Nutrition, is something that most of us take for granted. Our children are taught about Nutrition in school, and as I found even homeschooling programs like ours include a chapter on Nutrition. I cringed when I realized that the lessons revolved around the USDA Food Pyramid, but I turned what I deemed as a negative into a positive. These lessons made me realize just how much my 7 year old son knew about nutrition and the foods that he eats. Timing for these lessons could not have been better since the USDA had just released their new “Food Plate”. My son is an analytical child, and the first thing he noted was that the USDA Plate was divided almost equally. ¼ Fruits, ¼ Grains, ¼ Protein, and ¼ Vegetables, there was also a full circle at the top of the plate for “dairy”, but no mention of Fat. Devon found the picture confusing so I suggested we dig a little deeper and review the USDA Guidelines on their website.
The USDA website, http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
is a bit convoluted, but after clicking through the many layers of dietary recommendations Devon blurted out, “Momma, they got it wrong again!” “If people eat this way it will make them sick!” He then went on “The USDA wants us to eat too many carbohydrates and that will give us Diabetes.” I suggested he make a poster to compare the USDA Food Plate to his more traditional diet, we’d call it “Devon’s Plate”.
To be fair, Devon thought the idea of a plate was good, since most people don’t know what to put on their plate. Reading through the new Guidelines he noted that the USDA is doing some things right. They are suggesting that people eat smaller portions, exercise, and drink fewer sugary drinks (soda, juices, etc.). He also noted that they recommend eating more dark green, red and orange vegetables, and to limit the amount of trans fats in the diet.
The following are problems Devon noted with the new USDA Food Plate Guidelines:
“Fat” is lumped together with “Oils”. Saturated Fats (what the USDA refers to as Solid Fats) such as butter, coconut oil, tallow, or lard are to be counted as “Empty Calories”. This was something that bothered Devon because he knows that these fats are good fats. Saturated fats are the building blocks for cell membranes and they provide you with energy. Eating saturated fats feeds your brain and your body, and as Devon said “when you eat good fats you are less hungry so you won’t snack on junk food”. The USDA further states that Americans should focus on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. The USDA deems these as healthier because they do not contain cholesterol. The USDA recommends that Americans use Liquid Oils, such as: Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Soybean Oil, Olive Oil, Safflower Oil, or Sunflower Oil. Devon also noted that Canola (Rape Seed), Corn, Cottonseed and Soybean oils are Genetically Modifed fats and that high cholesterol does not “make you get heart disease”.
“Dairy” The USDA wants Americans to Drink “Fat Free, or Low Fat milk”, and consume low fat yogurt and cheese. Obviously the USDA recommends drinking or eating only Pasteurized and Homogenized milk products, Raw Milk is not even mentioned on the USDA Website. Most of us know that pasteurization is the process that kills certain bacteria and makes the food sterile. This process affects the taste and nutritional value of the milk/milk products, destroying the beneficial enzymes such as lipase and conjugated linoleic acid. Thus the reason so many milk products are fortified; simply put there is nothing healthy left in the milk after processing. So what is Homogenization? Before this process was developed around the turn of the 20th Century, milk would separate, and the cream would float to the surface. This is how people judged how much fat the milk contained, or if their dairy farmer was short changing them by skimming the cream. This also meant that you had to shake your milk to incorporate the fat. Welcome to homogenization, this is the process of forcing milk through tiny tubes at high pressures that break up the fat globules into such a small size that they remain suspended evenly in the milk so they can not separate and float to the surface. When Devon researched the process of homogenization the first thing he asked was “wouldn’t this make the fat from the milk stick in your blood?” But the upside of these processes is that it makes milk “safer” to drink and extends the shelf life of milk products. Some people believe that these processing techniques make milk products more allergenic, and that certainly is the case for Devon. We pass by the dairy aisle in the store and get our Vitamin A, D, K, and B from other food sources.
“Grains” 1/2 of the intake of Grains should be whole, the rest can be refined.
There are many people who can not eat grains, and Devon is one of them. Those who suffer from Celiac Disease, are Gluten Sensitive, or people with Chron’s Disease or Colitis do much better on a grain free diet. For those who can eat grains the USDA recommends eating “Whole Grains” or “Enriched Refined Grains” which are grains in which the bran and the germ have been removed. Ready to eat breakfast cereals (even those purchased at the health food store) are considered refined grains. Cereals are made by a process called Extrusion. This is why most refined grains are enriched with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron. In case you are wondering, Fiber removed during the extrusion process is not added back to enriched grains. The process of Extrusion uses high heat and extreme force to liquefy the grains with water so that they can be shaped by machines into little ‘O’s’ or flakes. The extrusion process used for cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains, as well as the fatty acids, and even the enriched vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids and proteins of the grains are chemically altered by this process and studies on rats eating extruded grains have had unpleasant results.
“Fruit” The USDA Food Plate depicts that almost 1/4 of your diet should be fruits. Dig deeper into the website and you will note that the USDA suggests that the amount of fruit you need to eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity, a bit confusing! While fruit is a much healthier choice than candy bars Devon noted that the USDA Food Plate suggests we eat too much fruit. Fruit is naturally sweet, but contains Fructose a natural sugar. Devon understands that sugar is sugar and your body metabolizes all sugar the same way. Devon has therefore put fruit in the category of “treats” on his food plate.
I was quite surprised by the amount of time my 7 year old put into this project, and equally surprised by how much he knew about food and where it comes from. Devon has been reading labels on food packages for more than 2 years, originally it was to look for his allergen. Now, he reads labels as a health conscious consumer, and trips to the grocery store are less stressful for both of us. If he asks for something I simply suggest he read the label. Most often he puts the product back on the shelf because it contains “unhealthy ingredients”. Our children, especially those with food allergies, need to read food labels. When you teach your children to read labels, you will be empowering them to make healthier choices. Yes, it can lead to some embarrassing moments, the other day Devon told a woman that the ice cream she had just put in her cart contained propylene glycol (antifreeze), ethyl acetate, and yellow dye #5! The woman ignored him and went along her way. Devon just shook his head and said “well, you can’t save everyone”.
We are lucky that we live in an area where our local farmers are truly stewards of their land. Organic, Ecoganic farms are plentiful. Grass Fed Pastured Meats as well as Free Range Chickens that eat a natural diet free of Soy are just a few miles away. Devon appreciates these farmers and the work that they do to provide him with healthy foods. The other day we were at a farm and Devon said “Mr. Jake, thank you for growing healthy food for me”. I could not have been more proud. While Devon’s Plate does not resemble the Standard American Diet (SAD), he says he’s happier eating from his plate.