When my youngest child went away to college, I decided to return to school myself and pursue a new career.
At age 52, I began a Master's program in Integrative Nutrition. This was a completely new direction for me. The prior 15 years had been spent working in the art world and as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) working with foster children in the community.
When I heard that Oasis provides opportunities to teach children and adults how to live more healthy lifestyles, I was interested. The epidemic of childhood obesity and related diseases is an alarming concern in this country. If we can establish the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices at a very young age, we can change the course of these children's lives.
Now as a CATCH Healthy Habits volunteer, I am teaching children about the importance of nutrition and how to eat healthy. The lessons on sugar are just one example of how the program guides people of all ages to make informed choices about food.
Watching out for hidden sugar
For some time now, there has been a misconception that sugar (or glucose) is an unhealthy part of a diet that should be avoided at all costs. When consumed in moderation, sugar is a healthy part of a diet that is needed by our bodies to function.
Added sugars and syrups that are hiding in our foods are a different story. These are added to foods or beverages to enhance their flavor. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that our daily intake of added sugars should not consist of more than 10% of our daily caloric intake. This is challenging, since many of the foods we eat today have added sugars as well as other ingredients.
“Low-fat” and “fat-free” food products and beverages have become what many people believe to be healthier options. Although promoted as such, these products often contain more added sugar when compared to their “full fat” equivalents. Added sugars increase the number of calories and do not provide any nutrients. Consuming high levels of added sugars increases risk of obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dental decay.
Sugars are a natural part of many foods that benefit the body. Comparing the nutrition facts of low-fat and fat-free foods to their “full fat” alternatives, as well as checking the ingredients found in everything we eat, can help us make the healthiest choices.
The fun of helping kids and adults learn how to be healthier
I am getting more from the program than I ever anticipated. I really look forward to my Wednesday afternoons with the kids I have come to know and enjoy so much. Being around young, energetic individuals makes me feel young and energized! The program’s physical activities encourage all of us to get outside and move. There is always a lot of laughter and silliness. I think the volunteers often have as much fun as the kids!
It is extremely rewarding to review the prior nutrition lessons with the kids and have them remember so many important facts. Their knowledge base builds each week and they are so excited about what they know! They love sharing information about the nutritious meals they ate or helped prepare with their families. I feel that we are truly helping to establish good lifelong habits. While leading the lessons on nutrition for children, volunteers often find themselves reminded of important information they can incorporate into their own lifestyles.
About CATCH Healthy Habits
Donna Abinoe volunteers with CATCH Healthy Habits in Bethesda, Maryland through the Washington Metropolitan Oasis center. Volunteers meet weekly with children in grades K-5 to lead fun, active games, share healthy snacks and learn about good food choices. More than 12,000 adults and 25,000 children have benefited from this program and a similar one called Healthy Habits for Adults. Both are sponsored nationally by Anthem Foundation.
CATCH Healthy Habits is sponsored in Maryland by Amerigroup Foundation.