Food and water essentially are how humans gain energy to sustain their bodies and minds. This is why proper nutrition is so important; our daily lives are impacted and determined in part by our diet because it is the energy that sustains us. Because nutrition is an integral way of life, we grow up interacting with food from the moment we’re born, but the memories or nostalgia start when one is old enough to recognize what they like to eat. Taste! It’s one of the best senses we have, but knowing what is both flavorful and healthy for us can be tricky sometimes. Learning to navigate the grocery store and understanding what foods are essential for optimal nutrition and wellness is an acquired skill. There can also be confusion with knowing what favorite food brand products are bad for you and what you should ultimately purchase or suggest to your parents as a snack or food option. We put together this blog as a well-rounded resource for teens and young adults to learn more about the dos and don’ts of nutrition.
Eating healthy, nutritious food is a wellness and, ultimately, life skill. Here at CHS, we encourage students of all ages to care about what they eat and put into their bodies.
Nutrition and Wellness from a Government and Military Standpoint
The United States government in recent years, both from a military and pediatric standpoint, has recognized that obesity and fitness concerns among todays youth has significantly increased to the point where it’s become a “national security issue” as both Jennifer Eiland, a dietician who is apart of the Army Physical Fitness Research Institute and Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling in 2010 have stated. A report from the U.S. Government published just this past April 2021 states: “31% of America’s youth were disqualified from military service because of obesity and 17.4% of active duty SM had obesity in 2018 compel us to radically improve the nutritional fitness of our force” (“Targeting Nutritional Fitness by Creating a Culture of Health in the Military” 84). Lack of exercise and a heavy preference towards sugary sodas or energy drinks among today’s youth has also increased musculoskeletal and stress fractures. “Another study found that at one training center in 2002, 3 recruits suffered stress fractures of the pubic bone, but last year the number rose to 39. The reason, General Hertling said: not enough weight-bearing exercise and a diet heavy on sugared sodas and energy drinks but light in calcium and iron” (Dao, par. 10). The military is clear that soldiers should eat a nutrient-rich diet and exercise to be healthy and ultimately effective in combat. Some mess halls at training bases throughout the country now offer more green leafy vegetables, less fried foods, and milk instead of soda. Some menu items may also be color-coded to help soldiers pick healthier options. An essential rule of thumb to follow from the U.S. Military is to avoid a diet full of sugar, salt, and fat as it lower’s one’s energy and ability to concentrate. Another token of solid army nutrition advice would be to eat three balanced meals a day and feel free to snack on healthy options like nuts or cheese to maintain your energy levels throughout the day. “For a good source of vitamins, eat a diet rich in raw or steamed vegetables, green leafy romaine, whole-grain breads, and fruits with skin. Avoid fried vegetables, iceberg lettuce (no nutrients), white bread, and canned fruits in syrup” (U.S. Army line 5).
Another reliable and trusted government resource is the good old Healthy Eating Pyramid that is pictured to the right. Adults can reference the Healthy Eating Plate by clicking here, and kids and students can view the Kid’s Healthy Eating plate by clicking here. To highlight, the base of this pyramid is a combination of healthy fat’s/oils but mainly fruits & vegetables and whole grains but be aware! Not all foods are equal when it comes to nutrients, and in general, the fresher your produce is, the more nutrition it will hold. The best place to find affordable healthy options is your local farmers market, making for a fun trip with your family!
A balanced diet essentially is consuming a variety of healthy foods in moderation. For teenagers, it is important to consume enough protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron. Not as highly talked about in the media or advertisements for teens and young adults is the much needed mineral zinc. This mineral is integral to normal growth and sexual development in both sexes. A shortage of zinc also weakens one’s immunity. The best sources of zinc are lean red meats like beef or other options like chicken and fish.
