September 20th, 2012
Back-to-school season seems as good a time as any to think about boosting your kids’ brain power. This year, instead of flashcards and multiplication drills, you might want to focus on your family’s diet.
The dietary habits of children can impact their energy level, mood and academic performance now and in years to come. Simply eating a healthful daily breakfast has been linked to improved concentration and behavior, among other benefits. And we’re not just talking about getting a little extra edge for this week’s math test: While the short-term consequences of food consumption on the brain are well appreciated, many people don’t realize that nutrition has a huge impact on brain function over years and over decades. What you eat as a child — both the quantity and quality of food — can significantly impact long-term cognitive function and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
A poor diet has been linked directly to heart attack, stroke, as well as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammation, all of which can have a negative impact on brain function and performance. Arterial plaque buildup from a diet high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars and refined grains not only leads to heart disease, it is also a major culprit for vascular dementia — when the brain neurons become inflamed or don’t get enough oxygen and blood flow. Inflammation and lack of oxygen result in accelerated memory loss.
The brain is a highly active organ that needs a lot of blood, a lot of oxygen and a lot of nutrients. Research suggests maintaining healthy weight, as well as, a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (for example the omega 3 fatty acid called DHA that is found in salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines), B vitamins along with antioxidant vitamins C and E, and Vitamin D may help protect the brain.
Some studies have shown that DHA supplementation can improve kids’ memory, learning ability and cognitive performance, while low levels of DHA have been associated with smaller brain size, increased risk for Alzheimer’s and possible behavioral issues in children and adolescents. (Vegetarians and fish-haters alike can take algae-based DHA supplements.)
A recent study of healthy adults and adults with mild cognitive impairment tested out the effects of two diets. One was the “high diet,” which was high in saturated fat (at least 25 percent of the diet) and simple carbohydrates (glycemic index greater than 70). The other was a “low diet,” which was low in saturated fat (less than 7 percent of the diet) with a fewer simple carbs (glycemic index less than 55). Results revealed that those on the “low diet” improved or made the levels of three important markers of health.
Firstly, this diet was associated with less bad cholesterol. Secondly, the low diet was linked with lower insulin levels. Lastly, the low diet lessened the biomarkers of free radical injury, a signal of oxidative damage to your central nervous system.
In a nutshell: After just one month of the low saturated fat/low carbs diet, “visual memory” improved for healthy adults and adults with cognitive impairment. This was a small study of 49 subjects, but the implications have big promise.
Here’s a quick review of which nutrients to avoid so you can steer clear:
- Trans Fats (may be found in margarines, cookies, frozen meals, fries, chips, crackers, doughnuts) – alters metabolic processes and hardens your arteries. It is also recommended to avoid trans fats as they have also been linked to a smaller brain size and reduced function.
- Saturated Fats (may be found in high fat meats, full fat dairy products, snack foods)- Leads to the buildup of fatty tissue on the inner linings of your arteries and turns on inflammatory genes.
- Added Sugar (may be found in sugary beverages, cereals, and snack foods) – Excess sugar causes the proteins in your body to function improperly, aging your arterial system.
- Refined Grains (Examples include: white bread, white rice, white pasta)- Whole grains contain a lot of fiber, which helps prevent arterial aging, whereas, refined grains do just the opposite!
The larger point is that the potential advantages of a better diet clearly go beyond the school year. Keep in mind, you can always improve brain function, no matter how old you are.
Here is a grocery bag list of foods high in the nutrients discussed above that may boost cognitive function:
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Olive oil
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September 11th, 2012
While children born to mothers who smoke weigh less at birth, quite the contrary may be true for these children later in life. In a meta-analysis of 14 studies, maternal smoking during pregnancy was associated with a 50 percent higher risk of childhood obesity. Most of the studies looked at children’s obesity status at ages 3 to 7; one study assessed obesity at age 14, and another tracked the children all the way to young adulthood.
However, new research suggests how smoking during pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of obesity during adolescence. Children born to mothers who smoked while pregnant show structural changes in parts of the brain that processes reward – the amygdala – which was lower in volume than children of non-smokers. These structural changes seemed to make them more partial to fatty foods and prone to subsequent weight problems.
The new study, published online Sept. 3 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, included 378 adolescents aged 13 to 19. Of these, 180 kids had mothers who smoked more than one cigarette a day during the second trimester of pregnancy. The average was 11 cigarettes a day. All were at a late stage in their pubertal transition, a period during which obesity related to mother’s tobacco use systematically crops up.
