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Last week I had the absolute pleasure of being in Greenwich as thousands of runners shrove to achieve that ultimate runners accolade – finishing the London Marathon. As a sports scientist I was amazed at the range of body shapes taking part but after some careful thinking I concluded that anyone can run the marathon! (If you don’t believe me, check out my last post here).
Part of my thinking regarding the marathon obviously lead me to contemplate food, and the runners need for it. We are naturally carnivores when meat is plentiful but can survive on fruit, grains and vegetables if that is all that is going. Meat provides us with essential nutrients and fatty acids but in the wrong quantities it can start to have adverse affects on our health. But it is not just what we eat that is the problem it is fast becoming the quality of what we eat that is the real issue. Issue? what issue I hear you say. Well, as I get older I am starting to think about ways of putting off as many of the maladies that are associated with old age. Alzheimer’s is on the increase as is dementia. What has this got to do with the food we eat though. Probably everything. In a recent report it was stated that the amount of Omega 3 fatty acid in chickens that had been raised in confinement was dramatically less than the amount found in free range chickens.

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As a country of chicken eaters this must be a cause for concern especially as no one is sure what the long term effects of a diet with a reduced amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids in will be. The same is true for beef cattle that are grain feed, the meat contains less essential nutrients that their grass feed counterparts. Could this decrease in good fatty acids and an increase in incidents of Alzheimer’s and demential be coincidental? They could be and I am certainly no expert but it does seem a bit suspicious. But if you can afford it, surely this is another reason to buy the best meat that you can and supplement it with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables!

The second half of this post is based on my own observations as a parent. Growing up, my mum made it very clear that the family sitting down to eat dinner together was really important. I never really questioned it until now. Why was it important, is it still important? As a parent of 3 children aged 5 and under I really wanted to know if this was important from a development point of view or just because it is the one time where everyone can sit together and talk about their day.

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Well, I realised it is both, actually. Sitting down and having that opportunity to talk with the rest of the family is a perfect opportunity for the children to pick up new words, to develop social skills, to develop their sense of enquiry and even gain the beginning of empathy. Unfortunately in this day and age it is a rare sight to see parents and children sat round the dinner table together to have a meal. More often than not parents are having to stay later at work and the family meal suffers. It has also been shown that sitting and watching TV whilst you are having dinner means that you are not concentrating on what you are eating and are therefore more likely to snack after dinner on sweet or fatty snacks.

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The latest report from the OECD has also stated that truancy levels can be directed linked to eating with parents. The more often you eat as a family the lower the truancy rate at school and obviously the less time you have off from school the the higher your rate of success!

So, what is important when it comes to food? Eat the best meat you can even if this means cutting down on the frequency of your meat intake, try to make time to sit with your family and eat your dinner together to improve your child’s literacy levels and turn the TV off to improve your children’s chance of not being obese and reduce their chance of truanting at school. It’s fairly logically really……..

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