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Stop Obesity Early

The 'Right' Diet

1. Breastfeed for as long as possible.
Research has shown that babies who are breastfed lean out sooner and are less likely to become obese later in childhood. Furthermore, the longer a baby is breastfed, the less likely she is to become overweight. Why? Babies naturally learn these healthy eating lessons at their mother's breast:

* Self-regulation. Knowing when to stop eating is a very important skill in weight management—and one that breastfeeding encourages. When your baby feels hungry, she fusses a bit or squirms into her favorite breastfeeding position. When she feels full, she stops nursing or slows down just a bit so she doesn't get as much milk. In short, she learns to trust her own hunger signals. Babies who learn to do this aren't as likely to overeat later in childhood.

* Food does not always equal comfort. After your baby is filled up on breast milk, she may let go of the breast, fully satisfied, or she may continue to suck for comfort, but in a slow way that brings her very little milk. As a result, she learns to associate the good feelings that come with sucking with the warm sensations of being held in your arms, not the feeling of having an overfull tummy.

2. Observe your baby's cues when formula-feeding.
If you're formula-feeding, you can still apply the lessons of breastfeeding to help your child develop a healthy relationship with eating.

* Follow his cues, not the clock, and offer feedings when he's hungry. A young baby's tummy is about the same size as one of his fists, which means that he does better with smaller, more frequent feedings.

* Allow him to decide when he's full. Don't urge him to finish the last ounce or half-ounce in the bottle if he's not interested. You don't want him to learn that feeling "stuffed" after a feeding is normal.

* Don't offer a bottle every time he cries. Try to find other ways to comfort him-music, massage, or rocking.

3. Limit the "terrible two."
The "terrible two" are what I call a duo of factory-made food ingredients that provide nothing but empty calories: corn syrup (or high-fructose corn syrup) and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (a source of unhealthy trans fats). You'll find one or both of these listed among the ingredients of many processed foods, including packaged cookies, crackers, bakery goods and other snacks. Foods that depend on "the terrible two" for flavor and texture teach children to prefer sweeter, fattier foods, putting them on the road to being overweight.

4. Avoid juice abuse.
Fruit juice provides vitamins and energy for children, but too much of it can take the place of more nutritious foods and drinks, such as milk, in a child's diet. Simply follow a few basic guidelines when it comes to giving your sweetie the sweet stuff:

* Limit the juice to no more than 4 ounces a day for infants 6 to 12 months.

* Stick to 6 ounces or less for 1- to 4-year-olds.

* Only buy juice that is labeled "100-percent fruit juice," and avoid juice "drinks," "cocktails," and "punches," which contain relatively little real fruit juice and lots of sugar. Also steer clear of beverages that contain artificial sweeteners, colors, and/or flavors.

* Even 100-percent fruit juice tends to be very sweet, so it's a good idea to cut your child's juice with at least a little bit of water. And when she's thirsty, offer a glass of water instead. If she just wants a sweet treat, substitute whole fruit for juice on occasion.

5. Feed your child a "right-fat" diet.
Fat isn't bad for babies, so there is no need to fear it. In fact, fats are the most nutrient-rich food, packing in the most calories in the smallest volume. Plus, for optimal development of the brain and other vital organs, infants and toddlers need to eat more fat, proportionally, than adults do.

In general, stay away from packaged "low-fat" foods, which are usually high in sugar and other sweeteners, such as corn syrup. Fat boosts the flavor of foods, so when the fat is taken out, manufacturers often add more sugar to make up for the lack of taste. No need to use skim milk either. From ages 1 to 2 (never give cow's to kids under 1), babies need whole milk. Remember it this way: No cow's milk under 1, whole milk until 2, and low-fat after that.

Focus on healthy fats for your baby, like those found in breast milk, infant formula enriched with the omega-3 fats DHA and ARA, salmon (I like to serve it once a week), egg yolk, and avocado. In our family, we call these foods "grow foods" because they promote healthy development of the brain and nervous system and help the heart and immune system grow stronger.