Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Are Energy Drinks Bad for Kids?

“The more things that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you will go.”   
                                                 --Dr. Seuss

As a parent, the last thing I want is a trip to a hospital emergency department with my son.  So when I saw the headline, “US sees more energy-drink-related ED visits among youths,” I had to keep reading.  According to a study in Nutrition Reviews, emergency department (ED) visits related to energy drinks increased from 1,145 in 2007 to 1,449 in 2011 among youths 12-17. It seems that sales of energy drinks also rose 53% during the study period.  Study coauthor Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut said, “Something needs to be done to reduce the dangers of these products to children.” 

"We're invisible, right?"  Playing with cucumbers at a recent Growing Healthy Kids Program for children in the Youth Guidance Mentoring and Activities Program.  

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with several hundred sixth graders about the Growing Healthy Kids organization.  While polling the kids about foods and meals that can give you energy and help you focus and take tests, I saw firsthand the response to foods and drinks loaded with added sugars. The mention of certain high sugar and “energy” drinks got a huge response from the kids.  These sixth graders saw nothing wrong with drinking these energy drinks every day.  We talked about how and why companies market foods and drinks that are filled with added sugars, salts, and fats directly to kids.   We talked about product placement and I gave them all an assignment to do:  on their next visit to the grocery store, go down the cereal aisle and notice which cereals are at their eye level.  Then notice which cereals are on the top shelf, beyond their reach. 

I asked the sixth graders about Pop Tarts which elicited another crazy reaction from the 12 year olds.  We talked about the colors on the front of the package.  Then I asked them this question that stopped them in their tracks:  Would you still want to eat Pop Tarts if the package was in black and white instead of pretty, bright colors?  They all said no.  Interesting…

Marketing bad foods to kids is big business in America.   It is done very intentionally.  A lot of money is spent to market and sell cheap food to our most vulnerable citizens. 

It is up to you and me to become literate about our health, our children’s health.  Eat real, whole foods:  fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes like lentils.  Avoid processed foods:  think outside the box.  Be a role model for a child.  Shop with your children at the local farmers market.  Let your kids pick out a cool gadget at your local kitchen store.  Cook together. Eat together.  Repeat.    

Another wonderful week and another wonderful conversation on with my friend, Chef Michael Glatz, from La Patissiere.  Have some fun and listen to "Pop Up Health" by clicking here.

Have a picky eater at home??  Send  me a question you would like me to answer on "Pop Up Health", then shoot me an email at  Please include the age(s) of your kid(s).

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Top Ten Tips for National Nutrition Month

"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."                             --Nelson Mandela

March is National Nutrition Month. So let’s get right to it.  What does it mean to eat real food and why does it matter?  Recent conversations with friends have been triggered by my WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS column about “mindful health”.  Are you "mindful" of what you are eating and drinking and the connection to how you feel, what kind of mood you are in, or why you might be taking so many medications? Many people don’t connect the dots that they really are what they eat-until it is too late and they have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, arthritis, or cancer.  So nutrition, or what you eat and drink, really DOES matter.

As an epidemiologist and in the business of preventing diseases, many diseases I study are caused (or made worse) by not eating well.  Diabetes and obesity are central to my work because of their devastating, life-altering effects on one’s physical, mental and financial health.  It is expensive to be sick.  People tell me every day, “I can’t afford to eat healthy.”  My response? You can’t afford to NOT eat healthy.  Give me an hour and I’ll teach you.”  If not, then just keep drinking all those sodas loaded with high fructose corn syrup and google how much it costs to get a liver transplant.  Like I said, it is expensive to get sick, or more specifically, to not eat real food.

Here are my top ten tips for National Nutrition Month: 
1.   Read food labels and stop eating/drinking anything that contains high fructose corn syrup.
2.  Eat more dietary fiber every day.  Aim for 30 grams a day.  Remember that most Americans eat less than 20% of what they need every day and this is a major contributor to the diabetes and obesity epidemics (and why you or a family member may already have diabetes or prediabetes or be at an unhealthy weight).
3.   Make water your primary drink (refer to #1). 
4.      Eat mostly the good fats (fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados), eat less of the bad fats (saturated fats like milk other than skim milk, meat, chicken, and fats solid at room temperature) and eat none of the really bad fats (trans fats).
5.      Eat whole foods, like fresh vegetables, whole grains like oats and quinoa, lentils, beans, and peas.
6.      Stop eating processed foods (think Pop Tarts and McNuggets) which are loaded with added sugars, salt, and fat.  Fast, cheap and convenient does NOT mean tasty, nutrient-dense and healthy.
7.       Plan family dinners together with no electronics allowed at the table.  This has been shown to be a key factor in helping kids (and adults) at a healthy weight.
8.       Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential if you want to lose weight.
9.       Watch out for sodium (salt).  Most Americans eat too much of it (no wonder the pharmaceutical companies are making a killing on medicines for high blood pressure).  Half of Americans are advised to limit their salt intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day.  The other half of us (everyone 51 years and older, all African-Americans, all Americans with diabetes, hypertension, and/or chronic kidney disease) need to limit their daily intake to LESS THAN 1,500 mg a day (or less than 2/3 teaspoon a day).
10.   Support your local farmer.  Shop your local green markets.  What is grown locally and fresh picked has the most nutritional value and taste.  My grandfather was a farmer in southern Indiana.  On the summers spent on our family farm, nothing tasted better to me than the tomatoes, bean, and squash my grandmother served at the noon meal every day. 

Food should taste good.   Savor the flavors.  Spend time cooking locally grown foods with those you love.  Eat slowly.  Light candles and put fresh flowers on your dinner table.  Eat real food. Stop eating processed foods (think food that comes in boxes). Share great meals with family and friends. Repeat.  