Interestingly enough, the push for nutrition in the U.S. Army has created a “human performance team” which generally consists of the following personnel:
Cognitive Performance Expert
Athletic Trainer Certified
Strength and Conditioning Specialist
How to Shop Healthy and What Ingredients to Avoid
A simple tip to navigating most grocery stores is that fresh and healthy produce that does not contain preservatives (or minimal amounts) tends to be located on the outer edges of the store, while the more processed foods and snack items are within the central and main aisles. This is where you usually find cereal, chips, crackers, etc. while fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products line the very front inside entrances of the store. Fresh produce (or anything without a barcode generally speaking) will be better for you. You also don’t have to go through the trouble of reading the nutrition label, which is an added bonus when choosing to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat!
This next section of the blog uncovers food additives that are present in most commercial brand snack or grain items sold throughout the country. It is probably no surprise that two studies from J.Julvez and The Barcelona Institute for Global Health were recently published this past summer supporting claims of how organic foods contribute to brain health. The researchers found that the kids who ate organic foods scored better on tests measuring fluid intelligence (the ability to solve reasoning problems) and working memory (the ability of the brain to retain new information while it’s needed in the short term) (Wegmans 7). There are also studies from the UK supporting that students who eat regular, nutritious whole meals are emotionally more well-balanced. We’ve all heard of the term “hangry,” and I admit, sometimes I get this way but all jokes aside, not eating correctly adversely affects one’s emotions, physical performance, brain function, and even digestion.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published this report back in 2018 about how food additives affect kids. The findings are phenomenal, but not in the best way. The best advice to avoid ingesting these additives would be to eat only fresh produce or organic and natural products. Because of socioeconomic differences throughout America, this is sometimes not possible for everyone as healthier food usually costs more money. If you are going to eat packaged food, please get in the habit of reading the nutrition label. “A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you’re eating. If the first ingredients include refined grains, a type of sugar, or hydrogenated oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy. Instead, try choosing items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients. In addition, an ingredients list that is longer than two to three lines suggests that the product is highly processed” (Bjarnadottir, sec. Study the Ingredients List). Another life/health tip is to use stainless steel or glass when heating your food instead of plastic and to wash your hands throughout the day to minimize the effects of handling plastics. Parents or students interested in learning more about reducing exposure to food additives and plastic should click here.
Food Dye is Not So Pretty After All
Ever eat your morning cereal and wonder, “How did they get the marshmallow to look like this or my milk turned blue, cool!” Well, the vibrant bright colors you normally see in fruit punch or most commercial breakfast cereals are linked to causing behavioral issues in kids like ADHD. One study released in 2020 by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) when testing the effects of food dyes on animals states “food dyes affect activity, memory and learning, cause changes in the neurotransmitters in the brain and cause microscopic changes in brain structure” (“Public Health Professor Shows Food Dye Linked to Childhood Behavior in California EPA Study | Newsroom,” par. 7).
In Europe, food containing dyes No.5 and No.6, and Red Dye No. 40 must carry a warning label. “No such warning is required in the United States, though the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the F.D.A. in 2008 to ban the dyes” (Rabin, sec. Yellow food dyes No. 5 and No. 6, and Red Dye No. 40). To learn more about what foods are banned in Europe but not in the U.S., please click this link from the New York Times.
This article from Discover delves more into answering the question of how the FDA regulates food dye additives in products:
Nowadays, there are nine FDA-approved synthetic food colors on the market in the United States. Just three colors — Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6 — account for 90% of that figure. Eight of the nine dyes are derived from petroleum. There are also 28 “exempt” food colorings that come from plant and mineral sources, and in two cases insects…The FDA guidelines for the nine synthetic dyes currently on the market were established based on animal studies conducted between 1966 and 1987. Once a food additive has been cleared by the FDA, there’s no requirement to reassess its safety, says Lisa Lefferts, a senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a watchdog group that petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban synthetic food dyes; they’re still lobbying for tighter regulations today. The EPA also requires re-registration for pesticides every 15 years, notes Lefferts. “But there’s no such look-back requirement for substances added to food. (Barbu 8)
To continue reading this article, please click here.
