Wednesday, June 25, 2014



Why I Love Watercress

“We now know what is true:  a whole foods, plant-based diet can prevent and treat heart disease, saving hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.”  
--from The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Thomas M. Campbell II

Several months ago, the organizer of the Fellsmere Farmers Market and Mercado heard what Growing Healthy Kids is doing to create solutions to diabetes and obesity.  She wanted someone to do cooking demonstrations for local residents.  Because our health literacy programs teach people how to eat good food that is tasty and affordable, I was very interested to see if we could be of service to local residents in Fellsmere, located in the northwest corner of Indian River County, Florida.  It is home to a large population of migrant and “settled out” farm workers in the citrus industry.  Many residents are overweight and have diabetes. 

Talking with residents at the Fellsmere Farmers Market and Mercado 


Cooking demo using watercress and kohlrabi (in the lower left corner)

So with the invitation to participate at the Saturday market, I looked at vegetables being grown in Fellsmere to create a program using our “local, fresh, and healthy” formula.  It turns out a national company has a farm in Fellsmere and grows arugula and watercress which it ships all over the United States.    I drove up to their farm on a Friday after work and picked up several boxes of freshly harvested greens.  I stayed up late playing in the Growing Healthy Kids Test Kitchen, experimenting with different tasty combinations of greens, grains, and flavors.

The next day I drove north to Fellsmere with my car filled with tables, tents, cooking supplies and, of course, watercress!  The day was great and glorious.  Vendors were selling local honey, fresh eggs, oranges and, of course, our famous Indian River grapefruit.  Lots of people stopped by sample the watercress dishes.  Everyone wanted the recipes!  We served over 150 plates of samples and talked with several hundred more people about simple ways to eat your way to a healthier weight and reverse diabetes. 

Watercress is a “nutrient dense” food.  In fact, it may be the most nutrient dense food known.  Turns out there is something call the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index created by Dr. Joel Fuhrman based on the equation H=N/C (the health value of a food equal to the nutrients it delivers per calorie).  Watercress has a perfect 1,000 rating.  It has 10 calories in a 2 cup serving.  It is loaded with Vitamin C (and vitamins A and K). It contains calcium and beta-carotene.  Add watercress to your sautéed veggies, a breakfast smoothie or pile it onto your favorite sandwich.  Watercress tastes good and is good for you. 

Our relationship with food should be built on a foundation of knowledge and honesty.  Kids need foods that deliver real results, not foods filled with added sugar, salt, and fats.  Next time you go food shopping, please pass by the PopTarts in the middle of the store and head to the vegetable section.  Take home a bag of watercress today!   In next week's Wellness Wednesdays column look for one of our newly created tasty and delicious watercress recipes.

Thank you,
Nancy Heinrich
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAY: The Elephant in the Room

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  The Elephant in the Room

"What we know is that people who eat the way we do in the West today suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets."  --- Michael Pollan from In Defense of Food 2008

Michael Pollan writes in several of his books, including Food Rules, about “the elephant in the room” – the pattern of eating a Western diet and a deepening confusion about nutrition.  I have been thinking about his statements and I disagree with Mr. Pollan. Maybe it is because of where I grew up (Sacramento, California) and how I grew up (access to lots of fresh fruits and vegetables as a child and my mother enjoyed cooking).   Dinners were a family event.  My two brothers and I were expected to be at the dinner table when dinner was ready.  We were not allowed to eat in our bedrooms in front of TVs.  We had fruit for snacks after school.  Our house on Bausell Street was built in a walnut orchard in Sacramento.  We earned money picking up bags of walnuts, then shelling them.  No wonder I love walnuts so much!

I am not confused about nutrition.  For more than half my life, I have studied nutrition in relation to my health, my extended family’s health, and the absence or presence of disease.  I have been mindful of what I eat (most of the time!) and where my food is coming from.  This lifelong interest in the relationship between food, health, and disease is largely the reason why I went to University of Alabama at Birmingham to study public health in graduate school. 

