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Students have a nutrition break mid-morning consisting of milk, juice, an orange and either mini sausage roll or Vegetarian Italian bagel at Belmont High School in Los Angeles, California in this file photo from May 18, 2009. The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to propose rules this spring to make such snacks healthier, part of a 2010 law aimed at improving childhood nutrition by, among other things, revamping school foods for the first time in more than 30 years. REUTERS/Fred Prouser /Files

Food. The word has many different meanings to each individual.

To the girl in front of you in the coffee shop line, it might represent her culture. To many of us living in the Bay Area, food brings us comfort.

For myself, food means looking good and feeling good right now in my late 20s, until I'm 90 years old (knock on wood). And now, as a health care professional in training, food also represents a tool for me to spread healthy habits.

Before I decided my life role was to become a health care provider, I, like many, saw food as something savory, like fried chicken, to satisfy my hunger, or a home-baked cookie to fulfill my sweet tooth.

It wasn't until I saw how food, the basic necessity to help children grow, was actually making them into obese young adults ready to take on diabetes, that I realized what an important role food choice played in the practice of health care.

It was this "aha" moment that made the connection crystal clear of how integrated food and health are. When you get down to the basics, your body reacts appropriately to whatever food you decide to put in it.

Sure, that fried chicken hit the spot, but it also made me sluggish and I instantly wanted a nap. Imagine if I ate that every day for lunch, or even followed it up at dinner with a cheesy pizza and a soda for the next five, 10, or 20 years?

My body would be so burned out because I wasn't giving it food it could turn into energy. I was only giving it food to turn into fat, and I was making it work so hard to process those sugary sodas that now it can't handle any more sugar I put into it. My energy is low, I'm overweight and now I've given my body diabetes.

No one is making these decisions for your body but yourself, and children learn by example what they can do to their own bodies. I'm not trying to put a damper on the thing that makes you happy.

I'm just a native Bay Area neighbor who could be your pharmacist in the near future and who wants to help others make the connection that food can be the first step to having great health.

Living a long life is different from living a long, healthy life with minimal chronic diseases. If you start making nutritious foods a part of your life, and changing cooking techniques for your favorite dishes -- such as using oil instead of butter, or grilling instead of frying -- the benefit will be seen in how you feel right after your meal, as well as how you will feel years from now.

These adjustments don't happen overnight and change never gets accomplished without the help of a friend, family or a health care provider like your pharmacist.

The healthy food choices you make today can allow you to enjoy a robust life without diabetes or heart disease. It's your decision to make food mean living a long healthy life.

Andrea E. Ho is a doctor of pharmacy candidate at UC San Francisco.