Inspired by Dr. Fuhrman's nutrition message: Food for Life teaches children and families how to enjoy healthy foods

 by Natalie Obermeyer

Vegetables consist of less than 2% of American children’s diets, and the CDC predicts that for the first time in history the current generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.1,2

Jennifer Taylor and Theresa Roden of the Wellness Foundation are aiming to improve the health of children and their families by inspiring them to eat nutrient rich diets. Students learn the how they can prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and live long, healthy lives through what they eat. In each class students learn a lesson about a specific topic such as the benefits of the phytonutrients in vegetables, the “not so sweet truth” about sugar, and the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. Then, students get to prepare and eat their own nutrient-rich foods including green smoothies, fruit salad with cashew cream, and avocado bean dip. The children love the fun, interactive class and discovering many new healthy foods.

 

“We have a choice and I choose to be a healthy kid. Thank you Food for Life!”– Luis, student

Children

“I never thought eating healthy and learning about nutrition could be so much fun. I do not want to have heart disease or type 2 diabetes when I grow up, so I pledge to lead a healthier life. This program has really changed my life.” – Ben, student

Children drinking green smoothies

Food for Life has dramatically impacted the entire families of its participants. Students are encouraged to invite their parents and even grandparents to attend the classes, and students beg their parents to attend. Parents join the classes over their lunch hour, and it is not uncommon for the class to have almost 100% parent participation. With the whole family learning together, the nutrition students learn in school can be implemented at home as well. Parents themselves are experiencing the benefits, and many no longer need insulin or other drugs.

Food for Life is now expanding its program to other schools and is in the process of creating a curriculum for pre-school and 3rd graders. Eventually they plan to provide the program for pre-school, kindergarten, third, sixth, ninth and twelfth graders. They want to empower as many students as possible to take control of their health by developing habits that will last a lifetime.

Children can learn to love healthy food, and the Food for Life program is proof of this. Well done, Wellness Foundation, for exposing children to nutritional knowledge and healthy cooking!

 

References:

1Fox MK, Pac S, Devaney B, Jankowski L. Feeding infants and toddlers study: What foods are infants and toddlers eating? L Am Diet Assoc 2004;104(1 Suppl):s22-s30

2Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Butler RN, Allison DB, Ludwig DS. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N Engl J Med. 2005 Mar 17;352(11):1138-45. PubMed PMID: 15784668.

 

The human mind prefers a healthy carotenoid glow over a suntan

In spite of the well-known damaging effects of the sun on our skin, many of us still perceive a tan as healthy-looking. But you don’t need to risk the health of your skin in the sun or a tanning bed to make it look healthy - the sun isn’t the only factor that can alter skin color.

Carotenoids are a group of 600 antioxidants including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin. The richest sources of carotenoids are green, orange, and red vegetables and fruits. Many health-promoting phytochemicals, such as carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenols are pigment molecules that provide both attractive colors and health benefits. We are drawn to the vibrant colors of fresh produce that signal health benefits, and a new study has found that we can discern with our eyes how healthy the diet of a potential mate is.

 

Pigmentation in many species is perceived as a sign of health – birds for example. Carotenoids (both dietary and self-produced) are responsible for the bright feather colors of male birds, which make them more attractive to potential mates. There is evidence that in birds, dietary carotenoids do not merely serve this cosmetic purpose – increased carotenoid intake in birds may also improve color vision, sperm quality, and the health of offspring. [1]

One study investigated people’s perception of skin ‘lightness’ and ‘yellowness’ – yellowness is influenced by both carotenoids and melanin (melanin increases in response to sun exposure). Researchers asked subjects to choose from sets of photos of two different skin colors – one whose yellowness was due to melanin, and one due to carotenoids – which skin color appeared healthier. Subjects consistently chose carotenoid coloration over melanin coloration. [2]

According to first author of the paper Ian Stephen, “We found that, given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin colour, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun.” [3]

There is a direct relationship between skin appearance and health – if your skin does not have an orange tinge, then you are not on a healthy diet. You can even quantify your skin carotenoid levels, which reflect dietary carotenoid intake, using a specialized scanner. [4, 5] I use one of these scanners in my medical practice to confirm that phytochemicals have accumulated in the skin of patients, affording them protection against cancer and other chronic diseases. Plus these phytonutrients in the skin offer protection from sun damage, aging of the skin and skin cancer from sun exposure. [6]

So eating carotenoid-rich food is not only a path to excellent health – it’s also a way to look good!

 

References:
1. Carotenoids Are Cornerstone of Bird's Vitality. ScienceDaily, 2009.
2. Stephen, I.D., Coetzee, V., Perrett, D.I., Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health. Evolution and Human Behavior, 2010.
3. Looking good on greens. Eurekalert!, 2011.
4. Ermakov, I.V. and W. Gellermann, Validation model for Raman based skin carotenoid detection. Arch Biochem Biophys, 2010. 504(1): p. 40-9.
5. Ermakov, I.V., et al., Resonance Raman detection of carotenoid antioxidants in living human tissue. J Biomed Opt, 2005. 10(6): p. 064028.
6. Nichols, J.A. and S.K. Katiyar, Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. Arch Dermatol Res, 2010. 302(2): p. 71-83.