THE ARMY HEALTH BLOG

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Why “Natural” Doesn’t Always Mean “Healthy”

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

A line known by lovers everywhere – a rose is a rose by any name. But does the same thing apply to food? Is a food named “natural” the same as a food named “organic” or the same as a food with neither label? What is in a name, anyway? 

Naturally Confusing

We’ve done a previous blog post covering these labels. The “Certified Organic” label is regulated by the FDA; to qualify for “Organic,” a food must be produced without the use of most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering. The “Natural” label, on the other hand, has no standard definition from the FDA. It is loosely defined as being food that does not contain any added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. The only exception to this is for natural meat, poultry, and egg products. These products must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients; however, there are no standards for farm practices of the animals in question, which can be something worth considering.

How About Healthy?

There are no strict definitions to determine whether a given food is “healthy” or “unhealthy,” the answers are usually dependent on the person asking the question. There are broader definitions wrapped up in this question; however, if the food you’re eating improves your well-being and gives you the nutritional benefits that your body needs, then it’s healthy for you.

But many people, even nutritionally savvy people, can fall victim to a phenomenon known as the “health halo”. People tend to underestimate the number of calories of a given meal if one or more of the components of the meal is labeled with a health buzzword such as “Natural”. This halo effect can affect our choices in what and how much we eat. Believing that one’s meal is healthier can lead people to eat bigger helpings or add less “healthy” things (such as a soda or a dessert) to each meal, which can lead people to consume more calories, artificial sugars, and fat than they otherwise would have.

Natural Disasters?

So how can you hide from the health halo and see if a “natural” food has hidden devil horns? The same way you’d treat any other food – check the nutrition label and ingredients list. Fresh foods will always be best, regardless of label, but checking the labels on “Natural” foods will tell you if there are secret pitfalls that lay in wait behind the label. “Natural” foods may not contain artificial or synthetic substances, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy if they contain high amounts of fat and/or sugar. 

In that case, that which we call a soda, by any other name is just as sweet.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Back to School

 

Going back to school at the end of summer marks a time of change from play to work - from summer to fall. This change comes with new routines to fit a new schedule. This fall when getting kids back to the books, try a few small, manageable tricks to keep everyone healthy and productive this school year.

 

Food

Eat breakfast. It’s easy to skip breakfast when our mornings start earlier, we press the snooze button too long, and we have an overall hectic start to the day. However, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In order to have enough energy and focus, we must fuel our bodies and our minds. Try making and packing breakfast the night before or even consider taking something healthy on the go, such as oatmeal with fruit.

Pack healthy lunches. It may be convenient to pack a prepackaged meal in the morning, but eating minimally processed foods is a hallmark of good nutrition. Limit unrecognizable ingredients and added sugars…even juice! Try to pack food in a variety of colors to ensure a good mix of vitamins and a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables. Foods that are white in color tend to be higher on the glycemic index, have less nutrients, and won’t keep you full for long. Try making your own bento box style lunch with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. 

Activity

Add activity to your day. There are easy ways to incorporate light or fun physical activity into your existing schedule. Getting moving improves focus and will help with adjusting to an earlier bedtime. A few ideas to try include walking to school, walking the dog, doing afternoon yardwork, playing outside (playing catch, shooting hoops, etc.), or even a neighborhood post-dinner bike ride.

Limit screen time. It may be tempting to avoid homework or get away from the demands of the day by watching a few hours of television. However, this habit can take away from productive time spent accomplishing school tasks, doing something outside or with friends, getting prepared for the next day, or even limiting sleep time. Instead, limit the amount of screen time per day to ensure that you get time to catch up on shows, but it doesn’t interfere with other things.

Sleep

Establish a sleep routine. Going back to school in the fall often means shifting your sleep habits to go to bed and wake up earlier. Make this adjustment gradually in the days leading up to the first day of school by going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night. Be sure to establish a constant sleep and wake time and stay on that schedule, even through the weekends and holidays.

Create a homework routine. It’s hard to get back into doing work, but it’s easier if you dedicate a specific time and place to get it done each day. Create a special area free of distraction for homework and try to complete it at the same time every day. Also, by keeping a routine and planning ahead there is less likelihood of late night project finishing.

 

Going back to school is never easy, but these few tips will make the transition smooth and (relatively) painless.


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