Each adolescent had his or her body-mass index and body-fat composition measured, and brain scans assessed the size and structure of several brain regions thought to play a role in appetite and reward-seeking. The teens were also asked about their use of illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco, and parents filled out questionnaires relating to a mother’s smoking during pregnancy, breastfeeding and the family’s socioeconomic status. Their food diaries indicated their diets were higher in fats, representing 33.1% of the daily caloric intake versus 30.4% for non-exposed children.
The average body weight and body mass index of the tobacco-exposed group was slightly higher than that of the group whose mothers had not smoked. But their body compositions reflected substantial differences: The tobacco exposed group had on average 15% more body fat than did the group of kids whose moms did not smoke during pregnancy.
While the study found an apparent link between maternal smoking and fatty food cravings in teens, it didn’t prove the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, more study is needed to validate the findings as not all mothers who smoke are destined to have obese children. Smoking during pregnancy is one of many factors that may tip the scales in favor of teenage obesity. When the researchers assessed the participants’ dietary fat intake, they found an inverse correlation between amygdala volume and fat consumption, meaning the more fat consumed, the lower the amygdala volume.
Considering about 10 percent of pregnant women in the United States and Canada smoke, according to background information in the study, this information should be taken seriously. Nutrition and other lifestyle factors during several early periods in the lifecycle—just before conception, the months spent in utero, and the months after birth can have profound effects on an individual’s weight at birth, during childhood, and on into adulthood.
These are also potentially optimal times for intervention, for two reasons: Women may be more receptive to making lifestyle changes as they prepare to get pregnant and when they are pregnant to increase the likelihood of having a healthy baby.
Here are five key messages women of childbearing age should be given in order to help improve their health and the health of their children, and limit the current epidemic of obesity:
- Strive for a healthy weight before pregnancy.
- Don’t smoke during pregnancy.
- Aim for a reasonable weight gain during pregnancy.
- Breastfeed (preferably without other liquids for 4–6 months and some breastfeeding for at least 12 months).
- Ensure infants get adequate sleep during the first few years of life.
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September 5th, 2012
According to a recent study published in Pediatrics, adolescents in states with strict laws regulating the sale of snacks and sugary drinks in public schools gained less weight over a three-year period than those living in states with no such laws. This is great news! However, while half as many U.S. adolescents as in 2006 can still buy high-calorie sodas in schools, other sugary beverages remain easily available at schools, a recent survey showed. University of Michigan Ann Arbor researchers found the trend in a survey of more than 1,900 public schools, which has grown as the institutions banish sodas from vending machines, school stores and cafeterias.
It is concerning to me, as well as, many other public health experts and medical professionals that there is very little regulation of other sugary beverages sold in schools. Schools should be setting the example of making healthful choices for life. The fact that fruit drinks, sports drinks and other beverages with added sugar and calories that could lead to obesity over time can still be bought easily in schools reflects a nationwide trend that consumers view these drinks as healthier alternatives.
What kids and adults alike need to realize is that these drinks that can still pack excess calories and sugar. Consider this statistic: Consuming one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day increases a child’s risk of obesity. Research shows that these sugary drinks directly relate to higher incidents of obesity and many youth – and adults – are still consuming them unnecessarily. They were designed for athletes who have been sweating for an hour or more, not for children as they walk across campus or eat their lunch.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), added sugar is defined as any sugar or syrup that is added to foods during processing or preparation, and sugar or syrup that is added at the table during meal times. Soft drinks and sweetened beverages are the number-one culprit in Americans’ diets, with one can of soda containing 8 teaspoons and almost 130 calories of sugar.
Additionally, sodas and other beverages high in sugar are among the most prominent factors contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic. Consider this: A 32 ounce sports drink has 14 teaspoons of sugar!
The AHA recently released new guidelines limiting the amount of added sugar considered acceptable for a healthy diet. Preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn’t consume any more than 170 calories, or about 4 teaspoons, of added sugar a day. Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 130 calories, or about 3 teaspoons a day. As your child grows into his pre-teen and teen years, and his caloric range increases to 1,800 to 2,000 a day, the maximum amount of added sugar included in his daily diet should be 5 to 8 teaspoons. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting juice intake to 4-6 ounces – which is less than 1 cup (118-177 milliliters) – for kids under 7 years old, and no more than 8-12 ounces (237-355 milliliters) of juice for older kids and teens.
Specifically, sports drinks or electrolyte replacement beverages are designed to replace fluids after vigorous exercise and generally contain sodium and potassium to help fluids absorb in the body. Even after strenuous exercise (continuous vigorous exercise for more than 60 minutes) research indicates that sports drinks serve no added benefit over water. Additionally, studies show that consumption of too much added sugar can make kids have a harder time learning and can cause erosion of tooth enamel from the acidity and dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content.
