Lots of reasons to eat well this month

This is Eat Together, Eat Better Month and also Vegetarian Awareness Month. How’s that for a winning combination?

Did I mention that Oct. 1 was National Kale Day? Oh my goodness, just too much excitement! So let’s talk about the incentive put forth by Washington State University to encourage families to eat better and eat together. Why would it matter?

The university has encouraged families to eat together since 1996 because, despite research indicating the benefits of family meals, many families do not. Although studies vary, it appears that the numbers of families who eat together are declining, whereas the 40 percent who state that they do eat together say that they get together for family meals about three to five times a week. It is also notable that American children and adults eat with their families less often than in most other countries.

The research notes that when children eat with their parents they generally consume more nutritious meals. They consume more vegetables and fruit and derive higher amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, folate, fiber and vitamins B6, B12, C and E. They also consume less fat, especially unhealthy trans and saturated fats. Not surprisingly, children who eat more frequently with their parents are less likely to be obese, and more likely to eat breakfast whether or not their parents are present.

Aside from the nutritional benefits of eating together as a family, children and teens who eat with their parents are more likely to get better grades in school, have an extended vocabulary, contribute to their community and be less likely to use controlled substances or be depressed.

The studies from Washington State University note that the greatest barrier to family meals is the busy schedules of parents, teens and children. Other barriers noted were inadequate cooking skills, lack of cooking or serving facilities, individual food preferences, competition with electronic gadgets and media, as well as undeveloped conversational skills, arguing at the dinner table or teens wishing to be left alone.

Many health professionals and child advocates strongly support family meals because eating together not only means eating healthier, but also better emotional health.

Now why would anyone want to go vegetarian?

Here are some of the stated benefits to adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer by lowering the amounts of hard fats in the diet. It also, according to the National American Vegetarian Society, reduces people’s exposure to food borne pathogens. Becoming a vegetarian allows the world production of grain to feed more people rather than animals in a very ineffective process to produce animal protein from grain protein.

From a humanitarian perspective, vegetarianism saves animals from the suffering of an industrial farm existence leading to an inhumane slaughter. Vegetarianism is easier on the planet, as vast amounts of water are used in production of animal protein for human consumption. It reduces the use of irreplaceable ecosystems such as rain forests and wildlife habitats for producing animals for human consumption.

Eating green decreases the amount of greenhouse gases that many link to accelerating climate change. Vegetarian diets do not support the expanding environmental pollution of animal agriculture.

For many people, the thought of going vegetarian is extreme, and those of us who embrace a vegetarian philosophy can vouch for feeling healthy, and feeling good about our food choices. One can, if they choose, still eat dairy products, eggs and other animal products that do not kill an animal and still be considered vegetarian.

In this case, most would agree that the choices should be free range or pasture fed and organic, so that the animal is not subjected to the inhumane treatment of large industrial farming. Still others, usually called vegans will not take any animal products at all and relate health benefits that are in keeping with reducing saturated fats, and toxins in their bodies.

The choice is always a personal one. Helping our children understand the benefits of eating better, eating together and at least serving some vegetarian meals so that they will understand the benefits of eating light and going green are steps we can all take to improve the health of our community.

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Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.

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