Not so much the quantity as quality

Take charge of your health

Not so much the quantity as quality

There was a time in my life that my parents accused me of having two hollow legs, because of the enormous amount of food that I stowed away on a daily basis.

That was in my teens. It was a good thing that I remember that accusation because our children seem to suffer from the same insatiable appetite during their early teens and now the grandchildren take their turn raiding the refrigerator and cookie jar when they come home from school and just about any time thereafter until they go to bed.

The difference is that neither I nor our children were overweight during our teen years, in contrast to about half of the current generation of young people.

Why the difference?

It is not so much the quantities as it is the quality of the food and drink our children consume. Many parents will provide their children with snacks that are disguised as being healthy, but in reality are anything but. Then there are the vending machines placed at convenient locations and make it easy for anyone to get a drink or snack. Unfortunately most of the items available through these machines are contributing to the obesity epidemic the young generation is experiencing. Energy drinks have little or no nutritional value, and provide lot of empty calories. By that I mean, many of these drinks contain a lot of sugars that are readily absorbed and therefore are immediately available for fueling vigorous physical activity. The problem is that most of the time the only physical activity is the consumption of the power drink itself and the excess unused energy is put into storage, meaning weight gain.

On average, you can expect that one can of pop a day will add 12 pounds to your weight in one year.

Many people are fooled by terms like sport beverage and fruit or vitamin drinks. In essence, they are no different than any other kind of pop, punch, cocktail and liquids that end with –ade, and are not terribly effective in quenching your thirst, even though they do re-hydrate the body to some extent.

If you think that 100 per cent pure fruit juices are a better choice to quench your thirst, then again you are mistaken, even though they are a lot healthier to consume.

One other factor to consider is that most people do not realize, most of these drinks, including bottled water, are more expensive per liter than gas for your car.

The cheapest and most effective way to quench your thirst is to drink water from the tap. If your palate is really spoiled and would like to have some flavor, then add a squirt of lemon or lime juice.

Most of the snacks available through vending machines are also not very healthy, even though they are sometimes disguised as good for your health. For instance, fruit rolls contain a lot of sugar, are very sticky, so not good for your teeth. Corn chips and toaster pastry are not good choices, either. Fruit and cheese are much better choices.

To make informed choices, all prepackaged foods have nutritional facts printed on the wrapping. The exception are store prepared items; they can be sold without any nutritional information. By law, the package should mention how many calories, how much total fat, saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol it contains. Furthermore, how much sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron are in the item. It pays to read the labels and that often will induce you to put the item back on the shelf and prevent weight gain as a benefit.

It does not hurt either to familiarize yourself with what various terms mean. The Health Canada website provides definitions (www.hc-sc.gc.ca).

When everything is said and done, it is you who should be in charge of your own health and that of your children. That is easier said than done, but consulting reliable websites can be of a great help.

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.