Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One Child's Future: Diabetes and Colorectal Cancer

Last week a woman I worked with for the day told me she was “on a diet.” If you’ve read my book, Healthy Living with Diabetes: One Small Step at a Time (, then you know I hate the word “diets” because a short-term diet doesn't teach you what you need to know about how to eat healthy for the long-term ("for the rest of your life").

This woman is clearly obese and in her early 30’s. Getting to a healthier weight will not only add quality (less stress on her joints, decrease her chance of getting high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea and obesity-related cancers such as cancer of the breast) but also quantity to her life. Her comment that she is on a diet opened a window of opportunity for me.

Within 5 minutes of our conversation, I learned that her 12 year old son has only one bowel movement a week. My teaching immediately zoomed in on teaching her about what dietary fiber is (the undigestible part of plants that give them structure), what foods have it (only foods that are grown from the Earth like beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), and how much of it we need to eat every day (14 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories we eat, or around 28 grams a day if you eat around 2,000 calories a day). She started writing down everything I said to her, as I quickly sensed her worry and quiet desperation for her son.

Let's talk about something most people don't talk about. It is normal to have at least one bowel movement every day. It is not normal to have one just once or twice a week. Not getting enough dietary fiber is common in children, particularly those who are on the free and reduced lunch program in public schools and get 2 of their 3 daily meals at school. Fiber in foods is what gives us the sense of fullness so we stop eating. Lack of dietary fiber leads to overeating, obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers like colorectal cancer. This woman and her 12 year old son are part of the majority of Americans who eat far less than half the dietary fiber needed.

There is no to little fiber in fruit juices, fruit drinks, Capri sun drinks, white breads, “honey wheat” breads, McDonald’s or Burger King items, sodas, and energy drinks.

Become a fiber detective. Read food labels. Aim for at least 28 grams a day (the current recommendation for American men is 35 grams a day according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, see

I am 100% confident that the homework assignment I gave last week to the woman was completed in one day. She learned a key piece of knowledge and the skills to get herself on the path to a healthier weight and help prevent a future diagnosis of diabetes and/or cancer in her son.

Growing Healthy Kids - improving the health - and lives - of America's kids, one child and one garden at a time. Growing Healthy Kids is a movement to reverse childhood obesity. Because failure is not an option.

In kindness,
Nancy Heinrich
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids

PS -- "The Nancy Rule" says choose breads and pastas with 4 or more grams of dietary fiber per slice or per serving and the first ingredient includes the word "WHOLE".