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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Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

For more details, 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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