Such drinks should be regulated in schools in favor of water, low-fat or nonfat milk and 100 percent vegetable juices with no added sugar. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Sciences which advises the U.S. government on related issues, has already called for the elimination of regular sodas, allowing sports drinks only for certain student athletes, and limiting other diet or caffeine-free drinks to high schools students. USDA’s pending rules are supposed to cover food and drinks sold in school vending machines, snack bars, school stores and cafeteria “a la carte” lines. In the meantime, some school districts across the United States have already sought to make voluntarily efforts to push healthier vending machine options.
These voluntary efforts are much needed and hopefully continue to become commonplace. In the meantime, here are some tips to limit soda and sugary beverages in your child’s diet:
-Kids are very visual. Show them how many teaspoons of sugar are actually in a can of soda. It is basically like eating straight up sugar packets!
-Infuse water with fun fruits and veggies that your child likes. For example, cucumbers, strawberries and watermelon all make great choices.
-Add a splash of 100% fruit juice to seltzer water for a healthy fizzy drink.
-Make a fruit smoothie with frozen bananas, low fat yogurt and 1 tbsp of reduced fat peanut butter.
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February 27th, 2012
Cravings — those intense desires to eat a particular food, strong enough that you may go out of your way to get it — are complex urges that most people frequently experience. Researchers know we have cravings, but they still don’t know exactly why. A craving can mean you’re being too restrictive, it can be emotional, it can mean you’re eating unhealthy foods too frequently, or could even be due to the time of year. Everyone has cravings, but it is how we handle our cravings that will affect our health and/or our weight loss success. It is possible to manage your cravings in a healthy way. Read on to find out what your must-have-now urges mean and how you can control them.
In order to decipher why you are craving that salty or sweet snack, we first need to decide if there were in external triggers present that would have lead you to want that certain food. Some possible external triggers are:
- Have you seen an ad for or read an article about that certain food? The power of suggestion and seeing the food presented in a positive light can lead to a craving for that food.
- Did you see or smell the food you’re craving lately?
- Even sounds-like the beeping of the microwave, a co-work crunching on chips, or the sound of popping open a drink can lead to a craving if you associate those sounds with foods you enjoy.
- Cold weather can trigger those cravings for warm, rich foods that are often high in calories.
If you determine that the craving does not stem from an external trigger, decide if it stems from an emotional trigger. Some examples of emotional triggers are:
- Stress- if you tend to reach for a certain type of food whenever you feel stressed, you are actually training yourself to crave this food when under stress. Studies suggest that these cravings can occur up to 24 hours after the stress-response system is activated.
- When you were a child, did your parents feed you a certain type of food when you were sick, hurt, or upset? If so, you may experience cravings for these comfort foods even as an adult.
- We often don’t think of positive emotions when it comes to emotional eating, but celebratory eating and craving certain “reward” foods can also be the result of an emotional trigger.
- Last, but not least, are you feeling guilt or shame? Do you feel like you failed following another diet? If so, this may trigger cravings for certain “forbidden foods” that you were trying to restrict.
And if your craving does not seem to be brought on by an external or emotional trigger, it is possible that it was brought on by a biological trigger. Some examples of biological triggers are below.
- Has it been more than 4 hours since your last meal? If so, you may be experiencing a craving for something sugary or starchy due to a drop in blood sugar?
- Being physically tired-if you didn’t get enough sleep last night that can increase your cravings for something sweet.
- Do you have an intense craving for ice? If so, this could be a sign of pica, a phenomenon that happens when people have iron-deficiency anemia.
- If you are craving chocolate, that could be a sign that your need magnesium. So nosh on some nuts and seeds, which are a good source of magnesium instead.
- Have you been drinking plenty of water? If not, your body maybe mistaking your thirst signal for a hunger signal. With any craving that you experience, start by drinking some water and waiting 10 minutes and you may find that your craving subsides on it’s own.
- Eating lots of simple carbohydrates — without the backup of proteins or fats — can quickly satisfy hunger and give your body a short-term energy boost, but they almost as quickly leave you famished again and craving more.
After deciphering why you are craving a certain food, you will be much better equipped to handle the craving and prevent cravings in the future. It can be as simple as getting more sleep, taking a different route to work so as not to pass the bakery or drinking more water! See below for some tips to help control the specific types of cravings mentioned above.
How to control cravings due to…
- Distract yourself - When you notice a craving setting in, find something else to think about. Take a walk, listen to your favorite playlist, call a friend. Just set your mind to something else.
