Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Nutrient Density Matters

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  Nutrient Density Matters

“When are you going to stand up for your children and their future?  It’s time to warrior up!”               

        --- Tsleil-Waututh Elder Amy George from Sierra Magazine, March/April 2014

How often do you think about your children’s future and what their world will look like in five years?  In full disclosure, the above quote came from an article in Sierra Magazine.  The article was about the impact of coal trains on a sensitive area of northwest Washington State where fishing for salmon and herring support a local culture, including the Lummi Nation of native Americans.

When I work with parents who are overweight or who have children who are overweight or obese, I often have the same thought as Tsleil-Waututh Elder Amy George.  Are we willing to let the large food manufacturers dictate whether our children will be doomed to a shortened lifespan because they are overeating foods with no nutritional value?  Will the McDonald’s dollar menu be your family’s demise?  Will eating too much of the bad foods (white sugar, white flour, and too much salt) cause health problems for your family?  Will the sugar-filled cereals and Pop Tarts intentionally placed at a child’s eye level of your grocery store rob your kids of their ability to focus in school? 

A lot of my work centers around teaching families about how to become more health literate and making better choices for themselves and their children.  Our children are getting fatter, but obesity is preventable.  Focus on eating nutrient dense foods (like wild salmon, kale, lentils, spinach) to replace foods of low value.  The most nutrient dense food is watercress - in case you are wondering where to buy it, I can always find it at Publix, thanks to B&W Growers in Fellsmere, FL.  High on the list is kale.  Green is great!   For a link to some great nutrient dense recipe ideas, click here.

As parents, whether we choose to fight to prevent coal trains from coming through environmentally sensitive lands or whether we choose to educate parents with the knowledge about how to eat well and economically to prevent obesity and obesity-caused diseases, we make choices every day.  It is time to warrior up! 

Thank you,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



“Briefly, inflammation is a telltale sign that something isn’t right in the body, that the body is encountering harmful stimuli, which can be any number of things from pathogens to damaged cells and irritants.  To protect itself and try to remove the injurious stimuli, the body triggers inflammation, an elaborate response involving the vascular system, the immune system, and various cells within the injured tissue.  The ultimate goal is to start healing, but when inflammation becomes chronic due to disease or prolonged stress, it can become destructive.  One of the ways we can measure inflammation in the body is by assessing levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein whose levels increase when inflammation is present…Researchers are now discovering bridges between certain kinds of inflammation and our most pernicious degenerative diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and an accelerated aging process in general.  Virtually all chronic conditions have been linked to chronic inflammation, which, put simply, creates an imbalance in your system that stimulates negative effects on your health.”  

              -- from The End of Illness by David B. Agus, M.D.

Sugar is part of every lesson taught in our Growing Healthy Kids project.  Kids love sugar and no wonder.  It is sweet and it is the ingredient that makes candy fun. It is also more addictive than crack cocaine.  I see the addiction it causes in children every time I do a program at the Boys and Girls Club.  I will set a couple of bottles of soda on the table next to a bag of sugar.  The kids instantly want to drink the soda and to stick their fingers into the bag of sugar for a taste.  Boys will grab the sodas and stuff them into their pockets, then check to see if I am looking.  Girls will hover around the sugar bag and ask to have a taste.  It scares me to see how addictive sugar is and how powerfully addicted American children have become to it. 

Sugar starts a chain of inflammation in the body which is the spark which awakens many diseases.  While reading The End of Illness recently, the quote by Dr. Agus above really hit me.  While Dr. Agus’ primary focus is cancer and mine is obesity, we both share a common interest in educating others about what happens to your body and your health when you eat foods that promote disease.  Healing begins when you commit to eating more good foods and less of the bad. 

As promised in last week’s Wellness Wednesdays article, today’s lesson is about becoming a nutrition detective and learn what a day’s worth of sugar should be vs what people really eat.  Start with the facts about sugar:
  • Sugar has NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE – zippo – nada!   
  • Sugar has no vitamins
  • Sugar has no minerals
  • Sugar has no fiber
  • Sugar has no enzymes
  • Sugar DOES have calories, though, which is part of the problem.  Sugar has lots of calories (“empty calories”)
  • Sugar acts like a match that lights a fire, or inflammation, inside the body.  This is what Dr. Agus was talking about.

The first lesson in being a nutrition detective is to decide what to look for. The Nutrition Facts label shows grams of sugar that foods contain.   You can look for grams of sugar OR you can convert the grams to teaspoons of sugar.  You can also learn to spot the zillion different names of sugar and look for them on the list of ingredient on processed food.  Sugar has many names and if it is one (or two or three, as commonly happens in processed foods) of the first five ingredients on a label, then I recommend you NOT buy that food because it is mainly sugar.  Start by looking for these common names for sugar:  high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and cane sugar.

Small pile of sugar (4 teaspoons) is the most elementary age kids should consume in a day.  Middle pile is sugar in one soda (11 teaspoons).  Big pile is what an average American middle or high school student consumes in one day (33 teaspoons).  

The kids were very serious about their jobs as Nutrition Detectives.  
Thanks to the kids at Gifford Youth Activity Center in Vero Beach, Florida, for helping me with the demonstrations you see in the pictures.  According to American Heart Association, children ages 4-8 should eat and drink no more than 12.5 grams of sugar a day.  Divide 12.5 by 4 and you get 3 (and a fraction) teaspoons of sugar.  Kids ages 9-18 should be eating no more than 33 grams of sugar a day.  Divide 33 by 4 and you get 8-1/4 teaspoons of sugar. 
How much sugar are we eating every day, on average, in America? According to the American Heart Association, adults consume about 22 teaspoons a day and kids consume around 33 teaspoons a day. 

