of their calories each day from snacks, pizza and desserts with 57% of their calories from those foods designated as "Go Foods".

The intervention group, which included parents, received nutrition education which included a "Go Guide" to help select foods throughout the study. The control group only received pamphlets on heart-healthy eating that are available to the public.

At the end of the study, the control group's eating habits were similar to when they started - 57% from "Go Foods"; the intervention group had modified their eating habits and consumed 67% of their calories from "Go Foods."

Sounds impressive, doesn't it?

Well, I for one am not impressed. Especially when I consider the foods that were included in the "Go Foods" list and the alarming 33% of calories from desserts, pizza and snacks the intervention group still consumed!

First let me tackle the "Go Foods" list. It reads like a "diet mentality" primer for kids. If you want to read it yourself, it's here online in PDF format. The focus is not on nutrition or nutrient-density, it's on "energy balance" and "portion size." Now don't get me wrong, these are important features of a healthy diet...but nutritional quality of foods eaten is more important.

Just how poor are some of the options on the "Go Foods" list, which are described as "almost anytime foods"? Angel food cake, ginger snaps, baked chips, low-fat frozen yogurt, ice milk bars, egg substitutes, and diet sodas, diet iced tea and diet lemonade! In addition, the page following the list cautions that one should try to avoid added sugar in their foods, while many of the "Go Foods" are loaded with added sugars to maintain "mouth feel" after reducing or removing the fat! Talk about sending contradictory messages!

More disturbing is the implication (found at the top of the list) that the "Go Foods" are nutrient-dense, whereas the "Whoa Foods" are calorie-dense. I really would like to know exactly what nutrients my child would be getting from angel food cake or pretzels!

What message do we really want to send to children? Is it that they can eat salty snacks (pretzels), cake (angel food cake) and cookies (ginger snaps) each day if they want to? That is the message we are sending and in doing so we're setting up an "entitlement" mentality that these children are going to take with them into adulthood - a mindset that snacks, sweets and desserts are daily fare instead of occassional treats.

The intervention group still ate 33% of their calories from pure JUNK - nutrient-poor foods that should be limited in a child's diet - and did not increase their intake of fruits or vegetables. That's success?

My other concern is with the focus on calories (energy balance) and portion control. The nutritional value of many foods in the "Whoa Foods" are ignored with highly processed, refined foods recommended in their place. Children are growing at a rapid pace throughout childhood and require nutrient-dense foods to ensure they meet their nutrient requirements within their calorie requirements.

Let me give you an example. In the "Slow Foods" list are whole eggs but in the "Go Foods" list are egg substitutes or egg whites. Whole eggs provide significantly more nutrients than just egg whites and are a whole food instead of a processed product like egg substitutes.

Which do you think is better for a growing child?

How about we compare the nutritional value of just egg whites to a whole egg?

Large Egg Egg Whites
Calories 74 34
Fat 4.9g 0
Carb 0.6g 0.5g
Protein 6.3g 7.4g
Calcium 26mg 5mg
Iron 1mg 0
Sodium 70mg 110mg
Vitamin B-12 0.7mg 0
Vitamin E 0.5mg 0
Vitamin D 17.3mg 0
Vitamin A 244mg 0
Vitamin K 0.1mg 0
Riboflavin 0.3mg 0

Again, which do you think provides more nutrients for a child?

In our obession with low-fat foods and enforcing a strict adherance to eating the right number of portions from each food group we've lost sight of, not only the critical importance of nutrients, but also the satiety value of many of the natural, whole foods we're being told to avoid or limit. I personally would rather see my child eat an egg (or two, depending on his age) for breakfast with some sliced strawberries instead of a bowl of highly processed cold cereal topped with fat free milk.

I for one am committed to teaching my child that fruits, nuts and natural cheeses are acceptable for snacks - not angel food cake, ice milk bars and ginger snap cookies....those foods are on our "Whoa Foods" list!

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