Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2014, August). Having a healthy and successful back-to- school and school year experience in 2014-2015. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.
Having A Healthy And Successful Back-To-School and
School Year Experience In 2014-2015
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Syndicated Host and Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition
In the month of August, summertime will be drawing to a close, vacations will be nearing an end and students will be getting ready for back-to-school. For many students from kindergarten to college, back-to-school is rich with excitement and anticipation. But back-to-school can also be a stressful time for students, requiring planning and preparation and adjusting to new routines.
Psychologically speaking, the start of the new school year requires student to cope with change and uncertainty, while getting motivated and prepared to meet and interact with new classmates, make new friends, face tough courses and teachers and organize their class and activity schedules. Of course, there is the ever hectic nature of back-to-school shopping which they must deal with. In short, there is any number of potential stressors making back-to-school an exciting but anxious time for students.
The August, 2014, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly is an update of a previous article on back-to-school. It will focus on ways in which students can get off to good start, have a healthy and successful back-to-school experience and remain healthy and throughout the school year. Particular emphasis will be put on diet-, lifestyle- and dietary supplementation-related approaches or strategies to help students be healthy and well, especially during the cold-flu season, winter holidays and exam time.
It is important that parents (especially those of young children) be healthy for the start of back-to-school and the entire school year. Hence, what is discussed and presented is relevant for parents as well. Further, it recommended that parents and teachers share the information and diet-lifestyle principles contained in the article with children who might be too young to read and understand the piece.
What Students Need To Know and Do About Cold and Flu Season
Contracting a cold or flu is one of the most serious health threats to students. Back-to-school marks the beginning of the cold season followed by the flu season. In the United States, cold season begins during late August, early September and lasts until March or April, while flu season typically begins around October and lasts until about March.
Cold and flu/Influenza are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by viruses infecting the sinuses, throat or lungs. There are more than 200 different viruses causing the common cold and its symptoms. Flu and its symptoms are caused by influenza viruses of which there are three types, Type A, B or C. Allergic diseases affecting the respiratory tract (i.e., nose or throat) and chronic stress can also increase the likelihood of becoming infected with cold and flu viruses. Some believe that enlarged tonsils or adenoids, exposure to cold weather or getting chilled or overheated increase the chances of getting a cold or flu. However, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) there is no evidence to support these beliefs (see NIAID, 2007).
Cold and flu viruses can be spread from person-to-person when an infected person coughs or sneezes transmitting the virus into the air in the form of an infectious aerosol or large droplets loaded with germs, which then enter the body through the nose or mouth. However, direct contact with infectious secretions through touching contaminated environmental surfaces such as telephones, door knobs, hand rails, table tops and clothing (i.e., fomites – inanimate objects or substances capable of transmitting infectious microbes from one person to another) and then putting your hands to your nose or mouth will transmit a cold or flu virus. The risk of getting a cold or flu increases when students find themselves in crowded areas such as the classroom.
Since the common cold and flu are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses, they share a number of symptoms. Thus, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two.
Typically, the flu is worse in its health impact than the common cold. It is worse in terms of the severity of symptoms and how it makes people feel. It is also worse in terms of its potential complications.
Generally speaking, the symptoms of the common cold are milder. Also, colds are less likely to cause serious health consequences such dying, being hospitalized or suffering from dehydration, bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and a worsening of chronic medical conditions (see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007).
The most common flu symptoms include the following:
- Fever (usually high) and chills
- Fatigue/tiredness (often extreme)
- Coughing (dry cough)
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion (i.e., runny or stuffy nose)
- Muscle aches and pains (frequently intense)
- Stomach symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting & diarrhea) can occur but tend to affect children more than adults (see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007)
While it may not be as severe as the flu, the common cold can create a lot of discomfort for students and be quite distracting. Symptoms of the common cold usually begin 2 to 3 days after infection and often include:
- Sore or scratchy throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches and fatigue (not usually as intense as when inflected by the flu & more characteristic of influenza)
- Loss of appetite
Since there is no cure for them, the best defense against the cold or flu is to practice prevention by keeping the immune system in tip top condition. The immune system is the sentinel of the body. It protects the body against viral invasions so long as things are done to keep it vital and vigilant against cold and flu viruses. Eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, seeds and legumes, along with adequate rest and regular exercise go a long way in keeping the immune system healthy. It is also a good idea to supplement students’ diets with a full spectrum multiple vitamin and mineral, vitamin D, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil and probiotics.
In addition, students can follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009) to protect themselves and others from becoming infected with a cold or flu virus:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners* are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
- Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious (p. 1).
Diet and Nutritional Strategies For Students To Practice
Given the obesity epidemic among children and adolescents, many of the principles which follow are intended to provide students with ways to help them lose and manage their weight during the school year, starting with back-to-school. Even if a student is not overweight or obese, the principles presented below would be for students to practice so they can remain healthy and well throughout the school year and not become overweight or obese.
