What does "health" mean to you and your family? For many people, it simply means a need to "eat healthy." But food isn't all there is to health, or even to nutrition. Keeping your family healthy is about more than just food. In fact, it is impossible to do with food alone!
Nutrition means nutrients
It's a common complaint with the modern Western diet: foods simply aren't nutritious enough. Even a generation ago, Western diets contained more fruits, vegetables, and naturally-raised meat. But today, carbs, sugar, and high sodium reign supreme in processed foods.
This means that, even though food is at the heart of what we think of as nutrition, food alone might not be enough to give us the truly balanced nutrition we're looking for. This is especially true if you seek out only low-calorie foods assuming that they are healthy. Many frozen dinners and other processed foods have been formulated to be low-calorie as a selling point. But low-calorie doesn't necessarily mean nutritious!
In fact, according to Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, many people have a misunderstanding about which foods they should be eating, and how nutritious they are:
"Paradoxical though it might seem obesity and malnutrition often go hand in hand. Processed, high-sugar, high-calorie foods contain almost no nutrients, yet require even more vitamins and minerals to metabolize them.”
According to Dr. Hyman, vitamin and mineral supplements may be the piece of the puzzle that many people are missing. Supplements can not only help keep our bodies healthy on their own, but can also aid us in breaking down the nutrients found in the food we eat--thus making our food healthier, too.
So what is the most common nutrient that people lack, and may need to take supplements to obtain? Omega-3! Many Westerners do not eat enough fish, so omega-3 supplements can be very useful in aiding their nutritional health, along with vitamin A. These nutrients are especially important for young children, as they aid in brain development.
Exercise does more than keep you trim
We all know that staying active is important for our overall health, and encouraging kids to be active is essential, starting from a young age. But many families focus on exercise only as a way to keep trim. Many people don't realize that exercise is actually a crucial part of nutrition itself.
When we exercise regularly, we can increase our metabolism. A healthy metabolism means that, in addition to being able to lose weight and build muscle, our bodies are better able to use nutrients found in food and supplements. Thus, without regular exercise, it isn't possible to reach our optimal health, even if we are eating all the right things.
What kinds of exercise is the most helpful? According to the CDC, kids and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of exercise per day, and these exercises should include aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities. For adults, at least two hours and 30 minutes of exercise is needed per week. Stretches are especially important for adults, as they help improve posture and joint health.
Banishing stress does more than improve peace of mind
Everyone knows that stress is bad. After all, it's certainly not a nice feeling. But many people, especially parents, also accept it as an inevitability of life. While it's true that life will always include some difficulties, responding to those difficulties with undue stress is sometimes a choice.
Stress raises our blood pressure and triggers the release of hormones which can become harmful in large quantities. Prolonged stress can sharply increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and even certain cancers. Even with a great diet, supplemented nutrients and exercise, stress can ruin our health.
It's also important to remember that kids can feel stressed, too! Watching how their parents respond to stressful situations can impact how they deal with the same stimuli. Modeling good stress relief for them can have major impacts later on in their lives.
So what sort of activities can help decrease stress? Well, exercise helps many people take their minds off of things. If that doesn't work for you, then meditation might be a good solution. Though it is often associated with spirituality, meditation isn't found in only one religion, and it doesn't have to have any spiritual connotations. For help getting started with meditation, check out this simple guide.
Your overall lifestyle impacts your health
Remember: a properly balanced diet is more important than choosing only low calorie foods. Supplements may help your family gain necessary nutrients, especially if certain food items are consistently lacking from your diet. Exercise isn't just for weight loss, it also helps us maintain our good nutrition. And getting rid of stress can not only help us feel better, it can help prevent against serious illness.
Modeling good behaviors for our children and helping them form healthy habits is critical for their well being--every bit as critical as what we put on their plates at mealtime!
More from Green Matters