Health Foods for All Generations

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Perhaps the best advice about eating comes from Michael Pollan in Food Rules: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too often. Eat slowly. Treat treats as treats. Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

The arrival of the New Year inspires many of us to set goals and make resolutions that often include a diet change. If you are among those making changes, will your choices serve as an example or as a warning to others? Let’s look at the optimal choices everyone can make, not just for one year, but over the span of a lifetime.

Your health today was greatly influenced by the nutritional choices your mother made before your birth, which can influence metabolism throughout your life. Women who are underweight or overweight have increased risks during pregnancy and childbirth for complications, as well as babies born with unhealthy birth weights, a higher risk of chronic disease, and a greater likelihood of weight problems as they grow to adulthood. There is no need to fear pregnancy if your weight is not ideal, but prenatal care is crucial to ensure your baby’s health. This is especially true for pregnant teens, whose own bodies continue to grow while supporting a pregnancy. Consult with your doctor about a diet with the right amount of calories, protein, vitamins, nutrients and minerals, as well as foods to avoid, such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, unpasteurized dairy products, and the precautions to take to prevent food borne illnesses.

Right now there is a growing epidemic of obesity in children; statistics indicate that ten percent of infants and toddlers have higher than normal weight. Pediatricians work with families to modify eating habits, and refer children and families to dietitians and other resources. And while obesity is a problem, it is painful to see a child develop any food obsession that might lead to health problems or eating disorders. If you think one of your loved ones might be at risk, please consult with your pediatrician.

The American Association of Pediatricians recognizes that the best nutrition for a baby is breast milk, which provides optimal nutrition as well as antibodies that protect the immune system. Any questions about supplementing with or switching to formula can be addressed by your pediatrician or lactation consultant.

Babies can be introduced to solid foods at about six months, the best age to avoid developing allergies or chronic disease such as diabetes, eczema, and celiac disease. The Mayo Clinic recommends baby cereal first, followed by puréed meat, vegetables and fruit. Babies will have an interest in the food on their family’s plates. You can purée portions of your meals to feed your baby; by eight or ten months, babies can handle finely chopped foods at mealtime.

Toddlers should be offered a variety of healthy food choices, and allowed to decide what, and how much, they eat. Beverages at this age should be limited to milk or water, as juices contain too much sugar for a healthy diet. Is your child a picky eater? Your pediatrician can recommend resources, including a variety of apps such as Healthy Active Living for Families.

As your child grows up, the best rule of thumb for food choices is that any food you buy should have a short ingredient list. Processed foods with ingredients that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce may have nothing to do with nutrition; these natural or artificial compounds preserve food, extend a stable shelf life, and create a flavor profile addictive enough to keep that product flying off the shelves. Serve whole foods as much as possible, such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and limit processed foods.

In a perfect world, every meal would be home cooked, with organic vegetables and fruit, pastured meats and filtered water. But the world is not perfect. If you rely on eating out, keep in mind that fast food and sit-down restaurant meals often contain more calories, fat and sodium than a person should consume in an entire day. Knowing this, you’re able to plan ahead so your family can make healthy food choices and limit unhealthy options as much as possible.

Older adults might face lifestyle changes caused by changes in metabolism or the onset of chronic illnesses such as diabetes or arthritis. Working in partnership with your doctor means you will have the right tests to determine if changes in diet or exercise can improve your health. People blessed with long lives may develop health problems that ultimately affect their diet. If you have a loved one you suspect is not getting proper nutrition, work with them and their doctor to craft a solution.

Perhaps the best advice about eating comes from Michael Pollan in Food Rules: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too often. Eat slowly. Treat treats as treats. Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

New Year’s resolutions can affect more than just your next trip around the sun. Will yours become part of a permanent change that will help you age well?
It’s food for thought.

Sources:,, M. A. Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (Penguin Group, 2009) and W. A. Walker, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating during Pregnancy (McGraw-Hill, 2006).