Spotlight on Nutrition: Teens’ Opinions

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

The month of March, a time when New Year’s resolutions often need to be remembered and when the beginning of spring hints of the tasty produce soon to be in season, is Nutrition Month in Canada. Nutrition being a topic of foremost interest to me, I could not resist the temptation to use the back drop provided by Nutrition Month to feature nutrition for my weekly column once more.

Rather than offer up more tips and resources for eating well, I chose instead to bring nutrition to the table for discussion with a few interested teens in the Moncton region: VanDang of Moncton High School, Kelsey Hicks of Petit Codiac Regional High School, and Amila Landry-Darisme of Université de Moncton.

These three may all live in the same region, but their interest in nutrition was fostered through different experiences and they identify different nutritional challenges in their everyday lives.

For VanDang, who moved to Moncton from Vietnam about a year ago, eating well is valued at home and she cherishes that. ”My mother has worked in the medical field for the past fifteen years and my family’s culture values preparing food at home and eating meals with family. A typical meal includes a vegetable dish, a meat dish, rice, and an Asian-style soup. I consider myself very lucky to have been exposed to healthy eating at an early age and to have grown up eating home-cooked meals. Having family meals is a good way to go. Not only will you enjoy cooking for your loved ones and having cozy dinners/gatherings, but the food will also be more nutritious and tasteful.”

”When I buy food, I usually don’t look at the nutrition label. However, my family buys mostly unprocessed food for preparing at home, therefore reading the nutrition label wouldn’t help us choose one food over another. Sometimes, finding certain specialized ingredients for the traditional meals we are used to can be difficult in Moncton and near-by cities and necessitates improvisation.”

Amila explains that while she ate well growing up, her interest in nutrition sparked when she began competing in olympic wrestling, which encourages athletes to drastically lower their energy intake in the days leading up to a competition in order to drop enough weight to compete in a lower weight category, presumably against smaller athletes that will hopefully be more easily defeated. Amila pursued the sport of olympic wrestling for three years, competing in the Canada Summer Games in 2009 and even in an international competition.

Although she now longer competes, her attention to what she eats remains and nutrition is definitely something she considers when preparing meals for herself. ”I think that more and more people are making efforts to eat healthily, but that more education needs to be done. Some people have simply never learned how to eat a balanced diet.”

In general, Amila considers eating healthy diet a realizable feat. Amila has allergies to certain types of fruits (including the apple, one of the more popular healthy snack foods) and nuts which sometimes complicates finding nutritious snacks, but she has remedied the situation by noshing on less ”typical” snacks, such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

Having grown up on a farm in a more rural community, Kelsey says her motivation for considering nutrition comes from information learned at school and in books (Kelsey has recently become interested  in vegetarianism after reading a book on the topic). ”When I am looking to buy or prepare food I do consider nutritional value on an over all scale. I love to eat vegetables and fruit and whole wheat foods but I also buy ice cream, chocolate and candy. Over all I create a balance of these as much as I can. Time and money are big factors that determine the nutritional value of the food that I eat. When I prepare a lunch in advance it is in general less processed than the bought lunch I resort to. If I am running low on time it is easier to cook fries or just eat prepackaged food. Lately I have been working on this and have started making my lunch the night before or cooking extra supper and taking it for lunch the next day.”

”When my family goes grocery shopping, I am a minority. The rest of my family eats as they please. Whatever they think tastes good and has a decent price, they buy and they do not consider the nutritional value. On the other hand, we do benefit from living on a farm and having meat that we know is natural. When I move out, I think it will be easier to eat a nutritious diet without the restraints that my family’s habits place on me.”

One of Kelsey’s previous teachers and role models, who encouraged her students to eat healthily and who shared her own experiences regarding eating a balanced diet, encouraged her to place value on nutrition.

”I think that young people need mentors. People who will teach interact and be positive examples for youth without actually telling them what to eat.

Another thing that would help to encourage healthier eating would be for us to create our own food. If our communities had to support themselves then each person would have a connection to the food they eat. This seems impossible in today’s world where everything is world wide.

Information is a powerful thing and I think that if every person had access to the details of how most of our food was made they would change their buying habits dramatically.

As individuals I think that we are each responsible for our choices concerning our eating habits but that the government is responsible for the information that we base our choices on. If parents, schools, the government, and industries all looked at what was best for our health first and then balanced it with our checkbooks later, I think we would be a lot better off.”

Starting the conversation about nutrition is a good way to focus attention on the daily eating habits we practice that have an important impact on our health in the long run. Although Nutrition Month provides the opportunity to put nutrition in the spotlight, it isn’t the only time of the year that we should consider eating healthy.

More information can be found about Nutrition Month at http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-Month/Nutrition-Month-2011.aspx.

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on March 26th, 2011.

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