A Bad Diet as an Adult May be the Result of Poor Feeding Habits in Infancy

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Bad Diets Can Start in Infancy, Diets

“As The Twig Bends…”

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

infant bad dietYou have probably heard the saying “As the twig bends, so grows the tree.”  The origin of that quote is lost in lore of medieval England, but the saying absolutely rings true when we are talking about infant nutrition and a bad diet as an adult.

Most moms naturally assume that a healthy diet is important for their infants, but many new moms have questions:

  • What does a healthy diet for their infant look like?
  • What should they do if their infant is a fussy eater?
  • Could what they feed their infants influence their eating patterns and their health for years to come?

Of course, there is no shortage of advice. There are the family customs handed down from generation to generation. There is lots of advice on the internet, some of it offered by people who have no knowledge of nutrition. Your pediatrician’s advice may be based on what they learned in medical school, but it is just as likely to have come from their mother.

All of that advice is well meaning, but some of it is flat out wrong!

Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and the US Food and Drug Administration have sponsored a major study called the longitudinal Infant Feeding Practices Study II (IFPD II) to answer these and other important questions about infant feeding practices.

How The Study Was Set Up

The initial phase of the study was performed between May 2005 and June 2007, and the study design was reported in 2008 (Fein et al., Pediatrics, 122: S28-S35, 2008). During this phase of the study, investigators simply collected information on infant feeding practices from ~2000 mothers when their infants were between 1 month and 1 year of age.

The purpose of this phase of the investigation was simply to collect baseline data so that subsequent studies could correlate infant feeding practices with diet and health outcomes as these children got older.

This was a very comprehensive survey of infant feeding practices and health status:

  • The first neonatal feeding practices survey was sent when the infant was ~ 1 month old.
  • Between ages 2 to 7 months, nine more surveys were sent out on an approximately monthly basis.  These surveys asked about infant feeding, health, care, and related issues.
  • After 7 months additional surveys were sent out every 7 weeks until the infant was 12 months old.
  • In addition, the study included two maternal dietary surveys, one during pregnancy and a second one 4 months after delivery.

A Bad Diet Can Begin in Infancy

In phase 2 of the study multiple investigators followed up with ~1,500 of these children at age 6 to find out how infant feeding practices correlated with their diet and health as they reached early childhood. These studies were all published in a special edition of the journal Pediatrics in 2014 (Pediatrics, 134: Supplement 1, September 2014).  Key findings from these studies were:

breastfeedingDuration of Breastfeeding Is Positively Correlated With A Healthier Diet At Age 6(C.G. Perrine et al, Pediatrics, 134: S50-S55, 2014). Specifically:

  • Infants who were breastfed for 12 months or longer were significantly more likely to drink water and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables at age 6 than infants who were breastfed for 6 months or less.
  • Infants who were breastfed for 12 months or longer were also significantly less likely to consume juices and sugar-sweetened beverages at age 6.
  • However, no correlation was seen between the duration of breastfeeding and consumption of milk, sweets and salty snacks in this study.

The authors of this study made the interesting comment that the taste of breast milk varies somewhat depending on what the mother has eaten that day. In contrast, commercial infant formulas taste the same every time and are often somewhat sweeter than breast milk. They hypothesized that this normal variation in the taste of breast milk may make toddlers and young children more willing to accept new foods such as fruits and vegetables.  Here, you can already start to see breastfeeding longer may help avoid a bad diet later.

Of course, the authors cannot eliminate the possibility that mothers who breastfeed longer are also choosier about what they feed their children.

Fruit and Vegetable Intake In Infancy Is Positively Correlated With Fruit and Vegetable Intake At Age 6(K.A. Grimm et al, Pediatrics, 134: S63-S69, 2014).  Specifically:

  • 33% of 6-year-olds in their survey consumed fruit less than once daily and 20% consumed vegetables less than once daily.
  • More importantly, children in their study who consumed fruits and vegetables less than once daily during late infancy (10-12 months) were ~2.5 times less likely to eat fruits and vegetables more than once daily at age 6.

The authors of the study made the interesting observation that a liking of things that are sweet or salty is hardwired into the human brain.  A single exposure to sweet and salty foods during infancy may be all that it takes to create a lifelong craving for those kinds of foods and leading to a  bad diet.

In contrast, it may take repeated exposure to fruits and vegetables during infancy to develop a familiarity and preference for those kinds of foods. One of the authors of this study reported in a previous study that infants who were offered green beans for the first time squinted and wrinkled their noses. However, many of those same infants opened their mouths to try a spoonful if parents persisted.

Once again, there are other factors to consider, such as the kind of diet parents are modeling for their children.

Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages During Infancy Doubles The Odds Of Consuming Them At Age 6(S. Park et al, Pediatrics, 134: S56-S62, 2014).  This study speaks for itself, but it is troubling.  I shudder every time I see a young mother wheeling her baby through a store with a soft drink in their baby bottle.  Is this a bad diet for an infant?

The implication of these studies and several other studies published in that issue of Pediatrics is clear.  Bad diets do begin in infancy.  However, there is a positive side to these studies.  Good diets also begin in infancy, and you are in charge of what your infant puts in their mouth.

Bad Health Begins In Infancy

These studies are critically important because bad diets are not just a victimless crime.  Bad diets affect health.  Eventually, they kill people.  Here are two examples from this set of studies that show how an infant’s diet affects their health – one positively and one negatively.

Duration of Breastfeeding Is Positively Correlated With A Healthier Immune System At Age 6(R. Li et al, Pediatrics, 134: S13-S20, 2014). This study showed that longer breastfeeding and later introduction of foods was associated with lower rates of ear, throat, and sinus infections.  This conclusion is not exactly new.  It strongly supports what a number of previous studies have shown.

bad diet childConsumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages During Infancy Doubles The Odds Of Obesity At Age 6(L. Pan et al, Pediatrics, 134: S29-S35, 2014).  This finding is not surprising.  The study mentioned above showed that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages during infancy doubles the odds of consuming them at 6.  Moreover, previous studies have clearly shown that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with obesity in children.

However, this finding is troubling because obese children often become obese adults, and obesity is associated with many serious health issues.

Again, the implication of these studies is clear.  Both bad health and good health can be strongly influenced by feeding habits established in infancy.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • A major clinical study supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration monitored infant feeding patterns during the first year and compared those patterns with diet habits and health outcomes at age 6.
  • The duration of breastfeeding was positively associated with a healthier diet and a stronger immune system at age 6. Specifically:
  • Infants who were breastfed for 12 months or longer were significantly more likely to drink water and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables at age 6 than infants who were breastfed for 6 months or less.
  • Infants who were breastfed for 12 months or longer were also significantly less likely to consume juices and sugar-sweetened beverages at age 6.
  • Infants who were breastfed for 12 months or longer were significantly less likely to suffer from of ear, throat, and sinus infections.
  • The pattern of fruit and vegetable consumption established in late infancy was maintained through at least age 6. Specifically:
  • Children who consumed fruits and vegetables less than once daily during late infancy (10-12 months) were ~2.5 times less likely to eat fruits and vegetables more than once daily at age 6.
  • Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages during infancy has a negative impact on both diet and health through at least age 6. Specifically:
  • Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks during infancy doubles the chances that children will still be consuming sugar-sweetened beverages and will be obese at age 6.
  • This study strongly confirms what many smaller studies have suggested for years. It reinforces the importance of breastfeeding for at least the first 12 months and slowly transitioning to healthy foods rather than sugar-sweetened beverages and junk foods. It shows that what we feed our infants may influence their diet and their health for a lifetime.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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