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Nutrition

BOE approved changes in 2017, slow transition to full compliance to continue into ’18-19 school year

A BOE policy is increasing healthy food options in PJ schools. Stock photo from Metro

Port Jefferson School District is looking to become a healthier place.

Students and parents returning this fall should expect to see further changes to foods offered in cafeterias, sold for team and club fundraisers, and even those foods allowed at school celebrations for the 2018-19 year to meet standards set in a May 2017 board of education policy change.

In a July letter addressed to parents from Danielle Turner, the now-departed district director of health, physical education and athletics, the policy was enacted to address nutritional concerns as well as increase students’ physical activity throughout the school day, a move designed to keep the district in line with state and federal regulations.

“Elements of the policy went into effect last year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said. “We chose a path of gradual compliance starting with last year so our students and advisers could plan accordingly going into the 2018-19 school year.”

Under the policy, school meals in the district now must include fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains and low-fat items, adherent to federal standards. In addition, food and beverages sold in vending machines and school stores must meet nutrition standards set by federal regulations. Food and beverages sold by clubs and teams for fundraisers, both on school grounds and off, will also be subject to the same regulations. The policy also impacts in school celebrations and parties where food and drinks are provided, saying building principals will “encourage” parents and staff to follow the guidelines, and restricts the use of food “as
an incentive or reward for instructional purposes.”

“As a school community, it is important that we model what we teach about health,” Casciano said.

Student body president and Port Jefferson senior Reid Biondo said clubs and teams were made aware the policy change was coming last year and started to make preparations to adhere to the changes when it comes to fundraising.

“The fundraisers are very important for clubs and teams,” he said. “Not being able to fundraise by selling food is a source of concern but the students at Earl L. Vandermeulen are very creative and are already coming up with solutions. Last year, one of the classes hosted a volleyball tournament in place of a bake sale. There are plenty of alternatives to bake sales but students and teams are going to need to work a little harder for their money.”

Despite the challenges created by the policy, Biondo said he sees the district’s point of view in trying to foster a healthier school environment.

“I think they are right to encourage a more healthy lifestyle and I think it is a step in the right direction,” he said. “Students should have access to healthy eating options and that part of this change in the school district excites me. However, I do not think removing the unhealthy choices entirely is the solution.”

Biondo pointed out that CVS is less than a five-minute walk from the school’s front door, and he suspects many of his peers will go there to purchase an unhealthy after-school snack. This would mean the revenue from bake or candy bar sale would be going to an outside source, while students continue making unhealthy choices. The senior also suggested the district should provide additional education about healthy lifestyle choices and consuming snacks in moderation, to encourage students to lead a healthy lifestyle in and outside of school.

Casciano said the district took the fundraising obstacles for extracurricular organizations into account when crafting the policy and suggested healthier alternatives can still be sold to raise money. He added the district’s hiring of Adam Sherrard to take over for Turner will have no bearing on the implementation of the policy.

The full board wellness policy can be found at www.portjeffschools.org under “Community” tab.

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By Lisa Steuer

In the 1990s, low-fat food products lined the shelves. Consumers believed that choosing a product with a low-fat label was essential for optimal health and fat loss. But today, experts say that a low-fat diet can be detrimental — as food that has the fat removed can instead be high in sugar and calories to make up for the lack of fat.

“The whole low-fat phase was problematic because people substituted refined carbohydrates, and that is a huge problem,” said Dr. Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, Ph.D., RD, the executive director of Stony Brook Medicine Nutrition Division and author of “Losing Weight Permanently with the Bull’s Eye Food Guide: Your Best Mix of Carbs, Proteins, and Fats.”

So with so many diets out there today, which work best for weight loss and health? Here is Connolly-Schoonen’s input.

Going Gluten Free
Gluten is a name for proteins found in wheat, and some common foods that contain gluten include pasta, bread, flour tortillas, oats, dressings, cereals, sauces and more. Go to any grocery store these days and you will most likely find a “gluten-free” section. And while people with Celiac disease cannot eat gluten because they will get sick, many people who aren’t allergic to gluten are touting the weight loss and health benefits of going gluten free.

But if you don’t have a gluten allergy, is it necessary or nutritionally wise to go gluten free?

“I think that many people are gluten intolerant and can benefit from a gluten-free diet,” said Connolly-Schoonen. “But, [it should be] a high-quality gluten-free diet — foods that never had gluten. So your starches are going to be from potato and rice and quinoa, not from gluten-free bread and gluten-free pasta.”

So while foods that are naturally gluten free are generally healthy, those who are not gluten-intolerant should be wary of processed foods that have had the gluten removed, as there now exists a big market and opportunity for companies wanting to take advantage of the gluten-free trend — and products such as “gluten-free cookies” may not necessarily be nutritionally sound.

“In my practice, I’ve seen many people benefit from gluten-free styles of eating, but using whole foods, not processed gluten-free food … A slice of gluten-free bread is rather small and has the same or perhaps a little bit more calories than regular bread,” said Connolly-Schoonen. “Foods that are naturally gluten-free are quite healthy and I really do think people may benefit from a gluten-free style of eating, but it has to be natural.”

