Wednesday, January 28, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Sleep and Weight Loss

"Cleaning the house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing."    --- Phyllis Diller

This week I will be speaking to a group of older adults about sleep.  I was invited to speak about obesity and diabetes, but in addition, I will be speaking about underlying issues like lack of good quality sleep that prevent many people from losing weight which is key to reversing or preventing diabetes.  When it comes to our kids and helping them stay at a healthy weight, we also need to talk about sleep.  

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential, but do you consciously think about what you need to do to get it every night?  There are new recommendations coming soon from the National Sleep Foundation which will add new age categories to current recommendations and expand the amount of sleep that certain age categories need for optimal mental health and alertness. 

Image result for picture of kids sleeping

As any parent knows, it can be challenging to get your kids unwound and into bed at their appointed bedtimes.  Bottom line is that elementary age kids need an average of 10 hours a night and kids in high school need an average of 9 hours a night.  How do your kids stack up to that? 

Recently I saw a piece on CBS with a physician who is a sleep specialist.   He talked about how cell phones and other electronic devices should be more than 5 feet away from our heads at night.  I charge my iphone in my bathroom at night (more than 15 feet from my head).  The news story got me talking with coworkers and friends about where they keep their cell phones at night.   Not surprisingly, I found a lot of people who keep their cell phones next to their bed.  I am always looking for small, simple ways that people can “health up” and I believe that moving your cell phone away from your bed is a simple, yet significant step you can take towards better health.  I know how much better I started sleeping when I made this simple change:  I turned my digital clock around so the red light didn’t shine in my face while I was sleeping. 

Think about it.  Sleep is the time when our brains process our day and help us rest and prepare for the next day.  If you don't get enough sleep, it will be difficult to lose weight.  Try thinking about how you – and your kids – can get enough sleep and a better night’s sleep. 

For more information about tips for a good night's sleep, please click here:

With love and gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: 3 Tips for Eating Less Sugar

  • Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. Obese children are more likely to have–
    • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39% had two or more.
    • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
    • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea, and asthma.
    • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
    • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
    • Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.


Last week I gave a talk to about 150 mothers and their teenage daughters.  I was asked to talk about nutrition and wellness.  What could I possibly say about such a broad topic to get their attention and improve their health literacy? 

Sugar was the answer.  The one most important change we can all make is to increase our awareness of sugar, how much of it we consume every day, and how much better our health will be when we reduce our consumption of it.  Sugar is found in so many foods and drinks and disguised as so many names, it can be overwhelming once you start increasing your awareness of it. 

Why should you care about eating (and drinking) too much sugar?  Eating too much sugar, with its “empty calories”, can lead to obesity.  Remember, all carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram and sugars are carbohydrates.  Sugar sets off inflammation in the body and inflammation is directly related to diabetes, chronic pain, and obesity.   Reducing cellular inflammation is key to maintaining optimal health. 

Here are 3 tips you can use to eat (and drink) less sugar:
1.  Read food labels and look for any ingredient that ends in “-ose”.  These are sugars.   Some products (such as Pop Tarts and most breakfast cereals) include many different sugars, not just one.   

2.  Read food labels to see if the first ingredient is sugar.  Ingredients are listed in order with the ingredient used the most listed first.  If sugar is the first ingredient listed on the label, keep shopping for a similar product where sugar is not the first ingredient.

3.  Look at how many grams of sugar there are per serving.  Sugar is the bad kind of carbohydrate (fiber is the good kind).  Divide the grams of sugar by 4 and that will tell you how many of teaspoons of sugar there are in one serving.  Young kids (preschool-elementary school) should consume no more than 16 grams of sugar a day (or 4 teaspoons).  Tween and teens should eat and drink no more than 32 grams of sugar a day (or 8 teaspoons). 

In a demonstration, I showed parents that one bottle of Brisk, a beverage marketed to kids, contains a whooping 19 teaspoons of sugar!  What a lesson it was for everyone in the room because, judging from the response, I hit a nerve.

