The increasing incidence of obesity in our society calls for a careful analysis of possible causes, as well as investigation and application of useful advice. Here is the key to a solution that sound simple but is, in fact, not so easy to comply with: Just pay attention to the quality of the food you choose; eat small portions of it, and schedule your meals.

The global economic crisis is affecting different countries in different ways, when it comes to its effects on the obesity epidemic. One would expect a reduction in food consumption, and therefore a decrease in the incidence of overweight patients. It makes sense. But here, in the United States, the increase in the price of food may augment the consumption of fast food, which is cheap and easy to acquire. When we add up the cost of buying fresh food, the time it takes to prepare, and the fact that it tends to spoil quickly if it is not consumed in time, like in the case of fruits and vegetable, the math may favor a visit to the nearest fast food joint.

It is worth to look at other societies for guidance. Spain is a good example for comparison. Spaniards value their food dearly; eating is a rite and everybody still schedules their day around meal breaks. Quality is of first importance; they don’t just eat anything available. They would rather eat small amounts of good quality than indulge in large portions of junk. Meal times are scheduled and everyone gathers around the table, rather than eating on the go.

Since they follow the 3 key components for good nutrition, their incidence of obesity and cardiovascular disorders is still low, when compared to ours. The impact of fast food restaurants, offering poor nutrition at an affordable price, finds its main clientele among the very young in Spain. The main core of the population won’t replace good food with fast food.  A Spanish newspaper published recently that the economic crisis is causing a decrease of near 60% in the number of citizens that eat out. They do have plenty of restaurants able to prepare fish, good meats and legumes they like to consume. But since good food is getting more expensive, they can’t afford to visit those good restaurants as often. Their alternative is to stay home and cook the food themselves. The fast food option doesn’t seem to be a viable one for the majority of the population.

Very different from what we do here in America. We work hard and we work fast. There is no time for a daily trip to the grocery store; there is no time for food preparation; there is no way we can afford to waste food – we think.  Instead we waste our health. Television ads remind us that for $5 we can have a large meal for two consisting of sizable amounts of carbohydrates and bad-for-you hydrogenated oils and preservatives, together with a mug of an all-you-can-drink combination of sugar and water.

Old habits are hard to break. I suggest you start now, especially if you have young children in your family. They are going to learn the eating habits they experience at home; they are going to learn from you. Fast food should be a treat to use exceptionally.

Cooking is an art and a stress relief at the end of the day. I also suggest doing most of the shopping and cooking on the weekend, when we have more time, and keeping prepared food in the refrigerator or freezer for the rest of the week.

Quality, Quantity and Timing are the Keys to Good Nutrition:

• Schedule 4 meals per day, consisting of breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner.

• Make a menu for each day of the week and buy only the ingredients you need for food preparation.

• Eat small portions and stop when you are full.

• Drink only water or milk.

It sounds simple, but it takes some time to create the habit.

Don’t know how to cook? Try watching Jose Andres, a world-renowned chef who shares his recipes on a 30-minute television program shown in PBS. The name of the show is Made in Spain. It is fresh, it is easy and it is HEALTHY. The smells coming from your kitchen would amaze you, your family and your friends.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.