Wednesday, May 31, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Building a Culture of Health - and Hope

"Given the downside of all the available drugs, many people with diabetes would prefer not taking medication and wonder if there is an option.  In fact, reversing type 2 diabetes is very possible-if it is not too severe.  Every person with diabetes should focus on a careful diet, one that limits concentrated sweets or sweeteners and is high in fiber and vegetables.  Optimal weight should be the goal, as excess weight and obesity makes control of blood sugar more difficult."
                   --Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., from Mind over Medicine, 2017

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I invest a lot of time teaching kids in afterschool programs.   It is always gratifying, not for the lessons I teach the kids, but for the lessons they teach me. 

The lesson I regularly receive is that kids want real food.   When given a choice and educated about their choices, kids almost always choose the healthy foods.  When kids are allowed to “play” with food and learn to cut, chop and grate things without fear of being judged, they will try new things, contrary to what many parents believe.   By teaching kids to read food labels, how to identify unhealthy ingredients and to choose foods with ingredients that build healthy minds and strong bodies, they learn how to take control of their own health. 

Organic yellow peppers from the Fort Pierce Farmers Market

Unfortunately, many afterschool programs in this country are given free snack foods from their local school districts.  What the kids are given for snacks are simple carbohydrates.  No fresh fruit.  No fresh vegetables.  No whole grains.  No healthy fats like nuts.  No protein like yogurt. Just lots of carbohydrates, lots of added sugars.  These foods feed inflammation of disease and contribute to childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.  
Blackberries make a delicious snack!

Recently I was talking with the children’s director at a homeless shelter, one of Growing Healthy Kids’ partner agencies.  The director shared a story of how kids living at the shelter who attended our Nutrition Scientist program have been teaching younger children there about reading food labels and teaching them to avoid foods high in sugar.  These kids have learned how to make salsas, whole grain quesadillas, vegetable soups, hummus and healthy vinaigrette dressings for green and pasta salads.  These are kids living in a large group home environment for up to 2 years where they have no control over many aspects of their lives due to their parent(s)’ situational poverty. 
Yet these amazing kids living in a homeless shelter have soaked up the lessons from our program, such as reading food labels, using organic vegetables when available, and avoiding processed foods by being given a nonjudgmental place to learn about healthy foods.  These kids are not only gaining control over their lives; they are teaching and inspiring others.  Perhaps we can mitigate stressful living situations by empowering more kids about healing foods and consciously creating a culture of health.  

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Lessons like this that make all our work worthwhile.  Kids, once educated, know that too much sugar is not healthy.  Now it is up to us to ensure that all kids have access to healthy foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and whole grains. 

Please pass the walnuts and a dish of hope.

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.