Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Depression, Diabetes, and Childhood Obesity

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

                                                                              --Robin Williams, 1951-2014

When I started the Growing Healthy Kids organization, I had an idea about preventing a new epidemic of disease, depression, and early deaths among children due to diabetes.  I saw the childhood obesity epidemic and the alarming increases of children at unhealthy weights.  With one in three children in the U.S., overweight and obese, I knew that many of these children will develop type 2 diabetes, also referred to as “adult-onset diabetes”.  Having seen what happens to adults who are ignorant about the effect of drinking sugar filled sweet teas or sodas every day on their nervous systems (resulting in amputations of toes and feet) or their heart (4 times higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke) or their sexual health (increased incidence of impotence), I also knew that diabetes is a preventable disease.  Having worked with thousands of older adults with diabetes and having experienced firsthand how life-changing improved health literacy can be, I decided to use my ideas and my words to address parents and children and the childhood obesity epidemic in my own community and through my words, the rest of the country. 

Symptoms of diabetes include:
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Feeling very tired much of the time
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • More infections than usual

Once someone develops diabetes, they can have problems that can affect:
  • Mood (diabetes doubles the risk of depression as a result of high, uncontrolled blood sugar)
  • Vision
  • Kidneys
  • Cardiovascular (increased risk of heart attack and stroke)
  • Nervous system (nerve damage causes peripheral neuropathy)
  • Feet
  • Digestion
  • Oral health
  • Sexual health
One of the biggest (and preventable) risk factors for developing diabetes is: 
  • obesity

We can improve the health and lives of America’s children.  September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  In conjunction with this observance, I will be making two major announcements next week and we are counting on you to help us get out the word! 

Together, we can tap into the voice, words, and ideas of America’s children. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

To learn more facts about diabetes from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Thank a Farmer, Feed a Child

“Weight sits like a spider at the center of an intricate, tangled web of health and disease.  Three related aspects of weight – how much you weigh in relation to your height, your waist size, and how much weight you gain after your early twenties – strongly influence your chances of having or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular disease; of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes; of being diagnosed with postmenopausal breast cancer or cancer of the endometrium, colon, or kidney; of having arthritis; of being infertile; of developing gallstones; of snoring or suffering from sleep apnea; or of developing adult-onset asthma.”
                                              --Walter C. Willett, M.D., from Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the trip to visit my grandparents and their farm in Indiana.  When we woke up in the mornings, my grandfather would have already been up for hours milking the cows.  Days were filled with helping (or at least we thought we were helping) plow the fields or taking tractor rides around the farm’s back roads.  Afternoons I would help my grandmother with a task in the kitchen to help get supper on the table.  Evenings my brothers and I chased lightning bugs around the front yard while my mother and grandparents rocked on the porch swings and my grandfather relaxed, smoking his pipe.

Thinking about those wonderful summers on the farm with my family reminds me about how important my grandfather’s job was.  He was a farmer.  He grew corn and soybeans and provided a safe home for his dairy cows.  He respected the land by growing his cash crops and then letting the soil rest and replenish by planting alfalfa.  He always planted a big vegetable garden for my grandmother out behind the farmhouse.  The tomatoes and beans we ate in the summertime were bursting with flavor in every bite, unlike the hothouse-raised tomatoes you often see in stores today.  Enjoying the flavor of fresh-picked vegetables lovingly prepared by my grandmother was the essence of childhood memories on the farm.  We ate the food that had been grown by my grandfather and prepared by my grandmother;  when it was gone we went outside to play.  Every day, we seemed to eat just the right amount of food and enjoyed lots of physical exercise and fresh air.  

Next time you buy vegetables, think about who grew them and how they got to your store and your table.  Better yet, visit your local farmers market and buy vegetables directly from the farmer who grew them.  The shorter the distance vegetables have to travel to get to your family’s dinner table, the better for your health. Support your local farmers.  Give them your respect.  When we have access to foods grown without chemicals, we have a better chance of not triggering cancer and staying at a healthy weight.  Kids deserve good foods.  Thank you to all the farmers working to grow good food! Thanks, Grandpa, for teaching me about respect.  

Here is an easy recipe that we have been working on in the Growing Healthy Kids Test Kitchen.  My grandfather would have loved it!  You can substitute yellow cornmeal if you cannot find blue cornmeal.  Blue corn is higher in nutritional value and has a nutty taste.  Kids love to make these and they make a great addition to a healthy school lunchbox! 

GROWING HEALTHY KIDS:  Our Recipe Collection
Blue Corn Cakes

In a medium mixing bowl, combine:
  • ·        ½ cup blue cornmeal
  • ·        ½ cup flour (I like to use oat flour)
  • ·        1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ·        1 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, sauté for a few minutes over low heat:
  • ·        3 Tablespoons butter
  • ·        Corn kernels, cut off 1 ear of fresh corn (or use 1/2 can of corn, drained)

Pour corn mixture into dry mixture. 
  • ·        2/3  cup unsweetened almond milk (or a little more if needed)

Whisk together until batter is smooth.  Let rest for a few minutes.  Add more milk if needed.  

Ladle ¼ cup batter onto griddle coated with just a little grapeseed oil.  Cook until sides of cakes bubble gently and cakes are light golden brown, about 2 minutes. 
Gently turn them over with a spatula and cook for another 2 minutes or until golden brown. 

Serving suggestions:  Top with chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro and fat-free sour cream OR sautéed red peppers and Vidalia onions.

