Eating habits

Is soft drink the new sports drink for junior sport?

soda-686984_1280.jpg

I usually don’t feel alarmed too often when it comes to food, but a recent observation at a children’s sports camp left me certainly shocked, and genuinely disappointed.

As you may have guessed, this disappointment relates to soft drink, and children.  I know there is an entire aisle in the supermarket dedicated to sugary, bubbly drinks but I never really thought about who actually buys and drinks this stuff….until I saw it with my own eyes – and I didn’t like it.

When I was a child, the only time we ever had a bottle of soft drink in the fridge was for someone's birthday or Christmas!  It was a special occasion drink, and contributed to the excitement associated with kids’ parties and resultant sugar highs!  I'm just not quite sure when carbonated water with sugar and additives became an everyday drink? 

Research shows that a large proportion of the population’s sugar intake comes from sweetened beverages.  This includes children, but I naively have never really taken much notice of what kids drink.  I am pretty aware of the amount of sugar that my own children consume from foods and drinks, but I am not over-the-top when it comes to avoidance.  I think that being a dietitian the assumption is that kids’ lunchboxes will be filled with only organic beans and kale crisps – so far from the truth!  They eat what I would consider pretty standard school-age fare, including whatever they want when they are at a party (I don’t send them with a personalized bag of chopped vegetables!).  But one food habit I am particularly solid on with my own children is the sugar-rich drinks, and I have now discovered this does make me a bit of an outlier when it comes to family fluid habits.  

I am usually not one to bother too much about what other people are eating or drinking - adults can make their own food choices and we all have different needs at different times so I am certainly not one to judge.  But I couldn’t look away, and to be honest felt really sad, when I saw the drinks popping out of the childrens’ lunchboxes at the junior camp.  I just happened to be in attendance over the lunch break and noticed a group of girls  who each had a can of soft drink in hand.  I was then compelled to look around me a little bit more and honestly, I was truly shocked at the number of soft drink cans I saw.  There was no canteen at the venue, so all of these primary school-age children had been sent to a sports camp, where they were going to be active all day, with soft drink packed in their bag?!  I don’t understand.....

I am not sure whether the perception is that these kids will be active all day so a bit of sugar won’t hurt for energy, or that they need extra fluid for hydration so throw a can in?   I totally get it that packing super-nutritious lunches everyday for kids is a challenge with busy lifestyles, but I don't understand the need to add a can of drink – especially for kids doing sport.  Even traditional sports drinks aren't necessary most of the time for active kids (see my article Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?)

The obvious downside of sweetened beverages is the sugar content, but we also need to consider the additives and acidity - the combination of sugar, acidity and reduced saliva production with exercise leaves young teeth exposed and particularly vulnerable to decay.  

Water, milk and dairy-based fruit smoothies are all great options to hydrate and fuel young athletes.   

Active kids don’t need sugar in a can for energy to run and play. 

 

Keep an eye out for my next Thoughts post about infused water and making water more appetising if you don't love plain water. 

For more nutrition updates I would love you to send you my free newsletter every month or two, please leave your details on my website Thoughts page.  I am now on Instagram and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

5 secrets of the French - how to eat the foods you like and not gain fat

Believe it or not, it is possible to eat whatever food you like and not put on weight.  Lots of people do it.  French people have perfected it. Although there are a few conditions.

My title is a little misleading, the French aren't really keeping anything secret, they showcase their remarkable way of life to every visitor who crosses their borders.  They eat beautiful, fresh, amazing food.  Some nutrient-rich, some not.  First impressions of French food don't usually remind you of 'clean eating' (for want of a better term), but somewhat surprisingly their everyday way of life is conducive to good health and managing weight well.  The graph below compares the trends in obesity in different countries.  Many countries are on the increase, including France, but they are starting at a lower waist measurement, and are a long way from catching the US or Australia.  Remarkable really when you think of all those croissants, pastries and creamy sauces.  If the French can maintain their traditional food culture and customs this will help to keep them at the bottom of this graph, but as fast food culture infiltrates this may see their country sloping further and further towards the top. 

Obesity trends in selected OECD countries, source:  www.oecd.org/

Obesity trends in selected OECD countries, source: www.oecd.org/

So what are the secrets of the French that has been keeping their obesity rate around half that of Australia?

