When I was a kid, we used to play the “Ever wonder . . . ?” game on road trips, in which everyone in my family would come up with the funniest, most obscure questions to ask one another. A few I remember include “Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the glue bottle?” and “Can you cry underwater?”
I now play it with my own kids, often at dinner. A recent favorite was “How did the drivers of the snowplows in the giant snowstorm get to work in the morning?” I’d share some of our other standouts, but I’m not sure you would keep reading. As my boys enter their teens, their questions move from snowplows to less innocent and more inappropriate themes. Boy, do we laugh.
I thought it would be fun to put together an “Ever wonder . . . ?” game for all things food and nutrition. These answers won’t elicit giggles, but hopefully they will encourage your kids eat a little better or at least pay more attention to the foods they choose.
Why do I have to eat breakfast?
- Children who eat breakfast show improved academic performance, longer attention spans, greater attendance and decreased hyperactivity in school.
- Test scores of children who do not eat breakfast are generally lower than those who eat a well-balanced meal.
- Four out of five children do not get enough vitamins and minerals from lunch and dinner alone; they need the nutrients from a healthful breakfast.
- Children who do not eat a healthful breakfast tend to eat more junk food during the day.
- Skipping breakfast can make kids tired, irritable and restless.
What is a whole food?
Whole foods are in a form found in nature — fresh, unprocessed and simple. When you eat something, ask yourself these questions:
- Can you imagine it growing?
- Does it have just one ingredient?
- Has anything been done to it since it was harvested?
- Is this “part” of a food or the “whole” entity?
- Has this food been known to nourish human beings for a long time?
A body is able to use the nutrients in whole foods more easily than those in processed foods, which are often missing essential elements or made with chemicals.
What does ‘organic’ mean?
Organic foods are grown without pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers or hormones, which have all been shown to contribute to cancer and other diseases and create extra work for the immune system. Many wonderful farms grow foods without these chemicals yet do not have the organic certification. Just ask. And eat as many organic foods as you can.
What are ‘GMOs’?
“GMO” stands for genetically modified organism. The term refers to organisms whose genetic material has been manipulated in a laboratory so they can withstand herbicides and better fight off insects. Industrial farmers hope these GMO seeds enable more crops to be successfully grown per square foot of soil, thus making them more money. There are unanswered questions as to the safety of the foods that come from GMOs.
What is ‘BPA’?
“BPA” stands for bisphenol A and is a chemical used to make certain plastics. Research has shown that the BPA in plastic containers seeps into food and beverages, possibly negatively affecting the brain and behavior of infants and children. Seek out BPA-free plastic bottles, cans and food storage containers, or choose glass, porcelain or stainless steel, especially for hot foods.
What’s the big deal about antioxidants?
Free radicals are teeny molecules released in our modern-day environment and produced when our body breaks down certain foods. They damage cells and have a proven role in cancer and heart disease. They will inevitably end up in our bodies; we just need to take measures to destroy them before they can hurt our cells. Antioxidants destroy free radicals, preventing them from causing damage. Antioxidants are found in whole foods, especially colorful fruits and vegetables.
Protein is an essential nutrient that provides 10 percent of a body’s energy. It is a part of everything in the body that has structure, such as bones, organs, hair, skin and nails. It makes up the enzymes that enable essential chemical reactions in the body and builds neurotransmitters that transfer information in our brain.
What are the facts on fats?
Healthful fat is a concentrated source of energy for the body. Our brain is partially constructed from healthy fats. Fat slows the absorption of carbohydrates and other parts of our meal into our blood, helping us remain full longer. Our bodies are unable to digest and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K without it. It is a building block of cell membranes and hormones. So don’t be afraid of fat! Healthful fats (found in avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, butter) should make up 25 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important.
Are carbohydrates bad?
Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in fruits, whole grains, vegetables and dairy. They are one of the three macro food groups (along with proteins and fats) that are essential for health. Carbohydrates provide energy for muscles and the nervous system. They are important for brain function and enable fat metabolism. The word “carbohydrate” often conjures up unhealthful processed foods such as cookies and breads, yet the naturally occurring carbohydrates in fruits, whole grains and vegetables are vital for health.
There are 13 vitamins with countless functions that largely guarantee that the body operates at peak performance. Without vitamins, our immune system wouldn’t fight colds, our wounds wouldn’t heal, our bones would break, our eyes wouldn’t focus properly, and we wouldn’t optimally digest the foods we eat. And that is just the beginning.
Minerals are substances found in food that our body needs for growth and health. Minerals strengthen our bones and teeth, keep our muscles functioning, ensure water gets to our cells and keep our blood healthy.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, February 18, 2016.