This past week I gave a talk to a small group of high school students in an elective class on nutrition. Relating to teenagers is not my specialty, especially since I was so shy during high school. Yet, with some advice from a dear friend on how to relate to teenagers by talking about how eating real food would allow you to "take a selfie without a filter" or "go to prom looking great" or "kick ass on that math test" or "improve your ability to compete against your schools rival" it actually went....um...ok?
It's hard to read these kids. One fell asleep. A couple watched me. A few did homework. I rallied, and engaged them enough with a few activities,....I think.
In the end, I think I made them more aware. I focussed on why the SIMPLE choice is always the best and that packages are tricky. We focussed alot on sugar as well which is why the photo above. Yes, I purchased those things to make a point about how our food is often loaded with added sugar, and if it doesn't have added sugar, it is made with chemicals.
As part of the "engagement" of the teenagers, I had them read and pass around each of the items in the basket to evaluate the ingredients and focus on grams of sugar. I showed them visuals about how much 1 g of sugar is in teaspoons like this:
We even reviewed how much sugar in teaspoons is in everyday drinks as well as even the sugar in a whole fruit. Then we read the ingredients of the Doritos to see that they have NO added sugar. As the group was reading the ingredients of the bars and specifically the Butterfinger, a student cried out that it had lighter fluid in it.
I couldn't confirm or deny the statement at the time. Yet, when they asked can they eat these processed foods in "moderation" I was forced to pause. See, to me, there is no place for fake food in our food chain for consumption, yet I understand that as a teenager to be able to "fit in" with your peers is a real problem. What they may have wanted me to say is, "Yes, everything in moderation is ok." Yet, for me personally, I would never have eaten 3 dorritos and been able to stop because I cannot moderate the palatability of such a food. And if it was a bag of peanut M and Ms, no way. Bag...GONE...and I wasn't sharing.
So, I didn't answer the question. Instead, I defered back to them assuming the student was right about lighter fluid, "How much lighter fluid do you think is safe to consume?"
I returned back to the World Health Organization's recommendation of <25 g free sugar per adult per day in order to prevent disease. The WHO states "A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits."
25 g free sugar = 6 teaspoons
This is required for health benefits and that less is even better. I have discussed other detriments to sugar in past blogs here and artificial sweeteners here and here. Yet, I don't have safe levels of "lighter fluid ingestion" so I can't say what a safe moderation would be.
When I concluded class I asked if anyone had questions. The student who identified the "lighter fluid" asked if he could have the Butterfinger. With a huge smile and a laugh I said, "No. I couldn't live with my conscious." I proceeded to grab the fake foods and high sugar foods and put them back in my bag.
This encounter stuck with me of course and I had to look into it. Turns out that TBHQ is added to Butterfinger "to preserve freshness." TBHQ is actually tert-Butylhydroquinone, an organic compound which is a type of phenol. This compound has a tertiary butyl group which is similar to butane (lighter fluid), but it is NOT lighter fluid. There has been recent publicity about this TBHQ that you can read more about here.
Wikipedia sources claims this:
"Both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have evaluated TBHQ and determined that it is safe to consume at the concentration allowed in foods. The FDA sets an upper limit of 0.02% of the oil or fat content in foods. At very high doses, it has some negative health effects on lab animals, such as producing precursors to stomach tumors and damage to DNA. A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to very high doses of TBHQ may be carcinogenic, especially for stomach tumors."
Even still, what fascinates me more is the fact that despite my efforts to educate, the problem is more than just having information to make a choice. These kids have grown up in an environment of addictive foods and now it might not be possible to make the "correct" choice because there are so many neurological triggers involved in packaged food. Taste. Smell. Salt. Fat. Sugar. Marketing. Visual. Psychological....the perfect Booby trap.
I am sure my friend Robb Wolf's new book will help to enlighten me in his book Wired to Eat. Because this is a BIG problem for us, especially our children. It reinforced for me that refusing hyperpalatable foods from packages may be THE most important habit my children have. It started as a refusal of gluten and sugar, but it is more than that. Reducing their exposure to the neurological booby trap may be more important.
Immediately following this talk, a friend shared this You Tube Video on food science. Definitely worth the watch if not urgent for you as a parent.
Feedback was all positive from the students, so I don't doubt that I planted a seed of knowledge at least with one child. I have faith in at least that. One is better than none.
I want to live and enjoy life. I want others to have the ability to do the same. As I have spoken before about boobytraps, it really makes me angry when people trick me. This student may have been making a joke, but he really should be pissed off. This may be the avenue I take next time I have the opportunity to talk to teenagers. Really...who likes to be tricked??? Even in sports, how bad does it make you feel to fall for the pump fake and get scored on??
Yup...I like having control over my health. I am a control freak of sorts. I don't like being tricked and it's harder to trick me now and I will continue to be the "buzz kill" to ignorance.
Ignorance may be blissful, but it is extremely dangerous.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove fake food with added sugar, chemicals and stabilizers.
Replace with awareness. Eat whole fruit, vegetables and protein as nature intended.
Restore the control over your life, your health and even your brain.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.