It is clear that food and agriculture are Big Business in the U.S.  The more you process food, the more money you make.  The more processed food you eat, the sicker people will be.  The sicker people become, the more drugs will be prescribed by doctors because doctors don’t learn about nutrition in medical school.  They are taught to give pills, not kale and kiwi.  The more drugs doctors prescribe, the more visits you have to make to see if the drugs are working.  The more visits you have to make to the doctor, the richer the doctor gets.  And you are still sick.  

It is clear that eating foods filled with sugar, salt, and fat cause us to want to eat more foods with sugar, salt, and fat.  There is a scarcity of health literacy in this country.  You are what you eat.  When people learn to question the quality of the foods they eat and ask what the ingredients are they need to be healthy, then we will shift the burden from treating disease to preventing disease.  When people start asking about the quality of the water they drink and the chemicals used to grow the foods they eat, then we will begin to shift cancer morbidity and mortality. 

Become clear about what you are eating, who grew it, where it was grown and with what chemicals, if any.  How many days was it between when the food was harvested and when it was on your dinner table?  How far did someone have to drive your food to get it to your local store so you could buy it?  Become clear about these questions.  Learn the answers.  No elephants allowed.  

Nancy Heinrich
Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Inside a Boy’s Mind

"The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise and of all the exercises, walking is the best."  --Thomas Jefferson

I have always been a fast walker.  Walking just makes me feel great.  I am aware of my steps and my stride as I move towards my destination.  I enjoy walking. 

Lately, I have become painfully aware of children who are at 
unhealthy weights walking to and from school.  I notice them when 
I am driving to and from work, which is next door to an elementary

One day, I saw him.  The boy was standing by himself at the corner of the school, a gray sweatshirt zipped up and the hood covering his head.  He waited to cross the street after school.  He didn’t step forward, even though the road was clear.  His head remained looking down at the sidewalk, as if unsure of which direction to go or how to take the next step.  What was unusual was that it was May and we were in south Florida and it was hot, with tropical temperatures and high humidity locked in for summer.  He had to be boiling hot inside that zipped up sweatshirt.  But he didn’t move. 

The boy, probably 9 or 10, appeared to be very overweight.  As a mother, I worried about him standing there.  Why was he standing so still in the mid-afternoon heat?  Why was he wearing a sweatshirt all zipped up and the hood pulled over his head?  Was he thinking about how little energy he had for the walk home?  Were his legs painfully chafed from rubbing against his jeans? Or was he silently wishing someone he knew would drive by, notice him and give him a ride home because he was out of breath from carrying the excess weight? Did another child at school make fun of him for being fat?  Was he paralyzed with fear about having to go back to school the next day to face more taunting?  Perhaps, he was hoping that if he stayed still long enough and hid inside the sweatshirt, no one would notice him and his oversized body. 

Children do not ask to be overweight.  The added pounds come on gradually, not overnight.   How does it happen?  An extra serving of white rice here, a large Coke there.  Sandwiches on white bread because the white bread from Walmart is cheap.  The drive- through window at McDonald’s is where the kids can order a cheap dinner from the dollar menu.  Cheap food?  I think not. What parents might consider cheap food is really expensive, at least in the lives of young children who get addicted to the salt, sugar, and fat it contains.  The consequences of an unhealthy weight, especially for a child, are so significant but as adults we look at it as adults, not from the child' perspective.  What is it really like to be inside the mind of a child who is screaming inside to be healthy and to love to know the pleasure of walking but no one is listening?
Are you helping your children to make healthy choices about food and fitness?  Do you know know any parents who could use some inspiration?  Please support Growing Healthy Kids and our health literacy projects to reverse, halt, and prevent childhood obesity.  We’d love to come to your neighborhood!

