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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nutrition 101 Instructor: Your Great-Grandma

Lately I've been thinking about how much health wisdom there is to be found in the lives of my ancestors.  If you have any grandparents or great-grand parents  still living, take advantage of the unique perspective they may provide.  One health tenet poses the question: "If your grandmother (or great-grandmother) were grocery shopping with you, how much of what is in your cart would she recognize as food?"  

That is just one way in which a different perspective may pay health benefits.  Here are some others I've learned from family members that came before me:

  • Ice cream is a rare treat. 

 My grandmother-in-law tells my children about growing up in the rural town of Holden, Utah.  In August, her father would pull the block of ice out of the granary where it was buried since spring and made homemade ice cream.  No doubt it tasted better not only because it was homemade, but because it was a rare and anticipated treat.  Health lesson: Treats are and should be occasional events, not mealtime staples. 

  • If you can grow food, you should. 

My father grew up in a very rural area of southern Minnesota.  In addition to the farm crops, they had a kitchen garden.  Basically, if you wanted to eat it, you had to grow it first.  My father tried to transfer this concept to his own children by planting a large garden.  As a child in Logan, Utah, I spent countless hours weeding that rocky garden and cursing all the while.  But the harvest was bountiful and you didn't have to worry about the source or carbon footprint of your dinner.  Studies have shown that gardeners eat more produce and have healthier diets overall than non-gardeners.  Health lesson: Grow a garden and eat what you grow.

  • Family dinner isn't a strategy, it's part of life. 

I've seen this taught on both sides of my family from my parents on back.  It hasn't been until recently that family dinner has even been considered optional.  This is a huge soap-box item for me, so I'll try to keep it brief.  Children in families that eat dinner together 5 or more times per week have higher grades, less obesity, less drug use and less incidence of eating disorders and depression.  This is probably just a tip of the iceberg, but suffice it to say that the entire family benefits from lower stress levels and better health when family dinner is the norm.  Health lesson: Family dinner isn't optional, it's essential.  

  • Traditions and foods go together for a reason. 

Studies have shown that regardless of the country of origin or the food culture associated with it, those that eat a culture-specific diet (drive thru and take out are not the cultural foods I'm talking about) have less incidence of cardiovascular and obesity-related diseases than the current American diet.  My from Grandmother-in-law's traditional picnic lunch of homemade fried chicken that they would pack to watch the full moon rise over the sand dunes of western Utah, or the Norwegian foods that were a staple at my grandparents' family reunions have taught me that not only is there nothing wrong with tying food to traditions, but that it can also be beneficial.  Sunday night means warm chocolate chip cookies at my parents house.  As a result, I have no desire for prepackaged, subpar cookies during the week.  A sense of belonging, stability, and identity come when your family is raised with traditional foods and the cultural quirks that come with them.  Health lesson: Maintain nourishing family traditions.

So take a minute and see what nuggets of wisdom, health or otherwise are hiding in your family tree.

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