Monday, March 1, 2010

National Nutrition Month® 2010: Nutrition from the Ground Up

This March celebrates the thirtieth year of National Nutrition Month® whose purpose is to focus attention on healthy eating and physical activity habits to promote health and wellbeing in the American population. It’s difficult to compete in the current food environment with the message of health. You most likely won’t see any TV commercials or advertisements online or in print. But the message for this year resonates; “Nutrition from the Ground Up.”

I asked my family what this meant to them. This year’s theme brings to mind acres of plants growing in the sunshine with various shades of green and gold as far as the eye can see. My six year old daughter thought of butterflies. My mind met hers in a field of strawberry blossoms in May with butterflies fluttering in the air. The thought of foods grown using sustainable practices that are good for the environment and good for us comes to mind. Such practices encourage the butterflies and the bees to pollinate the plants, which then allow the fruits and vegetables to develop. The ground provides the nutrients for growth. So “Nutrition from the Ground Up” means caring for the earth that produces an abundant harvest to nourish us.

Another concept for this theme is the idea of gathering or foraging for food. Mushrooms, nuts, legumes, and wild berries are gathered in forests, groves and meadows and can often be found near the ground (nuts historically were collected on the ground after falling from trees). The nutrients these foods provide are varied with myriad health benefits. Although we are not gathering and foraging for these foods ourselves anymore, we should include them in our diets routinely to reap the health benefits that they provide. A variety of nuts provide heart-healthy fats to prevent heart disease and stroke; they range from omega-three polyunsaturated fats in walnuts to monounsaturated fats in cashews, almonds and peanuts. Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, and soybeans) are a wonderful combination of soluble and insoluble fiber with a good dose of protein; they help to manage blood sugar levels, which can help in the management of diabetes. Foraging for food also includes a level of physical activity. This physical activity used to be our way of life, but is now so greatly lacking on any given day. We should wander the ground again in our pursuit of health and vitality.

Perhaps the deepest issue here deals with something that is hidden under the ground. Like an iceberg, there is so much more to discover underneath. The iceberg analogy is one that I commonly use when describing the science of nutrition: what we currently understand about the interplay of nutrients on our health is only a small part of the story. Most of it is vast and hidden from view, despite all of our science. Dedication and patience is required to learn about the wonders yet undiscovered, just the same as the dedication and patience we must have in the pursuit of our health goals, whether they involve weight loss or disease management. “Nutrition from the Ground Up” speaks of discovery; finding a carrot buried deep within the ground, discovering how nutrients impact our health, and finding that healthier and happier person within ourselves.

Ask what “Nutrition from the Ground Up” means to you and your family.

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