1) Small portions

Number one habit of the French that works every time - small portions.  I truly believe that how much we eat is more important than what we eat when it comes to weight management.  Not as important for health perhaps, as 1500 calories worth of chocolate and sweets per day is not going to be all that sustaining or nutritious.  The foods that make up your portions are important for keeping you full and also to give your body nutrients, but getting the volumes right is key.  In France they enjoy their pastries, breads (white!), cream, cheeses, wine and rich, rich sauces but they also eat salads and vegetables.  Most of their food is served petite. 

 

Image courtesy of  www.ribbonsandbowscakes.com.au

I am not claiming that there is not one person in France who is overweight or overeats.  With an obesity rate in 2012 at 15% and overweight 32%, the French are still considered the thinnest people in Europe and doing better than most developed countries.  

Eating less is not all the French do well...... 

 

2) Enjoy and savour food - eat slowly and sit

Everyone is busy and it seems very few family meals are enjoyed at the traditional dining table, sharing news of the day and a delicious home-cooked meal.  The French have refined the art of sitting down (often at a café facing the footpath) to enjoy a coffee or something to eat.  French children are more likely to sit down to a hot lunch rather than a sandwich, with a small dessert to follow, which may in fact be fruit of some description.  When we eat on the run we usually eat quickly and don't have time to think about the flavours and textures, or how much we are consuming.  Eating out of a bag or a packet is common, while eating from a plate has greater benefits.  If you put your food on a plate you can see exactly how much there is, and using utensils also helps to slow down the rate of consumption.  You may yourself have been shocked by tipping a take-away carton of noodles or curry onto a plate and realising the sheer volume that was about to go into your stomach.  Eating from a plate will help to reduce your portions.  If we are eating while doing something else, like working on the computer or sitting on the couch in front of the tv, then we are also eating mindlessly and this increases the speed we eat and the likelihood of over-eating.  Sitting down to eat a meal and focusing solely on the food and our dinner companions is worth the time and effort.    

3) Meticulous preparation

French people take the time to eat, and perhaps this is because they are admiring what they are about to enjoy.  Just think of a French pattiserie and the sparkling clear glass cabinets full of intricately designed and crafted pastries and cakes.  The structure and artistic appeal is of equal importance to flavour.  Petit fours is a French term meaning 'small oven', as these miniature sweet morsels were traditionally made in a small oven next to the main larger oven.  Most enjoyment of food is in the first couple of bites, and in France they recognize this.  What is the point of having a huge piece of chocolate cake, all the one flavor, when you can have a range of different flavours and food experiences.  Nothing is just slapped onto the plate in France, pride is taken in food preparation and presentation.  Not everyone's lifestyle can accomodate hours in the kitchen, but allocating a small amount of time to improving your food skills and making food look nice can make eating so much more fun, and help your health and weight at the same time.

4) Mealtimes are for eating

It seems that the French eat their food at mealtimes and don't rely on too much snacking for their daily nutrients.   I don't really know why there is less snacking, but eating a 'proper' meal at lunch may mean that hunger in the afternoon is less of an issue?  Three square meals per day won't suit everybody, but it may be a useful strategy for reducing overall calorie intake, as the types of foods we eat between meals are often higher-calorie and lower-nutrient density than the type of foods we eat for main meals.

5) Good habits start early

Most of the food habits described above begin during childhood in France.  The child obesity rate in France has historically been one of the lowest in the world, while in other developed countries children are becoming more and more overweight.  If you want to learn more, check out this post by Karen Billon  'French Kids Don't Get Fat' which is a terrific insight into the eating patterns of French children.

 

Although we can't all move to France to live, we can make the effort to understand some of their everyday habits and apply them to our own lifestyles and eating patterns.  With Christmas and associated food-related celebrations ahead, there is no better time to start thinking about your own choices.  Portions really are the key, whilst enjoying a range of nutritious foods eaten for pleasure. Bon apetit!! 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Why dietitians are great dinner companions

'I don't want to eat in front of you!' she says, as our meals come to the table.  Eating out for dinner with friends can be an interesting experience when your job involves nutrition.  'I can't eat this while you are here, I'll feel guilty' is another common response that I've heard many times over the years.   Some people have a real fear that I am going to be analyzing their every bite and they will be overwhelmed with guilt and anguish about their choices.  Some people couldn't give two hoots and tuck into their parma and chips with not a care in the word about who is watching, but apparently a percentage of the population cannot stand to eat in the presence of a dietitian, their dining experience ruined.

