Is TV Trashing Your Diet?

Research is revealing some surprising correlations between extensive TV watching and diet. Find out how you can eat healthier in front of the boob tube.

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Couch Potato

You know sitting in front of the tube for hours on end does you no good in the classroom or on the field, but you may not realize those extra episodes of South Park could be messing with your diet. According to information from the University of Porto Medical School in Portugal, adolescents who watch more than 120 minutes of television per day are more likely to consume more sugary, high-fat foods. They're also likely to eat fewer fruits and vegetables than their peers who watch 60 minutes of TV or less.

"TV watching is passive and mindless," says Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of The Hunger Fix. "Research has shown that quick fix foods are the favorite choices [when you're watching TV]. They're easily eaten mindlessly, and one chip  becomes a bag in no time."

The researchers analyzed questionnaires sent to 1,436 13-year-old Portuguese students (765 girls and 671 boys). The questions assessed dietary habits, as well as participation in sports outside of school. The responses showed a strong correlation between time spent in front of the television and the amount of junk food students ate.

Boys who watched over 120 minutes of TV daily consumed more hamburgers, salty snacks and sweets, while the amount of fruits they ate fell. Girls ate more cakes, soft drinks and chocolate, and their consumption of vegetables fell.

These dietary changes also had implications for their daily macronutrient and micronutrient intakes: boys ate more fat and cholesterol and less vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium. Girls took in more overall calories while consuming less vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and potassium.

"Research has also shown that people who have lost weight successfully and kept it off seriously decrease their TV viewing time," says Peeke. "TV is filled with triggers and cues to eat. It erodes willpower, and people who have succumbed before [can] be triggered once again. Vegetables, fruits and whole foods never figure into [TV viewing], as the foods portrayed in ads are sugary, fatty or salty products."

You want to avoid making a habit of it, but during those rare occasions when you sink into the couch for a six-hour Walking Dead marathon, it doesn't hurt to have some healthy options on hand. Click through the slideshow to see some of our favorite (and easiest) snacks. Tell us on Facebook or Twitter which one you liked best!

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