Posted tagged ‘diet’

Eating your curds and …

April 3, 2009

Poornima, an official blog regular, asked, “I have a question on whey proteins. I see it everywhere now- everyone talks about it. Do you think it is a good idea to give whey protein to kids?”

This is the second time it’s come up in one day, so I might as well tackle what seems to be an evolving food fad: whey. There’s even a website, www dot wheyprotein dot com, extolling whey’s many virtues. Apparently it’s been popular among body builders for years, and according to that site the manufacturers are working hard to popularize whey for the rest of us.

Whey is one of the major proteins in milk—it’s the watery stuff that holds cottage cheese together, the stuff between the curds that Little Miss Muffet enjoys. As such, it’s a perfectly good protein, and dairy products are a good part of a balanced diet. It’s certainly not essential, but it’s a reliable and tasty source of protein, calcium, and vitamins A&D (in fortified milk.)

There’s nothing I can find that looks especially unique or powerful about whey. It’s just the latest in a string of food fads—remember soy? green tea? How about dark chocolate, pomegranates, or red wine? All of these are good for you in their own ways, but none of them is a substitute or improvement on a good, balanced, healthy diet.

We’re all looking for simple solutions, magic pills, or the one food that’ll cure obesity and hair loss. But a healthy diet is one that relies on a mix of healthy items from many different sources. You want healthy? Avoid trans-fats and fats from animal sources, eat unprocessed whole grains, and (most importantly) don’t consume more calories than you need. That’s it.

There is no “superfood.”

Except maybe the dark chocolate. Mmmmm……..

We’re going to pump (clap!) you up

February 22, 2009

Shelly had a question: “My 14-year-old’s football coach wants him to take at least 120 grams of protein a day. Isn’t this too much? Is this the best way to ‘bulk up’?”

It is a good idea for adolescents looking to increase their muscle bulk to consume a diet rich in good quality protein. However, it sounds like this coach may be pushing this idea to the extreme, and may be over-emphasizing a very specific diet rather than encouraging a well-balanced, healthy regimen.

Growing adolescents need to consume about 50 grams of protein a day. The precise number depends on many factors, including the kinds of protein eaten and in what combination, but 50 grams is a pretty good estimate for most kids. It’s not very difficult to get that much protein, especially from meat sources—50 grams of protein can be found in six ounces of lean meat or fish. Rich plant sources of protein include soy (tofu), nuts, and beans. There are several good tables available showing more precise measurements of the protein content of foods.

Proteins are digested in a broken-down form, called amino acids, that are used in part to make muscle tissue. So it does make sense to adolescents looking to increase their muscle bulk, or “lean body mass,” to have a diet that offers plenty of protein building blocks for growing tissues. But there is no evidence that extra-high protein loading makes muscles grow any faster or bigger.

Super-high protein intake can stress the kidneys, and can lead to a loss of calcium and other nutrients in the urine. Though, again, the exact number depends on many factors, most exercise physiologists recommend a daily protein intake of no more than 2 grams per kilogram body weight per day. For an average 14 year old adolescent male (let’s say, 140 pounds), that’s about 125 grams. Larger kids could probably tolerate more than this, as long as plenty of water is consumed and the remainder of the diet is well-balanced. However, this is an expensive way to eat, and won’t really help build muscle any better than a good balanced diet with a more modest amount of protein.

There is absolutely no advantage to using hi-protein shakes or bars over good quality, protein-rich foods. Some vegetarians (or kids who just don’t like meat) may find it easier to get a high protein intake using these products, but they’re a very expensive source of protein. I would much rather encourage a teenager to consume lean meat, eggs, fish, and nuts at every meal rather than rely on a special, processed protein source.

Beyond diet, there are other essential elements to increasing lean body mass. One is resistance exercise—that is, weight training. Muscles must move against “extra resistance” in order to grow. I suggest that adolescent who wish to weight train do this with the help of a qualified coach or trainer, to teach them how to use the equipment safely and effectively. Maximum lifts should not be attempted until after puberty is complete. Younger adolescents should do exercises using small enough weights that at least 20 repetitions can be done at each set; older adolescents may wish to push the weights higher and reps lower than this to get maximum bulk. Resistance training should occur with a day of rest in between each session, using alternate muscle groups each day or using alternate days for cardiovascular training.

After diet and exercise, the third essential element needed for effective lean body growth is something that’s often overlooked: sleep. Muscle tissues grow most efficiently during sleep, and adolescents who skimp on sleep will find that even a vigorous exercise program will not get them the bulk they’re looking for. Teenagers need nine hours of sleep each night, and there is no short-cut for adequate sleep.

Cancer, diabetes, and vegans

August 16, 2008

A post from EH: “Recently I have been hearing about a link between dairy protein and diseases such as cancer and diabetes. What are your thoughts on this and can a vegan diet be healthy for small children?”

I haven’t seen any good data that supports a strong link between dairy products and either cancer or diabetes. The press likes to report things as if there is a single cause—a “smoking gun”—that’s the root cause of these problems, it’s unlikely that either disease is the result of one kind of food or exposure. As with many health conditions, they’re complex, poorly understood, and difficult to sum up for a 45 second sound bite on the news.

Nonetheless, this is the Pediatric Insider site, and I’m going to take a stab at it: in 45 seconds, what are the best ways to prevent cancer and diabetes?