If you have eaten with a dietitian before you will most likely have found that he or she is more interested in perusing the menu , making their own selections and enjoying their own meal than having any concern about what you are eating.  Wow, that sounds particularly selfish doesn't it?  I love working as a dietitian because I love food and eating, and I am of course intrigued by what people eat and why.  But if you are out for a dinner with me, you can choose whatever you like, I am certainly not going to judge you or embarrass you for the choices you make, and I most likely won't even think twice about your meal.  Besides, even if you happened to choose the most fatty and sugary food on the menu, it is only one meal....which means absolutely nothing in the scheme of things.   If I ate out for dinner with you three times per week and you were choosing a 3-course meal of fried entrees, creamy pastas and rich desserts every time then I may take a small mental note, but as a one off meal I am not really all that concerned. 

I love eating out with my dietitian friends.  I know what you are thinking, I love it because we can order quinoa with kale and a side of lettuce, but this couldn't be further from the truth.  I love eating out with dietitians because we can eat out without being judged.  It works both ways.  People may worry about what dietitians think about their choices, but dietitians often experience far from positive feedback on their choices along the lines of 'You shouldn't be eating that, should you?' or 'I didn't think you would eat that?' or the worst one 'Of course you would order the salad!!".  Eating with other dietitians means you can choose the healthier option if you want to, or not, with no comments, disappointments or stereotyping.  Dietitians love to share different dishes to try new things, so eating with them is fun.  FYI contrary to popular belief, dietitians love buffets, so many amazing foods to try!  Although I must admit that the behaviour of a dietitian at a buffet may be slightly different to the image of an overweight person at a budget US All-You-Can-Eat style establishment. 

So, do dietitians eat dessert?  Personally, I am someone who reads the dessert menu first and then I choose my main meal accordingly.  If I like the look of something for dessert, I don't want be too full from my main and not be able to choose dessert IF I FEEL LIKE IT.   The 'if' is the key word there, and important to consider when you are eating any meal and thinking about whether you need seconds or another course.  Remember, if you see a dietitian choosing a lighter style meal like a chicken salad for main, don't be fooled, it may mean they are saving room for dessert.  Although to be honest, with the serving sizes of meals in many restaurants these days it is not unusual to feel too full from the main to want a dessert.  This is where I could launch into a discussion about mindful eating, but Dr Rick Kausman already does a pretty good job of that.  Hunger awareness and consideration of whether or not you really want or need that extra serve is something worth working on.

Sometimes I feel like dessert, sometimes I don't (and sometimes I just don't feel like paying $14 for a slice of cake).  If I decline dessert, I admit that I do have that annoying female habit of asking for 'just one bite' of someone else's dessert, and this often surfaces during the food envy stage when other desserts come out.  My favourite desserts when eating out don't quite fit the image at the start of this post, ie. fruit salad.  It is also important to declare that I am not eating out overly frequently, which impacts on my likely intake and choices, but when it is an option I love a fresh lemon tart (that is quite 'tart'), a basic cheesecake (no fruit purees or salted caramel please) or sticky date pudding with ice-cream, not cream, (or if available just a small piece of caramel slice).  I often go halves.  A fair percentage of the enjoyment of food is in those first few bites, and I think that's why my dietitian friends love to share different dishes.....you can get a whole range of food experiences and enjoyment without necessarily over-doing the portions.   On a side note, it's so interesting that the more you pay for a meal the less you get.....probably better for your health to fine dine infrequently than go for a cheaper pub meal every week.

So relax and enjoy eating out with a dietitian, and if you feel like sharing a dessert with someone, ask the dietitian, they just could be the one at the table most likely to help you out.  Or if you order a whole one, move away from the dietitian as they are probably the most likely to try and steal a spoonful.

* Note - these views are based on my personal experiences, I cannot speak for the views of all dietitians, but I can comment about what I know about my dietitian friends.  I welcome comments if other dietitians feel differently.