Q: I had to laugh the other day. I saw my son spoon-feeding his infant daughter pureed carrots and her loving them, when to this day, my son won't himself go near a carrot. Is there hope for my grandkids continuing to eat healthful foods? — "Glad Grandma" in California
A: There is, as long as your son keeps it up. A new study coming out of the University of Leeds shows that exposing infants to a wide variety of vegetables early in life can set a pattern of acceptance as they get older. This includes babies who are considered fussy eaters. The study showed that five to 10 exposures usually will do the trick and that babies will eat a bit more of a new vegetable each time it is offered. This is in contrast to the results you are likely to get when offering novel vegetables to older children. According to the study, 24 months is the point at which children become reluctant to try new things and start to reject certain foods. The study also dispels the notion that vegetable taste needs to be masked or sweetened in order to be accepted. It was shown not to make a significant difference in the amount of vegetables children eat.
"Eat your vegetables! They're good for you." That has been a dinner table battle cry for generations. It may be time we back off a bit, says a research paper co-authored by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Tread lightly and do not oversell the health benefits of the food we present to our children.
"You mess them up by giving all kinds of messages," says Chicago University professor Ayelet Fishbach, one of the co-authors of the report, which was published by the Journal of Consumer Research. When giving food to children, he suggests, try giving no message whatsoever, lest the best of good intensions backfires. Choose the food you put in front of them. Don't pitch. And definitely don't let them do the shopping.
Though I find the Leeds finding encouraging, I must admit that the Journal of Consumer Research report feeds into my concern regarding the forces that are out there that can break good, healthy early-in-life eating patterns. As I have reported in the past, 20 percent of schools in this country sell traditional fast foods for lunch, and 80 percent do not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's standards for fat content in foods. Add to that the fact that 40 percent of meals in this country are purchased and consumed outside the home and we have to believe that what we put on the table matters less than it should. In 1972, U.S. consumers spent $3 billion a year on fast foods. Today that figure has rocketed to more than $110 billion. So we have to be realistic about what we are up against when we try to maintain the kind of eating habits that are known to improve the health and academic performance of young people.
And there are other alarming reasons emerging as to why we should avoid contact with highly processed fast foods. Experts are beginning to explore a connection between anger and food. Boston-based nutritionist Nicolette Pace suggested as much in a CBS report that aired last March. She said, "Deficiencies in some of the nutrients — manganese or magnesium, vitamin C, some B vitamins — may make a person hyperactive towards a stressor ... a short fuse, so to speak."
To explore this theory that nutrient deficiency contributes to behavioral issues, the University of Oxford conducted a study in which researchers gave vitamin supplements to certain prison inmates and compared their behavior with those of prison inmates eating typical junk food. They found that those taking the supplements demonstrated less aggressive behavior. According to Pace, it shows that adjusting diet can increase the ability to cope, producing less aggression to stressful situations. Dr. Drew Ramsey, who conducted the study, agreed, noting that without the proper nutrients, the body can't make serotonin, which is necessary for clear thinking and good moods. A similar study by Pennsylvania State University came to similar conclusions. Those researchers discovered that individuals who are prone to moodiness are even likelier to be in a bad state of mind if they eat junk food.
If that weren't enough, a group of professors from the University of Toronto interested in the possible impact of fast food on psychological health recently conducted experiments in which they bombarded participants with fast-food logos and then gave them a number of tasks to complete. They found that the fast-food stimulus induced impatience. They then correlated responses according to the concentration of fast-food restaurants in the area in which the respondent lived, and they found that the higher the concentration the less the respondent would savor a set of enjoyable experiences. The more prone they were to needing the instant gratification that fast food signals the more impatient they were with the world around them.
It is premature at this point to draw any real conclusions from such survey data, but the data do suggest a possible correlation with fast food and behavior. We have long known of the potential for physical health implications of fast food and bad nutrition on our bodies. Researchers are just now scratching the surface on possible psychological ones.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.