Yogurt is Powerful
Yogurt is a super-power combination of protein, flavor and it also aids digestion. This product, just like most items in the grocery store, comes in a variety of types and flavors. What you want to watch out for is yogurt that is high in sugar and low in protein. Greek yogurt is a healthier option than traditional yogurt because of its amount of protein and lower sugar and fat content. Additionally, very popular and cheaper yogurt options can include preservatives, food dyes, and other harmful food additives mentioned throughout this blog. The healthiest yogurt brand I have found in my research that should be available nationwide in grocery and Target stores is a brand called Stonyfield Organic. The yogurt is a little pricey, but you can feel better knowing that the cow milk used in their yogurt is Non-GMO. One of my favorites treats that this brand carries is a little smoothie pouch. I’ve had them at family parties or even as a snack for my nieces before dinner, and they love them! It’s an excellent snack for both parents and kids. Click here to find this product on their website! Additionally, this fascinating article from Mamavation reveals that when testing Stonyfield for possible traces of DDT, that it did not contain any which is an added benefit to choosing this yogurt over other brands!
If the sound of eating yogurt bores you, next time try adding fruit, granola, honey, nuts, or maybe even some dark chocolate if you’re having a sweet-tooth! Overall, the health benefits of yogurt should not be ignored. Additional health benefits of eating yogurt daily include “modulating your immune system and protecting against allergies, diarrhea, depression, and type 2 diabetes” (Lang, sec. Rich in probiotics) and regulating blood pressure and cholesterol.
Conclusion–Free Resources to Continue Eating Well
A core principle of being healthy for a lifetime is to care about yourself enough to be aware of what you put into your body. Build a healthy body and brain by eating a diet that mainly consists of fresh produce and meats/proteins, and if possible, non-GMO sourced grains. Kellog’s Kashi and Bear Granola are great clean alternatives to traditional packaged cereals. Other helpful tips and resources that we would like to conclude with are:
- Printable 2021 Nutrition Guide – https://tasteforlife.com/system/files/tools/vitamin-charts/2021-adult-nutrition-chart/tfl-2021-nutrition-chart.pdf
- Nutrition Advice and Recipes – https://kaynutrition.com/category/food-blog/
- Healthy Vitamin Supplements for Adults and Kids – https://www.olly.com/
- Barbu, Brianna. “Is It Time to Rethink Food Coloring?” Discover Magazine, Science That Matters, 18 Aug. 2021, www.discovermagazine.com/health/is-it-time-to-rethink-food-coloring.
- Bjarnadottir, Adda M. “How to Read Food Labels Without Being Tricked.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 19 Aug. 2020, www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-read-food-labels.
- Dao, James. “Army Revises Training to Deal With Unfit Recruits.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Aug. 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/us/31soldier.html.
- Lang, Ariane BSc. “What’s the Difference Between Greek and Regular Yogurt?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 22 June 2020, www.healthline.com/nutrition/greek-yogurt-vs-yogurt#nutrients.
- “Public Health Professor Shows Food Dye Linked to Childhood Behavior in California EPA Study | Newsroom.” University of California Merced, UC Merced, 16 Apr. 2021, news.ucmerced.edu/news/2021/public-health-professor-shows-food-dye-linked-childhood-behavior-california-epa-study.
- Rabin, Roni Caryn. “What Foods Are Banned in Europe but Not Banned in the U.S.?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Dec. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/well/eat/food-additives-banned-europe-united-states.html?campaignId=7JFJX.
- “Targeting Nutritional Fitness by Creating a Culture of Health in the Military.” Oxford Academic, Oxford University Press, 26 Feb. 2021, academic.oup.com/milmed/article/186/3-4/83/5948058.
- U.S. Army. “Making Healthy Choices in Your Diet.” U.S. Army, U.S. Army, m.goarmy.com/soldier-life/fitness-and-nutrition/components-of-nutrition/healthy-diet.m.html. Accessed 1 Oct. 2021.
- Wegmans. “Organic Foods Boost Kids’ Brains.” Nature’s Marketplace, Oct. 2021, p. 7.