Is the free school canteen really free? Our children pay with their health

When I heard about the USDA’s free ‘healthy and nutritious’ school lunches, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. These lunches are far from free. In fact, our children will pay off the metabolic debt they accumulate (with interest) for the rest of their lives.

Big Food doesn’t care about our health.

The “free” lunch program will recover

Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, infertility, autoimmune disease, dementia, and mental health issues are on the rise – and it’s not. a coincidence. This is the result of decades of destructive nutritional advice propagated by the USDA and backed by a multitude of specialist interest groups focused solely on financial profit. These diseases are a harbinger of global metabolic warming, and they are far too prevalent to continue to be ignored. But the truth is, these storms started brewing a long time ago, 10 to 15 years before they started to present themselves as chronic illnesses. Now the damage is already done.

The food pyramid is just a big deal

The original “food pyramid” that was developed almost 20 years ago, although deeply flawed, had some positive attributes. Fruits and vegetables were at the bottom, indicating that they should be eaten more regularly. Protein came next, with whole grains and foods high in calcium on top. The dairy and bread industries reacted quickly, pressuring lawmakers to protect their profit margins, which has led to our current ineffective and destructive guidelines.

And yes, the USDA tried a healthier model with the rollout of MyPlate in 2011, emphasizing portion control and a more appropriate distribution of different food groups. But that’s still not the bottom line because, at the end of the day, what really matters isn’t just what’s in the food, but what’s been done to the food.

Are ultra-processed foods really food?

Food is defined as a material consisting primarily of proteins, carbohydrates and fats used to support an organism’s body, including its growth, repair, life processes, and for energy. But what about processed foods? The processed foods that you will likely find in these “free” breakfasts have a multitude of things to do before they hit the table: added sugars for palatability, natural fibers removed to extend shelf life, emulsifiers, preservatives and more. And that doesn’t even take into account synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and factory farming.

Let’s talk about sugar

Sugar is cleverly hidden on food labels; often disguised as corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, dextrose and fructose. Pizza, bread, pasta, pretzels, goldfish crackers, yogurt, applesauce, and granola bars are all loaded with hidden sugars. Not only do added sugars replace nutritionally superior foods in the diet and hamper energy production, they can also deplete nutrients from other foods that have been consumed, as well as body reserves. It turns out, by the above definition of food, that neither ultra-processed foods nor sugar is really food.

Professor Efrat Monsonego Ornan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently published an article claiming that ultra-processed foods actually inhibit growth, citing inhibition of skeletal growth and calcium uptake in bones, as well as total shortening of bones. The sugars hidden in our diet are sabotaging our bodies and fueling our national chronic health crisis.

These findings only add to what we already know: Ultra-processed foods can lead to cancer because they essentially hijack the metabolic program needed for normal growth. Other facts to consider: 74% of the food in a grocery store is fortified with added sugar (fructose) and children get 67% of the sugar in their diets from ultra-processed foods, including school lunches and kids. sweet foods for breakfast like fruit curls and orange juice.

Predatory feeding and lack of nutritional education

Unfortunately, no one teaches good nutrition in schools – not before college, not during college, not even in medical school. In fact, talking about food has become as charged as it is about politics or religion. As a result, kids struggle with metabolic debt and don’t even realize it until they are 20 or 30 years old. The food industry attacks people without nutrition education. It’s just like putting a charge on a credit card – you’re using seemingly invisible money … until you get the bill. Metabolic debt (which is basically insulin resistance) is similar – ultra-processed foods build up invisible burdens in children, up to 15 years later, when they are diagnosed with diabetes or an illness. another equally serious illness.

Insulin resistance explained

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is responsible for moving glucose around cells after a meal. Over time, with frequent and excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, cells can no longer efficiently absorb glucose, so levels of this sugar begin to build up in the blood. When this happens, the pancreas pumps more insulin in an attempt to lower the glucose level. However, cells stop responding to insulin (insulin resistance), resulting in both high insulin and glucose levels. Insulin resistance is a major driver of metabolic syndrome, which precedes the development of most chronic diseases. Still not convinced: Studies have shown that one in three Americans has this silent problem with blood sugar.

Good nutrition for all populations

Many argue that free meals are all that some families can afford; but you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to find delicious and nutritious items for your family. In fact, national chains like The Dollar Store, Walmart, and Aldi have options far superior to what today’s free school meals offer, like canned coconut milk, beans, tuna pouches, and frozen protein like chicken and meat.

We are not helping our children by providing a free lunch if the food is currently served in schools across the country. In fact, you could say that we are poisoning them.

As the richest nation in the world, are foods high in sugar the best we can offer our school-aged children – our future leaders? My kids’ lunch menu is full of things that look delicious, but in no way will support their growth or health. “Feed” our kids with loaded barbecue fries, mini corn dogs, nacho bites and cheese burgers while expecting this diet to prepare them for a full day of learning and activity. , prepares them for failure – now and in 15 years. I am not ready to settle. We need to stop preparing our children for diabetes and other chronic diseases. We need to advocate for foods that are richer in nutrients that promote focus as well as mental and metabolic health. Only then can we call it “free”, but until we change what we offer in these lunches, we just add to their “tab”.

David Rambo is the cHairdresser and CEO of Simplex Health, with over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness industry.

Dr Avi Gurwitz is Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, Division Head of General / Emergency Pediatrics and Medical Director of Pediatric UrgiCare at Redeemer Health. He is also a pediatric emergency physician at St. Mary’s Medical Center and chief medical officer of Simplex Health, a medical nutrition group.

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