March is National Nutrition Month, so eat, drink well

The National Department of Health has proclaimed March as National Nutritition Month.

So let’s talk about how to eat well for optimum physical and mental functioning. Oh yes, what you eat affects how you think. The definition of nutrition as most people think of it is food and nourishment. It is also the branch of science that studies nutrients and nutrition. Finally it is the process by which plants and animals take in and utilize food material. Nutrients provide nourishment to the body, and are required to sustain life. When the body doesn’t get them, the body can become damaged, or die. Sometimes supplying the missing nutrients brings back the health to the body.

While it is important for everyone to eat correctly, the younger you are, the more important it is, and that includes being in the womb. If there is any chance that you are pregnant, go for a prenatal (pregnancy) check up. They’ll do tests to check on your health, and what you might be deficient in. Stop drinking and smoking immediately, because both can cause birth defects in children. Only take drugs prescribed by a doctor, who knows which ones are harmful to your baby, and get nutritional counseling.

There are special pre-natal (pregnancy) vitamins that women usually take. It’s so important. For example,“Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant take folic acid to prevent miscarriage and ‘neural tube defects,’ birth defects such as spina bifida that occur when the fetus’s spine and back do not close during development.”

“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are jointly issued and updated every 5 years by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. They provide authoritative advice about consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active to attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.”

From this website a person can look up the latest recommendations of minimum daily requirements of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, etc.) for optimum health for a person’s gender and age: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/DRI/DRI_Tables/recommended_intakes_individuals.pdf

So once we figure out how much of each nutrient we need of something, how do we go about getting it into our bodies in a form that can be digested and assimilated. For example, we all need calcium every day. I Googled “Sources of Calcium” and came to the National Institutes of Health fact sheet on calcium http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/ I found out that 8 oz. of plain yogurt had the most at about 42 percent of the minimum daily requirement.

There were also many other facts about calcium, such as what happens if you get a deficiency of it: cramps, convulsions, abnormal heart rhythms, and over a long time osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones, which can cause them to break more easily.

It mentioned that a high sodium diet, high levels of caffeine consumption, and alcohol consumption cause calcium to be eliminated or not absorbed properly. Take some time, and research these nutrients and sources. Our bodies are amazing at being able to repair themselves if they are given the right nutrients, amounts of sleep, glasses of water, etc. Any car mechanic will tell you that good maintenance keeps a car running at top efficiency and for a longer period of time. Our bodies are our vehicles while we’re on earth, and good nutrition is a big part of good maintenance.

“Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues.

“Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired.”

So next time when you start dragging, instead of reaching for a Red Bull, coffee, tea, or caffeinate sugary drink, try water first. Dehydration can also slow your thinking down.

Pay attention the next time you see a wilted plant. It’s not functioning well. The greens get pale and hang down. Yet when you water it, it perks up again, and gets its color back. Remember to stay hydrated before you have any important tests, or need to remember what you are reading.

The Mayo Clinic says that men should have 13 8 oz cups of water (just over 3 quarts), and women should have nine cups. Web MD says 15 cups for men, and 11 cups for women. Gaining in popularity is the idea that a person should drink a half ounce of water for every pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water. There are 64 ounces in a half gallon, so basically you’d need a half gallon and another 1 1/2 cups. A 200-pound person would need 100 ounces of water, or a half gallon, a quart, and a half cup. Drink more if you’re in the sun, exerting yourself, or are consuming alcohol.

We can’t get all of our nutrition from just one food. We need fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins.

The Mayo Clinic recommends we eat mostly fruits and veggies. We can have an unlimited amount of them, but should have a minimum of four servings of veggies and three of fruits. If you don’t like to eat them, drink them! These days people are juicing veggies and feeling a lot better. You can also purchase V-8 or other veggie products. A minimum of three servings of fruit are recommended. Fresh fruits are always best, and in Hawaii we are blessed with it. It is in fruits and veggies that we get many vitamins and minerals. The advantage to eating the whole fruit is that it has fiber in it. Just juice without fiber is actually high in sugar content.

They recommend four to eight servings of carbohydrates such as rice, wheat, grains and breads, potatoes, cereals, etc.

Three to seven servings of protein and dairy are recommended. Dairy products have protein, but it is also found in seeds, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, tofu and meats. Grains also have it to a lesser degree. Proteins are made of amino acids. There are eight essential ones that we need. While meats, fish, eggs, tofu and dairy have all of the essential amino acids, nuts, seeds, and grains might not have all of them, but can be eaten in combinations to include them all. Rice and beans is an example. Quinoa has all eight.

We are allowed to have three to five servings of fats, but not trans fats. These increase the bad cholesterol in our bodies. They are often found in solid shortenings, and margarine, where oils have been hydrogenated.

Fish oil is important for healthy nerves and hearts. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil are best to use. If we have butter on toast, mayo on a sandwich, and salad dressing on a salad at night, that’s three servings. It adds up quickly. If I fry eggs, and have bacon, then eat French fries or put butter on a potato I’m over.

The treat at the top of the pyramid is up to 75 calories of sweets a day. Twelve ounces of Coke has 143 calories … twice that amount! A Milky Way bar has 97. A stick of Doublemint gum as 10. A teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories. An Oreo cookie has 55.A Hershey’s Kiss has 22. A hard candy will give you the sweet taste longer, if you just suck it a while. A Jolly Rancher has about 23 calories. A Life Saver has about 11.

Help your body get the goodness out of the food it eats by chewing well. It’s recommended to chew food until almost a pudding consistency. There are no teeth in the tummy. Also, saliva helps your body break down starches into sugars. A relaxed environment is another helpful digestion aid. So enjoy eating. It really is good medicine

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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