As many of you know, I have been visiting colleges with my oldest daughter. My daughter is a foodie so, during our visits, we pay close attention to the food options at the various colleges we visit. A friend of mine recently highlighted the fact that in Europe, most colleges and universities don’t have meal plans or dining halls, and many students are required to learn how to cook for themselves. I considered this for some time and realized that perhaps this is something we should be encouraging in the United States as well.
The United States and many other countries are facing an epidemic of obesity, as well as other diseases related to obesity. I think one aspect of the problem is that no one is cooking at home anymore. Meals are readily and cheaply available from fast food stores and prepared food sections of grocery stores so why bother making the effort to learn how to cook, shop for groceries and prepare a recipe? A recent article in a special edition of the National Geographic magazine called “Blue Zones: The Science of Living Longer” by Dan Buettner notes that “For the most part, people in the world’s Blue Zones* eat at home…When you cook at home, you can control the ingredients. You can choose the freshest, highest-quality ingredients and avoid consuming cheap fillers and flavor enhancers that end up in much restaurant food…One study followed the eating habits and caloric intake of 1,000 people for a week and discovered that people who ate out consumed on average about 275 more calories per day than people who ate at home.” (p.47) So, instead of providing college students with unlimited, all-you-can-eat meal plans, maybe colleges and universities should consider offering introductory classes in the basics of choosing healthy fruits and vegetables from the local market, and how to cook some basic dishes. This would teach young adults about healthy eating, and it would also engage them in the world around them and teach them that their choices can have a greater impact – such as on their local community or the environment.
Another aspect of the problem is this idea of unlimited food, available almost 24 hours a day. We don’t take the time to sit down and enjoy meals. When we don’t focus on our meals, we lose track of what we are eating and how much. Dan Buettner notes in the same article, “How you eat can be as important as what you eat. Eating fast promotes overeating and, as research shows, can double your risk of obesity. A recent study found that children and adolescents who eat meals with their families at least three times a week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who don’t.” (p.50) This all goes back to the idea of being a fast-food nation, which is what I discussed in a previous blog post (May/June 2015). We have become too busy to do anything but check our e-mails and Instagram. Too often, our focus is on instant gratification. That is a problem not just for our health but in other areas of life as well. We seek quick fixes and rapid solutions, rather than focusing on the larger issues. Teaching young adults to plan ahead for meals can benefit their health, but teach them a far more important lesson on how to look at the world, encouraging to make choices that take into account the long-term consequences of their actions.
If our goal is to raise the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs shouldn’t we be considering all the possible ways in which we should foster their health and well-being so that they can be as productive as possible? To me, this means encouraging people to learn how to eat right because a well-nourished body leads to a well-nourished mind. Teaching people how to eat, shop and cook also teaches lessons beyond the kitchen, lessons that can be used in all areas of life. As a result, rather than considering all the dining options available to my daughter when she heads off to college, I am now thinking of what I can teach her to cook for herself.
*Note: Blue Zones are areas around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Specifically, Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
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Supporting Your Gut’s Microbiome
Over the summer, I continued reading about the importance of the gut microbiome in our health. The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria we have living in our gut. Researchers have found that these bacteria play a key role in keeping us healthy. I have come to believe that maintaining the balance between the good and bad bacteria in our gut is at the heart of all health problems. Some common signs of an unhealthy gut include a weakened immune system, digestion problems (constipation, diarhea, gas, bloating), weight gain, fatigue, and depression.
One of the most important things to support the good bacteria in our gut is eating fiber – good bacteria love fiber. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and nuts. The 10 best sources of fiber are:
Best foods to support your gut (because they contain lots of probiotic bacteria):
Pickles (not the ones with added sugars)
In addition to food, there are other ways to help your body stay in touch with its good bacteria (pun intended): go outside and play in the dirt…or with some animals. Try to avoid antibiotics – you will be amazed at the healing power of a bowl of chicken soup or a cup of orange juice!
If you want to learn more, here are some great books that I recommend:
The Good Gut
Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood,
and Your Long-Term Health
by Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs
The Gut Balance Revolution
Boost Your Metabolism, Restore Your Inner Ecology,
and Lose Weight for Good
by Gerard E. Mullin
The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect
Your Brain for Life
by David Perlmutter, MD
The Hidden Half of Nature
The Microbial Roots of Life
by David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle
The Dirt Cure
Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight
from the Soil
by Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD
Check out pictures of my recent trip to Iceland HERE…