The Paleo Diet and Going Vegan
The idea behind the paleo diet is that we should eat as our ancestors or “cavemen” ate, including meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, and excluding processed food, grains and dairy. And while many people have reportedly lost weight on the diet, some argue that the paleo diet does not necessarily follow what our ancestors ate, and there is now a market for processed paleo bars and drinks.

But Connolly-Schoonen says the concept of consuming fewer processed foods is a good one to follow, especially when it comes to sugar-laden beverages.

“With the advent of the high fructose corn syrup, it became so cheap to make sweetened beverages … that have the equivalent of 17, 19, 20 packets of sugar in them, and we genetically cannot handle that.”

In addition, some people choose to go vegan or vegetarian for a variety of reasons — moral, health or a combination. Both vegans and vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry, while vegans also do not use other animal products and byproducts, such as eggs, honey, cosmetics, and more.

“I don’t think you need to be a vegetarian to be at your optimal health, but there is a lot of research over an extended period of time showing that vegetarians, more than vegans, who eat a high-quality vegetarian diet — so no Snickers bars — do quite well in terms of decreasing the risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, and there really is a lot of research behind the vegetarian diet to support that,” said Connolly-Schoonen. “Vegan diets could be healthy, but it’s much more challenging to make sure that you get all of your micronutrients.”

Juicing Up
Juicing is still considered healthy in moderation and as a quick way to get antioxidants. But when you use a juicer, the juice is extracted from fruits and vegetables, leaving behind a pulp that is often thrown away. In addition, this strips the fruit of its fiber but leaves the sugar.

“Even if you’re juicing vegetables, you’re still getting the sugar … and making the sugar much more highly available,” said Connolly-Schoonen. “And most people are more satiated when they chew their food.”

In addition, many people subscribe to the idea of doing juicing “detoxes” or “cleanses” every so often — which have found to be not really necessary, as we already have a natural detoxification system that occurs in our livers. In addition, any sort of diet that deprives one of nutrients is never a great idea. Instead, work on supporting your body’s natural ability to detox.

“If you have an unhealthy gut environment, you’re taxing your liver’s detoxification system. So first you want to have a healthy gut environment, which means lots of fiber and a good source of probiotics,” said Connolly-Schoonen. “Then you need to support your liver’s detoxification system with a wide array of micronutrients, which is going to come from a wide array of whole foods like protein, fish, lean meats, beans and then your vegetables, fruits and nuts.”

The Bottom Line
Instead of following a super strict diet, you may want to simply remember Connolly-Schoonen’s “two key factors” for healthy nutrition: quality and quantity. In terms of quality, choose foods that are less processed — lean proteins like chicken and fish, a huge variety of vegetables, beans, nuts and olive oil for healthy fats.

Once one works on the quality of foods in his or her diet, “it’s been my experience that patients can then much more easily work on moderating the quantity,” she said. “Once you’re eating whole foods and you’re mixing your quality proteins and fats, it becomes much easier to manage your appetite.”

Does this mean you can never have dessert again? Not at all.

“I tell patients if you’re eating ice cream, it should be real ice cream made from whole milk fat and real sugar. You shouldn’t get artificially sweetened products,” she said. “When you want chocolate and you want ice cream, have the real stuff. And that you should be able to include in your diet, maybe not every day, maybe a few times a week — it all just depends on how active you are.”

Lisa Steuer is the managing editor of FitnessRx for Women and FitnessRx for Men magazines. For fitness tips, training videos and healthy recipes, visit www.fitnessrxformen.com and www.fitnessrxwomen.com.

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Stock photo

We didn’t make up that headline. That is the name of an actual recent military study, the second of its kind, that found at least 9 million American youths are too overweight to serve in the armed forces.

That’s about a quarter of our young people between ages 17 and 24, according to population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Being overweight or obese is the top medical reason preventing young people from enlisting, according to the military study. One retired Army general called childhood obesity “a potential threat to our national security” in the future.

In case anyone was unsure of whether we have a weight or obesity problem in this country, that fact should really hammer it home. The military study gives a snapshot of what is occurring throughout our entire nation.

The problem is parents.

Some may feel outrage to see this blunt statement in ink, but the fact is that parents are responsible for teaching their kids, partly by example and partly by directive, how to eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity.

It’s true there is a degree of health and nutrition education in schools and, of course, schools should strive to offer healthy food in their breakfast and lunch programs. However, school districts should only be supplementing what parents are supposed to do in their own homes. An obvious reason for this is that children spend a tremendous amount of time with their parents and learn the most from them and their examples throughout their lives. And it is up to parents to raise their children and show them how to make good decisions, not the public school system.

Of course there are medical conditions that cause weight gain, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome, and complicate matters. But those conditions — both of which are much more prevalent in females than males, who are the primary target for military recruitment — certainly do not account for anywhere near all of the overweight young people. In fact, both conditions are more likely to affect older people than children and young adults.

Some may argue that it’s hard to teach kids about proper nutrition when they are bombarded by fast food ads, or when the parents are busy working to support the family. But we’re not saying parenting is easy — we’re saying it’s a parent’s job.

Teaching kids how to eat healthy and exercise is important and many parents need to step up their game, or it’s not just our military recruitment numbers that will suffer.