Health & Wellness

Nutritionally Speaking: What’s in Your (Kid’s) Lunch Box?

As we get ready to start another school year (yes, I know it’s hard to believe.. we are almost there), the dilemma of what to include in our children’s (and our) school lunches is on many parent’s and some grandparents minds. What we eat at young ages contributes to our health as we age. As I often share in my classes at Natural Grocers, we are all walking down the Hallway of Life, which has two directions – towards optimal health, or the other direction – towards ”it” or ”itis,” whatever future diagnosis you may create with your diet and lifestyle choices.
With school almost back in session, and many family members joining the ranks of the ”brown baggers,” it is important to make sure the ingredients in the bag (or lunchbox) are healthy. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health should make us think twice before choosing processed and cured meat for our families meals.
The researchers published their findings in Circulation, a journal that focuses on heart health related issues. They reported that eating 50 grams (equal to one hot dog or a couple of slices of deli meat) daily of processed meats such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meat was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of getting type II diabetes.
They did not find the same risk for heart disease or diabetes when the people studied ate unprocessed red meat, pork or lamb. They stated in the journal that: ”These results highlight the need for better understanding of potential mechanisms of effects and for particular focus on processed meats for dietary and policy recommendations.”
As a nutritionist and researcher, I am not surprised by the results of this study. I have written in many previous columns suggesting we avoid the same chemical preservatives found in these processed meats. On the labels of these foods you will find listed the ingredient: sodium nitrite or nitrate.
Though this preservative has been studied for more than 50 years, there is still ongoing debate as to whether or not it’s harmful. Some experts say that the health claims against the preservative have ”not been substantiated” while others recommend avoiding them in your diet entirely.
Various studies support eliminating artificial nitrites/nitrates from our diets, because of cancerous results. When you eat nitrites from chemical sources, they can be converted into nitrosamines, which are potentially potent cancer-causing chemicals in your body. Specific cancers seem to be most affected, including:
Colorectal Cancer: People who ate the most processed meat were 50 percent more likely to develop lower colon cancer according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Stomach Cancer: An investigation into 15 studies on processed meat found that the risk of stomach cancer increased from 15 percent to 38 percent if the processed meats ratio consumed by an individual rose by 30 grams.
Pancreatic Cancer: People who ate the most processed meats had a 68 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer compared with those who ate the least, a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found.
You will see on the label of ”uncured” lunch meats or bacon an important, but healthy ingredient: celery powder. This is added as a natural preservative, and contains a form of nitrates that are actually good for you, supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. Along with beets, beet greens, kale and other greens, celery is a great source of a type nitrates that becomes nitric oxide (NO) in our bodies, and supports the health and flexibility of our major blood vessels, and as a result we have more energy for our favorite activities.
Most of our local grocery stores (including Natural Grocers) offer uncured and artificial nitrite free products as an option. It is best not to eat processed foods, but when you need to, please read the labels and choose the products that state clearly ”No Preservatives.” When choosing nitrite-free products even healthier choices are meats from grass-fed animals for increased nutritional value. Join me in the ”Hallway of Life” as we walk towards optimal health.
Here is a great, healthy lunch option some of you may have seen online Pinterest – Super Food Salad in a jar. In a quart sized wide mouth mason jar include the following in this order; Orange Vinaigrette (see recipe at, shredded beet and carrot, pumpkin seeds, chopped avocado and chopped romaine. When it’s time to enjoy your lunch salad, give the jar a little shake, then pour onto your plate. The result is a tasty, healthy salad, crisp and flavorful, not soggy. Be creative, add chickpeas, tuna or chicken breast in the mid layer. Salud!
At Natural Grocers in Eugene, where I am the store’s Nutritional Health Coach, we offer free classes that include plenty of information about healthy eating choices, and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (call 541-345-3300). Please ”like” our Natural Grocers-Eugene Facebook page. Find our store’s schedule of free classes at:



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