Makes 8 griddle cakes. Enjoy! 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: School Lunch Tips for Parents

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  School Lunch Tips for Parents

"Higher sugar, fat, and salt make you want to eat more," a high-level food industry executive told me.  I had already read this in the scientific literature and heard it in conversations with neuroscientists and psychologists.  Now an insider was saying the same thing.  My source was a leading food consultant, a Henry Ford of mass-produced food who had agreed to part the curtain for me, at least a bit, to reveal how his industry operates.  To protect his business, he did not want to be identified."

-- David A. Kessler, M.D., The End of Overeating (Dr. Kessler served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and is a pediatrician.)

It’s August and the kids are heading back to school.  During my talks in the southeast U.S. on how to prevent and reduce childhood obesity, I speak with lots of parents concerned about the quality of what their kids are (or are not) eating at school.  One suggestion I give parents of elementary age kids is to eat lunch with your kids (or breakfast if they eat it at school).  With all the changes in the school lunch program, a lot of schools have not figured out that kids don’t like changes and if you change something you better let the kids test it first or the food all goes into the garbage can next to the cafeteria door.  I liken it to “The Rule of Law” that says government needs to tell you well in advance of a change and not just spring it on you. 

Here are four back-to-school lunch tips for parents:
1.  If your child buys lunch at school or is on the free and reduced meal program, then schedule to eat lunch at least once a month (and at least twice a month during the first month that school is in session) with your child, selecting your lunch from the same choices your child has in the school cafeteria.
2.   Let your child pick out a new lunchbox that uses minicontainers.  These are great for including small portions of several healthy veggies, fruits, and proteins so that the foods don’t touch each other (kid rule number 1).  I was in Target last weekend and saw a cool Rubbermaid product for under $10 that included an icepack.  Pack a bottle of water instead of a drink with added sugar. 
3.  Create your own family test kitchen where your child can design his or her own lunchable staple such as a whole grain roll-up sandwich or a whole grain pasta salad.  Both can be made and packed the night before for an out-the-door-in-a-hurry school lunch. 
4.  Check the sugar content on the milk sold at your school’s cafeteria and steer your kids to lower sugar products.  In the school district where I live, most of the kids choose the chocolate and strawberry milks which have a whooping 7 teaspoons of added sugar (28 grams) per serving!  This is more sugar than kids under the age of 9 should have in an entire day!  Low fat white milk is a much smarter choice than the sugar-filled strawberry or chocolate milk served in schools.

I would love to hear from you about what works for getting your kids to eat more whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits for lunch.  Send me an email at

Remember to keep a big bowl of fresh fruit and veggies on the table so the kids can grab a healthy snack on their way into the house after school!    

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

PS - Moms and Dads, check out this site I found in last week's Relish magazine about a dad who prepares easy-to-make, everyday food for his wife and three sons.  Click here. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014



       "A century ago, food chemists discovered that they could solidify a polyunsaturated vegetable oil by heating it in the presence of hydrogen and finely ground particles of nickel metal.  During the process, called partial hydrogenation, hydrogen latches on to some - but not all - of the double-bonded carbons, changing them into single bonds.  At the same time, some of the remaining double bonds twist into a new straightened shape, which gives the fat new chemical and physical properties.
       "Why did anyone bother figuring this out?  It's easier to ship and store solidified vegetable oils than liquid oils.  Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil can be used in place of butter or lard (solid animal fats) in baking.  And a lesser degree of hydrogenation yields a still-liquid oil that doesn't become rancid as quickly as unprocessed vegetable oils.  Without this process we wouldn't have had margarine or vegetable shortenings such as Crisco.  We also would have less heart disease."  
--- Walter C. Willett, M.D., from Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (co-developed with The Harvard School of Public Health) 

How do we bring healthy foods into the lives of all of America’s children?  When I first started honing in on trans fats (what I call “the evil empire fat”), it became very clear to me that I wanted no part of trans fats in my food.  With many of my aunts and uncles on my father’s side of the family having lived and died with cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, and strokes, my Heinrich cousins and I have all been motivated to learn how to reverse the trend of heart disease in our generation. 

When trans fats first started rearing their ugly heads in our food supply, I started reading labels looking to see which manufacturers were sneaking them in under the (legal) radar.  I learned to scan the ingredients section for any ingredient that included the words “partially hydrogenated” which is code for trans fat.  Very sneaky!

What are trans fats?  They are good fats that are changed by a chemical process from a liquid (good) fat to a solid (bad) fat.  They become “hydrogenated” or solidified.  The process of hydrogenation adds hydrogen to good fats to increase shelf life and flavor stability. Trans fats also do 4 very bad things that make us sick:
  • they raise our LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • lower our HDL (good) cholesterol
  • raise our trigylerides (another bad fat like LDL cholesterol) and
  • promote inflammation (a very bad thing which lights the fire of many disease processes in the body)

Image result for picture of stick margarine                     Image result for picture of frosting
Watch out for these five foods that are made with trans fats:
  1. Ready-to-eat frostings
  2. Cookies, cakes, frozen pies
  3. Stick margarines
  4. Refrigerated dough products like cinnamon rolls and biscuits
  5. Coffee creamers

Follow one of the rules for Growing Healthy Kids:  READ FOOD LABELS TO IDENTIFY TRANS FATS AND CHOOSE FOODS WITHOUT TRANS FATS ("partially hydrogenated"). 

The fact is that the Food and Drug Administration has finally decided that there is no safe level of trans fats.  I could have told them that a long time ago! 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids