So another health lesson oriented post: FOOD
Every term in our intro course we include a food assignment that requires students to monitor their food intake over three "normal" days, categorize their food choices, and note their emotional states during intake. Students then must input their information into the USDA Super Food Tracker site, where they can analyze whether or not they are meeting their nutritional needs both via comparisons to the recommended food groups and to recommended nutrient amounts.
Now...are there potential issues with this assignment? You bet. I honestly don't think that the USDA recommendations are the best match for everyone, many individuals these days have food intolerances which impact their ability to meet recommendations for pre-set food groups, the online system is a pain in the butt to use, and I also think that the calorie recommendations that often are given to students are set a bit high. But I think that the use of the site is a great starting point for students to recognize whether their intake is actually healthy or completely missing the boat. In reality, I also have been using the food tracker site off and on over the last few weeks, just to see how I'm doing in terms of making sure I've been eating enough (although I did re-realize that I am a fruit addict!). Some days I need to eat more but other days I'm astonished that what feels like little is actually enough (just yet another reminder that our society preconditions us to overeat.)
Beyond the food tracker site and food monitoring, we also spend plenty of time each term going over current issues with the overall food industry and we talk about changes in portion sizes. Some students have never thought about the fact that a "standard" milkshake is more than one serving and a meal from Olive Garden is over half to almost all their recommended calories for a day. On the other side, some students really have their eyes opened to seeing that they need to eat more and they almost all realize that they need to eat better. On average, most students learn that they're not eating enough fruits & veggies, they eat too many carbs (especially processed ones), and almost all of them are under on fiber intake.
Each term we also watch clips about the current food industry. We usually either show part of Food Inc (although in the last few terms, most students have already seen it) or King Corn (which in some ways students relate to better). And I also show this TED Talk with Jamie Oliver and this lecture by Michael Pollan. The irony of all this is that sometimes I just assume that everyone in my personal life already has been exposed to this information (especially here in Portland), so I always find it funny or odd if/when someone in my social interactions starts talking to me about just learning much of this information---although I'm so glad to continue to see individuals making the transition toward healthier choices!! This term I was trying to find new videos to show my classes and came across Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead and Forks Over Knives which had both been recommended to me by friends, students, & fellow bloggers; however I didn't show either film as I felt that the information was more one-sided (still good though!).
My personal opinion on food is that everything is a balance and that our bodies have the capacity to tell us what we're missing. Some of us have foods that just hit the spot and our bodies/minds immediately respond. A recent friend reports that avocado makes him feel more balanced, for me, blueberries immediately can snap me out of a bad mood. I DO believe that we need to more or less be eating something from all food groups and I believe that a balanced-for-us diet will provide all the nutrients we need (even though I'm not going to lie, I have a packet of EmergencE and protein powder almost every day now). I also believe that different people have an innate desire to eat different types of diets--some people should eat more protein, some can have less vegetables, etc...and they can all still be healthy as long as they are following the right diet for them. On a global scale, it's amazing to see how different diets can be, yet different populations can be equally healthy. (Well, as long as they don't integrate our horrible Western diet, and with it an increase in our Western diseases-ha!). And I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I believe that whole foods are the best and that we should eat less processed foods whenever possible.
I also am realizing more and more that our dietary needs can change over time. While I'm pretty sure I'll always be a high-fruit intake person (I seriously feel like I could eat a diet of 65% fruits and be satisfied with no negative GI effects), I'm finding myself switching more and more to a higher protein diet. And to be completely honest, for the first time in 17 years of being a vegetarian, I'm so protein hungry these days that I'm seriously contemplating adding chicken back into my diet. (I just added fish and uh, bacon, into my diet in the last year.) This doesn't mean that I should still eat some whole grains and that I don't need vegetables, but it probably means that with the increase in physical activity, my body is recognizing that I need more protein and from more complex sources.
I agree with Michael Pollan that we know so little about diet yet we try to pretend to know so much. Really for most things health related, we just need to continue to listen to our bodies and use our thinking caps to analyze whether or not our choices are truly the healthiest. We all have compromises as well, but the better we can create long-term healthier choices, the fuller our lives will be. And I'm not gonna lie, I do believe that occasionally monitoring what and how much you're eating is probably a good thing to do as well. Sometimes a lil check in can be a good thing! (And this might be TMI but with recent family events (Granny hospitalization for obstructed bowel last month), monitoring one's daily GI functions is also a great indicator of one's needs and whether or not the system is functioning at optimal.)