Practice Conscious Eating
Generally speaking, the phrase “conscious eating” means to engage in mindful eating instead of the mindless consumption of food and beverages. Specifically, conscious eating means becoming informed and creating a plan constituted of the best dietary choices to make and then to put that plan into day-to-day behavioral action.
In contrast to conscious eating, mindless eating more often than not reflects horrible habits of eating such as consuming high caloric, nutritionally void foods and beverages, eating too much, eating too fast and not eating enough, among other unhealthy eating behaviors.
Practice Portion Control
Students should make a special effort during the school year to practice portion control to help them prevent overeating and gaining weight. Portion control is about serving size and practicing moderation. If students are not accustomed to practicing portion control, it might take several attempts to change their behavior of eating large portions.
The Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health at http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/ provides examples of visual equivalents of what constitutes one serving size of particular foods in the categories of grain products, vegetables and fruits, dairy and cheese products and meat and alternatives.
Here are some examples of visual equivalents from the web site to help determine what constitutes one serving size for a particular food:
- One cup of cereal flakes is equivalent to a fist.
- One cup of salad greens is equivalent to a baseball.
- One-half ounce of cheese is equivalent to four stacked dice or two cheese slices.
- Three ounces of meat, fish and poultry is equivalent to a deck of cards.
Other examples are given at the web site, along with cards on which there are different food categories and visual examples of what constitutes one serving for a particular type of food. The cards can be cut out, laminated and put into a wallet or purse.
Practice Eating Slowly
Speed racing is one thing. Speed eating is and entirely different matter. Eating quickly tends to block the release of certain gut hormones that create the feeling of satiety or feeling full. It is now recognized that eating too fast leads to the over consumption of food, overweight and obesity.
Researchers have discovered that lower concentrations of appetite-regulating hormones such as peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) are released in the gut after a meal. These hormones act on the brain in such a way as to signal fullness. Thus, if there are lower concentrations of these appetite-regulating hormones in the gut, there will be less of a sensation of fullness and a tendency to eat more. It is important to remember the principle that nutrition is just as behavioral in nature as it is biochemical. It may take several attempts to learn to eat slowly.
Practice Waiting Before Going Back For Seconds
In conjunction with eating slowly, students should wait a few minutes before going back for seconds to help moderate their intake of food and prevent overeating. It takes a little bit of time for the brain to send the signal or create a feeling of fullness.
Practice Drinking Lots of Water
Water is essential for students’ optimal health. The human body is made-up of at least two-thirds water. It is implicated in nearly every major bodily process (e.g., circulation, digestion, absorption, elimination, etc.) essential for sustaining life and maintaining good health. There are at least three good reasons to make drinking lots of water an essential strategy for staying healthy during the school year.
First, water is a natural appetite suppressant. It creates a feeling of satiety/fullness, thereby, functioning as an appetite suppressant to help prevent overeating. One way to maximize the appetite suppressant effect of water is to drink eight ounces of room temperature water right before a meal.
Second, water is also a natural way to help with the detoxifying the body. Staying well hydrated will assist the detoxifying systems of the body such as the gastrointestinal system (i.e., liver, gallbladder, colon & entire gastrointestinal tract), respiratory system (i.e., lungs, bronchial tubes, throat, sinuses & nose), urinary system (i.e., kidneys, bladder & urethra), lymphatic system (i.e., lymph channels & nodes) and integumentary system (i.e., skin) to work more effectively.
Third, drinking lots of water can help prevent dehydration. Dehydration can cause headaches, an inability to concentrate, drowsiness, constipation, impatience and irritability, among numerous other effects that can contribute to a poor sense of well-being. Dehydration can also contribute to weight gain in at least two ways. First, it can cause fatigue which creates the desire to eat in order to feel energized, which in turn can result in consuming excess calories and weight gain. Second, an insufficient amount of water can impede the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. This can lead to cravings and hunger pangs, which can result in consuming unnecessary calories to be stored as additional weight in the form of fat.
Practice Dividing a Plate into Thirds
Students can visualize a plate as being divided into thirds. One third should be lean protein (e.g., turkey, chicken, fish, etc.) and the other two thirds should be vegetables and fruit, with more vegetables than fruit on the plate. Fat can be included in the meal from such foods as olive oil, meat or fish.
Practice Limiting the Consumption of Foods High In Salt, Sugar and Fat
Fast foods (e.g., burgers, fries, etc.) and processed foods (e.g., candy, cookies, crackers, cakes, chips and colas) tend to be high in salt, sugar and/or fat. Consuming these types of foods on a regular basis is what gets students into a lot of dietary and nutritional trouble because they are high in calories and low in basic nutrients.