Thank you,

Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Friday, June 6, 2014


Preventing diabetes - and other obesity-related diseases in children who are overweight or obese - is the reason I started Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.  There is an urgent need to  improve health literacy at a local level about this preventable disease. Knowing where to start is often confusing.  Focusing on real foods is how I create solutions for families who want to gain the upper hand on a disease whose complications include increased risk of kidney failure, lower limb amputations, and blindness. When a teenager develops type 2 diabetes, there is another dimension to side effects and complications for which physicians have not been prepared; developing diabetes before age 20 is estimated to reduce a lifespan by about 15 years.  

This Saturday, June 7, I will be teaching a healthy cooking class at Florida Veggies & More. Participants will learn tips for controlling their blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight as well as delicious recipes using locally grown farm fresh vegetables.    

Children from the Youth Guidance Mentoring and Activities Program
at a recent GROWING HEALTHY KIDS program at
Florida Veggies and More in Vero Beach. 

According to Heinrich, “Knowing what to eat if you are diagnosed 
with diabetes (or prediabetes) is a mystery for most people.  Advice such as "just cut out the sugar" and "go to the library and get a book about diabetes" does not provide the practical “what to buy” and “what to eat” confidence that people need to prevent the complications that accompany uncontrolled diabetes or to get on a path towards healthier eating.”

Saturday’s class marks the final class of a very successful spring 
series of healthy eating workshops which began in January.  Dan and Lisa Brenneman, owners of the hydroponic farm, are excited to announce that the Healthy Cooking with Nancy Heinrich, The Healthy Diabetes Coach series will resume in September with the start of the next growing cycle.  This Saturday’s class is at 2:00 and is open to the public.  Kids, of course, are welcome.  For $5, attendees receive a small plate, the recipes and evidence-based health tips.  The class is at Florida Veggies and More, located at 6755 37th Street.  For more information, contact Lisa Brenneman at 772-559-5641 or me at 772-453-3413. 

See you at the farm!
Nancy Heinrich
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids

Wednesday, June 4, 2014



Earlier this year, I met a dear family member, Donna Jean, at Tybee Island, Georgia.  Donna Jean  escapes the cold and snow of her North Carolina home and winters on Tybee; family members know if they want to see her, they have to schedule a visit.   For several years, she and I have corresponded about meeting when my work schedule would allow me to travel north. 

Donna Jean has a degree in journalism and has been a writer all her life.   My goal was to enjoy several  “relax and recreation” days at her beach house and exploring - with her help - the pros and cons of my past year‘s Wellness Wednesdays columns and her advice for this year’s column.  The thought of talking with her about effective writing and clear communication to my target audience thrilled me.
I dutifully packed copies of my blog books for the trip, along with writing notebooks.  After  I arrived on the island and had unpacked fresh vegetables from my favorite hydroponic farm for the meals I would prepare for the two of us, Donna Jean told me that she would read the Wellness Wednesdays columns in the evenings.  Then, the next morning after she had tea and I had coffee, she would provide her impressions and suggestions of what she had read the night before.   I took copious notes for three days and returned to Florida.  And then the unexpected happened - I was unsure what to write! 
After all the little girl kind of excitement about looking forward to the weekend on Tybee Island with Donna Jean, when I returned home I found I could not write.  I was not prepared to be stuck.  I had expected the flood gates to open wide and have words tumbling out on every paper I touched after being inspired by a powerful writer. 

For the last 3 months I have not written Wellness Wednesdays.  Until  today, when  I made the decision that it was time to write again.  One of the challenges Donna Jean gave me on Tybee, intertwined in our conversation about communication theory, was “to find ways to get the stories out.”  So this year I will write about the stories from the Growing Healthy Kids movement and why we are working crazy busy hours to improve health literacy of parents and improve health outcomes of America’s children. 

I have missed you and our weekly conversations more than you can imagine.  I want to honor our conversations.  Donna Jean taught me a lot on Tybee.  She taught me that by becoming a storyteller, I will be a more powerful teacher and will touch more lives.  It is time to tell stories about Growing Healthy Kids.  

Every column may not be a story, but many will be.  As I write about health matters, food, farming, fitness, love, family and friends, tell me this: What health goal has gotten you stuck to the point where you could take no action?  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.