I have to admit, I have not always liked my veggies. In fact, I spent many hours as a child hiding green beans in my napkin. Apparently, I have passed this sneaky habit on to my son, who resists putting anything green into his mouth. I recall one night, just before dinner, sitting down with him and explaining in detail the importance of eating vegetables. He stared at me with the biggest blue eyes as I spoke. After our "talk," I gave him an ample supply of spinach on his plate. I was exceedingly proud at the conclusion of dinner when I looked over and found his plate clean. I was first in line to pat myself on the back, and then I noticed the dogs sitting expectantly at his feet. I asked him:
"Did you feed the dogs your spinach?"
I followed his sheepish, blue-eyed gaze to the spot on the carpet where the evidence laid. The spinach was spit out everywhere, in little pieces, all over my new carpet. My daughter looked at scene and said:
"Oooooh man... you are so busted!"
That night we had another conversation. The topic: Why you can't fool mommy!
Yes, my son was a bit naughty that day. Even as an adult, I find myself being a little naughty at times too; I find myself making poor choices when it comes to nutrition. What happens when nutty, or a lack of knowledge surrounding nutrition, turns into naughty, making poor decisions? Although there are many components to consider, there are three common factors that substantially influence our decision making when it comes to nutrition.
Nutty Factor 1: The Media
We as consumers are relying increasingly on social media for our nutritional information. We must make sure the information is valid. It is imperative to ask questions, not just accept opinions; not everything in the media is evidence-based. With the media promoting a "one-size-fits all" mentality, and with all of the nutty information out there, we can be lead to naughty behavior.
Nutty Factor 2: Temptation
Cravings lead to temptation, which often leads to destructive eating habits that can have serious physical and psychological consequences. Food and the cravings surrounding consumption can become a real addiction. A recent article on food addiction states that highly-palatable foods trigger feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine. Once people experience pleasure associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain from eating certain foods, they quickly feel the need to eat again.
Cravings and stress are intimately related. Cravings are shown to kick into high gear when we are stressed or anxious. When satisfying our cravings, many of us look to carbohydrates. Recent research suggests that the combination of fat and sugar may have a calming effect as our brains produce less of the stress-related hormones.
Nutty Factor 3: Convenience
There has been much controversy over what drives consumers towards poor nutrition. Is it convenience or lower cost? A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Center for Disease Control suggests that it is indeed the convenience, not the cost that is driving consumers towards less-healthy items.
It seems the perception of convenience lands us in the doctor's office and it puts holes in our pocketbooks. Consumers must look at the real cost of fast food. When you factor in cost of medical visits, copays, prescriptions, etc., the long-term price tag may be significantly higher. This is reflected in the $3.8 trillion the U.S. spent on health care in the year 2014 alone.
Take action NOW
It is time to turn our nutty knowledge and naughty behavior into constructive action. It is all about where we as a nation choose to focus our efforts.
Focus on preparing healthier items at home. Stock our pantries with wholesome food; make them convenient.
Focus on supporting legislative efforts. There was abundant information showing how fast food is bad for health but little on how to make healthy food convenient. Perhaps what we all need is information on how to easily and quickly prepare foods at home.
Focus on assisting local farmers and programs that support healthier lifestyle choices.
Focus on supporting qualified experts in the field of nutrition. Professionals experienced in the nutrition industry can be instrumental in turning destructive habits into constructive actions.
Back at the table
And back at the dinner table with my little boy... Why can't you fool mommy? It's simple really... you can't fool her because she has been there, done that, and in many cases been punished for it because grandpa has done it, too. We both learned something that day. He learned that he needs to eat his veggies. Me, well, I learned that my dogs don't like spinach very much. More importantly, since that day I have the single most valuable reason not to be naughty: I must set an example for the little boy with the biggest blue eyes.