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As parents, when it comes to teaching our children healthy eating habits, it’s important to look at our own eating habits first. The old adage, “Do as I say not as I do,” doesn’t quite add up when we’re teaching our children what to eat. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs this up. The lead researcher, Sharon Hoerr, MSU professor of food science and human nutrition, stated that restricting certain foods from children, and then eating those same foods in front of the children, can lead to unhealthy eating habits.

“Mothers should stop forcing or restricting their kids’ eating. They’d be better off providing a healthy food environment, adopting balanced eating habits themselves, and covertly controlling their children’s diet quality by not bringing less healthy foods into the house.”

To help encourage healthy eating habits, take your children grocery shopping and ask them to help you find healthy foods. Plant a vegetable garden with them if you can. Let them help you cook healthy meals as a way to connect them to the foods they eat. Talk about what nutrients are found in the foods and how those nutrients help our body’s function well. Plant these seeds early in the hopes that they will develop strong roots as your children grow up to make choices on their own.

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A lot of folks these days are trying to make smarter choices about what they eat. Why? Because the reality is that everything is related to what we put on our plate—digestive problems, cholesterol, weight gain—and statistics show that as a country our poor eating habits have been the driving force behind a rise in obesity and obesity-related disease that has reached epidemic proportions.

In an effort to lose weight and improve their health, many Americans are paying more and more attention to food labels, and it seems their attentiveness is paying off. Experts recently analyzed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that people who look at things like ingredients, serving size and nutrition facts are likely to be healthier than their non-label-reading counterparts.

Specifically, label readers consume fewer calories and more fiber in their daily diet, along with less sugar, sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, and as a result they tend to be slimmer and in better shape overall. Health experts hope that as more and more people start paying attention to labels, food manufacturers will do their part and clearly display important nutrition information. So here’s to smart reading and smart eating!

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