- Trick your brain – Try eating the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie variety of the item you’re craving. If you find yourself wanting sweets like chocolate, opt for nonfat chocolate frozen yogurt instead of chocolate cake. If you’re prone to over-doing it, however, don’t bring the coveted food into the house, no matter how low-fat or fat-free it is. Instead, go out for your frozen yogurt and order a single-serving cone or cup.
- Grab some gum – If you want to avoid giving in to a sugar craving completely, try chewing a stick of gum which has been shown to reduce food cravings.
- Reach for fruit - Keep fruit handy for when sugar cravings hit. You’ll get fiber and nutrients along with some sweetness.
- Give in a little - Eat a bit of what you’re craving, maybe a small cookie or a fun-size candy bar. Enjoying a little of what you love can help you steer clear of feeling denied. Try to stick to a 150-calorie threshold.
- Lighten up – Light deprivation leads to depression in some people, and depression can fuel food cravings. So if you tend to feel blue in winter (the severest form of wintertime blues is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD), try getting outside for a walk during the sunniest part of the day.
- Dig deeper - If cravings linger, get at the root of them. Have you been too restrictive? If you suspect so, plan your meals differently, including more variety and more foods you enjoy in your diet. Is there something going on in your life that’s making you anxious, angry or stressed? If that’s the case, face the issue head on. By being proactive and making yourself aware of why you may be craving a certain food, you may just make that craving disappear.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night to prevent cravings.
- If you have iron-deficiency anemia – be sure to eat foods high in iron and check with your doctor to determine if you should take an iron supplement.
- Eat full meals – If you skip meals — out of fear that you’ll gain weight or out of the hope that you’ll lose faster — you’re more likely to overeat at meals you do eat, and even more likely to fall prey to mindless snacking in between.
- Be sure to drink water throughout the day – 8, 8 fl ounce glasses of water per day the average amount needed, unless you are extremely active.
- If you are low in magnesium, nosh on some nuts and seeds, which are a good source of magnesium instead.
- Combine foods – If the idea of stopping at a cookie or a baby candy bar seems impossible, you can still fill yourself up and satisfy a sugar craving, too. Combine the craving food with a healthful one. For example, spread a little Nutella on a banana or mix some almonds with chocolate chips.
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February 2nd, 2012
A blunt new ad campaign in Georgia, “Stop Sugarcoating,” featuring images of miserable-looking overweight children is stirring up a national controversy. While the ad campaign aims to increase awareness of childhood obesity, many parents are concerned it will only cause more stigmatization of overweight kids.
While I agree that these ads are quite shocking and understand why they have been met with criticism, I do believe that a hard-hitting campaign may be the wake-up call needed to prevent a catastrophic public health crisis. The point of these ads is to spark discussion about childhood obesity. And if you have been on Twitter recently, you will see that this has been accomplished. While it is uncomfortable to watch these ads, it’s when people are uncomfortable that change occurs.
With nearly 1 million, or 40 percent, of kids in Georgia considered overweight or obese, it is imperative that parents understand that this is a grave issue that cannot be ignored. The truth is that, as the campaign points out, a whopping 50 percent of people surveyed didn’t recognize childhood obesity as a problem. What’s more, 75 percent of parents with obese kids don’t acknowledge their children as having weight issues. We all seem to think this is somebody else’s problem. Bringing these issues to the forefront sparks discussion and forces parents to confront the problem. These kids can’t be helped if their parents don’t acknowledge that help is needed.
As a pediatrician and child obesity expert who speaks with overweight and obese kids every day, I have seen firsthand the bullying and stigmatization these kids live with. Given my clinical experience, I don’t believe these ads will increase the bullying of these kids; they are already getting bullied day in and day out. As these ads are already out there, we should use them as an opportunity to address the issue at hand; our kids are overweight and we need to help them get healthy.
Here are some dos and don’ts for parents when it comes to talking to kids about weight:
1. It’s All About Health: While the ads may use the word “fat”, your conversation should not. Instead of focusing on “fat” or “thin”, talk about health and good nutrition. This way, even a thin parent can have this conversation. It is very possible that your child will initially get upset and accuse you of thinking he is fat. If this happens, simply steer the conversation back to your child’s health. ““I am not worried about your looks. It is your health that concerns me. Your body would be healthier if you weighed a little less. Let’s work together to learn to eat well.”
2. We Can Do It!: Instead of saying “You need to eat healthier”, try, “We need to eat healthier.” I have chosen to say ‘we’ need to eat healthier’ because this sounds less accusatory and alerts your child that you are both in it together.
