The Wonders of the Teenage Boy Metabolism and the value of "clean eating".
In deciding on the topic for my first blog post a few years ago, I opted to write about my two sons--who are now 24 and 22. The youngest has since graduated from college and has been home for the summer —can you say, “more trips to the grocery store”. I decided to re-post that first blog here with a few changes, including-- the value of teaching our young, lean adults about "clean eating", a term that can rub some in the nutrition industry the wrong way, but I believe is a simplistic term that still holds much value.
With so much written about obesity and overweight, not so much is mentioned about the few people out there who needn't worry about calorie quantity. Both of my sons are tall, lean, calorie burning machines. I’m in awe of their metabolisms, really. I vaguely remember having a similar ability to burn such calories at their age, but as boys they certainly surpass me--at times you can nearly see the smoke coming off of them. To watch them eat after exercise is truly to witness human chemical combustion and food's primary role— as an energy and nutrient source. I'd insert a photo of them here but they declined…..sorry! As I watch us become such an energy efficient society, struggling to lose weight, I know many would pay a pretty penny for even just one day of eating like them.
The health benefits of being lean are thought to far surpass those of being overweight. Fat cells contain lots of inflammation. Right now, in their lives, (knock, knock) both are blessed with good metabolisms--in terms of leaness. But many factors can influence weight control. Though my kids at times may believe that having a nutritionist and nurse as a mom is the bane of their existence, more and more days occur when they ask me, “Mom, is this okay to eat?" or even text me a nutrition question. I actually get weak in the knees when this happens and all is right with the world. Though I have faith that their own “ah ha” nutrition moments will contine to come in time, my mentality as their mother is still to “nourish” them, giving them the tools to nourish themselves--healthfully—a.k.a. learn to cook, prepare a meal, grocery shop, read labels and care about what's in their food and how it is grown. Cooking, at the least is a matter of survival and at its best becomes an art of survival. Teaching your kids to cook is the gift that keeps on giving. They can turn it into their own art.
Over the years, I've challenged my boys to expand their taste buds, especially with fruits and veggies. A bowl of berries is a familiar site on our kitchen counter and various dark leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes are staples at most meals. Also, despite their leaness, my insulin alarm goes off and I cringe a bit when my sons eat lots of sugar, drink lots of lemonade/juices or “carbo load”. Few people can handle “carbo loading" day in and day out, even athletes. All carbohydrates require insulin to be metabolized. Insulin is a powerful hormone that when constantly secreted, carries risks, even when our blood sugars remain normal. How we process nutrients is influenced by our individual gene variations and those organisms that live in our GI tract.
But back to "clean eating". People who are lean frequently hear other people comment, "You are so lucky that you don't have to worry about what you eat!" Hmmm--if only that were so---my day might just consist of--chocolate ice cream for breakfast, french fries for lunch and a cheeseburger for dinner--I kid you not! Oh, if only! Everyone is susceptible to our processed food and toxic environment, even thin/lean folks. And weight can change for a variety of reasons. To me, clean eating is a term that really just means eating whole foods grown and processed with the least extra "stuff" to produce the most nutrient dense foods that will protect the body, not harm it. No person’s body, lean or overweight, especially growing, needs pesticides, chemical additives, excessive animal hormones, glyphosates, or trans fats, to name just a few.
Despite the lack of worry for now, regarding overweight, food quality and nutrients are huge on my mind when I shop for my kids. I try to buy foods that will deliver taste and nutrients, with few extra bad stuff. As medicine better understands the biological changes that occur after any food product slides down our "gullet" or after our lungs breath in any number of toxins or our skin (an organ BTW, with access to our bloodstream) absorbs the many topical products that we slather on it every day---the notion of body burden makes perfect sense. Our bodies have a tremendous ability to filter out undesirables and keep things in check but there is a threshold, at which when things can go wrong.
Perhaps the most important research that has put an exclamation point to understanding the impact food has on our health and immunity is regarding gut mucosal permeability and what we've learned from celiac disease. Our small and large intestines have a "normal" functional amount of permeability, but excess permeability, particularly if left unchecked may well lead to a long list of symptoms and chronic diseases. Add an individual's own genetic make up and the vast land of gut organisms modulating these changes and wow---yes, that term "clean eating" becomes critical.
Our young adults, finding that first job and setting up house will be challenged however, to eat "clean" on a daily basis. Some may be more motivated then others but for all of them, unless they have a hefty cash flow, will have to budget their food dollars. Unfortunately, the foods with the most ingredients, cost the least. I teach my kids and my clients that there are benefits to buying certain organic foods, grass fed beef etc., even if they can only afford it 1-2x/month; its better than nothing. Over time, they can increase the frequency, if their budget allows. It all goes to that body burden concept.
Despite their cavalier approach to calories, lessons can be learned from my lean sons. I seldom see either of them overeat to discomfort. And although one eats rather quickly and the other more slowly, both stop eating when they are content, often times leaving food on their plate. So, although they sometimes consume crazy amounts of food, they stop eating when their internal cues speak....a skill many adults lose because of carbohydrate addictions and metabolism malfunction. Although your carefree calorie days may be behind you, the teenage boy metabolism is a metabolic moment in time to watch and enjoy and - no matter your leaness everyone can benefit from a little "clean eating".