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Start Your Own Food Revolution

I recently signed my 5-year-old son Brendan up for kindergarten, and as any responsible parent would do, I immediately read through the welcome packet. I groaned as I stumbled upon the last page titled “Snack Suggestions.” The page looked like it may have been photocopied out of a teacher’s manual from the 80s, but more importantly, about a third of the snacks are foods that I never give to Brendan and the other third needed clarification. For example:
  • Yogurt: Does that mean Chobani, Stonyfield or other organic brands? Or will parents buy squeezable Gogurt or the kind that comes with the spoon that changes the color?
  • Cheese and Crackers: Are they talking about whole grain crackers with organic cheese or the pre-packaged cracker and spreadable cheese duo with the plastic red stick?
Almost everything else on the list contained trans or, more accurately, hydrogenated fats. Despite all the hoopla around adults not eating hydrogenated fats, why is perfectly acceptable to heavily load our children’s food with it? Not to mention artificial sweeteners, preservatives and artificial colors. Pick up any food product that contains a cartoon character on the rainbow-colored packaging and I guarantee that the contents more closely resemble a science experiment than something intended for human consumption.
The irony is that the school just received a $2 million grant for increasing physical activity and improving the food choices. Why is it that the same schools that enthusiastically send letters to the parents informing them that their children are overweight are so remiss in providing nutritious food or accurate information about healthy eating? It is as if we are afraid our kids are going to starve unless food manufacturers create food that is fun and colorful, which often contains zero nutritional value. But as a nation, we are rapidly becoming fatter and less fit. We need fewer non-hunger related reasons to eat, not more. It is becoming increasingly easier to unknowingly consume thousands of extra and empty calories.
I weekly watch "Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution" and am in disbelief over the resistance directed at a man who wants to teach Americans to make and eat food that is reasonable in calories, comes from a known source, and tastes great for an affordable price. How can any of that be bad? Yet the L.A. public schools will not even allow Jamie to peer through the window of a cafeteria. What are they hiding?
What does all this have to do with the Spinning® program? Actually, a lot! Many students participate in Spinning classes in hopes of becoming fitter, improving their health and, let’s not forget, lose weight. We all know this can be better achieved if we improve our diets in addition to burning extra calories through powering those Spinner® bike pedals.
Why is eating better so difficult? We are simply too busy. Convenience and marketing prevail over nutritional value when it comes to choosing food. Less than ideal foods and beverages are everywhere because they are cheap and food manufacturers and chain restaurants use profits to justify creating and serving them. In the meantime, we have completely overlooked the fact that there is no “food” in our food anymore.
Recognize that change will not happen by crossing our fingers and hoping that the FDA, food manufacturers, factory farmers and chain restaurant CEOs will suddenly develop a conscience. Change will occur by using two tools. The first is knowledge. We are living in an era in which we need to become more educated about the food we eat and what is in it. A great start is to read ingredient lists on absolutely everything you purchase. You will be surprised at how many of them are unrecognizable. Anything that has a ton of ingredients that you don’t recognize is simply not worth the risk of putting it into your body.
The second is money. Every time you purchase something, you are voting with your dollar. So, regardless of how you may strongly disapprove of a food product being widely available (or produced at all), paying for it sends the message that you are okay with it. Why is the Corn Growers Association of America spending big dollars on marketing high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar? Because enough of us have started paying attention to what is in our food and the organization is freaking out as consumers start to buy much less corn syrup.
Here are a few basic suggestions that can go a long way in improving the quality of our diet and might help save our environment in the process:
  • Always read ingredient lists. Avoid foods that contain unidentifiable items.
  • Learn how produce is grown and how the animals you eat had been treated and fed. We are what we eat, eats.
      • Do your best to avoid:
        • Hydrogenated fats. Don’t just look for trans fats, because there is a loophole in the labeling.
        • High fructose corn syrup. Yes, there is debate about the health implications of it, but when you start to discover the type of food products that contain it you will see that you will be in no way missing out.
        • Artificial sweeteners (there are five). By the way, just about every single gum (including the sugar-containing varieties) uses at least three of them:
          • Aspartame
          • Neotame
          • Sucralose
          • Acesulfame Potassium
          • Saccharin
Realize that these tips also apply to energy bars, protein drinks and sports drinks. Often products and beverages promising to boost performance are the worst offenders. Why do sports drinks need to be fluorescent orange in the first place?
Back to my son’s school. What am I going to do about it? I have since contacted the superintendent, submitted a handout with accurate information about healthy snacking and am scheduled to attend the next committee meeting. Wish me luck as I wish you luck in applying this information to your life, sharing it with your students, and changing the world for the better a little bit at a time.

  Jennifer Ward 
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