Practice Eating Low-Energy Dense Foods
According to Rolls & Barnett (2002) and their nutritional theory of Volumetrics, the feeling of fullness people experience after eating is more a function of the amount or volume of food consumed than the number of calories or grams of fat, carbohydrate or protein consumed. Rather than the calorie content of what they are eating, it is the volume or amount of food that signals people to either continue or stop eating. Thus, eating low-energy dense foods during will help create a sense of fullness and, thereby, consuming less food.
Practice Eating A Balance of Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein
Throughout the school year students should make a concerted effort to eat a balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Diets high or low in one or the other of these macronutrients cause all sorts of health problems and nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. For example, eating a diet high in carbohydrates will trigger insulin release. High insulin levels tend to result in the body storing fat.
Eating complex carbohydrates and “good: fats will serve to counterbalance or otherwise offset the carb-insulin get fat effect. Eating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat results in other potential problems, some of which one of which are low energy levels and feeling lethargic, constipation from an adequate amount of dietary fiber, an overworking of the liver and kidneys and diminished cognitive functioning from lack of proper nourishment (i.e., glucose & essential fatty acids) to the brain.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the following guidelines for the consumption of macronutrients:
- 45%-65% of calories derived from carbohydrates
- 20%-35% of calories derived from fats
- 10%-35% of calories derived from protein
More information on the USDA’s recommendations dietary guidelines can be found at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/.
Practice Increasing Intake of Dietary and Supplemental Fiber
Students should include fiber rich foods (i.e., grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes) or supplemental forms of fiber in their diet to increase the odds of staying healthy during the school. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Each type of fiber has its own unique chemical and physical properties, which would provide certain health and gastrointestinal benefits that would be of special importance to students throughout the school year.
Some health benefits of soluble fiber would be as follows:
- Helps regulate blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels by slowing down digestion in the stomach and small intestine, thereby, delaying the conversion of other carbohydrates into glucose which in turn delays the release and absorption of sugar and stabilizes blood glucose levels
- Helps increase the uptake of vitamins and minerals and other nutrients by slowing down the digestion in the stomach and small intestine and, thereby, allowing more time for food nutrients to remain in the digestive process and become absorbed
- Reduces blood cholesterol levels by dissolving in water and creating a thick gel which slows digestion and binds with cholesterol and bile salts preventing them from becoming absorbed
- Increases the feeling of satiety or fullness, thereby, helping to prevent overeating and weight gain
- Some health benefits of insoluble fiber would be as follows:
- Promotes regular bowel movements
- Helps to move bulk through the intestine
- Facilitates or speeds up the transit time in the colon by adding bulk to the stool allowing for a faster passage through the intestine, removing toxic waste material in less time and allowing for fermentation to take place along the entire length of the colon including the end
The following foods are good sources of insoluble fiber:
- Cereals made from bran or shredded wheat
- Crunchy vegetables
- Rye flour
- Wheat bran
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole wheat products
- Good sources of soluble fiber include:
- Citrus fruits
- Dried beans
- Oat bran
- Raw cabbage
- Rye flour
The table below provides excellent examples of different categories of foods and their fiber content. Additional information about the fiber content of other specific foods can be found at the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database.
|Navy beans, cooked from dried||1 cup||19.1|
|Kidney beans, canned||1 cup||16.4|
|Split peas, cooked from dried||1 cup||16.3|
|Lentils, cooked from dried||1 cup||15.6|
|Refried beans, canned||1 cup||13.4|
|Cereals and grains|
|100% (wheat) Bran Cereal||1 cup||17.6|
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||9.3|
|Bulgur, cooked||1 cup||8.2|
|Pearled barley, cooked||1 cup||6.0|
|Oat bran, cooked||1 cup||5.7|
|Instant oatmeal, cooked||1 cup||3.7|
|Rice, long-grained brown, cooked||1 cup||3.5|
|Artichoke hearts, cooked||1 cup||9.1|
|Spinach, frozen, cooked||1 cup||7.0|
|Brussel sprouts, cooked||1 cup||6.4|
|Winter squash, cooked||1 cup||5.7|
|Mushrooms, cooked from fresh||1 cup||3.4|
|Prunes, uncooked||1 cup, pitted||12.1|
|Asian pear||1 pear||9.9|
|Guava, fresh||1 cup||8.9|
|Raspberries, fresh||1 cup||8.0|
|Blackberries, fresh||1 cup||7.6|
|Nuts and Seeds|
|Almonds||1 ounce (23 kernels)||3.3|
|Pistachio nuts||1 ounce (47 kernels)||2.9|
|Pecans||1 ounce (20 halves)||2.7|
|Peanuts||1 ounce (33 kernels)||2.4|
Many students do not eat enough fiber rich foods to satisfy recommended daily amounts Therefore, using fiber supplements is a useful way to include fiber in the diet. Be sure to drink plenty of water when eating fiber to prevent constipation and improve digestion and elimination.
