7 Ways Schools Confuse Basic Nutrition for Students

For starters, I’m not pointing fingers at any school, teacher, or administration. Rather I seek to expose the hidden corruption in school nutrition that teachers and administration are themselves, either embarrassed of, frustrated with, or ignorant of depending on their own education on the subject. Teachers and schools are beholden to a larger authority if they would like to receive money to support school lunch. They must follow and promote strict food guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For many years the National Dairy Council, the industry advocacy group tasked to sell more milk, has corrupted USDA nutrition education. This organization has had the privileged position of writing materials for school nutrition and health programs where they emphasize the importance of milk, falsely, over other healthier foods. Some of the ways the National Dairy Council and USDA have caused confusion around nutrition and what healthy foods are:

U.S. School Nutrition sponsored by the USDA is sponsored by the National Dairy Council and is the result of a long partnership between the dairy industry and the U.S. government.
1. FOOD CATEGORIZING AND LABELS: Labeling food in confusing ways that mask their true identity makes it more difficult for people to discern what is healthy. For example, calling beans “legumes” and meat “protein” and peas and potatoes “vegetables” are all confusing associations. Meat is the flesh of an animal. All food has protein, fruits and vegetables included. Labeling some foods “vegetables” is confusing and creates a whole class of mentally undesirable foods. But potatoes are actually roots. Tomatoes are fruits. Beans and peas are seeds. When we start calling food more accurately what it is, it takes away the mystery about what food actually is and empowers people to make more informed decisions at mealtime. It is not necessary for us to group foods to understand nutrition. The basics are what macro and micronutrients the food is made of and are the contents of the food promoting optimal health.
2. EMPHASIZING MILK: Nutrition education materials provided by the USDA are sponsored by the National Dairy Council. Essentially these materials have become effective advertising for the Dairy Industry because the main message conveyed is that milk is an essential component of health. This is done by making milk products their own category and insisting a “balanced” meal should contain all food categories. For example, one activity in the 2nd grade curriculum in California shows a number of hypothetical meals and next to each meal three pictures of other food items. Children are asked to circle the item that is missing from a complete meal. If a glass of milk is not present this would be the correct answer to circle. But not only is animal milk not necessary for a healthy meal, it is unhealthy when it is a regular part of a human adult diet. The USDA/National Dairy Council educational materials seem to have two single messages: 1. Children should understand the constructed categorization of foods into groups including proteins, milk, grains, and fruits and vegetables and 2. Children should understand that a healthy meal/diet contains foods from each group.
Information targeted at parents and students emphasizes milk and milk products as their own food group. The next message is to include foods from all food groups to be healthy. Milk is construed to be an essential part of a healthy diet when common sense tells us cows milk is healthy for baby cows but not growing human children.
What if we called food what it really was?
But these categories confuse the true nature of food and nutrition as it is completely unnecessary to consume a non-human animal’s milk or meat for a healthy diet. Students who have grown up with dairy industry propaganda at school grow into adults who still believe they need to include “protein” foods in each meal The simple fact though is all food contains protein and plant foods contain the ideal amount of protein for human consumption. Overconsumption of animal food protein has been linked to nearly every major preventable diseases currently plaguing humankind.
3. DEMONIZING SUGAR: There has been a growing trend in recent decades to demonize sugar as the unhealthy boogey-monster. But data show that while overall added sweetener consumption has staid relatively level over this time period, it is the consumption of milk, cheese, and processed oils that has skyrocketed. These are the foods highest in fats. Is it any wonder that there has been a coinciding rise in overweight and obesity?
Nutrition professionals like Dr. John McDougal have debunked over and over the notion that sugar is somehow unhealthy for people. Quite the opposite, every cell in our brain is designed to be fueled by sugar and our entire anatomy and physiology makes us biologically frugivores – perfectly designed to pick fruit from trees and quickly and easily digest these water and fiber rich foods that are dense in vitamins and minerals people need to be healthy. The unhealthy aspect of sugar comes from processed sugars in candies and junk food that contain no nutritional value other than calories. While these foods can provide temporary energy, they will deplete your body’s nutrient stores because you are not feeding your body the amount of nutrients it needs.
