N is for Nutrition Nerd
I am an admitted geek when it comes to nutrition. I get off on food that is both delicious and filled with nutritive value. It makes me happy – my taste buds are happy, and as I imagine vitamins and nutrients zipping through my bloodstream, I am happy knowing that I am treating this body of mine right.
So it was with great interest that I read an article in the New York Times this morning about FoodCorps, a new national service program (nested within Americorps) that aims “to improve nutrition education for children, develop school gardening projects and change what’s being served on school lunch trays.”
Maybe this doesn’t sound super important to you. “Oh, nice, the kids will have a garden.” But nutrition education is critical. It’s not a “nice to have,” it’s a must, because it empowers kids to take charge of their health. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the obesity epidemic in this country, which isn’t an accident or a coincidence — it’s a direct consequence of a nation full of people making poor and often uninformed choices about their health.
If that doesn’t sway you, think about the money:
“FoodCorps will cost less than $2 million for the first year. Thus for less than a million bucks of our money we are getting a program that will start to roll back the $147 billion it costs us each year to deal with the health consequences of obesity, while changing the way thousands of young people grow up thinking about food.”
This week, my dad brought home a box of wheat flakes from the local supermarket. I glanced at the ingredients, and was astonished to see that the #2 ingredient for this box of supposed health food was sugar. I never would have bought this cereal, because I always check ingredients. My dad, a very smart, well-educated man, thought he was making a healthy choice.
Making healthy choices takes vigilance. And honestly, it can be exhausting. Salmon is good for you — but don’t buy farmed salmon, buy Wild Alaskan salmon. Broccoli’s a super food, but buy organic, so its health value isn’t undercut by the toxicity of the pesticides used to grow it.
When I put something back on the grocery store shelf because its ingredients aren’t healthy, what motivates me is wanting to only put the best things in my body — not some abstract sense of “good” ingredients versus “bad.” It’s not about good versus bad — it’s about choosing the highest quality fuel for the one body you get in this lifetime. And that’s really why nutrition and health education in general matters so much — it’s ultimately about teaching kids to value themselves.
It’s also about mindfulness. There’s nothing abstract about eating. You put food in your mouth, and either you allow yourself to be aware of where it comes from, and what you know its effect will be, chemically, on your body… or you tune that information out. I prefer to tune in.
If you want to learn more about FoodCorps, check out their website, and note the various ways to get involved. I’ll definitely be making a donation. And if you’re interested in learning more about nutrition yourself, I heartily recommend a website called Joyous Health, run by holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy. Last but not least, I highly recommend a cookbook called Power Foods: 150 Delicious Recipes with the 38 Healthiest Ingredients by the editors of Whole Living magazine; at the beginning of the book, you’ll read the nutrition profile of a core set of super healthy ingredients (“power foods”), and then the rest of the book is recipes that use the ingredients. Every single thing I’ve made from this cookbook has been delicious – I especially love the spring barley risotto with asparagus. YUM.
Do you tend to make healthy food choices? If so, what helps you make those choices? If not, what do you think stands in your way?
Photo of little girl in garden by Flickr user jj walsh. Tomato photo by me.