Teach your children to become nutrition detectives.  Start by looking at the amount of sugar in the breakfast cereals you are feeding your kids.   Our kids do not deserve to be starting their day all jacked up on refined sugars, which is the case for most kids in America who have a bowl of Sugar Smacks or Fruit Loops.  You should have heard the collective groan from the teenage girls in the room last week when I suggested to all the mothers at the conference that the best thing they can do is to never buy another box of Pop Tarts or Honey Buns again.  

Choose to eat less processed sugar.  See you next week!

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Growing Healthy Kids

PS - For some great breakfast ideas for your family, check out one of my favorite sites for healthy, delicious recipes, The Jazzy Vegetarian. Click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Lessons from a 4 year old boy

"Quinoa is delicious, healthy, easy to prepare and extremely digestible.  It is the perfect food for older adults and young children.  It is also the only grain that is a complete protein.  The fact that people have been eating it for 5,000 years should convince you to give it a try."   -- Nancy Heinrich

It was the red quinoa.  His mother watched in silence as her young son ate a bowl of quinoa with zucchini, cilantro, and onions prepared for a Growing Healthy Kids presentation for a local Girl Scout troop.  The mom just kept saying to everyone, “My son is a picky eater.  I just can’t believe he is eating.  Look at him.  He loves this!” 

Image result for picture of quinoa

This quiet little boy had been watching as his two older sisters actively participated in the healthy cooking class.  I brought all the supplies into a classroom at a local church, only to find chairs but no tables.  I asked someone to locate a table.   One was found in another room and one of the moms brought it into our room/aka “kids’ kitchen”.  I put a cloth on the table and then unpacked and organized all the ingredients for the simple quinoa dish we were going to prepare together. 

The children were all told that in order to be a part of the healthy cooking class for Growing Healthy Kids they had to go to wash their hands. After a necessary lesson to the kids about turning off water and not wasting our precious resources, we headed back to our makeshift “kids’ kitchen”. 

The little boy quietly sat on his mother’s lap and watched as his sisters helped squeeze limes and cut cilantro.  Each child had a job to do, which, in my humble opinion, makes everything taste better.  The kids took turns mixing and stirring.  I asked for three kids to be taste testers and, yep, you guessed it, all the hands went up.  Three Girl Scouts had a sample taste.  We came to a consensus about the taste and whether we wanted to add any ingredients (we decided on a little more lime juice and pepper).  Then the kids all lined up with their plates and forks. 

That’s when it happened.  The 4 year old brother took a plate of the red quinoa dish back to his mother and sat next to her and his two sisters.  His mother watched in awe as he ate every morsel, then wanted more. 

Music to my ears!  When kids are engaged in preparing food and there is excitement about how to create something delicious, they become more than miniature chefs.  They learn to eat foods that make them feel good and give them good energy.  Just like that little 4 year old boy.  

All children deserve access to healthy foods and regular outdoor playtime.  By improving the health literacy of parents, we can improve the health – and lives – of America’s children, one child at a time. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Healthy New Year Resolutions

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."  -- Andre Gide

Happy New Year!   Each New Year is a fresh opportunity to examine how we want to live.  Are you a person who makes New Year’s resolutions?  If so, do you have something about losing weight or getting healthier on your list? 

Here are 5 EASY resolutions that will help you – and your kids - to be happy AND healthy this year and beyond:
  1. Eat breakfast every day.
  2. Be a good role model for your kids and walk thirty minutes a day at least 5 days a week.
  3. Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. 
  4. Cut back on sweetened beverages like fruit juice and sodas. 
  5. Establish a regular bedtime and shut down all the electronics at least 30 minutes before turning off the lights. 

I look forward to bringing you lots of plant-based recipes this year, links to really cool stuff going on around the planet, and supporting you with raising your own healthy children.  Let’s start this year with a commitment to ourselves and our families to eat mindfully with health food options at home, work, and school, to exercise daily, to reduce stress, and to avoid tobacco.  Surround yourself with people and ideas that support the best you.  By making this commitment, you are supporting the mission of Growing Healthy Kids to reduce, halt, and prevent childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases.  All children deserve access to healthy food and outdoor playtime.   One of the best ways for Growing Healthy Kids is to be the best YOU!

When I am looking for a starting point for something delicious to make in the kitchen, I like to see what professional chefs are cooking.  To check out the Food Network, go to or click here.

With love and gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project