Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Food Norms, Marketing and Our Children's Health

The following, very thoughtful note by my friend Carmen was sent in response to the Bubblegum Incident. I thought I'd share it here in its entirety. Carmen retains more information about nutrition than I have EVER READ! She's a wealth of knowledge. Here's her take on our decision to withhold bubblegum from our children for the first 7-9 years of life (as well as lots of other candies):

Well! I was shocked to hear you were treated badly for not treating your kids carelessly. Having been raising children for 23 years now, it’s been a long time that I’ve been asking questions about health, diet, food preferences, brain function, and this encompassed all of my college years, which haven’t stopped yet. It would be false to say that children learn taste preferences early. They’re born with a taste for fat and sugar, the things which are essential to their development, and which predominate in breast milk. After that, our young have been given a long window of time, a sensitive period where their cultural food norms are absorbed.

In the physiologically normal sense, cultural food norms are refined over thousands of years and the winning ingredients, those which have been observed to support optimum health and development are passed on by wise elders. Cultural food norms fit a people to a place, and are climate specific and often become gene specific; like adult lactose tolerance, an acquired gene mutation that allows adults to continue making lactase, and thereby exploit a ready supply of nutrients from dairy animals. Those without the mutation only produce that digestive enzyme while they are milk-feeding infants.

Our problem today is that our modern food norms have not been time tested, and few of us lived close enough to our great-great-grandparents to have heard about the time-tested pre-industrial foodways that nourished our ancestors. Since it’s the job of all capitalist processed food manufacturers to inoculate our children’s minds with their ideas of food before that sensitive window closes, those of us that want our children to grow up healthy have to keep the junk out of our kitchen and out of our kids reach until our kids are in their teens. It’s not that just one cookie is going to do irreparable damage to their body, but it will do irreparable damage to their idea of what is right and wrong to eat. Just as you would not let your kids hear you tell lies, even though on rare occasions as an adult, that might be the wise, convenient or even altruistic thing to do, learning about foodways is like learning a moral code, and we all know how long it takes to make mature moral judgments. So we have to brace ourselves against the junk peddlers as they are using every tactic they can to fight for our children’s minds and lifelong dollars. That’s why processed food manufacturers like to get so cozy with school lunch programs. And that’s you can get hot dogs, cookies and juice, in baby food versions courtesy of Gerber.

Simplistic as that all sounds, it’s not just cultural learning that determines our grown childrens’ food choices. Scientists are now researching cellular communication via hormones, and other chemical messengers and discovering that high glycemic (sugar and starch) food exposure leads to surges not only in blood sugar, and it’s storage hormone-insulin, but also to another signaling molecule called leptin.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of insulin-resistance where cells become more and more deaf to the ever present signal of insulin to squirrel away the excess blood sugar for hard times; but you probably haven’t heard of leptin resistance. Cells, both in the body and brain become resistant to excessive leptin signals too. Problem is, one of leptin’s jobs is to let you know you have accumulated enough body fat, and can start using energy instead of just storing it. Ever wonder why many overweight people seem to be so lethargic? It’s because their cells have become resistant to the signals of leptin. Cells in their hypothalamus (brain stem area) which control appetite and energy levels aren’t getting the message that they are abundantly endowed with stored energy and can afford to expend some. The receptors on the cell membrane have effectively quit picking up the phone, and quit answering the door, not letting the message get through.

This happens because the constant barrage of leptin signals from ingesting starch and sugar three meals and two snacks per day, has trained the hypothalamus to believe that there is no new information coming from the cellular communicators, and it doesn’t bother to listen anymore. It’s not just glycemic carbs, there are other things that alter the cellular communication too, like imbalances of fatty acids which make up the doors and windows of our cell membranes and misplaced look alike fats such as trans fats and even plasticizers. Cell membranes work poorly when they are made of the wrong materials and in the average American, trans-fats are the worst offenders.

The end problem of course is that the hypothalamus receptor cells are disabled and do not hear the the quiet background leptin signals sent out by your own fat cells, which are sent out to give the brain a constant status report on the amount of stored calories, enabling the brain to make important decisions, like whether the body could sustain a pregnancy and should ovulate or not this month; whether to eat or fast; whether to exercise or hibernate; whether it can afford to build muscle or must tear it down to keep other organs running; and even whether there are enough calories in reserve to take on long delayed healing projects. Can you imagine the havoc raised when a human body does not allow reproduction, can’t tolerate skipped meals, has no energy for exercise, bone or muscle building, healing? These issues practically define our modern miseries of infertility, compulsive snacking, depression, and the scores of people suffering from repetitive strain injuries, including arthritis, osteoporosis, and general malaise.

The worst part of leptin resistance is the hunger. When your hypothalamus gets poor information about your fat deposits, it concludes there is insufficient fat stored. It makes you hungry, craving sugary, calorie dense foods to build you up for the famine which you surely must be in. It sends out chemical messengers that cause you to delay healing injuries, in favor of putting the energy toward fat storage, more and more fat storage, even though it’s still ot hearing the signals from the abundant fat already on deposit.

Leptin resistance begins at a young age. Mouse studies have induced leptin resistance in immature egg follicles of gestating female fetuses. The result when the next generation is born, is mice that readily gorge on anything in front of them, with seemingly no ability to regulate their hunger, and even when placed on a calorie restricted diet, they still divert energy toward storing fat, at the expense of their muscle and bone mass.

The good news is: Leptin sensitivity can be restored, or substantially improved through dietary manipulations. The bad news is, girl children, because they carry the egg follicles for the next generation from a few weeks after they have been conceived, can transmit their mother’s dietary indiscretions down to their own children, a jump of two generations.

