Connecticut Teens Learn Good NutritionTue 02 Aug 2011
Story by Alison Birks
One of my goals as a nutritionist is to educate people about what they are really eating. The food industry does a great job at hiding these facts from the public, especially from kids, who innocently trust that the food they are eating is good for them. What are so desperately needed today are conversations about where and how our food is produced and why this matters.
As the New Morning Resident Nutritionist, I have a unique position on the store staff in that I maintain a professional nutrition practice with regular office hours within the larger environment of an independent, mission-driven retail store.
New Morning Natural & Organic in Woodbury, CT has a strong commitment to sustainable living, organic local farming, and changing the world through education and community outreach. In keeping with New Morning’s mission, The Nutritious School Lunch Committee was formed by Executive Chef Carol Byer-Alcorace and myself. A recent program for teens at the Southbury Public Library was an outgrowth of this effort.
“Can anyone tell me what is in a chicken sandwich? You know the kind you can buy at a fast food restaurant?” I waited for a response. The participants, who ranged in age from sixth through eleventh grade, began to slowly reply to my question. “Chicken”, “Spices”, “Bread crumbs” and “Salt” were some of the answers I received.
Imagine the surprised looks on their inquisitive young faces when I read from the list of ingredient facts: “Partially-hydrogenated soybean oil”, “Disodium guanylate”, “Modified Food Starch” and “Grill flavor”. “What the heck is grill flavor?” A boy of about thirteen asked. I took a deep breath, smiled, and then told him the sad truth. “I don’t know what it is …and I’m a nutritionist!”
Later, when I asked these students to estimate the number of servings of sugar eaten by the average American in one day, they were clearly guessing. “One teaspoon?”, “Two teaspoons? No, maybe five teaspoons!” More than one of these bright-eyed adolescents appeared shocked when I revealed the answer: “Twenty-two and one-half teaspoons… and that is an average, which means some people are eating even more than that!” I showed them a test-tube filled with this amount of granulated sugar. They were aghast: “No way!”
This was a great group of kids, attentive and engaged in learning. I later explained to them the importance of avoiding trans fats (“Frankenstein Fats”) and staying clear of processed foods. “Anything in a bag or a box is usually a processed food.”
“So, what should we be eating?” They questioned. “You need to eat real food: fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, eggs, meat and fish, save the soda for a special occasion.” We barely touched on eating organic and local… there just wasn’t enough time to say everything I had wanted to say. Eliminating soda and fast food would have to be enough for one day.
About the author: Alison Birks holds a BA in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic, an MS in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and a sixth year degree in Education, with a biology concentration and is currently the Resident Staff Nutritionist at New Morning Natural & Organic.
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