The science of Epigenetics explains that our lifestyle choices (environment) will determine our level of health and our risk factors for chronic illness. In fact, research has demonstrated that over 98% of all chronic illness (cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression & anxiety disorders, reproductive disorders, digestive disorders, etc.) is due to environmental factors, not genetics. This means that our choices in nutrition, movement and mindset will determine how healthy we are.
We are either making choices that meet our genetic requirements for health – choices that are pure and sufficient – or we’re making choices that move us away from optimal health and function – choices that are toxic and deficient.
We are living in a time when these chronic illnesses, once reserved for grown-ups, are now an increasingly common part of childhood. Teaching kids to make healthier choices is one of the most important skills we can teach them to insure a healthier, happier future.
When it comes to nutrition, the initial is on adding the “good things” first. In other words, making sure kids are getting the raw materials for health – things like protein, healthy fats and oils, vegetables, fruit and water. These foods become even more beneficial if they are “real” foods, whole foods, as non-toxic and fresh as possible, and much of it raw.
The second phase of making healthier nutrition choices is to begin reducing or eliminating some of the toxic offenders – things like high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors, trans fats and hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils, excess sugar, and processed refined grains.
The most common foods to shift from, if better health is the desired outcome, are: sugary &/or toxic drinks: pop, sports drinks, energy drinks, conventional juice; conventional processed grains: cereal, bread, pasta, crackers, chips, pastries; junk food, fast food, convenience packaged snack foods, fried foods, conventional dairy, conventional meats, modern soy foods, conventional dressings and sauces, and most diet and low-fat foods.
It can certainly be an enormous challenge to limit these things in our diets, but our health depends on it. I don’t believe that a “cold turkey” approach is the most successful tactic for the majority of us (although, if you can do it that way, go for it!). Instead, I recommend transitioning to fewer of these toxic choices over time, while focusing on adding health first.
Some transition tips that might make this process easier for a child to incorporate:
1)Always remember the goal – better health. Healthy people make healthier choices. It’s all about choices and consequences. Making healthy choices has very clear consequences. So does making unhealthy choices.
2)We don’t have to say “never” to the toxic foods (the “tasty toxins”) we enjoy. We can choose to eat or drink it less often, or have smaller servings of it. We can eat or drink something healthy along with the tasty toxin, making the whole meal or snack healthier overall.
3)Substitute or upgrade to healthier choices. For virtually every conventional toxic food out there, there’s a healthier version available now with fewer toxins in it. You can also make your own “treats” that have fewer toxic ingredients.
4)Don’t keep junk in the house or readily available. Make healthier choices more readily available. If you do keep junk at home, keep it frozen or someplace that is inconvenient and makes you think about your choice first.
5)Think beyond the 5 minutes of pleasure you get while eating or drinking that toxic choice. Think about the bigger consequences – maybe it’s weight gain, maybe it’s setting the stage for chronic illness.
6)One toxin at a time. If it’s pizza day at school, have the pizza (if you choose) along with some healthier choices. It sabotages our health to have the pizza AND the brownies AND the pop or juice that’s sold along with it. There are limitations of matter… the body will only put up with so much! Another example is birthday parties for kids. I’ve attended far too many now that offered a free-for-all for the young guests – toxic snacks, meals and multiple desserts. Stand back and ask, “Is this really necessary?” Pick your poison!
7)Each day, fill up with Health first. Kids need to understand the role they play in shaping their own health, now and in the future. We can teach them to be responsible with their choices, and give their bodies what they need before they consider adding toxins. In our house, this means that we get at least a couple very healthy meals and snacks under our belts before any toxic choice is even up for discussion. The body must receive its raw ingredients for health… otherwise, you can’t have health! As many meals and snacks as possible need to contain the highest quality possible protein, healthy fats & oils, vegetables or fruit and water.
8)Along the same line as adding the healthy choices first, I make every attempt to provide the kids with the healthiest choices first. I serve the morning fruit while they’re waiting for the rest of breakfast, or some raw veggies as they’re waiting for lunch or dinner (which contains even more veggies!). At a restaurant, I’ll order some veggies or a small salad to be brought out right away. And, if I know the restaurant falls short when it comes to nutritious menu options, I’ll feed the kids a “mini-meal” before we even get there – one with some healthy, clean protein and some fresh fiber (vegetables). It’s the same story if we’re attending a party or social gathering where healthy choices won’t be readily available. Fill up with health first. It’s not about “ruining their appetite” – it’s about NOT ruining their health!
9)Finally, after considering the consequences, if a child (or you, on behalf of your child) still decides to consume the toxic choice… then have at it! Enjoy the tasty toxin fully. Guilt or regret will only lead to stressful emotions and even bigger issues. Choose responsibly, knowing there are consequences and limitations of matter. We don’t to say “never” or live in a bubble! Each positive, healthy choice we make adds up. We can make a healthier choice in the next meal or snack.
The most important concept we can teach our kids about their health is that every choice matters. (That, and the fact that health is a matter of function… not just how you feel or look right now. It’s far deeper than that.) Their current level of health is the result of the choices they have made thus far. The choices they make today will determine their health in the future. Choose wisely.