3. Let’s Take Action: Be sure that you end the conversation with concrete suggestions of things you can do to be healthier. For example, suggest a trip to the grocery store to pick up some healthy foods, sign up for a local exercise class or go for a family jog each night. The idea is to end the conversation with a goal your child can accomplish so the prospect of “losing weight and getting healthy” doesn’t seem so daunting..
Remember that your long-term goal as a parent is to raise a person who is comfortable with herself and knows that she is loved, regardless of weight or size. Your child should also know, however, that part of loving yourself is taking care of your body and keeping it healthy. Children who feel loved learn to love themselves and are more likely to make healthy choices.
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January 31st, 2012
Long recognized for their heart-health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are emerging as an effective therapy for mood disorders. However, giving the green light to consume omega-3s for mental health benefits isn’t so simple. It takes the right combination of fats, in addition to other therapies a person may be using, to get results, research shows. And many people with mood disorders should speak with their doctors first to avoid making mistakes like stopping other depression treatments.
While your body can synthesize other types of fat from dietary components such as carbohydrates and proteins, it can’t make its own omega-3s. We have to get them from food or fish oil supplements. Omega-3s come in three varieties:
• Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Found in fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring, DHA concentrates in the brain’s gray matter and the retinas in the eyes.
• Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Also found in cold-water fish, EPA seems to have a unique role in maintaining a healthy mood. Many studies show that DHA alone doesn’t work for depression. You need a little more EPA than DHA to get results.
• Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): Found in flaxseed, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, purslane, and walnuts, and in small amounts in Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens, ALA doesn’t directly influence mood management although it may help with heart health. The human body converts a small percentage into EPA and DHA.
While most Americans get plenty of ALA, we’re sadly low in the consumption of DHA and EPA. The American Heart Association recommends people eat fish twice a week, which, on average, would give you the recommended dose of 500 mg of DHA and EPA daily. But most adults and kids get closer to 100 mg or less. As a result, blood levels of these fats are low—and even lower in people with depression.
Research from laboratory and population studies and clinical trials that tested omega-3 supplements in people with various types of depression suggests that raising EPA and DHA levels can make a difference. Those who study the effects of omega-3s on depression have found the following:
• EPA plus DHA can improve primary depression. When M. Elizabeth Sublette, MD, PhD, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and her team of researchers reviewed 15 trials involving 916 participants, they concluded that supplements with at least 60% EPA improved depression symptoms. Their meta-analysis was published online in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. A Canadian study published in the August 2011 issue of the same journal found that a similar 60/40 ratio of EPA/DHA eased depression somewhat in people with depression who didn’t have anxiety disorders.
• Low omega-3 levels are associated with suicide and self-harm. In response to increasing rates of suicide in the military, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently found that low blood levels of omega-3s were widespread and raised suicide risk by as much as 62%. The study was published online in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Using Omega-3s Safely and Wisely
• Safest dose: For general good health, adults and kids should get omega-3s by eating two or more servings of fatty cold-water fish per week. That’s the recommendation of the American Heart Association and the Omega-3 Fatty Acids Subcommittee organized in 2006 by the American Psychiatric Association. That works out to about 500 mg per day, which you also can get from fish oil capsules or other products. People with mood disorders may benefit from 1,000 mg of EPA plus DHA daily from fish oil supplements, according to the subcommittee, but they should consult a doctor first.
• Don’t stop taking antidepressants, lithium, or any other medications or treatments. They shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a replacement for standard antidepressants or for psychotherapy, if these are being used.
One should always get their doctor’s approval before starting any dose of omega-3s if they’re pregnant, nursing, taking blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder. Omega-3s can reduce blood clotting; if an individual is already taking a blood thinner for this purpose, the combination could be dangerous.
While omega 3 fatty acids are good for the brain, keep in mind (no pun intended) that other types of fats may be detrimental to brain function. Eating high amounts of saturated fat can raise the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, which can stick to your arteries, and, even worse, result in plaque in your brain that can deteriorate your memory. The process that occurs causes decreased oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Inflammation and lack of oxygen (resulting from that donut or sugary soda) result in accelerated memory loss.
It’s also interesting to note that the eight southern states in America that make up the “Stroke Belt” also have higher incidences of obesity and a greater chance of dementia. Of course, many factors are at play when it comes to developing dementia, but lifestyle factors like a high saturated fat diet, coupled with little physical activity, are certainly big contributors to memory problems and heart attacks.
A recent study of healthy adults and adults with mild cognitive impairment tested out the effects of two diets. One was the “high diet,” which was high in saturated fat (at least 25 percent of the diet) and simple carbohydrates (glycemic index greater than 70). The other was a “low diet,” which was low in saturated fat (less than 7 percent of the diet) with a fewer simple carbs (glycemic index less than 55).