To learn more about how starchy/sugary foods affect leptin, which affects your metabolism and ultimately your whole health just chug through Google, paying special attention to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies.

Cheers, Carmen

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Friday, November 13, 2009

In Defense of Healthy Choices

It happened again today. Two women told me I'm "a terrible mother" because I didn't raise my children on sweets. We'd been talking about the latest happenings with our families, and I began to tell the funny story of our girls' first bubble gum experiences, which happened just this week. But that's as far as I got in the story. The women were horrified to hear the girls had never had gum before, and further terrified to hear the girls were not raised on diabetes-inducing, cancer-promoting junk food. They needed an explanation. They needed me to justify my dietary decisions. They asked. They ridiculed. But they didn't take the time to listen. Instead, they turned away.

So much for sharing a cute story.

It's true. My daughters (now 7 and 9) didn't get that first big, pink wad of stiff bubble gum until this year's Halloween festivities introduced it to our home. But why does that make me a bad parent? WHY do parents who protect their children's health by limiting their junk food consumption in the early years have to DEFEND themselves? Shouldn't it be the OTHER way around?

Throughout our daughters' early childhood, we've done our best to feed them healthy food. I breastfed each of them, fed them veggies from our garden or farmers market when possible, made our own baby food and continue to provide homemade meals that most often do not involve a brightly-decorated box. They never tasted sugar until those homemade cakes on their first birthdays, and for YEARS, they thought real fruit leather (dried fruit) was the be-all and end-all of desert treats. Over the years, we've slowly introduced ice cream, then home-baked goods. And now, on rare occasions, they get candy.

Honestly, our kids never seemed to miss those things they'd never experienced. While you and I may jones for any of a number of those treats that tempt us in the check-out line, since they hadn't experienced them, they never even asked for them. (Have you ever had a Hob Nob? No? Then you probably don't have the urge to grab a cup of tea, a plate of the delectables and have at them like I do.)

SURE, I've beem SORELY tempted to share some of our favorite treats with them to see that look of discovery, epicurean delight, excitement in their faces. But we weighed the consequences, and opted to delay these discoveries in favor of building a healthy foundation upon which they will, of course, make their own dietary decisions with increasing frequency.

I continue to believe we did the right thing. It has been god not only for them, but for me as well; since they aren't allowed the treats, I typically don't bring them hom for me or Mr. B, either. Therefore, we all manage to avoid them. Meanwhile, we've discovered there ARE other wonderful, delicious treats that don't involve, say, chocolate. (GASP! I KNOW!) And the girls have had such broad experience with non-sugary, healthy foods that their thirst for unhealthful snacks is minimal.

So, the real question is, WHY must we pressure our fellow mankind to eat unhealthy foods that will, in all likelihood, contribute not in our healthful growth and well-being, but in our early demise? As if it weren't already difficult enough to stick with the healthy options.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Photo Contest - Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County

Do you have great shots of your favorite spots in Santa Barbara County?

Enter your best digital image(s) in the Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County photo contest by 9 p.m. PST Monday, November 30, 2009 for publication consideration. This paperback guide to all things family friendly in Santa Barbara County is due out in spring 2010 and YOUR work could be featured!

$25 for each photo used on inside pages - these photos will be reproduced in black and white and may be either vertical or horizontal, though vertical images are in higher demand.

$100 for photo selected for the front cover - this photo must be vertical and color.

Digital images should emphasize place, not people, though the human element is certainly encouraged. You must have written permission from any persons in the photo. Written permission must include the subject's name and signature (guardian's name and signature for subjects younger than 18) and a working telephone number for verification purposes. Photos submitted without the written permission will be disqualified from the competition.

All photos must be tack sharp. No out-of-focus images will be considered, though images that make good use of depth of field for texture are encouraged. For cover consideration, images must be color and must retain their sharpness at 6" wide by 9" tall @ 1200 ppi. For inside consideration, images may be color or black and white (though will be reproduced without color) and must be sharp at 5" wide and no more than 7.5" tall @ 300 ppi.

All images must be of publicly accessible places in Santa Barbara County, from the Santa Maria River south to the Ventura County line. Inclusion of a diverse population is strongly encouraged.

Images that will be given preference will feature:
- Goleta
- Buellton
- Montecito
- Los Olivos
- Summerland
- Santa Maria/Orcutt
- Santa Ynez/Solvang
- Dog Parks
- Equestrian shots
- Shots that include subjects with disabilities
- Vertical shots

We're looking for images that represent Santa Barbara County, that clearly identify places. See images in Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County for direction. It's a pretty wide window. Detailed shots like, for instance, a snazzy insect on a beautiful flower, while wonderful, won't work for our purposes as the flower could have been anywhere. The same image with a clearly recognizable landmark in the background, albeit out of focus for depth of field, may work. An image that looks like a portrait also won't work, but incidental humans in the image are more appealing to me than images without the human element.

Winning photographs become the property of Pen & Pad Publishing for use in Best Family Adventures guide series books, Web site and related materials. All other rights are retained by the photographer.

Send submissions to JBest (AT) BestFamilyAdventures.com before 9 p.m. PST, Monday, November 30.

Spread the word!


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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

For my mom, and Auntie M - not that they're like this...

My mom taught E to knit a couple of years ago. The skill skipped a generation. (I'm hoping E will teach me someday.) Mom can crochet, too, but she chose knitting as her fiber arts habit when she has the time and inclination. Her sister, also a fiber artist with dual skills, chose crochet. Both have complete self control when it comes to practicing the craft. Still, both of them came to mind when I saw this video. I thought I'd post it here to share with family, friends and understanding strangers who've come to know our family a bit through this blog. You'll know who this vid is really about.

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