Like many children (maybe even your own) you may have regarded mother’s admonition to eat your vegetables as casus belli, justifying passive resistance if not outright insubordination, and the occasional Brussels sprout launched in a tactical move against your younger brother. With Mother’s Day around the corner, why not take this opportunity to acknowledge that Mom was right — not just with regard to eating your vegetables, but a whole host of other nutrition-related issues as well. These days science is supplying backup to “because I said so” as a reason why mother’s much-maligned advice ought to be followed. Though every family is different, we surveyed the DNI staff for a few of the most oft-repeated alimentary aphorisms of their own mothers. May they inspire you to thank your own mom for all her nutritional nagging over the years:
“Resume normal eating.” This was one mother’s slightly sarcastic response to her daughter’s periodic announcements that she was going on a diet. Translation: It’s abnormal eating — compulsive nibbling, bingeing on bags of junk food, eating out of boredom or beyond the point of satiation — that leads to weight gain. Going from abnormal overeating to abnormal under-eating sets up a cycle of extremes, neither of which are healthy.
“Don’t say you’re stuffed.” The point was that saying you’re stuffed not only sounds vulgar, but it also means you ate too much! Research shows that children past the age of 4 tend to eat what is in front of them, just like adults, so this injunction is meaningless unless coupled with kid-sized portions — as well as the next piece of advice.
“Don’t eat so fast!” When food is digested, the body releases a chemical called cholecystokinin (CCK) which tells the brain when you’ve eaten enough to satisfy your appetite. But it takes about 20 minutes from the time you begin your meal for your mind to get the message. If you speed your way through a meal you may already be on your second serving of dessert before your mind has caught up with your hors d’oeuvres.
“Sit up straight!” Why does this qualify as dietary advice? Because proper posture allows for proper digestion, letting food settle in the bottom of your stomach, which helps the body recognize when you’ve had enough to eat. No wonder feasting Romans preferred to recline (and no wonder they frequently felt the need to throw up afterwards).
“Turn off the television!” This may not sound like a digestive directive, but in fact several studies have correlated the amount of time children spend in front of the TV and their weight. According to research published in the International Journal of Obesity, children who watch more than three hours of television a day are 50% more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours. That’s pretty darn scary when you consider that the average child spends about four hours in front of the television set. Over the course of a year, that child will watch 10,000 food commercials — 95% of which are for fast food, soft drinks and candy. Keep daily TV time under two hours says the American Academy of Pediatrics. And saving the best for last…
“Eat your vegetables.” Not only do vegetables and fruit supply the nutrients necessary for healthy development, they also serve as a bulwark against obesity and a host of diseases once thought of as adult maladies — but whose roots we are now discovering in early childhood.
Autopsies of children who died in accidents show fatty buildup beginning in heart valves as early as the age of three and arterial buildup in children as young as ten. In a Wall Street Journal article on “How to Give Your Child A Longer Life,” correspondent Tara Parker-Pope observed: “It may be hard to believe that the health decisions you make for a 5-year-old today will still count when he or she is 50. But a growing body of evidence shows that childhood is actually the best time to start protecting an aging body, buckling it in for a lifetime of good health.”
How? An even larger body of evidence has long concluded that a diet rich in vegetables and fruit can help protect against cancer, coronary heart disease and a host of other diseases. Fruits and vegetables have also been linked to better respiratory health and reduced risk of asthma in children.
Other research from the University of Tennessee suggests fruits and vegetables may strengthen girls’ bones. The study found that those study participants who ate at least three servings of fruit and vegetables each day had bigger bones than those who passed on produce.
This isn’t to say that all of your mother’s tableside-tutelage turned out to be true. If mom guilt-tripped you into cleaning your plate because children were starving in India, you may have continued to follow this advice into adulthood, only to find the food you so conscientiously refused to waste has gone to your waist. If that’s the case, then dropping such childhood baggage will help you drop unwanted pounds.
So if you’re stumped for what to write in this year’s Mother’s Day card, send her your own list of overdue acknowledgments of ways in which she paved the way for future healthy eating — even if you fought her those few steps of the way.
Published May 1, 2013