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If you’re a parent, you know your kids should eat healthy, but have you ever thought about the why?
Maybe it’s because you know a healthy diet is vital for their growth and development.
Or perhaps you’re sick of their picky eating behaviors and you want meals times to be peaceful.
If you’re an emotional eater and struggle with your weight, or have family members who do, you’re probably concerned about your child becoming overweight too.
With more than one-third of children who are overweight or obese, childhood obesity is definitely a good reason for your kids to eat healthy.
But fat or skinny, all kids should eat healthy. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. We’re a nation of (very) sick people
In the U.S., we’re facing a health crisis and 50 percent of Americans have at least one chronic health condition, mental disorder or substance use issue, a September 2016 study in the journal Psychology, Health & Medicine found.
We’re facing skyrocketing rates of:
- ADHD and ADD
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Anxiety and depression
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heart disease
- Hormonal imbalances
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Menstrual disorders
- Skin problems
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Type-2 diabetes
Perhaps the most compelling reason kids should eat healthy is because food can prevent them from getting sick.
In his book, Food: What The Heck Should I Eat?, Dr. Mark Hyman states:
“Food is the most powerful drug on the planet. It can improve the expression of thousands of genes, balance dozens of hormones, optimize tens of thousands of protein networks, reduce inflammation, and optimize your microbiome (gut flora) with every single bite. It can cure most chronic diseases; it works faster, better, and cheaper than any drug ever discovered; and the only side effects are good ones—prevention, reversal, and even treatment of disease, not to mention vibrant optimal health.”
2. Mental Health
According to a 2017 report by World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects a whopping 322 million people worldwide.
As someone who has struggled with both anxiety and depression since childhood, I won’t tell you that nutrition is a cure-all for all people with depression and anxiety.
Food cannot override low levels of neurotransmitters, genetics, past trauma, low self-esteem and stress, for example.
But it can make a huge difference to improve mental health as it has done for me.
For some people, diet alone is enough.
Studies suggest nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D can support mental health.
In fact, a September 2014 study in the journal BMJ Open found consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with mental well being in both men and women.
3. Boosts Brain Power
You can hire a tutor and encourage your kids to study harder, but for kids to learn, concentrate, and excel in school, they need to eat healthy.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are important to focus on.
According to a December 2017 study out of the University of Pennsylvania, kids who eat seafood at least once a week have higher IQ scores that are 4 points higher on average than kids who eat fish less frequently or not at all.
What’s more, a healthy diet is important for kids’ brain health when they’re young and throughout their lives.
In fact, a July 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found in older people, a Mediterranean diet with foods like fish, nuts, olive oil and avocado is associated with improved cognitive function.
4. Sports and Athletic Performance
Playing multiple sports and joining travel teams are all great, but without the right nutrition, your kids won’t fuel their bodies with what they need to build muscle, strength and endurance.
Without a healthy diet, they’ll be sluggish and their athletic performance can suffer.
An April 2013 article in the journal Paediatrics Child Health states the right amounts of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and hydration are essential for young athletes’ growth, activity and athletic performance.
5. Gut Health
A healthy gut is linked to a strong immune system but leaky gut syndrome or “intestinal hyperpermeability” is something that can develop over years due to a poor diet.
Although controversial in the Western Medicine world, leaky gut syndrome is believed to occur when the tight junctions or cells that line the inside of the intestines open up and allow undigested food particles and pathogens in, which causes problems in the gut and throughout the body.
Experts say a diet high in processed foods, sugar and synthetic food additives, which disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut can leady to leaky gut.
Sleep plays an important role in kids’ health and affects their overall function, mood and behavior, school and athletic performance.
But it’s an often-overlooked factor when it comes to eating healthy. Eating foods low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep and more awakenings at night, a January 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found.
Without enough sleep, kids are also more likely to make unhealthy food choices. Studies show the less sleep they get, the more likely they are to make unhealthy food choices.
In fact, an August 2018 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that kids who regularly fell asleep after 11pm were 4 to 5 times more likely to eat less than three breakfasts a week and 2 to 3 times more likely to eat junk food at least 5 times a week.
7. Eye health
A healthy diet can keep support your child’s eye health.
For example, vitamin A helps the eyes see in low light conditions and keeps the cornea healthy and lubricated.
Omega-3’s can prevent dry eye syndrome, often a result of too much screen time.
Research suggests lutein, a carotenoid or plant pigment found in pumpkin and green leafy vegetables could improve learning, memory, focus and concentration.
A healthy diet can also prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration later on in life.
8. Prevents some types of cancer
Cancer isn’t something any parent should have to worry about but laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating can prevent certain types of cancer into adulthood.
A June 2017 review and multiple meta-analyses in the journal Nutrition Reviews found a healthy diet can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers.
9. A longer life
It’s no surprise that eating healthy can prevent disease and extend your life.
But a March 2014 study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found people who eat 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day cut their risk for premature death by 42 percent.
10. Your future grandchildren
What your kids eat now can set the stage for the way they eat throughout their lives and those choices can affect their fertility, whether they’re male or female.
What’s more, 2015 guidelines from The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics state that not only is optimal nutrition before and during pregnancy important for women but it can affect their future generations as well.