Think quality not calories

How many calories should you have a day?

Got a number? Whatever it is, lose it. It’s a trick question.

I was reminded of this again as I read about new “healthy lunch” restrictions for students. Kids are complaining they’re hungry, and I’m not surprised.

According to the article, they are limited to 850 calories with 2 ounces of proteins and 2 ounces of carbs, but unlimited fruits and vegetables. (This actually doesn’t make sense, as fruits and vegetables are carbs, too.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m 100 percent for eliminating sugary drinks and empty calories. But let’s focus on what we need.

Hands-on involvement for kids

Let’s make sure each of us has sufficient healthful nutrition, especially in schools, a primary nutrition source for many kids.

I would love to see schools take advantage of resources for locally grown food, or even better, offer students programs to learn and get involved themselves. As parents we have all experienced the difference it makes to get kids involved by doing, rather than preaching.

My son was a high school athlete who consumed 4,500 calories a day and a whole lot more than 2 ounces of protein and carbs at any of his six meals.

For those who are out of shape and overweight, consuming too little nourishment can be just as bad — or just the same — as overeating junk.

For most adults I recommend 3-6 ounces of protein three times daily, with 20-40 grams of carbs, depending on age, metabolism, overall health and activity level. Kids need more, to support the ongoing growth of body and brain. But they don’t just need more food. They need better nourishment.

Eat healthy complex carbs

So I’ll just be a broken record on this: It’s not about the number of calories.

It’s about the quality and balance of foods: about including lean protein, complex carbs from “real” (versus processed) foods, and healthy fats — every time you eat.

Instead of restricting carbs, eat healthy complex carbs such as beans and legumes, root vegetables, sweet potatoes and fruit. Instead of restricting protein, have healthy lean sources of poultry, meat, fish, eggs. Instead of fried foods, include generous amounts of healthy fat, such as nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut products.

If you get the balance and nutrition right, you will function, feel and look great at any age.

This was published in my Holistic Outlook column for The Times Herald Record.

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