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Newly Discovered: Most Important Times to Avoid Junk Food
Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci
Scientists have pinpointed the two most critical times for warding off junk food addiction and preventing obesity.
It’s a fascinating new discovery that, like so many other things, brings us back to the parents. But it’s a good development because it will help us do an even better job safeguarding our kids against future struggle.
People have been joking forever about the unusual food cravings some women experience during pregnancy.
But we’re just starting to understand how a pregnant woman’s eating habits can actually affect her baby down the road.
And it’s not the out-of-the-ordinary cravings we should be most concerned about.
It’s the junk food so many Americans—pregnant or not—crave all the time that can cause problems.
One study found that eating unhealthy (sugary, salty, refined) foods during pregnancy was correlated with increased tantrums and aggression in children between 18 months and five years old.
Meanwhile, researchers have found links in laboratory animals between junk food consumption during pregnancy and an increased chance of having obese offspring who are at greater risk for diabetes. Scientists have described obesity in pregnant women as a key source of passing obesity-related damage from generation to generation.
Fortunately, there’s been a new discovery that could help in our battle between junk food and children’s health.
Researchers at The University of Adelaide recently identified two critical times when junk food does the most harm, and when, simultaneously, it may be easiest to ward off junk food addiction. These windows occur in late pregnancy and early adolescence.
Here’s what they found.
Consumption of junk food in late pregnancy is potentially more harmful than early in a pregnancy. Further, eating well late in pregnancy may help mitigate the negative effects of junk food indulgence early on.
In addition, for males born with a preference for junk food, eating healthy during adolescence can change that preference—setting them up for a life of healthier eating. This reversal of junk-food craving was not seen in females. However, for both boys and girls, adolescence is an especially important time to eat well. Food choices made during the teen years can:
Affect physical and mental development
Establish dietary patterns that may last a lifetime
So why are late pregnancy and adolescence times when food choices have so much impact?
These are the periods when the brain grows fastest. So it’s even more affected by a phenomenon that actually occurs at any age.
It works like this. With continual exposure to junk foods high in fat and sugar, the pathways in the brain that get pleasure from these elements become less sensitive. And so the person experiencing this desensitization begins to need more and more of these substances to get that pleasure.
Think of it this way: If you haven’t eaten any ice cream in a long time, one scoop may feel like an incredible treat. But if eating ice cream becomes a daily habit, soon a single scoop may seem like deprivation because you want to eat the whole carton.
For most of us who fall into a carton-a-day rut, we can turn things around, even if it does take strength and determination.
But if you’re born to a mother who overdid it with unhealthy food during the advanced stages of her pregnancy with you, you’ll be born with a brain already primed to want that carton a day. And your struggles to overcome will undoubtedly be greater.
Likewise, if you overdo junk food throughout the teen years, your struggles to eat well later will be heightened.
So let’s help the next generation have the healthiest, happiest lives possible by remembering how important good eating habits are during pregnancy—especially in the last few months—and during adolescence.
And while we’re at it, let’s remember that healthful eating is one of the most important choices we can make at any stage of life!
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