Word on the Street: December 2018
Happy (Belated) New Year!
Wow, the wrap-up of 2018 and launch into 2019 both personally and professionally has been a whirlwind! From the holidays to milestones for my children to contracts signed to work with more youth, we have been absolutely blessed with activity at The Station.
Our work in December took us to a private school in North County to work with Seventh Graders on The Physiology of Digestion. It was the first section in a series of learning about the body for this class that was both eye opening and inspiring. I had the opportunity to work for three days in the classroom with the students and teachers to really dive deep into the form and function of the body as well as how to fuel it optimally.
In this month’s blog, I’ll share the important takeaways taught to these students which can benefit anyone looking to maintain optimal health and nutrition.
Our first day we dissected the digestive tract, learning all of the organs from north to south. We broke down the functions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system in an easy to digest format (pun intended), to illustrate what happens to our digestion when we are in a stress state vs. a calm or rest state. They were surprised to learn where digestion actually starts (in the brain) and the importance actually taking your time to sit down and chew your food slowly. They also learned that their brain, mood and immune health were also linked directly to gut health.
Fun Fact: 90% of Serotonin is made in the digestive tract.
Optimal health (physical, mental, emotional and immune) all starts in the gut. And if we don’t feed our bodies with nutrient-dense foods, we put stresses on our body that can compromise our health.
Digestion only works in a Parasympathetic state, i.e. relaxed and not in a stressed or focused state. Sitting down to a meal without the distraction of devices, driving or other activities will support optimal digestion. Taking a moment before eating to take a deep breath can put you in a parasympathetic state readily.
Our second day was focused on breaking down macro and micro nutrients to create a foundation of good nutrition for young minds and bodies. In a fairly simplified way, we explored the five types of nutrients:
- Proteins (Macro)
- Fats (Macro)
- Carbohydrates (Macro)
- Vitamins and Minerals (Micro)
Not any one of them are more important, but hydration is critical to all other bodily functions and is critical to optimal health. Macro nutrients are the three basic forms food come in to nourish the body to support growth, metabolism and other functions. Micro nutrients are in all of foods we eat in varying amounts. The tiny but mighty structures called vitamins and minerals that support the growth, development and function of the human body.
“The simplest way to explore this was to look at the ‘Rainbow’ of foods available for consumption, because each color food brings a different type of vitamin and mineral.”
The simplest way to explore this was to look at the ‘Rainbow’ of foods available for consumption, because each color food brings a different type of vitamin and mineral. Vitamins A, B, C, D and E as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and so many more are necessary, but come in varying amounts in each type and color of food. Eating a rainbow of foods at every meal ensures that the range of micro nutrients required is consumed. We explored a variety of food types in each category that were healthiest and also enjoyable to eat!
Fun Fact: The formula for optimal hydration is to consume half your body weight in ounces of fresh, clean water. If you consume diuretics (i.e. coffee, tea, soda, sugary drinks) you need to drink an additional 8 oz of water for every 8 oz of diuretic.
Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods that are minimally processed and in their simplest form will provide the most nutrients for a growing body and mind.
Most students meals are typically heavy in carbohydrates, hidden sugars and unhealthy oils. It is important to focus on ensuring protein (for muscle and bone growth) and healthy fats (for brain health and inflammation regulation) become a priority.
On Day Three we went into action creating meal plans that met some simple requirements of having proteins, healthy fats, and minimally processed carbohydrates including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They were also required to have at least five colors on their plate. Prior to our time together the students completed a three-day food journal to see what their plates have actually looked like and how it compared to an optimal plate. The students worked in teams and were able to create wonderful combinations of foods they actually enjoy and were more balanced in their nutrient needs.
Fun Fact: Just because food has vitamins and minerals in it does not mean they are ‘bio-available’ are able to be absorbed readily by the body. Spinach has 100 g of calcium, but only 3% of that is actually absorbed by the body.
Every meal should have proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates and a rainbow of colors (at least five colors on the plate).
Empowering young adults to help co-create meal plans ensures their compliance with eating more optimally.
The focus of our time together was to provide a more accurate understanding how the body works as well as empowering students to create healthy habits from a young age.
Stay tuned next month for my conversations in Human Sexuality…
as these same students complete their physiology block with the Reproductive System. It was a tender and timely subject that was a growing experience for all of us.
For more resources on eating optimally, check out two wonderful resources:
The Nutritional Therapy Association has a Free Course to learn more: https://nutritionaltherapy.com/nutritional-therapy-101/
Dr. Deanna Minich also has wonderful information and research on the benefits and power of eating a rainbow of color: https://www.deannaminich.com/