Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Marketing Energy Drinks to Kids

"Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from." 
                                                             --Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  This article is about kids, caffeine, and energy drinks.  


Asking questions is a great way to learn from kids about what they think is normal.  Recently, while teaching a class to 10 year olds in an afterschool program in Indian River County, Florida, I asked the kids if they knew anyone who drinks energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster.  They ALL raised their hands.  Then I asked if they drank energy drinks and more than half raised their hands.  I asked the kids why they drank them and this is what they said:
  • “They give you energy.”
  • “They give you protein and minerals.”
  • “I like them.”
  • “They help you lose weight.”

I couldn’t believe that these 10 year olds were telling me they needed these highly marketed energy drinks to lose weight.  I was stunned to think that their parents must approve of kids drinking energy drinks for so many of these kids to accept them as normal. 

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What followed was a lively discussion about healthy ways to improve your energy (eat breakfast, don't skip meals and snacks).  We talked about foods that improve your moods (eat some dark chocolate) and tips for staying at a healthy weight (get enough sleep and eat foods containing dietary fiber (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes).  We talked about reading food labels and not consuming something if you can't pronounce the ingredients.  

Then I told the kids a true story about a 16 year old boy named Davis Allen Cripe in South Carolina who died in April 2017 from excess caffeine intake.  Officials have said his death was from "probable arrhythmia” or abnormal beating of the heart.  Within 2 hours Davis drank approximately 419 mg of caffeine consisting of:

Large diet Mountain Dew            135 mg caffeine
McDonald’s Latte:                       142 mg caffeine
(unnamed) energy drink:             142 mg caffeine

Energy drinks, in addition to caffeine, contain sugar and stimulants.  Energy drinks are not tested on kids, yet kids are consuming them every day.  Energy drinks are highly marketed to kids.  At my favorite grocery store, there are fully stocked refrigerators of energy drinks and sodas at every checkout intentionally placed so they are easy to grab as an impulse item.  The fact is that a teenager died from ingesting high doses of caffeine, a legal drug, within a 2 hour period.  

My condolences go out to the Cripe family as they now educate families about the dangers of energy drinks for kids while grieving the loss of their son, Davis.  My hope is that parents will talk with their kids about the dangers of energy drinks and parents will choose to not buy these drinks for their kids.  More than 50% of the 10 year olds I was teaching thought it was perfectly fine to drink these every day.  It’s not.  Dare to care.  Let’s not allow food manufacturers to put profits ahead of our chidren’s health – and lives. 

Please pass the water.  

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Good Food for Your Brain

“As you know, the brain controls behavior.” 
      --from The Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment Diet by Richard S. Isaacson, MD and Christopher N. Ochner, PhD, 2016

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  On a daily and weekly basis, some of the mental health issues I encounter include:
  •  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Bipolar (manic-depressive)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Schizophrenia

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Ten years ago, if you would have asked me about my knowledge of the above mental health issues, I would have told you I knew very little about them.   In my work today, I am surrounded by clients with all these diagnoses.  

One reason why mental health issues are more prevalent today is due to increased recognition and awareness.  In some disorders, however, there may be other reasons why they are increasing:  too much intake of added sugars, artificial sugars, food dyes, and convenience foods containing highly processed and artificial ingredients.

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As a lifelong student of nutrition, I know there is a connection between physical and mental health.  The foods we eat are key to both.  When was the last time your physician – or your kids’ pediatrician - asked you about sugar intake, including the artificial sugars found in diet sodas? When was the last time your doctor prescribed eating whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables and avoiding added sugars and processed foods? 

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As we learn to feed our brains (and bodies) daily doses of anti-inflammatory foods (such as green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, purple and blue vegetables and fruits containing the pigment anthocyanin such as blueberries, blackberries, black rice, and red cabbage) and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as wild salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds), we provide our brains (and bodies) with the fuel to prevent diseases and in some cases, I strongly believe, improve outcomes of some mental health disorders.  I believe there is a key role in mental health services for talking about how eating whole foods (whole grains, vegetables and fruits) and avoiding processed foods and high sugar foods can improve our brain health and our behaviors. 

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Walnut-encrusted salmon

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Notice how the walnut looks like the brain?  God's Pharmacy!

