Wednesday, July 26, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Finding Our Food Farmacy

“A study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that a person with high animal protein consumption (over 20% of calories coming from meat) is four times more likely to die from cancer, which is a similar rate as cigarette smoking.  The same study found that high protein consumption led to an increased risk of diabetes and overall mortality, and that proteins derived from plant foods were associated with lower mortality levels than animal-derived proteins.”  
            --Deepak Chopra, MD and Kimberly Snyder, CN, from Radical Beauty, 2016

The benefits of plant-based eating continue to mount.  As people look for ways to improve their health, eating mainly vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes is not only good for you and your kids.  It is also good for the planet. 

With diabetes, hypertension, some cancers (such as breast, esophageal, and pancreatic) and other obesity-related diseases taking their toll on morbidity (illness) and mortality (death), it is logical that we should embrace making small changes towards a healthier way of eating.  As an epidemiologist, I study trends in diseases and look for the root causes so we can learn to prevent those same diseases.  The way we grow food and the food we eat, including the factory farming of animals for human consumption, deserves to be rethought. 

All kids deserve access to healthy foods.  Here are 7 of my favorite food rules for Growing Healthy Kids (and parents):
  1. Buy and eat organic foods as often as possible.
  2. Plan meals based on the vegetables and fruits that are in season and locally grown (I use a 100 mile radius for making decisions about what foods to buy).
  3. Take your kids to your local farmers markets and let them choose new foods to try.
  4. Make water and nut-based milks your primary drinks.  
  5. Teach your kids how to make 10 basic recipes (or send them to our Nutrition Scientist Training Program and we’ll teach them for you).
  6. Start a simple kitchen garden and let the kids water it and tend to it.  This could be as simple as growing one tomato plant or throwing a packet of basil seeds in a pot of dirt. 
  7. Buy age-appropriate kitchen tools for your kids to use with veggies and fruits.  

There is a connection between diseases such as cancer and high consumption of animal protein.  We can improve health outcomes by moving to a plant-based way of eating.    

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Meditating for Health

"When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky."  

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On a recent Southwest flight, an article in Southwest: The Magazine made me think about the heart of the Growing Healthy Kids project: giving kids tools for a lifetime of great physical, mental, and emotional health.  The article was about Andy Puddicombe, a man who spent 10 years as a monk in a monastery studying Buddhism.  He is now on a mission to help create a healthier, happier world.  Andy created an app called “Headspace” which teaches people how to meditate. He and his partner have also launched “Headspace for Kids”.

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Most kids today are on a daily digital overload.  Many kids have learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD).  Many of the foods kids eat are high in sugar and bad fats and are harmful to the brain.  Many kids are living with daily stress caused by growing up in poverty, through no fault of theirs.  Some kids are society’s victims of situational poverty, when parent are living paycheck to paycheck, lose a job and now the family is homeless.  Kids who are overweight get bullied by other kids and experience depression and anxiety.  Kids who live in neighborhoods with high incidences of violent crimes and shooting experience stress just getting to and from school.  Learning how to focus the mind and relax the body with mediation can improve health outcomes for a lifetime. 

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Meditation is a simple practice that can change your life.  Some of the benefits of meditation include:
  • A reduction in stress
  • Improved concentration
  • Personal commitment to a healthier lifestyle
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improved attitude
  • Increased happiness
  • Slowdown of aging
  • Improved cardiovascular and immune system health

Who are we as a society to not actively seek ways to protect and promote our children’s brain health?  Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. is focused on improving the health – and lives – of America’s children.  Given the many benefits of meditation, isn’t it worth 10 minutes a day to give it a chance?  Google “Headspace for Kids” (go to or click here).
With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


“If people adopted a plant-based diet, the changes we would see in our individual health and our national health situation and in this physical and environmental world we live in would be profound.” 
                          --Dr. Michael Klaper, MD, from the 2017 film, "What the Health" (

Image result for spinachYears ago, I made a conscious change in what I eat.  There were several reasons, including a desire to actively prevent cardiovascular disease (prevalent in my family) and the awareness that eating plants and grains instead of meat is an easy way to feed everyone on the planet (thank you, Frances Moore Lappe).  The fact is  that eating meat is a luxury enjoyed by people in first world countries.  People in poor countries rarely eat meat because they can’t afford it. 

