Back in December last year I was invited, together with 4 of my fellow students of the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health, to join the audience of the Irish TV program Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One.
The debate highlighted the rising levels of obesity in Ireland, particularly amongst children, and the rising concern of health problems that obesity generates.
Not only in Ireland, but also in other European countries obesity and type 2 diabetes are increasing and this is due to diets with too much saturated fats and too much sugar combined with very little exercise.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) calls on countries to reduce sugars intakes amongst adults and children, and to consume no more than 25g (6 teaspoons) per day. Did you know that a fizzy drink already contains more than 6 teaspoons of sugar?
There is sugar added not only to fizzy drinks but also to processed foods; most of the refined sugar in our diet is in fact hidden!
Nowadays children tend to eat lots of junk foods: high amounts of processed foods, sugary drinks and lots of snacks. They consume too many calories and do not exercise enough. This together with the lack of nutrients in the foods they consume explains the increase of overweight and diabetes amongst children. Not to talk about the psychological consequences this involves.
Issues related to body image also affect dietary choices, and many girls may risk suffering from anorexia or bulimia.
It is important to understand that carbohydrates are necessary in our diet as the brain uses sugar pretty much as its sole source of energy to fuel it. Natural sugars within moderation are needed. What we have to do is to cut down on processed foods, refined sugars and artificial sweeteners in our diet.
The bad eating habits of modern society involve raising a generation of children that will have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
A balanced diet with a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods is essential to child growth to develop optimally, both mentally and physically.
I believe that a balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet is the key to live healthy longer.
Healthy eating is possible even on a restricted budget. It is important to take the time to cook healthy meals at home and to eat less fast food and processed meals. Believe it or not cooking can fit in a busy lifestyle. The recipes I share with you at Tasty Mediterraneo are healthy, rich in nutrients, affordable, very easy to prepare and most of them are ready in 30 minutes or less.
As an example of one-day balanced meal plan for children:
Children need energy and focus for their studies and should not skip breakfast. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is key to provide them with the nutrients and energy that they need for their activities during the morning.
My “Banana & chocolate pancakes” recipe (20mins) is very easy to prepare and you only need 3 basic ingredients: eggs, banana and cocoa powder. This breakfast is a good source of proteins, potassium, iron, magnesium, fibre and vitamins. Add on top some homemade strawberry jam or some natural honey and prepare a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or a homemade smoothie and they will get the right balance of all their nutritional needs that will keep them full and energized all morning.
Since many children take their packed lunch to school, instead of a simple sandwich I would suggest to add to their lunch box the following:
A portion of my “Vegetarian Russian Salad” recipe (25mins) plus a portion of my “Hummus” recipe (10mins) and crudités for dipping, a slice of natural bread, some unsalted nuts and a piece of fruit. This will ensure they get the 3 macronutrients: protein, essential fatty acids and carbohydrates.
If they feel the need to snack a few hours before dinnertime, offer them a piece of fruit and a slice of my “Chocolate & EVOO brioche” (5mins prep time, 35mins cook time) as a treat with a glass of milk (or plant based dairy alternative).
Finally the family can get together around the table for a nice dinner.
My proposal for a simple and healthy dinner is: my “Rice, vegetables & pine nuts stuffed peppers” (20mins) as main dish, followed by a toast of “Red kidney beans, avocado & tahini pâté” (5mins) and a yogurt for dessert.
With the hope of encouraging many of you to preparing healthy recipes at home I wish you a lovely and healthy day!