It is recommended that students eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes so as to incorporate the two different types of fiber into their diet. In order to achieve the greatest health benefits from fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber need to be eaten daily in a ratio of 50:50.
In terms of how much fiber do children and adolescents require, one recommendation is that the amount of daily fiber for them should be equal to their age in years plus 5. Another recommendation which appears in the literature is that children and adults should eat approximately 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they consume (American Heart Association, 2013). The following table from the American Heart Association (2013) provides estimates by age and gender for the amount of fiber children should consume:
Gender/Age Fiber (grams)
1–3 years 19
4–8 years 25
Male: 38 (Source: American Heart Association, 2013)
Practice Taking Nutritional Supplements
It is important for students to take nutritional supplements during the school year so they can provide their bodies with the nutrients its needs to stay healthy or otherwise be at optimal nutritional status. At a minimum, students can take a good multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Use the multiple as the foundation of your supplement protocol. Among other benefits, a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement will help restore those nutrients depleted by sugar (e.g., chromium & copper) and stress (e.g., Vitamin A, E & C, the B vitamins, zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, sulfur & molybdenum) and assist in keeping the body at an optimal nutritional level.
The multiple vitamin and mineral can be augmented with a greens supplement. This will assist in keeping the body in an alkaline state and providing the body with those phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, enzymes and other nutrients found inenergizing green foods.
Augment the multiple vitamin and mineral formula with probiotics, digestive enzymes and a fiber supplement to help create a healthy digestive system. You are not just what you eat. You are also what you absorb. An unhealthy digestive system prohibits the proper absorption of nutrients to maintain an optimal nutritional status.
It is also recommended to take Omega 3 fish oil supplement to keep the nutritional status of the body at an optimal level.
Lifestyle Strategies For Students To Practice
Practice Keep The Body Moving
Students should not abandon their regular exercise routine during the school year. They should try to find ways to keep their exercise regimen going. As Plato said over 2,000 years ago, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it” (Plato). Regular physical activity, whether in the form of a structured exercise program or just part of daily living routines, will help to keep your body energized and healthy during the school year.
Some of the short-term benefits of exercising and staying physically active during the school year would include: More energy, a better sense of well-being, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, greater ability to cope with stress, healthier sleep and better able to fall asleep, burning of calories and weight management, along with better focus and concentration.
Practice Getting Adequate Sleep and Rest
It is vital for students to get an adequate amount of sleep. Sleep is when the body rejuvenates and repairs itself. Some of the health benefits of sleep that could be especially important during the school year include: Strengthened immune system, reduced stress levels, reduced inflammation, more alert, better memory and better sense of well-being.
For students, back-to-school is a time filled with hope, a sense of a fresh start, a desire to do well and become a better student. It is also a time to refocus goals and priorities and reacquaint with old school friends, while making new ones.
At the same time, back-to-school can be a stressful time impairing students’ immune system and, thereby, putting them at greater risk to experience a cold or flu virus, missed days at school and less motivation to study, be physically active and eat a healthy diet. Hence, it is important for students to learn about how to avoid getting sick with a cold or flu virus and practice the diet and lifestyle strategies discussed. Realistically, since it is unreasonable to expect students to learn about and practice all of the diet and lifestyle strategies presented, a useful approach is for students to start with those strategies they like and are inclined to practice and then move to some of the more challenging ones. Even if students start with one diet and one lifestyle strategy, this can serve as a foundation on which to build a larger repertoire of ways to stay healthy during back-to-school and throughout the school year. Small wins can lead to big wins over time.
American Heart Association (2013). Fiber and children’s diet. Retrieved July 1, 2013 from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Fiber-and-Childrens-Diets_UCM_305981_Article.jsp
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Questions & answers: Novel H1N1 (Swine flu) and you. Retrieved August, 15, 2009, from http://www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/qa.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Questions and answers: Cold versus flu. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm
Garko, M.G. (2007). Losing and managing weight by replacing high-energy-dense foods with low-energy-dense foods. February. www.letstalknutrition.com
Garko, M. G. (2008a). Keep the body moving – Part I:
It’s all about the energy. Healthful Hints. February. www.letstalknutrition.com
Garko, M.G. (2008b). Keep the Body Moving –Part II: Dietary and nutritional principles and practices to energize and maximize physical activity. Healthful Hints, March. www.letstalknutrition.com
Garko, M.G. (2008c). Keep the Body Moving – Part III: Dietary supplements
to help energize and maximize physical activity. Healthful Hints. April. www.letstalknutrition.com
Rolls, B & Barnett, R.A. (2002). Volumetrics weight control plan. New York: Harpertorch.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (n.d.). Common cold. Retrieved September 20, 2007 from http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/healthscience/healthtopics/colds/cause.htm
Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2013, August). Having a healthy and successful back-to- school and school year experience in 2013-2014. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.