4. LEAVING OUT INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT NUTRITION IS!  The USDA/National Dairy Council materials completely ignore the subject of nutrition while instead focusing entirely on categorizing
Current school nutrition education focuses on categorizing foods into groups to ensure a future customer base for the meat and dairy industries. A more honest nutrition curriculum would explain what macronutrients and micronutrients are in food and what a healthy balance of these nutrients means for human health and disease prevention.
food so that children are brainwashed to believe milk is necessary for health. An honest discussion of nutrition would define what macronutrients and micronutrients are and would categorize food honestly by what is. Plant foods can be classifies as roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds. Calling food what it is can also help us associate nutritional value. We know that leaves/greens are generally very nutrient dense and so are seeds. Seeds are generally high in fat and protein. Fruits are high in carbohydrates and excellent source of pure and nutritious hydration. If we teach nutrition honestly we would tell our children that vitamins and minerals are present in all foods in varying amounts. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are also found in most all foods in varying amounts. These are the true foundational principles of nutrition.
5 IGNORES HUMAN BIOLOGY AND INSTINCT: The USDA/ National Dairy Council materials ignore human biology and instinct instead treating nutrition education as an outlet for indoctrinating children with bad information to make them lifelong milk consumers. What if instead schools taught students human anatomy and physiology to learn how food is digested, and how our biology compares to other animals, so to help students understand how their bodies work.
When we talk openly about what is in food and where it comes from, healthy and ethical food choices become obvious.
6 CATEGORIZES UNHEALTHY FOOD AS HEALTHY: It is not fair to any child that the school they are told to trust, and that their parents trust have their best interests at heart, are filling children with dangerous information that decreases their chance at a healthy life. School nutrition education has promoted dairy products, now known to be cancer, obesity, and disease promoting, as essential to health. This is during a time when childhood obesity levels have reached epidemic proportions – twenty percent of children are now considered obese. What if instead schools actually warned children against foods that have been proven time and again to be dangerous to their health – like aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, genetically modified food, and meat and dairy products? In the face of the childhood obesity epidemic, would this not be an appropriate role for our schools to deliver truthful nutrition education that would allow children to grow and thrive. Current culture and schools emphasize enjoyment of food over health and nutritional value. What food is made of, where it comes from, and how it affects our health is largely ignored.
7.CATEGORIZES HEALTHY FOOD AS “‘EXTRAS”: According to the USDA, foods like dried fruit leathers and fruit juice are in the category of “extras” to be consumed infrequently. These are the “unhealthy” boogey-foods along with things like cake and donuts. But this categorization again ignores basic science and nutrition
These brownies by the Minimalist Baker are dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free and contain black beans, flax seeds, and coconut. What makes these brownies an “extra” food while high-fat, high-cholesterol dairy products are given their own food group. Rather than demonize juices, brownies, and cakes, let’s educate students that what matters is what you put in the batter.
truth, which is that fruit is a perfect source of nutrition and fuel for the body. While whole fresh fruit is the best, dried fruit and fruit juices also provide healthy nutrition and energy. Also, it is very possible with the wealth of online resources and recipe creators to make cakes using applesauce and bananas for the sweetener and with no added oil, eggs, or dairy. Brownies can be made from black beans, yams, and fruit sugar. It is not juice and cakes that are unhealthy, it is the ingredients that are put into these. What if schools called foods what they are and explained the difference between a pot of healthy soup and a pot of fattening soup, a healthy nutritious cake and a disease-promoting cake. It’s all in the batter.
Recognizing the points of confusion and misinformation also provides a blueprint for a new truthful nutrition education curriculum. Students and parents should be able to trust schools have their best interests at heart, and this should start with heart-healthy nutrition.

Images of school nutrition education are original Healing With Plants photos taken by Sister Reya of materials from her daughter's first grade classroom in Los Angeles, CA (in the fall of 2016). Comics are added for educational value and are works of the artists tagged on the comics. Black bean brownie photo by the Minimalist Baker. Find the recipe on her blog.

Reya Steele Andrews

Reya (Steele) Andrews is a holistic health writer, educator, and publisher at Healing With Plants. Reya is a certified Holistic Nutritionist (AFPA), is certified in Plant-based Nutrition, and teaches nutrition science and healthy food preparation. Find her book, The Frugivore Diet, on Amazon.

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