Here are 12 foods that contribute to a healthy brain – and body:

  1. Avocados (these contain unsaturated fats, the “good” fat)
  2. Blueberries and other blue and purple fruits and vegetables (blackberries,
  3. Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and watercress)
  4. Eggs
  5. Leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, arugula)
  6. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts)
  7. Olive oil
  8. Quinoa (this seed is known as the “Mother Grain” and is a complete protein)
  9. Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp)
  10. Walnuts (and other nuts such as pistachios, pecans, and hazelnuts)
  11. Wild salmon (and other fatty fish)
  12. Yogurt

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With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Mental Health Awareness

"We all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent "I" separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone."  
                                                                                 --Pope Francis, 2017

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Every day I work with clients with mental health issues such as bipolar and schizophrenia.  At every Growing Healthy Kids event, we work with kids on the autism spectrum, kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or eating disorders, and kids whose parents have bipolar disorder.   

Recently, I was teaching a Growing Healthy Kids class for 12 year olds attending an after-school program.  We talked about processed foods and food additives such as food dyes and why they should be avoided.  One of the questions I asked of the kids was, "How many of you have family members who have ADHD?"  Not surprisingly, about 25% of the kids raised their hands.  Several kids volunteered, "I have ADHD." We talked about why foods such as blueberries, which contain anthocyanin, the pigment that makes some foods blue or purple, are good foods for brain health. 

Being able to talk about our health and the health of our children includes talking about mental health issues faced by all families at one time or another.  When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it affects the entire family; the same thing happens with a mental health diagnosis.  All families need to know that when someone is sick, you go to the doctor, whether it is a physical illness like cancer or diabetes, or a mental illness like depression or autism.  Being aware of a problem is the first step towards diagnosis and treatment.

In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 43.4 million Americans age 18 and older had a mental illness in the prior year.  This number represented 17.9% of all adults in the US (see figure below). 

Prevalence of Any Mental Illness Among U.S. Adults (2015)

Supporting family members with ANY health issues they may be facing is a priority to ensure that we have healthy children, families and communities.  

To learn more about mental health topics, go to the National Institute of Mental Health or click here.  For some great personal and workplace screening tools from Mental Health America, click here.

Together, we can improve the health - and lives - of America's children. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


"To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind.  If a man can control his mind, he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him."  

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Recently I was talking with a friend (I'll call her Rose) when her husband (I’ll call him George) joined us in conversation.  George asked his wife, “Honey, do you want potatoes or rice with dinner tonight?”  She replied, “Neither.”

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Two years ago, George was admitted to the hospital for nonhealing wounds that he ignored until his wife made him go to the Emergency Department because she knew something was wrong.  He was admitted and diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes and was started immediately on insulin.  Ever since then, Rose has been coming to me asking for advice and to learn how to eat better because she does not want him to land in the hospital again.  She is eating much better herself and has even lost some weight.  That why she said “no” to having white potatoes or white rice for dinner. She chose to make a salad instead. 

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My friend's husband continues to eat as though he doesn’t have diabetes.  Chips.  White potatoes.  White bread.  Wheat pasta.  Fruit juice.  Few fresh fruits.  Fewer fresh vegetables.  I can sense Rose's frustration.   She asks me lots of questions so that she can learn about foods that can help control one’s blood sugar and foods to avoid.  

In this journey of her husband's diabetes, the unexpected blessing is that Rose has learned how to improve what she eats.  George, on the other hand, seems content ignoring tools and knowledge that can help him control his own health.  Eating a diet of daily potatoes, pasta, and chips is not helping his vision (he has already lost the vision in one eye and needed emergency eye surgery to attempt a repair) or his kidneys (his doctor reports that his kidney function is declining and he may need dialysis).  The eyes and kidneys contain the tiniest blood vessels we have.  When someone does not monitor their blood sugars and does not attempt to keep them under control by avoiding excessive amounts of bad carbs (like white potatoes, white rice, fruit juice, white bread, and wheat pasta), the vessels become blocked and circulation becomes sluggish, causing often permanent and non-reversible damage.  Doctors call neuropathy (numbness in the feet and hands), kidney damage, and diabetic retinopathy the “microvascular complications” of diabetes.   

Diabetes is preventable.  For those who already have diabetes, it is controllable and even reversible.  

Another friend of mine (I’ll call him Adam) had just been diagnosed with diabetes when I met him about five years ago.  He asked me a lot of questions and early on made conscious choices.  Instead of eating chips, he fills up on kale and blueberries. Instead of white potatoes, he enjoys pumpkin seeds and sweet potatoes.  He has given up eating meat and now prefers plant proteins.  He walks regularly.  His doctor says Adam’s diabetes is now so well controlled with good foods and regular exercise, that Adam has reversed his diabetes. 

Eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds is key to preventing and controlling diabetes.  Exercise helps your body to use insulin produced by the pancreas.   There is an incredible video that shows the health benefits of vegetables, fruits, and nuts called God's Pharmacy available on YouTube.  To watch God's Pharmacy, click here.

Adults make their own choices when it comes to how they are going to eat once they have been diagnosed with diabetes.  Growing Healthy Kids is passionate about teaching kids and parents about good foods and good habits, such as getting to a healthy weight, that prevent diseases such as diabetes. 

Preventing diabetes is easy, when you make the right choices.  If you have diabetes, choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.  Choose brown or black rice instead of white rice.  Go look in the mirror and say out loud: "I can do this" because you can! 
To support our work to prevent diabetes in children, you can purchase a copy of Nourish and Flourish:  Kid-Tested Tips and Recipes to Prevent Diabetes (available at to donate to your local library.  For more tips and resources from Growing Healthy Kids, click here to go to our website. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

PS-If you know someone with diabetes who is ready to take control, go to for a copy of Healthy Living with Diabetes:  One Small Step at a Time.  This is my book that started the #GrowingHealthyKids movement!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Marketing Sugar to Kids

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"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."  
                                                                               --Michael Pollan

Want to read a good book that will forever change the foods you buy for your kids?  Then run to your local library and read Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle,  Ph.D., M.P.H..  Nestle, a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Health at New York University, teaches about what goes on behind those pretty boxes in the middle of grocery stores.  

Take a walk down the cereal aisle at any grocery store.  Look at the names of cereals that are at eye level to kids' and you will get your fill of "sugar", "frosted", and "crunchy".  These yummy sounding words are a clue to savvy parents that these products are loaded with sugars and should be avoided.  Look at foods with labels proclaiming “sugar-free” for an example of the classic “bait and switch” intentionally designed to trick us into thinking we are buying healthy choices. 

Most cereals are marketed to kids because they contain highly processed sugars which are cheap to produce but contain no nutritional value.  Most foods marketed as “sugar-free” are targeting people with diabetes, however, "sugar-free" does not mean carbohydrate-free. 

Companies spend more than $17 Billion marketing products to children.  As we all know, marketing directly to children is a factor in the childhood obesity puzzle.  Product placement is critical to sell sugar-loaded foods to young children, who are extremely vulnerable and cannot discern when they are being influenced to buy unhealthy products.   According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone.   

The price of marketing sugar to kids is their present and future health.  Teachers can’t teach kids who are fidgeting in their seats all day and spaced out from the sugar roller coasters of high carbohydrate breakfasts with no protein or fat, followed by a steady stream of sugar all day in the form of highly processed snack foods like HoneyBuns, fruit drinks, and sugar-flavored milk. 

Childhood is a precious time for our kids.   As parents, it is our responsibility to protect them from being taken advantage of by for-profit companies that place corporate profits over individual health.  

To learn more about how large companies deliberately market products to children and action steps you can take to protect your children's health, go to

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Please pass the healthy granola.  Make this recipe with your kids.  Use it for breakfast and also for after school parfaits with equal layers of granola, vanilla yogurt, and fresh blueberries.  

GROWING HEALTHY KIDS:  Our Recipe Collection

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cup raw nuts and/or seeds (my favorite combo: 1 cup pecans or sliced almonds and ½ cup pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • ½ cup maple syrup (or local honey)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • cup dried Montmorency tart cherries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts and/or seeds, salt and cinnamon. Stir to blend.
  2. Pour in the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Mix well, until every oat and nut is lightly coated. Pour the granola onto pan and use a large spoon to spread it in an even layer. Bake until golden, about 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway. The granola will further crisp up as it cools.
  3. Let the granola cool completely, undisturbed, before breaking it into pieces and stirring in dried cherries. Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks, or in a sealed freezer bag in the freezer for up to 3 months.
 Source:  This recipe was adapted from granola recipe by Cookie and Kate.  

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Sleeping for Success Part 2

"Because today is another chance to get it right."  

Growing Healthy Kids’ focus is on solutions to the childhood obesity epidemic and sharing resources and research with parents is essential to our mission.  