One 12 ounce soda (root beer was what we used in the demonstration at Gifford Youth Activity Center) has around 45 grams of sugar.  When you divide the grams of sugar by 4 you get the number of teaspoons of sugar.  So one can of soda has about 11-1/4 teaspoons of sugar, more sugar than kids should have in an entire day!   

To summarize:  
  • If you have elementary age children, they should be eating and drinking no more than 12.5 grams of sugar (or about 3 teaspoons) a day.
  • If your kids are in middle or high school, they should be eating and drinking no more than 33 grams of sugar  (or a little more than 8 teaspoons) a day.
  • The average amount of sugar a child 4-8 consumes in one day is 21 teaspoons!  
  • The average amount of sugar a kid 9-18 years of age consume is 33 teaspoons a day. 

I hope this lesson in how to be a Nutrition Detective will get you and your family checking Nutrition Facts labels when you go shopping.  Watch out for foods loaded with added sugars. Every day we have choices.  

If you would like more information about all the names for sugar, then get a copy of Nourish and Flourish (see top right corner).  This is the first book from the Growing Healthy Kids project.  It will guide you and your family on a path to better tasting food without sugar - and it is filled with kid-tested recipes!

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Becoming a Nutrition Detective

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  Becoming a Nutrition Detective

"Evolutionarily, sugar was available to our ancestors as fruit for only a few months a year (at harvest time), or as honey, which was guarded by bees.  But in recent years, sugar has been added to nearly all processed foods, limiting consumer choice.  Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy."                                                             --Dr. Robert Lustig

Last fall, health literacy came into the lives of 25 young people in the form of a new afterschool program conducted by Growing Healthy Kids at the Gifford Youth Activity Center in Vero Beach, Florida. I’m not sure who had more fun – the kids or the staff who participated in the program!  The kids got to play in the kitchen every week as they learned lessons about what it means to eat good foods.  We shredded, grated, and mixed our way to some great recipes.  At the last class, each child took home copies of the recipes they had made and tasted, along with their very own "Eat Rainbows" aprons to remind them to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. 

Classroom time before playtime in the kitchen

Fresh vegetables and herbs can really make foods taste fresh AND delicious!

The Smokin' Salmon burger was a bit hit!

Having fun in the kitchen!

I recently contacted the Center’s director, the amazing Angelia Perry, about teaching a new program this summer.  Without hesitating, she said yes.  Tomorrow is the first class and I am so excited because the children are going to learn how to be a nutrition detective! 

We have an obesity epidemic in America.  Two in three adults are overweight or obese but one in three children is overweight or obese.  When I was growing up in Sacramento, California we played outside after school every day, walked to school, and had P.E. every day through high school.  We didn’t have McDonalds and Coca-Cola getting kids addicted to sugar, just like crack cocaine gets people addicted. 

Eating too much sugar is something most kids (and many adults) do every day without even knowing it.  The excess calories are stored at fat.  The fact is sugar is highly addictive and food manufacturers know it.  Sugar is added to most processed foods.  We have become complacent about knowing what we are eating.  Take something as American as a bowl of breakfast cereal and figure out how much sugar you are eating every morning.  Look at the Nutrition Facts label to determine how many grams of sugar are in a serving.  Then determine how many servings are in that big cereal bowl of yours.  So many food manufacturers create serving sizes that are teeny tiny compared with what we really pour in our bowls.  Divide the total grams of sugar by 4 to get the number of teaspoons of sugar you are eating.

Your next lesson in becoming a nutrition detective will be in next week’s Wellness Wednesdays when we will talk about what a day’s worth of sugar should be vs what people really eat a day. When you go to the grocery store, compare labels and choose the breakfast cereals that is lowest in added sugar.  

To order an "Eat Rainbows" apron and remind your kids to plan meals and snacks with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, click here.  Happy Summer!

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014



“We may never understand illnesses such as cancer.  In fact, we may never cure cancer, which is why prevention is key.  It’s important to approach your health in general from a place of lack of understanding.  Honor the body and its relationship to disease as a complex emergent system that you may never fully comprehend.  Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases reflect breakdowns in that system.  Cancer, for instance, isn’t something the body “has “ or “gets”; it’s something that the body does.                    
                – from The End of Illness by David B. Agus, MD

Eating good food every day is something that is very important to me and to the teaching we do in the many Growing Healthy Kids workshops we conduct. Like Dr. Agus said, prevention is key.  I encourage you to seek out foods that support health and avoid foods that promote disease.  Make most, if not all, of the foods you eat good foods that are nutrient dense.  

In last week’s Wellness Wednesdays article, I extolled the virtues of eating watercress.  While you are out shopping for locally grown watercress, ask your farmers to start growing red watercress.  It is a more powerful variety of watercress, especially in its health-promoting properties.  Start creating a market for it where you live. 

As promised, here is a recipe I have created recently in the Growing Healthy Kids Test Kitchen that combines watercress with quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”), the only grain  that is a complete protein.  I make this dish once a week, changing some of the vegetables depending on what is in season from my local farmers in Indian River County.  Bon appetite! 

Quinoa-Watercress Salad
 RINSE in a sieve for 2 minutes:
  • 1 cup white quinoa

PLACE rinsed quinoa in a small pan, add 2 cups water, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to simmer.
COOK for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.
WHILE quinoa cooks, chop and set aside:
  • ½ red onion
  • ¼ cup zucchini, grated
  • 1 cup watercress (remove large stems and finely slice)

  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Braggs Liquid Aminos, to taste.

WHEN QUINOA is cooked, let cool for 15 minutes. 
ADD vegetables and toss with dressing. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.