It’s delicious and sweet, it makes us happy, and gives us a little burst of energy.
We celebrate with it, and it is there for us whenever we need it.
At first glimpse, it seems like everything we could want in a relationship.
Sugar hides behind the “harmless empty calories” myth. Hey, I used to believe it too.
Well, one part is true – sugar is definitely empty calories. But the part that is the lie is that sugar is “harmless.”
Now don’t get me wrong – a little natural sweetness for someone with a healthy metabolism is okay– a square or two of (70% or higher) dark chocolate, a deliciously rich and creamy cacao avocado pudding…
But the problem with sugar is most of us have a hard time getting just a little bit….
Sugar is hiding in over 75% of all packaged foods, so it is sneaking into our diets – so much so, that we often have no idea how much sugar we are getting every day.
Sugar is highly addictive – the more we eat, the more we want.
The energy sugar delivers is short-lived – it is followed by a crash – so we reach for more of the sweet stuff to get another boost. I call that cycle ‘the sugar rollercoaster” – and the longer we are on that ride, the worst it is for our health.
Woefully, the real truth is that excess sugar has a dark side, a very serious dark side. Not only is excess sugar the #1 reason for a sluggish metabolism and stubborn weight gain, it is making billions of people sick….including our children.
Chronically elevated blood sugar raises the risk of almost every major disease. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons you might want to consider a “break up”….
Especially weight gain in the midsection. When we say we want to “lose weight” what we really mean is that we want to lose fat. But when we are eating too much sugar – our metabolism is in what I call “sugar-burning mode” which means it is running on sugars – and storing the extra as fat (adipose tissue). So when the metabolism is in sugar burning mode – it is not burning fat, it is storing it. This is referred to as “insulin resistance” and leads to stubborn weight gain – and a host of other issues.
Sweet foods and drinks stimulate our sweet tooth – so the more sweets we eat (even artificial sweetened foods and drinks), the more we want. So eating lots of sugar and simple carbs just makes us hungrier. Studies show that when meals are consumed with sugary drinks, more calories are consumed. Poor blood sugar regulation can lead to big swings – causing dangerous highs and lows – the drops in blood sugar can make you feel angry when you are hungry – sometimes called “hangry.”
Studies show that sugar lowers the white blood cell count and therefore our immune system. So eating sugar and simple carbs all the time means our immune system is running low all the time.
Like any other addictive drug, the sugar rollercoaster has a powerful effect on our mood and brain chemistry. When our blood sugar is high, it gives us energy and makes us feel happy. But when it drops, it can make us feel tired, sad and low. So we reach for more of what gave us that boost – that puts us on a rollercoaster ride that causes our mood to be very unstable. Over time, these sugar highs and lows can lead to more serious mood disorders. Sugar also causes an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, which is tied to anxiety and other issues. Depressed Immune System: A 1973 study out of Loma Linda University found that consuming a glucose solution lowered the effectiveness of white blood cells to fight infection.
Sugar and simple carbs does not supply lasting energy – it spikes our blood sugar, which is then followed by a crash. When we crash, we are going to be looking for another energy boost hungry. So what do we reach for to get energy again – more sugar or simple carbs because it gives us a quick boost! I call that cycle “The Sugar Rollercoaster, and just like an actual roller coaster – the longer we are on that ride, the more likely we are to get sick.
The hallmark of most chronic diseases – is chronic and systemic inflammation. A diet high in sugars raises our inflammation, and this can raise our risk of many diseases.
Sugars feeds yeast and fungus. So diets high in sugar can sometimes lead to chronic overgrowth of yeast, bacteria or fungus (often this will happen after a course of antibiotics that wipes out the good bacteria.) Other issues in the gut – including bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis, leaky gut can also be linked to excess sugar intake.
One of the most obvious things we are taught from a very young age about sugar – is that too much of it is not good for our teeth. The dentist warns our kids about it around Halloween time. But Halloween is not the only time of year that we eat too much sugar. The average person gets at least 3 times the added sugars every single day!
When we spike our blood sugar over and over, our body eventually becomes less effective at lowering it. This can develop into Insulin Resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes (and possibly Type 3, see Alzheimer’s disease below). Insulin resistance makes our body less able to process sugars – which can lead to fatigue, hunger, and weight gain. But the tricky thing is that insulin resistance often has no obvious symptoms. Which is why many people have no idea that they have it. Insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes, and if not addressed – eventually diabetes. Poorly managed diabetes can lead to serious health issues like nerve pain & damage, kidney failure, loss of limbs, and blindness. Do you remember that Type 2 Diabetes used to be called Adult-onset until a few year ago? They had to rename it – because kids were getting it. Sugar is harming the health of the majority of our youth – and setting them up for a lifetime of health issues.
According to this article on Dr. Chris Kresser’s website – “metabolic syndrome could more simply be called “excess carbohydrate disease”. In fact, some researchers have gone as far as defining metabolic syndrome as “those physiologic markers that respond to reduction in dietary carbohydrate.” The American Heart Association published a statement in Circulation, that excess sugar consumption increases our risk of heart attack and stroke. Having impaired blood glucose tolerance was found to increase the risk of stroke by 50%. Even a fasting glucose over 85 mg/dl (considered a “lab normal” level) was associated with an increased risk of cardiac mortality. The worst offender for heart health? Sodas. Studies have found that men who drink 1 soda a day increase heart disease risk factors by 20%. And before you pick up a diet soda – realize that drinking diet sodas are linked to a 44% increased risk of heart disease.
Ninety years ago Nobel Laureate Dr. Otto Warburg discovered that sugar fuels cancer cells. Since then various studies have demonstrated a potent link between sugar and cancer, including that malignant cells die when starved of glucose. Sugar molecules are present in high numbers near cancer cells, in fact – that is one way to test for cancer – you take a radioactive glucose solution, and using a a PET scan – they can see that areas that are cancerous take up more of the solution than non-cancerous areas. But a 2013 University of Copenhagen study found that sugar was not just present in cancer cells – but that it aided the growth of malignant cells. Researchers out of the University of Wurzburg in Germany, concluded that “significantly reducing the intake of dietary carbs could suppress or at least delay the emergence of cancer, and the proliferation of existing tumor cells could be slowed down.” According to the study, “many cancer patients exhibit an altered glucose metabolism characterized by insulin resistance and may profit from an increased protein and fat intake.” There is currently promising research underway at the Salk Institute in La Jolla led by Dr. Reuben Shaw, PhD. to study the link between diabetes, sugar metabolism, and cancer.
A recent study found that drinking sodas caused elevated levels of protein in our urine, which can be an indicator of kidney problems. According to a researcher with the study: “There is no safe amount of soda. If you look at the recommended amounts of sugar we can safely consume every day, one can of soda exceeds the maximum level.” This is one example that shoots a big hole in the age-old adage “everything in moderation.”
Research is revealing that diets high in sugar (particularly fructose), strains the liver, and is contributing to the development of non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) . The American Liver Foundation estimates that one quarter of Americans have NAFLD, but since there is often no symptoms, these estimates could be too low. Fructose, one form of sugar – is processed differently than glucose. It does not require insulin to get into the cells. It bypasses the pancreas (which releases the insulin) and instead goes directly to the liver to be processed. So because fructose does not spike our bloodsugar like other sugars do, it was originally thought to be a healthier option – because it is lower glycemic. And when taken in small amounts by healthy people – there could be some truth to this. However – because our liver only has a limited capacity to handle fructose and sugar – and we are eating loads of fructose (often as high fructose corn syrup), we are overwhelming our livers – causing them to get fatty. Dr. Hyman refers to fatty livers being like “fois gras.” Perhaps the most disturbing part of this is that an estimated one in 10 kids has NAFLD, and 40% of obese kids having it.
Scientific studies reveal that elevated blood sugar and oxidative stress are contributing factors in the development of osteoporosis (Clarke 2010, Confavreux 2009, Lieben 2009; Zhou 2011). Advanced glycation end products (AGE’s), the by-products of high blood sugar were shown to impair bone mineralization. AGE’s also activate a receptor called RAGE, which diverts calcium from the bone, into vascular smooth muscle cells, which can lead to hardening of the arteries/ heart disease. (Study by: Tanikawa 2009; Franke 2007; Hein 2006; Zhou 2011).
A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that a diet high in sugars, especially fructose, could interrupt our sex hormones, leading to fertility issues, PCOS, and endometriosis. One reason sugar can interrupt hormone imbalance is in part the strain that is put on the liver to metabolize the fructose. The liver is very important for detoxing hormones. Another way that excess sugar affects hormones is through aromatization – which is the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Diets high in sugar and simple carbs can increase aromatization – leading to estrogen dominance conditions in men and women.
We all know that too much sun damage can make our skin look older, and smoking is a definite no no if we don’t want to look wrinkled and have lackluster skin. But one lesson I really wish I had gotten when I was in my teens or 20s to help keep your skin looking baby soft? Skip the sugar. Sugar creates something called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which damages the collagen and elastin in our skin, and causes our skin to sag and look more wrinkled. When there is sugar in our bloodsteam, they attach to proteins to form molecules that are called Advanced glycation end products (appropriately the acronym is AGEs). The more sugar you eat, the more of these AGEs develop. AGEs are known to damage the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin, which is what gives the skin it’s elasticity, and volume, and helps to prevent wrinkles. Sugar affects our skin in 3 ways: When AGEs come into contact with collagen it changes the normally elastic and fluffy collagen and makes it brittle and dry, and that is what leads to sagging and wrinkling of the skin. There are 3 types of collagen – I, II, and III. The strongest and most resilient type is III. Sugar changes type III collagen into type I, which is more instable. Sugar interferes with the delivery of antioxidants in the body, so it can leave the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun. “As AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins in a domino-like fashion,” explains Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Miami and New York City and author of 10 Minutes 10 Years. The good news? Although some of the wrinkles are here to stay, a little bit of the damage caused by sugar can be reversed when you give sugar the ole’ heave-ho! I have experienced this myself personally. When I gave up sugar a few years ago, I remember noticing some pretty remarkable improvements in the quality of my skin. Not enough that anyone thought I went out and got plastic surgery or anything. But enough that I noticed improvement.
Insulin resistance can lead to lower levels of insulin in the brain, which over time could lead to memory problems, dementia, and Alzhimer’s or Type 3 Diabetes. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times best-seller, Grain Brain – “sugar, carbs, and wheat are the brain’s silent killers.” A recent study out of UCLA, indicates that added sugars affect memory and brain function – with researchers coming to the rather bold conclusion that “sugar makes you dumber.” Fortunately, the study also revealed a magic bullet that can make your brain work smarter, even reversing some of the negative effects of sugar…omega 3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, fish oils, nuts, and some seeds like hemp and chia). High sugar diets seem to be linked to poor learning, memory, and recall. But there is mounting evidence that it is also linked to more serious brain conditions – like Alzheimers. According to a study published in August 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, “even subtle elevations of fasting blood sugar translates to dramatically increased risk for dementia.” Many researchers are calling Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 Diabetes,” because they are finding plaques in the brain that look very much like the diabetic plaques. Learn more in this article from Psychology Today.
Poor blood sugar regulation can cause your blood sugar to dip in the middle of the night, causing you to wake up. Some people will also feel shaky – and will need to go get something to eat to stabilize their blood sugar in the middle of the night. Some people with more advanced blood sugar dysegulation might find that they need to get up and go to the bathroom several times at night. This could be a signal that the kidneys are working overtime due to elevated blood sugar levels.
According to thyroid expert Dr. Izabella Wentz, poor blood sugar regulation can cause thyroid antibodies to spike, and can also weaken the adrenals (which work in conjunction with the thyroid). She says that researchers from Polland have found that up to 50% of Hashimotos sufferers have impaired carbohydrate metabolism. According to Dr. Chris Kresser, “studies have shown that the repeated insulin surges common in insulin resistance increase the destruction of the thyroid gland in people with autoimmune thyroid disease. As the thyroid gland is destroyed, thyroid hormone production falls.“
A study published in JAMA in 2014 linked sugar consumption to an increased risk of death of all causes – in both normal weight and overweight individuals. Those whose diet was comprised of 17-21% added sugars had a 38% higher risk of dying from a coronary event. The risk was doubled for those who got more than 21% of their diet from sugars.
