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The hurdles to being healthy

I love summer in Minnesota. One of the reasons for that is I can work in my garden and grow my own vegetables.

This year, I have garlic chives, green onions, lettuces, Swiss chards, cucumbers, peppers, beans, tomatoes and squashes.

For almost three months in summer, I can eat fresh organic vegetables from my garden. I have been eating a green salad every day for lunch for the last two months.

It feels good to eat organic home-grown foods. Fresh organic food provides the best nutrition for the body. Consuming home-grown food is also good for the pocket and for the environment.

As summer comes to an end, I am again reminded of the challenges and difficulties to eating and staying healthy that we face here in the United States, especially in Minnesota.

• Short growing season and cold weather

When the growing season is over in Minnesota, there will be no more fresh home- grown food. We have to eat food that is grown in another region or country and is transported hundreds or thousands of miles to us.

Their quality and their nutritional value are certainly not as good as those grown in my own backyard.

During winter time, not only do we eat less fresh food and more junk food, we are also less active. Most times the cold weather keeps us indoors. It's so easy to add a few extra pounds in winter.

• Unhealthy diets and poor eating habits

When I compare eastern and western diets, and the times when I grew up with the times now when my kids are growing up, I see more challenges.

Growing up in China in the 1960s and 70s, my family was poor, like most people at that time. Since there were no refrigerators, my mother had to get up around 5 a.m. every day to buy groceries at the farmer's market.

There were times she even got up in the middle of the night to wait in long line in order to buy food in scarcity. Meat, eggs, oils, sugar, rice, etc. were rationed.

Both of my parents worked full time. But they still cooked three meals a day. We ate mostly vegetables.

We never went out to eat. We didn't eat canned food. Buying fresh vegetables and cooking from scratch was our way of every day living.

In our traditional Chinese diet, we didn't have desserts like in the western diet.

We didn't eat cake or ice cream. We had fruit as dessert.

Only during special holidays like the Chinese New Year, I got to eat candies or other treats.

Thanks to my healthy traditional Chinese diet, I never developed any sweet tooth. To this day, I have no desire for candies, chocolate, ice cream, cake, or other sweets. This has really benefited my teeth and overall health.

I have no caveats. I remember a dentist once commented: "I wish everyone had such good teeth as you do."

But things are different now.

Even though I don't buy and eat much junk food, I still eat more than I used to.

When I go to a party, when someone in the office brings a treat, there are always sweets. It's hard not to try some.

It's worse for my kids.

When my son started school, the first year he brought lunch from home. Starting with first grade, he refused to bring lunch from home and wanted to eat school lunch like most of other kids.

One day not long after he started school lunch, my son asked me after dinner: "Mom, what's for dessert?" I realized he was westernized in his diet. I said, "We have fruit. You can eat as much as you want." But I knew that was not what he meant with dessert.

Our school lunch is not very healthy for our kids. It is basically fast and convenient food. I don't blame this all on school though. It's a problem in our society.

The schools offer healthy choices. The problem is kids prefer junk food. My kids would much rather eat pizza than home cooked healthy meals.

I don't usually buy candies, but we always have more candies than I like.

My kids grow up with candies and love them. They just got a bag of candies from Woodbury Days. Soon the Halloween candies will arrive, then holiday chocolates, Valentine's candies, and Easter chocolates.

It's hard not to develop some sweet teeth in this environment. No wonder my kids already have several cavities at such young age.

• Lack of personal responsibility and self-control

In addition to dealing with these challenges and difficulties we face in our society, we also have to deal with personal issues.

Sadly, I found many people lack personal responsibility and self-control.

My mother has diabetes, she is very careful with eating sweets. She doesn't eat much except a little fruit. But I see plenty of people with diabetes still eat candies and cakes, drink sodas more than they should.

With my two kids, both born in the U.S., sometimes I feel like fighting a hard and losing battle. They grow up in this environment. They are not going to eat as healthy as I like them to.

I only hope I can be a good role model for them in terms of eating and living healthy, and hope they will one day make their own healthy choices instead of me telling and forcing them to eat vegetables every day.