- May 7 2015
Deborah Hecker, Sodexo VP in charge of Sustainability and CSR, moderated the panel. She also chairs a nutrition and health working group.
The discussion started with Hecker asking Vicki Kloeris, who manages the International Space Station Food System for NASA, her views on the psychological importance of food. Kloeris said that for astronauts, nutritional variety and quality are crucial, because the right foods boost mood and performance as well as providing familiarity in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. (She also mentioned the new zero-gravity espresso machine created for an Italian astronaut.)
"More and more in debriefs, crew members say the food in orbit is one of the most important psychological factors on the space station," Kloeris said.
Food quality is even more important now that extended missions on the International Space Station can last between six months and a year. Kloeris said astronauts value group meals and that the arrival of fresh fruit is a very special event. "It's like a holiday for them.”
She talked about NASA’s preparations for a three-year mission to Mars—and how by the end of it, the astronauts’ food will be five years old since some provisions will have to be sent ahead. NASA is actually sharing research with the U.S. military on how to prepare and package food to have a very long shelf life and still maintain its nutritional value.
Kloeris mentioned the dangers of salt for an astronaut. Doctors noticed that a small number of astronauts were losing vision acuity due to increased inter-cranial pressure on the optic nerve. High sodium was not the cause, but could make the problem worse. So NASA changed 90 out of 200 foods and beverages on its core menu to reduce sodium by 43 percent.
Dr. Frédéric Saldmann, a cardiologist, nutritionist, and author of the bestseller The Best Medicine is You, echoed Kloeris's concerns about salt and added sugar to the list. Saldmann conducted Sodexo’s Feel Good Program study and said that even a few simple changes over nine weeks can have an impact on mental and physical well-being.
His biggest tips were cutting extra sugar (such as in coffee), pausing five minutes between each bite while eating, and having 85-percent dark chocolate as a snack to induce endorphins for a greater sense of well-being. The high cacao content also acts as an appetite suppressant.
“It’s not a theory, it’s just do it,” Saldmann said.
He also talked about lengthening our “telomeres,” the part of our DNA that protects our chromosomes and helps determine life expectancy. The longer the telomeres, he said, the longer the lifespan. Poor nutrition, stress, and bad sleep habits shorten them. He said a simple blood test can be done to determine telomere length.
“With just simple changes of reducing sugar and sodium, you can increase life expectancy by 10 years,” Saldmann said.
Lawrence Soler, CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), is attempting to solve the childhood obesity crisis, and said that if things don’t change, one in three American adults will be obese by 2030, generating staggering costs for society. Obesity already costs the world US$2 trillion a year, he said.
His nonprofit works closely with the private sector, and is steering partners such as Sodexo towards making healthy choices easy choices for kids. He believes there is light at the end of the tunnel, though we have a long way to go. In children ages 2 to 5, there has been a 40-percent decrease in obesity.
Soler said that a number of factors contribute to a person's risk of obesity, including cultural habits and the amount of physical activity. Each element has to be dealt with individually through policy, education, and involvement from the private sector.
His organization has commitments from 150 companies to make changes in their food services to provide healthier products. Soler admitted these private sector partnerships might seem risky for companies; a commitment to better nutrition is not always easy. "For changes to be sustainable, they have to be profitable for companies.”
And so, Hecker wondered, can better food actually contribute to curing our social and economic problems? Soler thinks so. For one thing, when children are more physically active and eat better school food, their test scores rise. Saldmann insisted that when we eat better it improves our well-being, reduces absenteeism, boosts productivity, prevents burnout, and gives us longer lives.
The old saying holds true: we are what we eat.
Studies show that what humans eat has effects far beyond clothing size. Our food intake also impacts our psychological health and work performance. Tuesday afternoon, a Quality of Life panel discussion on nutrition brought together a French doctor, a scientist from NASA, and the CEO of a nonprofit to share recommendations and experiences from the field—to the table.
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