Because of the increased risk of heart disease from excess sugars, the American Heart Association has come up with recommended limits for added sugar for women & men:
Keep in mind – one 12 oz. soda has on average 10 teaspoons of sugar.
The type of sugar we eat also matters. Fruit sugar is naturally occurring sugar and comes paired with fiber, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins – we can’t say that for a soda or a Slurpee. So sugar from whole fruit is better than processed added sugars (which are empty calories). But we can even overdo natural sugars like maple syrup, honey, dried fruit, and such. And when there is insulin resistance, it is good to limit all sugars for a short time to reset the insulin response.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to take back control from sugar!
If you are getting too much sugar – you are not alone. Most people are getting at least 3 times too much sugar in their daily diets – that doesn’t even take into account all the flour and simple carbs.
The biggest issues that most of us have – is that sugar is highly addictive (as addictive as a drug), and we are eating it often without even realizing it – because it is hiding in most packaged and processed foods.
Chapter One in my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan provides numerous tips for “Breaking up with Sugar” – including some surprising foods that spike the blood sugar, as well as nutritional tips and supplements that help to balance blood sugar, some good alternatives, and more.
You will get actionable tips to break old habits and form new ones, a support network, recipes (yes, they are delicious – I am a foodie – I don’t do bland), and the best of all….your tastebuds can even change!! Mine did!!
I used to LOVE my sugar and simple carbs – I was a bonafide sugar junkie for years. But since breaking up with sugar about 6 years ago – the idea of eating a super sweet caramel sundae no longer appeals to me at all!! Ick! I’d rather have a square of 70% or higher dark chocolate instead now (yes, you can have some sweetness in your life – even if you break up with sugar!!).
Just remember that nutrition and lifestyle changes can be very powerful tools to help you change your health and reduce your risk of future diseases.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
If you have recently made the switch from cows milk to almond milk, you are not alone. Almond milk is on the rise, with sales increasing 79% last year. Consumption of cows milk on the other hand is on a slow and steady decline in this country.
Why Switch to Plant Based Milk?
Many people are making the switch to deal with digestive issues. A majority of the population does not actually have the enzymes needed to digest milk at all, which can cause problems like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. In addition there are a number of other reasons why people might be looking to make the switch:
*Building strong bones is not about getting plenty of calcium, it is about absorbing the calcium and it’s co-factors into the bones. Read Got Fractures? to learn more about the nutrients needed to build strong bones.
Click to read the rest of this article, including what are the most popular and which are the best plant-based milk options. For a quick and easy cashew milk that you can make in less than 5 minutes, download this free Cooking with Superfoods eCookbook.
If you ever catch yourself about to say, “it has been a while since the kids have been to the doctor.” Or ” We haven’t been sick in a while.” Stop yourself, just resist the urge. Because the minute you do, someone will get sick. Murphy’s Law.
‘This week it happened to us – both my kids got that nasty upper respiratory thing. One is still home sick – on day three now. So in addition to the Olive leaf, Elderberry, Vitamin C, and zinc (read more tips for Cold and Flu prevention here)- it was time to pull out the serious medicine – and make s big pot of Homemade Healing (gluten free) Chicken Noodle soup! My son is a big fan of soup – so there was nothing he would like better on any given day, especially when he is sick.
Sara’s Mexican Style Chicken Soup
If you have never made chicken soup at home before – do not worry, it is really easy – I promise! I will walk you through it, and even give you two different flavor options: traditional chicken noodle, and Mexican style. Until we moved to San Diego, I had never even heard of Mexican style chicken soup. But now it is one of my favorites! So you can make one broth – and turn it into two soups!
First: Make your chicken broth.
If you want to make some Mexican style – while the broth is cooking, chop the following:
Store leftover broth in airtight container in the refrigerator (store the rice noodles in a separate container).
