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Frequently Asked Questions
We have compiled a list of commonly asked questions about nutrition, physical activity and motivation.
As a parent, shouldn't I decide what and how much my child eats?
Parents who over-control the family food environment impair their children's ability to regulate food intake on their own. Excessive control does not teach children to listen to their own hunger signals and may lead to obesity. You should, however, make foods from the fats, oils and sweets groups less available in your home, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that individuals eat foods sparingly from this food pyramid group.
The most important thing for parents to do is to provide a variety of nutritious food choices for your children and then let them select what and how much they want to eat. If a child is offered a choice of raw vegetables with low-fat dressing or a piece of fruit, the child doesn't have room to make a bad decision. However, if your child is offered fruit or potato chips, you as a parent are setting your child up to make a poor choice.
My child is extremely picky ... what can I feed him/her?
A good rule of thumb is to offer a picky eater two healthy choices. Instead of asking "What would you like for dinner?" ask "Would you like grilled chicken or baked fish for dinner?" or "Would you like a tossed salad or some cooked vegetables?" That way, you are giving the child a sense of control but are not becoming a short-order cook.
For future reference, studies have shown that breastfeeding your baby can actually make for a less picky older eater. Scientists believe this is because the taste of your breast milk changes depending on what you eat. If you eat a wide variety of foods, your baby is not as likely to reject new flavors once he is old enough to eat solids.
What kind of milk is appropriate for my family?
It is generally recommended that children younger than 2 years not be restricted in their fat intake, so whole milk is appropriate for children ages 1 to 2 years. Above the age of 2, dietary fat should be limited so your child does not get more than 30% of calories from fat. In this case, fat-free (skim milk), low-fat (%) or reduced fat (2%) milk are better choices.
Types of milk
8 oz. Fat-free (skim)
8 oz. Low-fat (1%)
8 oz. Reduced-fat (2%)
8 oz. Whole
Is it OK to let my child drink juice?
A recent study showed that if preschool-aged children were given one sweetened beverage each day (including juice, sodas and fruit beverages such as Kool-Aid, Hawaiian Punch, Hi-C, Fruitopia, lemonade, etc.), their odds of becoming overweight just one year later were increased. This was shown only in kids who were already borderline overweight, not in kids of a healthy weight. Sweetened beverages and juices also can increase the risk of cavities and should never be given in a bottle for the child to carry to bed.
I know snacks are important, but what can I give my children that are healthy?
Snacks can be a healthy part of your child's diet, as long as the right choices are made. As a parent, your responsibility is to provide your children with healthy food choices, and then let them make the decision whether they want to eat a snack and how much. You should give your children a choice so that they feel they have a part in the decision-making process, but you should not let your children choose whatever they want for a snack, or they will likely make a poor choice. If you keep only healthy snacks in the house, your children will be set up for success.
Do my eating habits really influence my child's eating habits?
Home environment plays a very important part in the lifestyles of children. They need nutritious food choices in the home to help them learn to select foods that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. The food environment that you provide shapes children's preferences and food acceptance patterns. Eating should be a social occasion for children. Their observations of others' eating habits influence the development of their own eating behaviors. Adult eating patterns serve as a model for the developing child.
For example, if you don't care for green beans and you turn your nose up at them at the table, why would your child be tempted to even try them? It is hard to expect children to eat foods that the adults do not eat.
One of my children is overweight, but the rest of the family is thin. Is it fair to put the whole family on a diet when only one of us needs it?
Under normal circumstances children should not be put on a"diet" per se. Watching portion sizes and helping children choose healthy foods, snacks and beverages are good ways to guide them toward maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. That said, most people could benefit from this type of lifestyle, not just those who are overweight.
Children should never feel "singled out" or be put on a diet. It is important for them to feel good about themselves and maintain a positive self-concept, and feeling like they are the only one who needs to change does not promote this. Each family member should be healthy, so teach children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle by making it a family goal, You should never "hide" food from children or make foods off-limits to kids in the house. If you don't want your children eating these foods, they should not be in the house.
Do carbohydrates make you fat?
Any food in excess can make you fat, not just those foods high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, like protein, provide four calories per gram; fat provides nine calories per gram. Complex carbohydrates, especially those derived from whole grains, are the body's best source of energy nourishment when they replace saturated fats and excess protein in the diet. Eating more calories than you work off and leading a sedentary lifestyle are what add the extra pounds.
Are eggs really bad for you?
Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality, inexpensive protein. They are also rich in vitamins, iron and other minerals, all essential for good health. Egg yolks are high in cholesterol at an average of 210 mg in each egg, which contributes to high blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke because it leads to fatty buildups in artery walls. The American Heart Association notes recent research that indicates eggs do not by themselves significantly raise blood cholesterol levels. The association now says it is possible for healthy people who have normal blood cholesterol levels to enjoy one or two eggs a day.
If I eat too much salt, will I get high blood pressure?
Salt by itself does not cause an otherwise healthy person to develop high blood pressure. It is not necessary to restrict your salt intake unless you already have high blood pressure problems or are diagnosed as salt sensitive. However, just like everything else, salt should be eaten within moderation. So, relax and enjoy those salted pretzels, but do not saturate your food in salt.
Is honey better for you than table sugar?
Simple sugars -- such as table sugar, honey and brown sugar -- are all processed by the body in the same manner, and they all provide the body four calories per gram. Table sugar is sucrose, and honey is composed of mostly fructose (fruit sugar) with some sucrose and glucose as well.
Caution: It is not safe to feed honey to infants less than 1 year of age. Honey can contain trace amounts of botulism spores that a mature digestive system can handle but that could be fatal for babies.
If I eat too much sugar, will I get diabetes?
Sugar itself does not cause the disease. However, sugar can aggravate the situation if intake is not regulated for someone with a blood-sugar disorder. Too much food, especially sugars and fats, leads to obesity, which can lead to insulin resistance and possibly to diabetes. A balanced diet plus moderate exercise — about 30 minutes each day — can help prevent diabetes.
Will I lose weight if I go on a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is not automatically a low-fat diet and must be a balanced diet as well. Deep-fried vegetables have more fat than a grilled, skinless chicken breast. Vegetarians who rely on nuts and full-fat dairy products for their protein (versus beans and peas) and have a low intake of fruits and vegetables could find themselves on a higher-fat diet than someone whose daily menu includes lean meats with plenty of steamed vegetables and fresh fruits.
1. Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Ogden, C. L. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among U.S. adults, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(5), 491-497.
2. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among U.S. children and adolescents, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(5), 483-490.