Many parents never think about the role of sleep in relation to weight loss.  You know how grumpy and sleepy you are when you don't get enough sleep?  The fact is that getting a good night’s sleep does a body – and mind – good.  The quality – and quantity – of your sleep matters in many aspects of your health, especially if you want to get to a healthier weight as a positive role model for your children. 

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In Part 2 of Wellness Wednesdays’ "Sleeping for Success" this week, I answer the questions in Part 1.  Here we go:  

  1. Do you absolutely love your pillows?  If not, then it is time to go pillow shopping.  Are you sleeping on the same pillows you had 2 years ago?  Or maybe even 3 years ago?  Pillows do not last forever and should be replaced every 6-36 months, depending on the type. 
  2. Your bedroom should be a peaceful sanctuary, clear of clutter and electronics.  If it is not, then plan a day (or two) to organize drawers, sort through and discard clothes that no longer serve you, and do some deep cleaning and furniture rearranging so the energy in your room flows. 
  3. If you have electronics in your or your kids’ bedrooms, then move them out of the bedroom or, at the very least, turn them to minimize the light while you sleep.  Those innocuous red, blue, and yellow lights can interfere with your sleep by tricking your brain into thinking it is daytime.  The goal is to make your bedroom as dark as possible at night. 
  4. Charge your cell phone at least 10 feet away from your head (never next to your bed) and, preferably, in another room.   
  5. Establish regular bedtimes that you and your kids can adhere to, even on the weekends. 
  6. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least 6 hours before your bedtime.  Turn off computers, cell phones, and texting at least an hour before bedtime.  Keep chamomile tea on hand for a relaxing cup of tea to get you to sleep quickly.
  7. Turn off computers, videogames, and cell phones 30-60 minutes before bedtime.  This gives your mind and body time to wind down from the stress and adrenaline that electronics demand from us.
  8. If it takes you more than 20 minutes to get to sleep, then get up, move to another room, read a magazine or a book, and then try going back to sleep. 
  9. If you are sleeping less than 7 hours a night, you are probably not getting enough sleep.  Kids need more sleep than adults.  See chart (below) for hours of sleep needed by age.
  10. Do you sleep through the night or are you waking up one or more times?  If you are one of those people who wake up, only turn on the minimum number of lights needed to light your way to the bathroom so you can get right back to sleep.  The more lights you turn on, the harder it is to return to sleep.

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Scientists know that when people do not get enough sleep, it is harder to lose weight.  If your goal is to get to a healthier weight, start by accessing your sleep patterns with my sleep survey (in "Sleeping for Success Part 1") and reviewing the solutions (listed above).

Ready, set, sleep!

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Sleeping for Success Part 1

"Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together."  
                                                                                            --Thomas Dekker

When I talk with kids and ask them where they charge their cell phones at night, the most common response, "next to my bed," drives me nuts.

Did you know that the consensus among scientists is that most brains do not become are fully developed until age 25?   For the sake of our children's present and future health, the worst place cell phones should be charging is right next to their heads.   Cell phones interfere with kids' brains while they sleep.  Make sure all phones are at least ten feet from your kids' heads when they are sleeping. 

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I have created a 10 question sleep survey for parents (see below).  Most people take sleep for granted.  After all, we do it every night, so there's not much to it, right?  Wrong.  Scientists know that the quality and quantity of our sleep is important for our brain health and for our physical health.  While we sleep, our brains process information and our bodies recharge and replenish the immune systems.   

Here are 10 questions to think about before you go to bed tonight: 
  1. Does your bed have comfortable pillows, sheets, and blankets?
  2. Is your bedroom a restful and peaceful sanctuary?
  3. When you turn off all the lights in your bedroom, are red, blue, and yellow lights on your electronics still on?
  4. How close to your head does your cell phone charge while you are sleeping?
  5. Do you have a regular bedtime?
  6. Do you have a sleep routine when you wind down the day and prepare for the night?
  7. How much time before you go to bed do you stop using your cell phones and computers?
  8. How long does it take you to go to sleep once you lie down in bed?
  9. How many hours sleep do you get most nights?
  10. How many times do you wake up at night? 

There is a big reason why your answers to these questions can affect the quality of sleep.   People who don't get enough sleep have a harder time losing weight.  Getting to a healthy weight is key to preventing diabetes, for those who are at risk for diabetes, and to controlling or reversing diabetes, for those who have been diagnosed with diabetes. 

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As parents, we have a responsibility to protect our children’s health.  That starts with making sure everyone in the family is getting a good night’s sleep.  Sweet dreams, my love!

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.