Our Children, Our Future! How to stop child obesity (Part 3)

Updated 08 March 2013

Our Children, Our Future! How to stop child obesity (Part 3)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the hazards of excess body fat and obesity on the health of toddlers, children and adolescents. It sets the stage not only for adult obesity and metabolic syndromes (diabetes 2, internal inflammation, hypertension and cardiovascular disorders), but also for hormone-related cancers, even at an early age. Such disorders lead to debility, disabilities, depression, low productivity, high health costs and premature deaths.
Last time, I explained the importance of sleep and how irregular sleeping hours and sleep deprivation affect mental and physical health, resulting in many disorders including weight gain and obesity in children. Today, I will discuss the effects of modern day diets on the weight of very young children and adolescents as well as adults and why it is more harmful to children than adults.
Our diet, forty years ago, may not have been the healthiest, but at least it was not as “harmful” and fatty as the modern widespread diet is. It was meager and poor in certain health-promoting whole “live” foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, but it was not as health-destructive as today’s fatty fried fast meals, processed meats and pre-prepared foods, loaded with sodium, containing additives (preservatives, taste-enhancers and artificial flavors, sugar and colorings), made with doughy white bread; or fried in carcinogenic trans fats. Let alone the sugary soft and soda drinks (one cola offers 10 to 12 lumps of sugar) and the diet colas containing “harmful” artificial sweeteners (aspartame, saccharine) as well as the fatty and heavily sweetened milkshakes, ice-creams, cakes, cookies, chocolates and desserts. Food was also free of pesticides, chemical additives, hormones and antibiotics.
Because such foods (if they are considered food) are empty of nutritive substances, we unconsciously eat huge amounts in order to quench the body needs of nutrients. Nutrient-dense wholefoods give satisfaction, preventing overconsumption. Another factor is the combination and the “calculated” amounts of refined carbohydrates and fats, which make people eat without measurement. Moreover, refined carbs are not satisfactory; because of they lack nutrients and fiber.
The availability and supersizes of hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, ice-creams and colas offered in “junk” food eateries increase food consumption. The massive campaigns of commercials make fast food even more inviting and attractive, influencing children to think they are consuming optimum nutrition, especially if blessed or joined by their parents. Some of us may have seen the movie Supersize Me and how fast food consumption inflates the weight and ruins health (diabetes, cardiovascular disease) in just one month.
Some kids succumb to peer pressure, or else they get derided by bulling classmates. Unfortunately, schools don’t help, as they sell burgers, fries, colas and candy on their grounds, encouraging school children to snack on such food to make quick profits. We are truly faced with a “big” dilemma.
According Doctor Joel Fuhrman’s book “Eat to Live,” consumption of fast food, burgers, doughnuts, cookies and candies pave the way for the development of adult onset diseases. Such nutrition breaks down the immune systems; provokes genetic predispositions to ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, hypertension and cancer and leads to the slow destruction of health and premature death. Unfortunately, many adults and of course children are oblivious of the dangers of “health-destructive” diets.
In research, not only heavy children make heavy adults, but also obesity in children is far more devastating to future health than obesity is in adults. To support that, autopsies on the cadavers of overweight and obese children and adolescents showed plaque and cholesterol buildup in their cardiovascular systems.
According to Dr. Fuhrman, excess fat, protein and refined carbohydrates stimulate the hormone production in children, which prepares young bodies for early puberty and reproduction. Growth hormones make young bodies bulkier and give bigger statures than children on a normal diet. Premature puberty speeds ageing factors as well as provokes the growth of tumors and cancers through raising the levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).
We currently see unusual sights of little girls developing breasts at the early age of nine and ten, looking more or less like fully-grown women. Children are meant to develop at their own pace. Puberty age has been advanced in the last decades due to modern diets. Of course the appetite also grows uncontrollably with overeating. It becomes a “dangerously” vicious circle.
There is yet another side effect to excess body fat. According Dr. Susan Harris of Tufts University in Boston, too much fat in the body stands in the way of vitamin D synthesis from sunshine and its uptake in the bloodstream, making heavier people more D deficient and more prone to bone loss. It is necessary to supplement obese children with vitamin D3, the more bioavailable type, in order to prevent D deficiency and rickets (soft and weak bones), which affect their growth and bone structures.
On the other hand, a wholesome and balanced nutrition is paramount to stop and reverse weight gain and obesity and protect health. Good diets should consist of mostly fresh whole fruits and raw or lightly cooked vegetables. Emphasis should be put on a variety of deep pigmented plants. Proteins should be lean. Fat should comprise the essential fatty acids. Grains and legumes should be whole and unrefined.
A nutrient-dense diet, rich in fresh whole fruits, vegetables and herbs, is abundant in important vitamins, minerals, enzymes and detoxifying phytochemicals and antioxidants to counteract body fat, which releases toxic inflammatory chemicals. Fresh whole raw plants supply soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, necessary to the digestive and cardiovascular systems. They give feeling of satiation to prevent obesity and overconsumption. Whole plants provide a rainbow of colors that supply myriads of phytochemicals and antioxidants. Deep pigments like dark red, blue, yellow, orange and green have different healing and anti-inflammatory properties, which detoxify the organs, cells, tissue, blood, skin and systems from emotional and physical stress and environmental toxins as well as target viruses, infections and disorders by bolstering the immune system.
Proteins in lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are important building blocks to cells, neurons, tissue, skin, bones and the rest of the body. Lean proteins, in reasonable portions, give sensation of fullness that lasts hours after a meal, preventing nibbling, unnecessary snacking and overeating refined carbohydrates and fats.
Essential fats are important components of a healthy nutrition. They should come from omega-3-6-9 fats, as found in fatty cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios), seeds (flaxseeds, pumpkin, sesame, chia) and monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil and avocadoes. Such fats not only protect the cardiovascular system, the heart and brain from metabolic syndromes (hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, strokes), but also fuel the metabolism to burn calories and ward off weight gain. They make important brain hormones, neurotransmitters, which promote signaling, interconnecting and communication of neurons.
Next week, I will discuss a very important aspect of healthy lifestyles to control and prevent weight gain, obesity and disease.
N.B.: Individuals with medical conditions or on medication should consult their physicians when they decide to introduce anything new in their diet even if it is natural.
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Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”


Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.


Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.