Chia seeds are a superfood – they are high in omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, and many other nutrients. They are also high in a very unique fiber – that is hydrophillic – meaning it soaks up a lot of liquid, creating a gel. This gel helps to keep us hydrated, give us energy, and slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Great for athletes, and anyone looking to boost their energy, endurance, and overall health. Chia seeds make a delicious, nutritious and easy to make – pudding!
*If you would like to serve it warm, warm up milk in a saucepan, stir in chia seeds, take off heat and and allow to sit and soak up milk for 3-5 mins. Top with cinnamon and nuts or hemp seeds – serve.
Great for breakfast, a snack or dessert!
Make ahead idea:
Put all the ingredients in a glass container before bed, give it a stir, cover and put into refrigerator. Ready in the morning for breakfast or to take to work for a snack.
THE BEST ALTERNATIVE MILK: CASHEW MILK!
Cashew milk is the easiest nut milk to make because cashews are a very soft nut – so it does not typically require straining. Cashews are naturally high heart protective healthy monounsaturated fats, zinc, protein, copper, manganese, vitamin K, and magnesium (which over 70% of the population is deficient, key for bone health). It is also a beautiful white color when it is done – so it looks the closest to regular milk too. Add the sesame and chia and it is high in omega 3s and calcium too. Delicious and energizing – give it a try!!
There are a number of reasons people might want to consider taking a break from pasteurized dairy:
I recommend against drinking soy milk, because unfermented soy is generally not well-digested by humans, and unless you are getting organic, is one of the most genetically modified foods. Some studies have linked soy milk consumption in men to increased female hormones (read: Soy’s Negative Effects in Men’s Health Magazine).
But recently, we have been reading about the negative health implications of carrageenan – which is added to many alternative milks to keep the ingredients from separating, and also to give it a good “mouth feel.” According to Rodale, carrageenan wreaks havoc on our gut health, and could even be a potential carcinogen.
If you think you seeing more broken bones today than in the past, you are right. According to a Mayo Clinic study, forearm fractures have risen over 30% in boys, and over 50% in girls in the past 3 decades.
Does It Really Do a Body Good?
A common misconception is that drinking plenty of milk is all you need to build strong bones. But let’s take a look at some facts:
So if milk doesn’t do some bodies good after all, how should kids get their calcium and build strong bones?
Four tips for building strong bones:
1. Try to include some non-dairy sources of calcium in the diet each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following calcium intakes: 500mg per day (1-3 year olds), 800mg per day (4-8 year olds), 1300mg per day (9-18 year olds).
Non-dairy sources of calcium:
2. Make sure your kids are getting the necessary co-factors.
Calcium tends to get all the credit for building strong bones, but there are certain co-factors needed to get the calcium into the bones. Consider this analogy: a moving company would never send a truck and just one worker. In order to move heavy items and get them delivered to the right place, that mover is going to need helpers. Similarly, without the right helpers (co-factors), all the calcium can’t be delivered into the bones.
Key Calcium Co-Factors:
Vitamin D – Critical for calcium absorption, low levels of vitamin D can be associated with rickets and osteoporosis. The best source is the sun, and so using sunscreen blocks the skin from not only the UVA/UVB rays, but also vitamin D. It is estimated that 70% of Americans are now deficient in vitamin D. Severely low levels are also linked to an increase in certain cancers. The AAP recommends 400 IU of vitamin D per day for children, although that could be inadequate if blood levels are extremely low. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns. Sources:
Magnesium – The forth most abundant mineral in the body and needed for more than 300 biochemical processes, including helping Vitamin D to be absorbed. About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones. It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium. Learn more about the RDA for magnesium and more. Sources:
Vitamin K – Best known for it’s role in managing blood clotting, vitamin K also plays a key role in making sure calcium gets delivered to the bones, and not to the arteries (poorly absorbed and high dose calcium can raise the risk of arterial calcification & heart attack). Sources:
It is also important for bones to get trace minerals which can be found in sea or pink Himalayan salt, and other foods grown in mineral rich soils.
Try making this bone-building Choco-banana super smoothie – which contains calicium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, trace minerals, and more!
