I wish I could say I am just nibbling almonds and leafy greens, have quit sugar and dialed back on dairy, but the truth? It’s different. In the last week there was a road stop at Five Guys and a cheeseburger. And fries. And a carbonated beverage that was not kombucha. When I scroll back further, I do recall eating most of a pot of tapioca pudding and I have faltered around potato chips. Seriously faltered. Perfect in my diet? Far from it. I am an old school Epicurean on more days than I would like to admit when it comes to food, and I am not alone. In the Brown Dining Commons I see how many times the chip bowl is filled up at lunch. I see how often there’s a line at the ice cream station. I know the chocolate milk status. Those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies at lunch seem to vaporize.
But I also see changes, a decided migration to the healthier choices. The salad bar bustled. The vegetarian and vegan options are not oddities but more staples. Students are making better choices. Our students, taken as a whole, are much more aware of what they are eating. Yes, the chicken poppers and pizza are hit, but so are the quinoa dishes. Students eat less meat, find more fruits on their plates, load up on leafy greens, and drink more water. I find myself swept up in the movement toward healthy options, and to be honest I feel a whole lot better when I make the better choices. Perhaps that’s no accident.
In my email yesterday I saw an article from NPR forwarded to me by Amy Makechnie: Changing Your Diet Can Help Tamp Down Depression, Boost Mood. It turns out there is some pretty convincing evidence that a diet with a heavier concentration of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fewer processed foods can lower depression symptoms. A miracle cure? Not so fast, but definitely a piece of creating a healthier mindscape.
Trial results published in the journal PLOS One reports that “symptoms of depression dropped significantly among a group of young adults after they followed a Mediterranean-style pattern of eating for three weeks. Participants saw their depression “score” fall from the “moderate” range down to the normal range, and they reported lower levels of anxiety and stress too.” Here’s another great article that crossed my desk yesterday reinforcing the same message: how we fuel our body matters.
If there is a golden age of healthy eating in schools, we are in it at Proctor. We are fortunate to have a dedicated and food curious kitchen staff (lead by Barbara Major) who collectively and constantly seek new ways to up the healthy options at meals without stripping out all of the traditional favorites. We source more local, fresher options while increasing the range of options. The choices can be difficult. Trays of those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies still disappear at lunch, but so do the spinach salads and the microgreens and bowls of fruit. Yes, the occasional white bread, American cheese, nothing else lunch plate can still be spotted, but much more frequently than even a handful of years ago plates are piled high with leafy greens.
The trend is positive, and maybe - just maybe - the mood is a little lighter because of it.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School