The evidence continues to grow about the improved health outcomes of people who follow a plant-based way of eating.  It certainly costs less.  For example, a bag of lentils:  $1.12  vs a pound of steak:  $8.99.  According to an article in the July-August 2017 AARP Bulletin, vegetarians save approximately $750 on their food bill each year.  In my opinion, the food savings are even higher for vegetarians. 

Image result for lentils

Working with people with diabetes and heart disease, I see the effects close-up of eating foods high in saturated fats (found only in foods from animals) and refined carbohydrates (like added sugars) and the damage they cause.  Almost one in ten Americans has diabetes (estimated to be 9.3% according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).   Health consequences of diabetes include high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, kidney disease, amputations, loss of vision, neuropathy, and erectile dysfunction in men.  Want to spend a lot of money  personally and in our total national health spending?  Get diabetes. 

Please pass the spinach. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."  
                                                                                  --Robert F. Kennedy

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A friend of mine has a CDL license and works as a school bus driver.  She and I frequently talk about the life of professional drivers, whether you are a long-haul truck driver moving products across the country or driving 40 rambunctious kids in a school bus from one side of the county to the other.  

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The lifestyle of a long-haul truck driver is unique:  
  • being gone from home and loved ones days and weeks at a time;
  • sitting and driving all day (or night) while working;
  • sleeping in the cab of a truck;
  • missing birthdays, sports and school activities; and
  • eating restaurant foods high in sodium and unhealthy fats and drinking energy drinks full of sugar and caffeine.

While school bus drivers sleep in their own beds every night, they face pre-dawn safety checks no matter how or cold it is, the stress of a split shift schedule, working in a sedentary job, avoiding rude and thoughtless drivers while driving a school bus filled with children, and responsible for the safety and well-being of every child they transport to and from schools across this country.

Professional drivers are at increased risk for obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.  Why?  Jobs where people are sedentary, have high stress, and limited access to healthy, whole and plant-based foods put people in the bullseye of danger.  It is estimated that more than half of all truck drivers smoke. Seven in ten long-haul truck drivers are obese.  Veterans are being recruited into the long-haul trucking business and some have post-traumatic stress disorder.  All these people are targets for Big Pharma.  Got high blood pressure?  Take a pill.  Got high cholesterol?  Take a pill.  Got high blood sugar?  Take a pill. Got chronic pain?  Take a pill.  Got opioid-induced constipation?  Take a pill.  Can't sleep?  Take a pill.

Pills don’t treat the root causes of preventable diseases like obesity and diabetes.  Taking action to make personal health a priority does.  

Can you imagine shopping at Sam’s Club or Costco and finding all the shelves empty?  If every truck driver in the US suddenly developed diabetes, movement of goods in this country would come to a screeching halt.  Can you imagine America’s kids waiting for the school bus on the first day of school next month but no buses show up because all the drivers could not pass their health physicals?  Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, and obesity pose dangers to the health of Americans, but especially to professional drivers working to support their families. These diseases can strip them of their livelihood.  

What do truck drivers and school bus drivers have in common with the Growing Healthy Kids movement to prevent and reverse childhood obesity?  Families.  Every professional driver is connected to a network of family and friends.  They are role models for children, their own or someone else’s. 

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Are you in the driver’s seat of your own health?  Let’s work together to improve the health and health outcomes of America’s professional drivers.  I believe that if we are going to improve the health – and lives – of America’s children, we must care for their parents’ health.  Being sedentary or having a job that involves mainly sitting is considered by health experts to be as bad for your health as smoking.  

Reversing and preventing obesity and diabetes is a family affair.  Make your own health a priority.   Be a great role model for your children. 

Please pass the gluten-free zucchini muffins. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.