Not surprisingly, the low diet improved or made the levels of three important markers of health better for you:
- Firstly, this diet was associated with less bad cholesterol.
- Secondly, the low diet was linked with lower insulin levels.
- Lastly, it lowered CSF F2-isoprostane concentrations, which is a fancy way of saying it lessened the biomarkers of free radical injury, a signal of oxidative damage to, or damaging inflammation in, your central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).
What does this all mean for the bigger picture? After just one month of the low saturated fat/low simple carbs diet, “visual memory” improved for healthy adults and adults with cognitive impairment. This was a small study of 49 subjects, but the implications have big promise for your enjoyment of life and brain power.
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January 10th, 2012
Researchers studying the impact of age on food preferences have demonstrated patterns of change that start in the womb and continue through adulthood. For example, if breastfeeding mothers consume a diet that regularly includes fruits and vegetables, their infants will be more interested to eat the same healthful foods – in contrast with formula-fed infants – and this effect appears to persist through weaning. Among older children and adults, the avoidance of new or unfamiliar foods (i.e. neophobia) is generally recognized to decrease; however, there is evidence that suggests that older adults develop a stable set of food preferences that is resistant to change.
The finding that ageing tends to impact the diversity of one’s food preferences clearly makes it important to encourage the development and maintenance of a broad array of food preferences among infants, toddlers and older children.
Be Creative With Your Child’s Plate!
Researchers at Cornell University and London Metropolitan University have shown that getting your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is as simple as putting together a pretty plate of food. A new study shows that while food presentation has been shown to have significant impacts on the way adults eat food, that the same principles can be applied to understanding preferences among children in relation to increasing the diversity of their diet.
In what they called a “preliminary” study, the researchers showed 23 children age 5 to 12 (in attendance at a summer camp in Ithaca, N.Y.) 48 different combinations of food on plates, asking them which were their favorites. They repeated the exercise online with 46 adults. The plates varied by number and mixing of colors; number of components; position of the main component; whether they were crowded or empty; whether they were organized or disorganized; and whether the elements on them were arranged into a picture (such as a heart or a smile.)
Results showed that kids preferred different qualities in a dinner plate than grownups. The differences they observed, suggest that strategies to encourage healthy eating among kids need to be tuned more specifically to children’s visual preferences. See below for kids versus adult plate preferences:
Kids Preferred: 7 different food items (the largest number the researchers included), 6 different food colors ( the largest number the researchers included), their main food component towards the bottom of their plate, foods arranged into a picture.
Adults Preferred: 3 different food items, 3 different food colors, their main food component in the center of their plate, foods arranged into a “casual” plate design.
It is interesting to note that in a report by Kahn and Wansink, children and adults tend to consume more food (e.g. M&Ms) when there is a greater variety of options (e.g. differently colored M&Ms). Similar findings of overconsumption have been made for studies where participants are presented with varied sets of yogurt and combinations of different food, such as chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream as compared with simply chocolate brownies.
If children and adults eat more of the unhealthy food items when a variety of options and colors are presented, then it seems intuitive that the same would occur when they are presented a variety of options and colors of fruits and vegetables. However, the recent study finds that adults should not assume that children share their preferences for food presentation, especially, when it comes to the finding that young children appear to prefer plates that feature a wide variety of foods and colors in comparison with adult preferences.
These results should open a window of possibilities for those concerned with childhood nutrition because it would appear as if young children have a preference – to which adults do not typically cater – for very diverse food presentations. The results suggest amazing opportunities to encourage more nutritionally diverse diets among children and have potential positive implications for parents, caretakers and pediatricians as well as food service managers for pediatric hospitals, child care centers and schools.
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January 4th, 2012
The surest way to succeed in keeping your health goals is by making small changes. Think in terms of manageable baby steps, like swapping the half-and-half in your morning coffee for fat-free or low-fat milk. There are lots of little changes you can make — in your food plan and daily routine — that will add up to a lot of weight loss over the long haul.
Take a look at our health tips below for eating healthfully, fitting exercise into your busy day and revamping your daily routine. Start by picking five changes that you’re sure you can tackle and practice them this week. Then try another five next week. Not every idea is right for everyone, so experiment and see what works for you. Lots of little changes can yield big weight-loss results — and a healthier new you!
1. Good things come in small packages
Here’s a trick for staying satisfied without consuming large portions: Chop high-calorie foods like cheese and chocolate into smaller pieces. It will seem like you’re getting more than you actually are.
2. Get “water-wise”
Make a habit of reaching for a glass of water instead of a high-fat snack. It will help your overall health as well as your waistline. So drink up! Add some zest to your six to eight glasses a day with a twist of lemon or lime.
