My daughter, her husband, and their 6-year-old son eat fast food every day. I have tried to tell them how bad this is for them and their child, but they ignore me. Their son is handicapped and his eating habits are very strange. He will not eat anything but French fries, macaroni and cheese, and pizza. He drinks orange juice, flavored milk, and cokes. I know this is not a nutritious diet for him. As of right now he is not at all overweight. In fact, he is very thin. Do you have any suggestions?
This is a difficult one for which there are no easy answers. There is more evidence than ever that diet in childhood not only affects children when they are young but also plays an important role in what happens to them as adults.
For example, studies of children who died in accidents in Louisiana showed that over one half of them had significant blockages in their coronary arteries and all of them had significant blockages in their aortas. The more fat and cholesterol they ate as children, the more heart disease they had as they grew older.
New evidence shows that diet in childhood also affects the incidence of breast cancer in women. Breast cancer risk may be related, at least in part, to the type of diet a woman ate as a child and even related to the diet of her mother during pregnancy. Women who eat a very low-fat, whole-foods diet like I recommend produce 25 percent less estrogen than those eating a typical high-fat American diet. Estrogen stimulates cell growth and proliferation, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Estrogens also may be responsible for puberty and menarche occurring at earlier ages in girls.
When you tell your daughter and her husband how bad this is for them and their child, chances are they feel judged. When people feel criticized, they are less likely to change or to give you what you want. Instead, you might consider using some of the communication skills that I describe in Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease and in Love & Survival. You can express your concerns and feelings about your grandson to your daughter while reducing the likelihood that she will feel criticized or judged.
The important distinction to make is between simple carbohydrates and whole foods, also called complex carbohydrates. The dangerous half truth is this: simple carbohydrates cause you to gain weight, but complex carbohydrates help you lose weight. The goal is not to switch from simple carbohydrates to meat but from simple carbohydrates to whole foods.
In short, when you switch from a meat-based diet high in simple carbohydrates to a whole foods, plant-based diet, you get a quadruple benefit:
- The high fiber content of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans reduces insulin levels, so you lose weight and lower cholesterol levels;
- When you eat less fat, you eat fewer calories without eating less food;
- You avoid the animal-based products rich in substances that cause illnesses; and
- You get thousands of other substances that are protective.
Unfortunately, a few doctors do recommend high protein diets. Why? First, they may not know any better. Most physicians receive almost no training in nutrition during medical school. Second, some physicians may find it easier to recommend a high protein diet if they think that people won’t make bigger changes in diet and lifestyle. Yet so much of this becomes self-reinforcing: they say, “I know you’re not going to change your diet to eat less fat and more fruits and vegetables,” and when they don’t, it reinforces that belief. Third, some people do lose weight temporarily on a high protein diet for reasons discussed above, even though they can lose even more weight and keep it off on the whole foods diet I recommend. And, instead of mortgaging their health, they are enhancing it.