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Grandmother therapy: Let food be thy medicine

Sat, 30 Dec 2017 19:21:00
Article by:
Erik Peper, PhD
Illustration of food as nutrition, courtesy of Erik Peper, PhD.
“Eat your breakfast!”

Ten to 30 percent of K-12 students leave home without eating breakfast and increase the risk for obesity and lower academic performance. While at the university many college students do not eat breakfast, or even lunch, before classes. Nearly one-third of SFSU college students report that they do not have time to eat before coming to a morning class, and some have not eaten before an afternoon class. This is even more pronounced for those who have low grade point averages. The first “food “is often coffee with sugary quick food snacks, such as cereals, muffins or scones. Later, they may pick themselves up with caffeinated power drinks, and use alcohol or marijuana to relax and go to sleep.  

Without realizing it, their diet may impact their health and school performance. You are what you eat! Your body and brain are constructed from the materials — foods and drinks — that you have ingested.  It is similar to building a house.  If you use poor construction materials, the house will more likely break down sooner than a house that was built with superior construction materials. Without healthy foods and too many sugary stimulants, it is more difficult to focus and pay attention. Students are often unaware of the powerful impact of diet upon their health, which affects their subjective energy level and ability to focus. By not eating appropriately, persons may negatively impact their academic success. They label themselves distractible, sleepy or incompetent, unable to learn easily. An important component is the absence of grandmother wisdom — regular patterns of healthy eating and sleeping.
    
Some students have seldom experienced eating together with a family. Even as young children, they were already forced to fend for themselves, eating whenever they wanted, because their caretaker(s)/parent(s) had to be at work. As they did not have role models of how and when to eat, they were influenced by commercial advertising. Those messages were of the snack foods near the register in the supermarket and the digital media advertisements produced by Agribusiness. These advertised foods have directly contributed to observed affluent malnutrition. It is not surprising that most Americans are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, since they eat empty calories, as shown in Figure 1.
    
Foods high in simple carbohydrate and fats, such as bowls of sugary cereals which contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome — a precursor for diabetes — and Alzheimer’s disease. The average American now eats 150 pounds of sugar a year, while 200 years ago they ate about three pounds of sugar per year. In addition, foods tend to be high on omega 6 fats, which increase inflammation and lack the appropriate nutrients necessary for brain development, such as omega 3 fats. The result can be a waxing and waning of subject energy level and concentration, and possibly contributing to the increase of food allergies. Now 30 percent of the students have some food allergies which may affects attention, energy level and body comfort.
    
Implementing grandmother’s wisdom: Eat regular meals and breakfast in the morning before going out to work or school. Breakfast does not consist of simple carbohydrates (the majority of American cereals or any food containing white flour and sugars). Then eat lunch and dinner.  Be sure the food includes lots of vegetables, fruits and some protein.

Eat organic foods, and not processed foods. Organically grown foods have significantly more vitamins, antioxidants and secondary metabolites, such as phenolic compounds, than nonorganic foods. These compounds provide protective health benefits and lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and many other chronic health conditions. By eating a wide variety of organic foods, you will ingest the necessary vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and secondary metabolites which are deficient in nonorganic foods. Over the past 50 years, key nutrients of fruits and vegetables have significantly declined — as found in a survey 43 crops of fruits and vegetables, shown in Figure 2.

Organic foods reduce exposure to harmful neurotoxic and carcinogenic pesticide and herbicides residues.  Most pesticides are toxic chemicals and were developed to kill agricultural pests — living organisms and human beings are living organisms. The actual risk for chronic low level exposure is probably unknown; since the EPA pesticide residue limits are the result of a political compromise between scientific findings and lobbying from agricultural and chemical industries.  Organic diets expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Thus, eat fresh locally produced organic foods to optimize health.

Get enough sleep at a regular time. Sleep allows regeneration and growth. Many students are chronically sleep deprived — often they catch up on their sleep in the classes they take. Presently 30 percent of American adults between 30?64 years of age sleep less than six hours per day, as compared to 1980s when the average adult slept for eight hours. Research data overwhelming demonstrates that reduced sleep negatively affects health and performance in the long term and is a significant contributor to the increase in obesity and diabetes. Not enough sleep for high school and college students is associated with irritability, poorer memory retention and decreased school performance.

Finally, when students are required as part of a university course to observe themselves and implement behavior change such as elimination diet, eating before coming to class, reducing excessive alcohol intake or caffeine intake over a period of four weeks, they experience significant positive changes. They are usually totally surprised that their energy levels and concentration has increase. As one of the students wrote, "Since I [began] fueling my body with healthier fuel, I began to feel more energized and lighter..."
    
For more information, see: https://peperperspective.com/2017/10/27/yes-fresh-organic-food-is-better/. Erik Peper is a professor at the Institute of Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education, San Francisco State University. The link to his blog is www.peperperspective.com, and his website is www.biofeedbackhealth.org. He can be contacted by email at erik.peper@gmail.com.

 
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