3. Doggie-bag that dinner
At restaurants that you know serve large portions, ask the waiter to put half of your main course in a take-home box before bringing it to your table. Putting the food away before you start your meal will help you practice portion control.
4. Ease your way into produce
If you’re new to eating lots of fruits and vegetables, start slowly. Just add them to the foods you already enjoy. Pile salad veggies into your sandwiches, or add fruit to your cereal.
5. Look for high-fat hints
Want an easy way to identify high-calorie meals? Keep an eye out for these words: au gratin, parmigiana, tempura, alfredo, creamy and carbonara, and enjoy them in moderation.
6. Don’t multi-task while you eat
If you’re working, reading or watching TV while you eat, you won’t be paying attention to what’s going into your mouth — and you won’t be enjoying every bite. Today, every time you have a meal, sit down. Chew slowly and pay attention to flavors and textures. You’ll enjoy your food more and eat less.
7. Taste something new
Broaden your food repertoire — you may find you like more healthy foods than you knew. Try a new fruit or vegetable (ever had plantain, bak choy, starfruit or papaya?).
8. Leave something on your plate at every meal
One bite of bagel, half your sandwich, the bun from your burger. See if you still feel satisfied eating just a bit less.
9. Get to know your portion sizes
It’s easy to underestimate how much you’re eating. Today, don’t just estimate things — make sure. Ask how much is in a serving, read the fine print on labels, measure your food. And learn portion equivalents: One serving of pasta, for instance, should be around the size of a tennis ball.
10. Bring lunch to school or work tomorrow
Packing lunch will help you control your portion sizes. It also provides a good alternative to restaurants and takeaways, where making healthy choices every day can be challenging (not to mention expensive).
11. Simon says… get fit
Here’s an easy way to fit in exercise with your kids: Buy a set of 1 lb weights and play a round of Simon Says — you do it with the weights, they do it without. They’ll love it!
12. Make the most of your walks
If your walking routine has become too easy, increase your effort by finding hills. Just be sure to tackle them at the beginning of your walk, when you have energy to spare.
13. Shop ’til you drop…pounds!
Add a workout to your shopping sessions by walking around the mall before your start spending. And try walking up the escalator — getting to your destination faster will be an added bonus.
14. Walk an extra 100 steps
Adding even a little extra exercise to your daily routine can boost your weight loss. Today, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or stroll down the hall to talk to a co-worker instead of sending an email or calling.
15. Take your measurements
You might not like your stats now, but you’ll be glad you wrote them down when you see how many inches you’ve lost. It’s also another way to measure your success, instead of just looking at the scale. Sometimes even when the numbers on the scale aren’t going down, the measurements on your body are.
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December 21st, 2011
Journalists, bloggers and comedians have had a field day with the headlines over a Congressional bill that would count the tomato paste used on pizza as a school lunch vegetable. However, the news was really about a much larger issue: the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s efforts to improve the nutritional quality of federally funded school lunches.
The current nutrition standards for school lunches are based on federal dietary guidelines from 1989. After the guidelines were updated in 2005, the USDA developed a plan to bring the school lunch program in line with them. The plan included:
- Cutting back on ingredients like salt and potatoes; It called for a gradual reduction over 10 years; in elementary school lunches, for instance, the average level would fall from 1,377 milligrams per week now to a maximum of 640 mg per week in 2021.
- Reducing saturated fats and total calories; For saturated fat, the USDA recommends it contribute less than 10% of total calories.
- Boosting fresh fruits and vegetables; they specified that once a week, lunches offer at least one half-cup serving of each of the following items: dark green vegetables (such as spinach or broccoli), orange vegetables (carrots, squash), legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans), starchy vegetables (white potatoes, corn) and “other” vegetables, including tomatoes.
- Increasing whole grain servings; They want to see at least half of the grain servings be whole grain; in two years, all grain servings should be “whole-grain rich.”
What about tomato paste?
Under current regulations, an eighth of a cup of tomato paste is considered the nutritional equivalent of a half-cup serving of vegetables, since that’s how much tomato it takes to make it. But the USDA noted in its proposal that other pastes and purees don’t get the same treatment — they get credit only for the “actual volume as served.” That “loophole” is what makes it possible for a slice of pizza to count as a serving of vegetables.
The USDA acknowledges that one-eighth of a cup of paste contains half a cup’s worth of tomato solids. And that one-eighth cup is a nutritional match for some half-cup servings of other produce items. For example, an eighth cup of tomato paste has more vitamins A and C than a half cup of canned green beans, as well as similar calcium levels and about half the iron and fiber — all for a similar calorie count.
