A Spate of Good News

It’s always fun to pass along good news in the world of health and nutrition, especially when it broadens our understanding of the importance of a healthy diet to our overall good health. The Washington Post pointed out Sept. 23 that a large majority of older men and women are now taking calcium pills and spending a total of $1.2 billion on them. Surprise! They don’t really need to and maybe shouldn’t be.

apples.jpgAccording to the Post, “recent evidence suggests that getting calcium from pills might not be as safe or effective for some people as getting it from food.” The article recommended food-based sources of calcium, including dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods.

And what do we have in abundance in our farmers’ markets now? Leafy greens — not just several varieties of kale, but chard, collards, mustard greens, and beet greens. Just imagine the farmers we would have competing to sell at farmers’ markets if even half of the expenditure on calcium pills was diverted to greens!

McDonald’s once again deserves a nod for its renewed and expanded commitment to introducing more fruits and vegetables as alternatives to french fries in their adult-oriented value meals and to aggressively promoting healthier beverages for its Happy Meals. This is a long-term program that will be phased in slowly — primarily to develop the supply chain, I suppose — but there is no doubt that these efforts will have an impact on the American diet. Since McDonald’s began encouraging children to choose milk instead of a soft drink with their Happy Meals, their milk sales have increased by 50 percent since the mid-2000s. They have also learned from experience that they cannot dictate those healthier choices, but they can offer them and let the customers move to them at their own pace.

There is reason to believe that those choices will improve over time. Science has finally caught up with the common sense of centuries, and proof is pouring in that what we eat can make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. How and what our children eat can affect their their ability to learn, as well as their ability to earn. The choices we provide as responsible adults influence and maybe control what they eat as kids. Those choices also build a foundation that affects what they choose for themselves as adults.

This process must involve — and ideally be led by — our schools, where all of our children are exposed to some of the worst foods they can eat. Even in our area, there is progress here too. Visit Realfoodsforkids.org to learn more about what is happening in Fairfax County. They need volunteers to expand their good advocacy work throughout the county; check out what you can do for the school in your neighborhood.

And one last thing: Guess what? An apple a day can keep the doctor away! According to a Sept. 26 Post article, apples were recognized for their health benefits by ancient Roman and Anglo-Saxon civilizations. More recently, apples have been proven to lower bad cholesterol when eaten every day and also seem to prevent strokes. The Post also pointed out that apple skins are loaded with fiber and quercetin, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory and heart-protecting qualities, and may reduce the spread of cancer cells.

With all those locally grown great greens and appealing apples out there now, this is the time of year to get healthy, and I can’t imagine two better-tasting ways to do that. Buy a mess of greens and a bushel of apples and get crackin’.

And remember the children out there who aren’t yours when it comes time to devote some of your valuable time to a valuable effort such as improving the health of the community.