Listen to Chef Michael Glatz of La Patissiere and me talk about food, avocados, and dark chocolate on "Pop Up Health".  Our fun weekly talks are fulled with tips, recipes, and resources and serve as a reminder about the power of eating well.  To catch this week's "Pop Up Health" with Nancy Heinrich, PLUS learn the history of the croissant from Chef Michael, just click here.

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Fifty Shades of Sugar Part 3

"Sugar is not love."  

             --Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., from Little Sugar Addicts

I write a lot about sugar in my work to create solutions to the childhood obesity epidemic in America.  Whenever I give a talk to children or adults, I like to bring a teaching tool such as a bottle of soda or juice to illustrate the lessons. 

Image result for picture of pop tarts
Pop Tarts contain 4 OR MORE different sugars, including High Fructose Corn Syrup
Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at Healthy Start Coalition of Indian River County’s 2nd Annual “You are Worth More than Gold” seminar.  I asked for 2 volunteers and got a 10 year old and a 12 year old to help me. I asked the girls to pick one of the items I had on the table and they went straight to the box of Pop Tarts.  What followed were powerful lessons for the adults and the children, as I asked questions of the girls and empowered their voices by giving them the microphone.  “Why did you pick the Pop Tarts?”  I asked.  The 10 year old answered, “Because that’s what all the kids eat.”  “Look at the Nutrition Facts label and tell everyone what a serving size is,” I asked.  She looked at the label and replied, “1 pastry.” I asked her to take a shiny silver package out of the box and open it, which she did.  I put the microphone in front of her and asked her to tell the audience how many pastries were inside the package.  “Two,” she said.  “When you or your friends have a Pop Tart, do you eat just one pastry out the package or two?” I asked her.  She replied, “Two, of course!”  The girls and I then proceeded with the math lesson, multiplying everything on the label by 2, since the label applied to just one pastry. 

Here is what they found in one package (2 pastries) of Pop Tarts:

  • 400 calories, not 200
  • 340 grams of sodium, not 170
  • 76 grams of carbohydrates, not 38 grams
  • 4 different sugars
  • 2 different food dyes

As I have previously written in 50 Shades of Sugar, when food manufacturers use different kinds of sugar in a product, the sugar can be hidden within the ingredients.  The fact is that if all sugars were combined and listed as just “sugar”, then sugar would be the first ingredient on many processed foods marketed to kids.  Heck, who are we kidding – adults are sucked into the Pop Tart scam as well. Ingredients are listed by quantity, so what you see listed first is the ingredient there is the most of. 

REAL FOOD LESSON #1:  Look on the ingredients of processed foods AND drinks (think “box”, “can”, or “bottle”) for HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP.  This highly processed sugar is highly addictive and harmful to children.  Stop buying any food or drink that contains high fructose corn syrup. 

Become a nutrition detective.  This simple change can help you (and the kids) stay, or get to, a healthy weight.  It can also help you (and the kids) enjoy good moods because eating too much processed sugar is a major contributor to bad moods due to extreme fluctuations in your blood sugar. 

For more facts about why eating less sugar is a very good thing to do, please listen to my recent "Pop Up Health" with Nancy Heinrich interview on WAXE 107.9FM/1370 AM with Chef Michael Glatz from La Patissiere in Vero Beach, Florida, then click here.

With love and gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: 3 Tips for Mindful Health

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.  Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."  --White Elk

For the past month, I have been providing support and education to a group of women who have made the decision to get to a healthier weight.  All of these women are mothers and one just became a grandmother for the first time.  The new grandmother is extremely motivated because she doesn't want her life shortened by obesity.  

Kids at a Growing Healthy Kids program using vegetables grown within a ten mile radius of where they live.

I take my role as a parent very seriously because not only am I a role model for my son, Edward, but also for all of his friends.  Choosing to be healthy is exactly that:  a choice.  We choose whether to eat a cereal loaded with lots of different sugars (see Fifty Shades of Sugar articles, February 18 and 25, 2015 at ONCE WE HAVE BECOME LITERATE.  Just like learning about all the added sugars (and salt and fats) in processed food is a big part of health literacy, so is the concept of mindful health. 

What is mindful health?  It is the concept of awareness of the balance we all need and crave for our body, mind and spirit, of listening to ourselves, of recognizing that we are all different so there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the “right” thing to do.  Let's face it:  we all have inherited predispositions from our parents and grandparents. As we become parents and grandparents, we inherit a responsibility to become mindful of our own health so we can lead by example.  

Here are 3 of my tips for mindful health:

1.  Focus on getting the right amount of sleep every night and the right KIND of sleep
2.  Make water your primary drink.
3.  Include foods from local farmers in your weekly food planning and preparation.
4.  Stop and take 2 minutes for yourself before you eat.  Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and relax.  Enjoy the meal you are about to eat. Your food will be better digested and better absorbed.  

If you live in Florida's Treasure Coast, then join me this Saturday at the Gifford Youth Achievement Center in Vero Beach when I will be speaking at Indian River County Healthy Start Coalition’s “You are Worth More than Gold” symposium for women and teen girls.  The best way to ensure “Growing Healthy Kids” is to begin before a woman becomes pregnant.  I will be sharing tips for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child. I hope to see you there!  

I am so psyched about having met a very talented chef who creates phenomenal dishes and flavors.  Isn't that what great food is all about?  Listen to my radio interview on WAXE and about Growing Healthy Kids with Chef Michael Glatz from La Patisierre.  Just click here.

With love and gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project

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