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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

Allergic girl can teach her friends and their parents a thing or two | Since my 10-year-old niece Abigail visited me, I've been thinking a lot about food.

That's because Abigail has peanut and egg allergies, and so has to carefully navigate her food choices. She thinks about everything that goes into her mouth. She has to be able to watch other kids eat ice cream, when she can't have any. She has to forgo many foods she'd like to eat — and she does it with aplomb.

I'm sorry for Abby's allergies.

But watching her for several days it occurred to me that if Americans were as careful about what we ate, if all of us were as good at handling delayed gratification — or non-gratification — as this little girl, we would not have the obesity problem we do in this country.

I think that would make a fascinating study — compare children with serious food allergies to their non-allergic peers. My guess is the former would have much lower rates of weight problems.

Anyway, my point isn't one about obesity. My point is that if we had to learn more about nutrition, if we were forced to think about what we eat just as my niece is, we'd be eating so much healthier.

The American food supply is so cheap, ubiquitous, easy to get, and varied — and often so junky — it's easy to stuff food into our mouths and never really think about what we are doing, or the habits we're creating, especially the habits we're creating for our kids.

Three of my four little ones are slim, and one is, well, not exactly slim.

But in watching my niece I found myself reflecting more on some of my own family's eating habits, from the standpoint of nutrition, not necessarily calories.

We've got some problems.

I'm afraid I've ingrained in my children some bad habits.

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Every time we go out to dinner, they assume — rightly — that we are going to have dessert. Every time we go to the movies, they assume — rightly — that they are going to get candy.

Now, we don't go to the movies or out to dinner every week. But when we do, it's become unthinkable to them that they don't get goodies, too. I need to change that to "sometimes," not "all the time." I don't want them to grow up to be adults who think they have to have dessert at restaurants and candy at movies.

Here's another bad habit — I've let my children become too accustomed to "kids food " when we go out. (And yes, sometimes even at home, too.) Nuggets, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc. My children, at least the two older ones, should be encouraged instead to enjoy a variety of "adult " foods on those restaurant menus.

I have a friend who is a fabulous gourmet cook, and thoroughly enjoys all sorts of wonderful foods — in moderation. She said she developed a wholesome delight in food because her parents introduced her at an early age to varied "grown-up " fare. Even when she was a child and she went with her parents to a restaurant, she'd be asking the chef how he made the delicious onion soup.

Anyway, I now see I've got some tough habits to break — I'm sure I'll think of more.

On the other hand, I guess I've created at least some good habits, too. For instance, my kids only drink skim milk, orange juice and water at home — no sodas. They eat lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains; and I don't keep junk food in the house. (Well, OK, occasionally I'll allow a package of Oreos or Tootsie Pops in the door — there are worse crimes.)

Anyway, on balance, we're probably doing OK.

Still, overweight or not, it just pays to think more about food.

Men's Health magazine recently ran an article about feeding our brains. It turns out that eating certain carbohydrate-rich foods like oatmeal "is the same as having a shot of glucose, or blood sugar, injected into your brain," and that's a huge help to memory and concentration, they said.

Foods like raisins, apples and nuts are rich in boron, which made test subjects perform better on attention and memory tests. Eggs and milk are loaded with choline, and "studies have shown that college students given 3 to 4 grams of choline 1 hour before taking memory tests scored higher than those who didn't receive the choline supplements."

Thinking more about what we eat is just plain smart.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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