On Nutrition: Dear Graduate

Graduation celebrations abound this time of year. Even our 4-year-old granddaughter got into it. With a miniature square cap proudly balanced on her head, she excitedly waved at us the entire time she and her classmates were recognized for completing preschool.

Amid the flurry of high school announcements were two we received from our nephews in New Mexico. And a particularly clever invite came from a young man in our community who is home-schooled by his mom. His announcement proudly informed us that he had earned status as valedictorian, class president and teacher’s pet.

So, dear graduates, no matter where your next stop is after this milestone, I congratulate you. And offer you some sage advice, if I may.

Watch your mouth. And not just what comes out in words. What you put into your body has the power to give you strength or make you weak. More than at any other age, young adults face the greatest risk for nutritional deficiencies that may harm their health in the years to come, say experts.

For example, young women are especially at risk for not getting enough protein in their diets. This nutrient is essential for everything from muscle development to hormonal control. Plan to include protein-rich food such as eggs, lean meat, poultry, seafood, beans, soy products and nuts with each meal. These foods also supply iron, zinc and other nutrients to keep your young body and mind at its best.

Learn to like vegetables. Your mother was right. All colors and types of veggies contribute to fresh looking skin, resistance to disease and a healthy weight. Researchers say the ones most often missing from young adults’ diets are red and orange such as bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes. In fact, half the space on your plate should be occupied by vegetables, say nutrition experts. Really.

Take care of your bones. They will continue to absorb bone-building nutrients until you’re about 30 years of age when they reach their peak strength. Gradual bone loss begins to occur after that time. So … think of calcium and protein-rich foods like milk, yogurt and calcium-fortified soy beverages as “money” in your lifetime bone bank. The more you save now, the better you’ll be able to withstand the slow withdrawals of bone mass in the future.

Experiment with good things. Learn how to cook, for example. I guarantee it’s a skill that will come in handy for the rest of your life.

Learn to enjoy all foods, even sweets and treats, in moderation. You may not appreciate it now, but your body needs to carry you through many years to come. Take care of it and it will take care of you.

Listen to the wise adults in your life. You’ll be one of them someday. Happy graduation!

Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to [email protected].