3. Get Kids Moving!
A study published Pediatrics found that sedentary teens had lower bone density by age 18 than more active ones. The importance of weight bearing activities for bones is demonstrated by astronauts – they can experience a 30% decrease in bone strength after just 6 months spent in space without gravity. Although swimming and riding a scooter is better than sitting on the couch; activities that have impact like gymnastics and jumping rope is better for building bones. Impact exercise puts stress on the bones, which causes the bones to become stronger and more dense.
4. Know Your Bone ‘Foes’
There are a number of foods and substances that can work against the bone building process.
*Foods are the body’s best source of nutrition, as they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to be best used and absorbed by the body, but high quality supplements can help to fill in the gaps. Read more about choosing a quality calcium supplement.
Watch Sara talk about Building Strong Bones in Kids on Fox 5 San Diego.
After years of being told that we need to slather on the sunscreen – many Americans are now low in Vitamin D levels. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% – 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D – a contributing factor to osteoporosis, linked to a recent rise in bone fractures, and even associated with several different types of cancers and other disorders.
Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a pre-hormone produced in the skin after exposure to the sun’s UVB light. Very few foods in nature contain significant amounts of natural vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils contain vitamin D – cod liver oil is one of the richest food sources of vitamin D, with 1,360 IU per tablespoon. However, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, “some kinds of cod liver oil provide as much as 13,500 IU of vitamin A, and that’s way too much.” Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk. But the best source by far is the sun, which is why it is called the “Sunshine Vitamin.” Another surprising food that can contain vitamin D is button mushrooms. Button mushrooms that are exposed to UV rays absorb vitamin D, similar to our skin. But most mushrooms are grown in shade, so they will not have vitamin D. So you want to look on the label to see if the mushrooms you get contain vitamin D. The brand Monterey Mushrooms contains 400 IUs of vitamin D per 3 oz. serving.
Vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption – which is why low levels of vitamin D can be associated with rickets, increased risk of fractures, and osteoporosis. People taking calcium supplements should make sure they have sufficient vitamin D levels because calcium that is not properly absorbed can end up in places where it is not wanted – like the arteries of the heart, leading to hardening of the arteries. Read more about vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, immune disorders, insulin resistance, and more.
Am I Vitamin D Deficient?
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be subtle, they include:
Some people with low vitamin D may not have any symptoms at all. If you suspect that you are not getting enough vitamin D, a blood test can check your vitamin D levels, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D, test. Read “Am I Vitamin D Deficient?” for more information. Your healthcare practitioner can order the test and advise you on the best ways to increase your vitamin D. If you do decide to take a vitamin D supplement – it should be vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). According to the New England Journal of Medicine, vitamin D deficiency is defined as circulating levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that are less than 32 ng per milliliter. Many studies suggest that optimal blood serum levels are around 50 ng/ml.
How Much Vitamin D do we Need?
The daily recommended doses for vitamin D maintenance were revised in 2010:
However, it is important to get a blood test to assess your vitamin D levels because people who are seriously vitamin D deficient could require a short course of a high dose vitamin D3 supplement to build up their serum levels. This is something that should happen under a doctor’s care – as it is possible to get too much vitamin D, which can be toxic to the body.
The Sun’s Rays – Harmful or Healing?
In excess, the sun’s rays can harm, but in small doses, they can heal – providing the best source of vitamin D. But how much sun light is enough? According to the Vitamin D Council, the amount of sunlight you need to obtain enough vitamin D depends largely on the pigment of your skin. Approximately 10-15 minutes of unprotected sunlight a couple of times a week might be enough for fair-skinned people (after that people that continue to be out in the sun should apply sunscreen). Persons with darker skin will need more exposure because they do not absorb the sun’s rays as quickly. The torso absorbs the sun the best followed by the arms/legs, whereas the face and hands absorb the least. So people wanting to limit the aging effects of the sun on their face & hands, can shade the face from the sun or apply sunscreen to the face/hands – and get their sun exposure from the torso/arms/legs. Using sunscreen with an SPF as low as 8 can block as much as 95% of vitamin D production says the Vitamin D council.