Despite the Department of Agriculture’s good intent, let’s be honest, no one is going to eat half of a cup of tomato paste on pizza or as a side serving. Children need to eat more vegetables, and we should push for increased intake of conventional vegetables and not look towards pizza as providing a satisfactory substitute.
Although it takes a lot of exposure before children will start accepting new foods, the introduction needs to start somewhere. This doesn’t mean pizza should be taken off the menu, but what’s wrong with adding veggies to it?
Vegetable and fruit consumption is important for children for a variety of reasons. For instance, it gives children the essential vitamins and nutrients they need to grow and helps them establish healthy eating habits at an early age. In fact, the Red Light Green Light Eat Right Program requires that a fruit of vegetable serving be eaten with each meal and snack.
If your child’s school lunch isn’t making the grade, talk to your school food service director and share your concerns. We need to make our voices heard if we are going to boost the nutrition being served to our children.
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December 14th, 2011
It’s unrealistic to think that the average person, who’s faced with fast food and processed food on a regular basis, can start following a completely rigid diet of 100% “clean”, fresh, or local foods. While it may work for some people, it’s not reasonable for the masses as issues of seasonality and transportation make it difficult for all of us to access fresh and local foods all the time.
The 2010 Better Homes and Gardens Food Factor Survey revealed just how dependent today’s cooks are on convenience foods. Of 3,600 women surveyed from across the United States, 71% of them purchased convenience produce (eg, prepared salads, chopped fruits and vegetables), and 81% purchased convenient forms of fresh poultry and meats regularly.
According to Health and Human Services, the quest for convenience is leading more people to consume away-from-home quick-service or restaurant meals or to buy ready-to-eat, quickly accessible meals to prepare at home. When the wrong choices are made, the trend contributes to obesity, especially among children. However, while most people might think of processed food as something that comes wrapped in plastic from a factory across the country, many processed foods can deliver lots of nutrition without doing you any harm.
The best way to assess a food’s value is to decipher its nutrition facts panel. Besides the basics of paying attention to calories and serving size, here are tips to guide you from the Food and Drug Administration:
●Choose products with high daily value percentages (20 percent or more per serving) of fiber and of vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron.
●Look for low daily value percentages (5 percent or less) of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
●The following terms signal added sugars, which contain lots of calories but little nutrition value: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup.
Healthful Processed Convenient Foods
Here’s a roundup of foods that, though processed and packaged, pack a nutritional punch.
Yogurt: The yogurt making process is probably also what makes it so good for you. In addition to the calcium and protein, vitamins and minerals yogurt delivers, the active bacteria cultures that give it its tangy taste are probiotics that are thought to provide digestive health benefits.
Canned beans: Beans are an excellent source of protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat) and fiber. Sure, you can buy, dry and soak them (thereby processing them yourself). But you can’t beat the convenience of canned. Look for reduced-sodium brands, or drain and rinse your beans before eating.
Jarred spaghetti sauce: The process of cooking actually improves the quality of the antioxidant carotenoids that give tomatoes their color, making jarred sauce a healthful choice. Sauces are also seasoned with herbs, which add vitamins and minerals such as potassium.
Canned salmon: We all supposed to be eating more fish — at least two four-ounce servings a week, according to federal dietary guidelines — and fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna are tops because of the omega-3 fatty acids they contain. But buying fresh fish can get expensive. Canned varieties provide the same nutrition.
Frozen fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables harvested at their peak and immediately frozen retain all their nutritional value, allowing us to enjoy their benefits year round. They’re often less expensive than fresh produce, too.
Brown rice: In a bag or frozen, this healthful choice takes only eight to 10 minutes to prepare compared with about 45 minutes the traditional way.
Individual cups of hummus: High in protein, it’s good for lunch or a snack. Hummus can be used for dipping carrot or celery sticks, or whole-grain crackers for an added nutritional punch.
Edamame: Frozen edamame can be toasted or stir-fried or added to any casserole, soup, or stew for added fiber and protein.
Prepackaged guacamole snack packs: Guacamole packets are great for topping off a prepackaged salad with healthy fats without the hassle of peeling, mashing, and seasoning fresh avocados.
Eggs: Eggs are an incredible source of high-quality protein and are also one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring sources of Vitamin D, a nutrient that most individuals are deficient in. Boil them or crack them open and scramble or make a quick omelet or frittata with precut vegetables for a healthy, convenient meal.
Nuts: Roasted peanuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, and Brazil nuts are portable, nutritious, and, on a per-serving basis, very affordable.
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