Reading a nutrition label is one thing — understanding it is another.
Learning to navigate the grocery store’s maze of junk food and preservatives is one of the main goals of MEND, a program offered through the Kamloops YMCA-YWCA that focuses on exercise and nutrition education for families.
(MEND stands for Mind, Exercice, Nutrition, Do It!)
Program co-ordinator Kathryn Sharples said demystifying products found in a typical shopper’s grocery basket is an eye-opener for those who participate in the 10-week course.
“Once you learn how to know how much sugar and fat is good in a diet, they actually start to read stuff and are amazed at what they think they are eating that’s OK,” Sharples said, focusing particularly on granola bars, yogurts and cereals.
“There’s a bit of spin doctoring of advertising on there to show you are eating something healthy, but it’s so loaded with sugars and fats.”
Understanding labels is a key component, such as how to identify hidden sugars.
Beyond fructose and glucose, those include aspartame or Sucralose, plus natural ingredients like honey or agave that can add to the amount of sugar in a product and affect blood sugar.
Nikki Mahlmann’s family finished the course in December and she’s already noticing a difference in her 14-year-old daughter Jazzmyn, who is making much different decisions about what she packs for lunch.
Mahlmann’s 10-year-old son Jayden also took the course.
“I really liked the idea of teaching our kids what they are putting in their bodies,” Mahlmann said.
“They explained it to the kids using a rocket ship analogy and, when you put low-grade fuel in, it can’t get into orbit.
Now, when they make a decision, they feel good when they make a healthy choice. It’s not an all-the-time thing, but they make better choices.”
Household habits have also taken a turn, Mahlmann said, with fewer food-based treat rewards being doled out. She also pays more attention to what she’s buying at the grocery store.
Participants also set fitness goals they hope to achieve by the final week.
MEND is supported by the Childhood Obesity Foundation, BC Children’s Hospital, Provincial Health Services Authority and BC Recreation and Parks Association.
The program is free for seven- to 13-year-olds and their families and runs three times a year at the John Tod Centre Y on Wood Street on the North Shore.
Starting again on Jan. 23, classes run for two hours every Monday and Thursday nights.
The first hour brings everyone together to learn theory behind MEND-friendly practices and the second hour sees kids participate in a range of physical activities while parents continue the conversation around healthy habits.
Families also get a complimentary three-month gym membership and can qualify for another three months if they complete the course.
“To stay with it for 10 weeks is a great commitment, but it’s worthwhile,” Sharples said. “For children to learn at that age — between seven and 13 — for them to learn how to do things healthier now, it will just be natural for the rest of their life.”
To register, contact Sharples at email@example.com.