Judging Juice?

Ah, just another health headline denouncing or uplifting a certain food or drink or food group and toting how it might affect us based on some random study. Does that sound critical? Good, because it is.

According to the New York Times, pediatricians across the country have come out to warn parents not to allow their babies to drink juice and limit young children’s consumption. Which yes, I completely agree that lots of fruit juices are filled with syrups and sugars that kids don’t need. But this recommendation even concerns 100 percent fruit juices, too. Juice offers no nutritional benefits early in life, and can take the place of what babies really need: breast milk or formula and their protein, fat and minerals like calcium. Eating fruit in its whole form includes more fiber and prevents dental decay.

Even for younger kids and as old as 18, juice should still be limited. I completely understand that juice tends to be just empty calories, but the thing is, we haven’t even found a clear link between juice and negative health effects or obesity.

I guess my next question is, is a concern over the quality of juice a fight worth focusing on? Or should we devote attention to other matters that might have a greater impact on our health and the health of young people?

I could probably talk all day how I feel about the school lunch system and how the Trump administration has scratched any sort of progress we’ve made to improve the quality of food available to kids. The Hill reports that sodium levels aren’t a big concern anymore, nor is having all whole-grain products served. As if the menus school districts abide by actually help children learn and grow.

And it’s not just dealing with obesity either. I see even a greater lack of education on nutrition that really narrows in on the relationship we develop with food. Yes, there are definitely great programs out there designed to help children learn about the healthy options available and exposing them to the power of produce, but that mentality has yet to be translated to the lunch tray.

I realize this is a problem I have little idea as to how we can actually improve it. Kids are honest and typically picky. If learning something is boring, they won’t pay attention. If you change up what they know and are familiar with too much, they’ll question it. Yes, we have a food pyramid, but how helpful is that really? How many people follow those suggestions?

As with anything involving health and nutrition, we can’t expect a single, end-all solution. Every body and person is different and require different kinds and amounts of food each day. What we really need to teach is listening to our own bodies for guidance. To trust our instincts as to what we’re craving and not feel guilty for it if our diet doesn’t quite reflect one representation.

Besides moderation and intuition, we also need to emphasize to young people that food is our most powerful medicine. The nutrients we consume translate into our well-being, physical and mental. The portion sizes and calories nutritionists and teachers might recommend are the fuel and energy we need to live. There’s a reason why we should eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And food can be personal, a connection to nostalgia and emotion and tradition.

I’m not saying we don’t learn these concepts in school whatsoever, but the way we’re doing it doesn’t stick. When we step out into the world, exposed to the societal pressures we are, any sense of normalcy can easily flush down the drain. I remember all of my health classes in elementary and middle school as very…sub par. Very numbers-oriented. It works for some, but not for all, as with any sort of news that pops up that this one food is good and tomorrow it’s bad. So how are we supposed to know? It just makes some of us paranoid and anything but healthy.

Juice is just another passing headline among so many others that encourage us to make certain choices over others. And when it’s kids who don’t know any better, then absolutely follow something like this. I sure don’t recommend juice to kids or adults. But we cannot just blindly teach kids how to eat without some sort of context. Some sort of explanation about nutrition and its benefits. To allow our bodies some control of its desires before a restrictive mindset gets in the way. We have to instill in children that natural, whole foods taste better than the artificially preserved and processed food in the market, but help them notice that difference for themselves. Don’t force feed (pun intended) nutrition education, but have them apply it. Supply every school with wholesome lunches. Help make the nutritious choices more accessible and affordable for everyone. And, even if you do have a sweet tooth, you can still enjoy those treats in moderation. Somehow we have to bridge the gap from classroom to weight loss program, to stop this constant mentality of dieting that isn’t sustainable.

All of this…just from some random news about juice? Apparently so.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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