Turning into your mother can be good for your health

Consumer Reports News: October 01, 2009 05:08 AM

Not all of the changes are good (I still can’t believe I actually used the "If all your friends jumped off a bridge…" speech on my daughter), but it turns out that on the nutrition front, she may have been ahead of her time. Although it pains me to admit it, my mom was right about some things.

Drink your milk. In my earlier years, milk was about as exciting as, well, milk. By my twenties, I only drank a few glasses per month. Now I find myself pushing it on my daughter with all the fervor of an infomercial salesman. Milk gets an "A" grade because of the strong link shown between calcium and healthy bones. But I also think "D" with milk, or rather the lack of vitamin D in our diets. In a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that seven out of ten U.S. children may be vitamin D deficient. Fast becoming haled as a "miracle" vitamin, D has recently been associated with a reduced risk of hypertension and heart disease, preventing bone ailments and maintaining muscle strength. It also lowers the risk of being overweight or obese, prevents cognitive impairments later in life, gives possible protection from colds and flu, and some evidence even suggests vitamin D may protect against some cancers. And if that weren’t enough, having low levels of vitamin D has been linked with an increased risk of death overall. 

According to the USDA, my teenage daughter should be drinking at least 3 cups of low-fat milk a day (although ice cream is made from milk, I have yet to have bought into her argument that the government wants her to eat three bowls of ice cream a day). And with all these potential health benefits, a glass of moo juice (or fortified soymilk or OJ, if you prefer) positively glows with good health.

Don’t even think about leaving this house until you’ve eaten some breakfast. For years I’ve told myself that coffee was a perfectly good breakfast option (coffee’s made from beans, beans are vegetables—so I was having vegetables for breakfast). Yet now I find myself spouting that dreaded phrase from my childhood: "Breakfast makes you smarter." Turns out moms are right on that as well. Several studies have shown that regularly eating breakfast may improve memory, test grades, and even school attendance. There’s also some evidence that kids who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight as teenagers.

Soda pop is a treat, not a drink. This past summer, the American Heart Association recommended that Americans reduce the amount of added sugars we all consume. And let’s face it, a significant source for many of us, especially teenagers, comes with those luscious little soda bubbles or in the form of an energy or sports drink. Not only are these beverages loaded with calories, for some people they may be replacing more nutritious options (no dear, just because it’s orange doesn’t make it juice).

You don’t need a big piece of meat to have a good meal. Although done for economical reasons (trying to feed four teenagers on a limited budget), my mother was a master at making a small amount of meat "stretch" by using it more as a flavoring than as a main course. There were many "guess what’s in the casserole" nights. Although derided by many as a sign of being economically impoverished, it turns out that the reduction of meat in our diets is yet another way that my mother was ahead of her time. Associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and even some forms of cancer, a diet high in red meat has been linked to a higher mortality rate. In an article published this past year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who ate the equivalent of a ¼ pound burger or a small steak every day had about a 27% higher risk of dying over a 10-year period. So in Mom’s best tradition, break out the casserole recipes and serve up some stew, but keep the meat to a minimum.

Erin Gudeux, sensory senior project leader

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