As a pediatrician, I see firsthand how the things kids eat—or don’t eat—have a tremendous impact on their health. Good nutrition is critical to children’s physical and emotional well-being.
Extra weight can cause medical problems, most commonly prediabetes, abnormal cholesterol, and liver damage. All too often, bullies at school and in the home use a child’s weight to inflict emotional pain. My passion as a physician is teaching children and their families about healthy eating. Learning what food habits are less healthy, and steadily replacing those habits with better options, helps people create a healthier future.
To be clear, my goal isn’t for kids to lose weight. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be damaging to kids and adolescents to focus on the number on the scale. My hope is that, with support, each person can feel confident in their body and embrace their healthiest self. Below are my top tips for anyone who wants to eat healthier:
1. Consume less sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 24 grams (about 6 teaspoons) a day for women and children, and no more than 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons) a day for men. An 8-ounce apple juice contains 6 to 7 teaspoons of sugar!
2. Eat 3 meals and 1 to 2 snacks per day. Breakfast provides energy for the day and helps control hunger, while healthy snacks keep people from getting too hungry and overeating later.
3. Eat 5 veggies and fruits per day. Fruits and veggies provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber—the essentials for helping growing kids stay healthy.
4. Choose unsaturated fats. Saturated fats from meat, butter, and cheese clog arteries and cause heart disease. Unsaturated fats from avocados, nuts, and vegetables are better choices. Avoid trans fats (“partially hydrogenated”) completely.
5. Minimize temptation. Keep unhealthy foods and drinks out of the home and minimize eating out.
6. Increase fiber intake. Fiber helps people feel full, reduces constipation, feeds healthy gut bacteria, and stabilizes blood sugar. Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains are good sources of fiber.
7. Eat only when hungry. Avoid eating out of boredom or sadness, or simply because food is there or it smells good.
8. Watch portions. Each food on a person’s plate should be the size of their fist. Serve meals on small plates. Wait 30 minutes before getting seconds. Limit seconds to fruits or vegetables. Curb calories by drinking water before eating.
If your child is under 18 and would benefit from ongoing, one-on-one nutrition education and support for a prediabetes, diabetes, or obesity diagnosis, talk to your pediatrician or clinician. Our Pediatric Wellness Program helps kids increase their self-esteem, improve their quality of life, feel good about their body, and prevent future health problems. The program is accepting referrals, making it a great time to get children and adolescents the help they need to create positive, lifelong habits.
Dr. Valerie Weiss leads the Pediatric Wellness Program at Vancouver Clinic. Using nutrition education, behavioral therapy, physical activity, and optional weight-loss medications prescribed to improve health, this wellness program helps patients prevent or reverse obesity and its complications.