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The Importance of Eating Right

By Drs. Rick and Jan Hanson

Q I want to set a good example for my children about eating right, but honestly, it's hard to find time for anything but "convenience" foods and snacks. Plus I'd love to get rid of some of the extra pounds I've acquired since having kids.

A There are lots of easy ways for a busy mom to get good nutrition that will help her kids develop healthy eating habits, plus help her keep up her energy and mood, ward off disease, and lose a few pounds in the process.

Think of it like a DAILY recipe with seven ingredients:

1. Eight to twelve ounces of protein - Protein is chock full of the amino acids that are crucial building blocks for your body and your brain chemistry; protein also helps regulate blood sugar so your day is less of a rollercoaster.Eat 3-4 ounces of protein (about the size of a deck of cards) at every meal, especially breakfast. When you want something sweet, have some protein instead, like a hard-boiled egg, hummus on crackers, or a piece of sliced turkey; that will satisfy your hunger and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.

2. Five to seven servings of fresh vegetables, and one to two fruits - When you tell your kids to eat their veggies, that means you, too! Fresh vegetables have many more nutrients than ones that are canned, dried, or frozen. Fresh fruits are also filled with vitamins, phytonutrients, and fiber. Try snacking on raw vegetables like carrots or broccoli, having a sweet potato for breakfast, grating carrots or beets into salad, and making a big pot of vegetable soup on the weekend that will last all week.

3. Unrefined oils, plus essential fatty acid (EFA) supplements - Refining oils strips out important nutrients and leaves behind the trans-fatty acids that lead to heart disease and other problems. And you need EFA's for a healthy brain and heart. Use virgin olive oil or oils clearly marked as "unrefined." Take a EFA fish oil supplement that states on the bottle that it contains no heavy metals.

4. Two to five servings of unrefined, varied whole grains - Refined grains like white flour, pasta, and white rice lack key nutrients, and they also convert quickly to sugars in your body, straining an insulin system that is already challenged by your daily stresses. Get your carbohydrates from other sources (e.g., nuts, bananas, yams), replace white flour with good-tasting whole wheat pastry flour or rice flour, and try not to bring home convenience foods made with white flour.

5. Organic foods whenever possible - Organic foods have more nutrients (especially minerals) and no toxic chemicals. Since toxins concentrate in breast milk, eating organic is especially important for a nursing mother. These days, you can get almost any food you like from an organic source, whether it's at a health food store or your local supermarket. Don't drive yourself crazy to eat organic all the time; just shift in that direction as much as you can.

6. High potency nutritional supplements - Take multivitamin-multimineral supplements; one sign of high-quality is that most minerals are followed by a word ending in -ate, like magnesium citrate. You'll have to swallow four to six supplements a day - which takes a fraction of the time it takes to brush your teeth - because it's impossible to get all the nutrients you need in a single pill smaller than a golf ball. Also take a calcium-magnesium supplement. Good supplements are available at health food stores or our website,

7. Zero or very little refined sugar - High consumption of sugar is associated with Type II diabetes, weight gain, fatigue, arthritis, migraines, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease. And sugar depletes the B vitamins, chromium, calcium, magnesium, and copper that a mother needs. So, look at the labels and try to eat no more than 20 grams of sugar a day. Cut out sodas and juice (two soft drinks a day equals 65 pounds of sugar a year!), avoid temptation by not keeping desserts around the home, snack on protein or fresh vegetables, and look for other ways to feel good besides eating sweets.

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 16 and 19. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and second authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at or email them with questions or comments at; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be possible.



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