It’s no secret that food affects our bodies in numerous ways weight, the ability or inability to sleep (caffeine), the various nutrients we get from it, different taste sensations, how our body functions (think diabetes) and even our moods. Think chicken soup, chocolate and mac and cheese – the mere mention of these ‘comfort foods’ sends warm, fuzzy feelings surging through us. That, and gets our mouths watering.
Knowing these things to be true, it is only reasonable to assume that if food has this effect on you, it has the same effect on children. In fact, triggered emotional and physical actions/reactions are even more evident in children. This may be because children are more transparent in general. It may be because of the ‘concentration levels’- the caffeine in soda or the sugar in a candy bar is the same no matter who eats it. But the size of the body it’s distributed to isn’t.
When it comes to ‘food moods’, we are controlled largely by our blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is simply the amount of sugar in the blood stream sugar that brain needs to function properly. And our brains are kind of like mamma. You know, ‘if momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy’. So when a person’s blood sugar level is too low, she becomes sluggish, incoherent and dazed. Oftentimes, this is mistaken for laziness, lack of attention and even learning disabilities.
On the flipside, when blood sugar is too high, we become irritable, fidgety easily distracted and begin ‘bouncing off the walls’.
Sound familiar? If you’re nodding your head and thinking there’s a nanny cam hidden in your house, you’re not alone. But you need to remember that their actions are largely out of their control. Here is why: when blood sugar levels climb, our body’s handling hormones, cortisol and adrenalin, kick in. These hormones, which fight off stress, push kids (teens included) into action/energy overload. In other words, if you look at your teens’ actions and attitudes from a physical and metabolic viewpoint, they really can’t help themselves. BUT YOU CAN!
Several years ago, there was a popular catch phrase regarding our diets ‘Garbage in… Garbage out’. There’s quite a bit of truth in that little sayin. Keeping a close eye on what goes into your teens’ bodies and being pro-active in guiding and motivating them to eat a healthy diet of fresh, whole foods is your number one weapon against ‘food moods’ and the tensions that go with them.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE? CHANGING YOUR FAMILY’S EATING HABITS AND DIET CAN DO NOTHING BUT MAKE THINGS BETTER PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY FOR EVERYONE. HERE’S HOW…
- Eliminate as many processed foods as possible. The chemicals and dyes used in processed foods wreak havoc on the body. It’s not realistic to expect your teen to give up fries and candy altogether or that there will never be another cheese curl passing over their lips. And that’s okay. An occasional ‘treat’ isn’t going to do any harm, but these foods should be the exception to the rule-not the norm.
- Eliminate as much white flour as possible. Switch to whole-wheat or whole-grain breads, oatmeal or sugar-free cereals instead of sugar – laden cereals and wild or brown rice. If you do this at home, you’ll balance out the fact that the meals they eat at school.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables should be included in all family meals and made available for snacking. Salads made from lettuce, arugula and/or baby spinach, carrot and celery sticks, cucumbers, apples, citrus fruits, tomatoes, berries… Steamed vegetables (plain or with cheese), fruit topped with nuts, honey and/or yogurt… Kids love these things. If they’re an option, they are usually chosen over the junk. Try it… you’ll see.
- Protein is essential for a healthy diet. That means meat – but pepperoni and chicken nuggets don’t count. Again, you’re not going to keep your kids from eating these things, but if you balance them out with good sources of protein such as eggs, baked or broiled chicken, turkey and beef prepared at home without the additives and preservatives in pre-packaged goods. Yes, this takes more time and effort on your part, but it’s worth it. And honestly, it’s not that hard. Besides, cooking at home saves a LOT of money, which is never a bad thing.
- Snacks don’t have to be boring. Popcorn, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, low-sodium chips and salsa (once in a while), cheese cubes, fruit, veggies, smoothies made with yogurt and fruit, frozen melon cubes and cookies you make from scratch using whole wheat flour and honey or brown sugar are sure to satisfy. These are all foods that will help to keep blood sugar levels in check and your teens in a good mood.
- When it comes to drinks, water is always good, but the most popular drink with teens are sports drinks and energy drinks. YIKES! Sports drinks do replenish electrolytes lost when sweating excessively. But most of the sports drinks your kids consume have nothing to do with replacing electrolytes. They just like the taste. And that can be a problem when it comes to renal health. Studies show that the consumption of sports drinks on a regular basis and when not ‘needed’ causes the formation of kidney stones. OUCH! DOUBLE OUCH! As for energy drinks… those things should be banned. Tell me what’s good about sending your heart racing and your blood vessels squeezed tighter than Scarlett O’Hara’s corset and I’ll tell you about my meeting with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.
Your teenagers have been eating for several years now, so they likely have several of their eating habits as well as their likes/dislikes established. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope for making positive changes. Most teens want healthy bodies and want to feel good. So by presenting the evidence in such a way that it will be beneficial to them to revamp their eating habits may be all it takes to banish ‘food moods’ from your house forever… well, most of the time, anyway. And don’t forget – your teens are watching you, so what’s good for them is good for you, too.