The body converts enough vitamin D3 from the sun, long before a sunburn occurs. According to John Cannell MD, Executive Director, Vitamin D Council, “Humans make thousands of units of vitamin D within minutes of whole body exposure to sunlight.” And another cool thing about getting your vitamin D from the sun – is that it is free! But some people won’t want to risk getting any unprotected sunshine – they can supplement with Vitamin D3. Even people who get some sunshine might need to supplement.
Some smart sunscreen companies are now adding Vitamin D3 into their sunscreens!
Read Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more about boosting the body’s own internal SPF.
If you are interested in more information, the following articles contain excellent information:
Article written by Clinical Nutritionist Sara Vance with ReBalance Life, find her on Facebook.
Worry no more! Its almost Back to School time – so here are some tips and product ideas to make packing a healthy lunch easy and fun!
A working mom myself, I know how hard it is to juggle it all. These products and tips can help us think outside “the box” and make packing a healthy lunch easy and delicious – and fun! If you can bring your kid into the kitchen to pack it – they will be more likely to eat it.
Veggies & Fruit
Fill Up Half the Lunchbox!
The USDA recently replaced the Food Pyramid with MyPlate, which shows that half of all of our meals should be fruits and veggies. Most people could benefit from eating more plant based foods – MyPlate gets us thinking about increasing our fruits & veggies! The good news is there are so many great products out there now – that make fruit & veggies easy, yummy & fun for lunchboxes:
Kids Love to Dip!
Another great way to incorporate more fruit & veggies is to send in dips! Laptop Lunch containers (or bento buddies) are perfect for sending dips, because they have a really cute dip container! Also great for sending salads too – put the dressing in the mini bento buddy so the salad does not get all soggy.
Remember – if you are sending anything perishable, make sure to include a cold pack, or you can freeze some items the night before, learn more from this Today Show segment.
Buh Bye Boring Sandwich.
So many kids just get bored of the same old sandwich, so why not surprise them with:
The Chip Rule of “Thumb”
Kids like a little “crunch in their lunch” so it is no wonder that chips are a favorite. My chip rule of “thumb” is if they turn your thumbs orange, or are flavor “blasted” – we can make a better choice! We don’t even think about chips having artificial coloring, and forget about those ‘flavor blasted’ ones – that just is extra artificial flavoring! I like these options better:
Don’t Drink Your Sugar!
I am not a fan of juice boxes – I think kids already get too much sugar each day in the foods they eat, they don’t need to drink it. But it is important for kids to stay hydrated at school, especially if they head right to sports afterschool. Here are some cool alternatives that are super-hydrating:
To Dessert or Not Dessert, That is The Question.
So what about a little something sweet for dessert, you ask? Is that allowed? Yes – I like to follow the 90/10 rule that the Obama’s follow, if 90% of the diet is healthy, then 10% can be treats. Here are some fun yet healthier alternatives that are treats – but without going overboard with tons of sugar or fat; and no artificial coloring:
Most people like to buy a fresh new lunchbox every year – why not “Go Green” this year? The Go Green Lunchbox is not only ECO-friendly, but it really can make lunch fun again for your kids. No more plastic wrap needed – it has lots of fun compartments, and a little white board to write notes! Your kids will be so excited to open their lunchbox everyday to see the message. Top rack dishwasher safe, so clean-up is a snap! I suggest getting 2 liners – so one can be in the dishwasher, while the other ones is heading off to school.
If you already have a lunchbox for your child and want to make that more eco-friendly, get some bento buddies to fit inside. I especially like the mini-container the bento kits offer – perfect for dips. You can also buy the whole Laptop Lunches system. Check out this video to see what Laptop Lunches has to offer:
I know there are a lot of other great lunchbox ideas out there. Would love to hear from you…what are your favorite products and recipes for the lunchbox?
For vegan lunchbox ideas, check out these vegan kid-friendly lunchbox ideas.
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Why Osteoporosis Prevention Should Start in Childhood
Most people don’t think we need to worry about osteoporosis until “middle age.” I certainly didn’t worry about my kids’ bones – until my 7 year old got a buckle fracture on her arm this past spring from a fall onto grass in the backyard. It didn’t seem like a hard fall, and I wondered – could she be missing some critical bone-building nutrients? The doctor said her bones looked fine on the X-Ray, and he didn’t think a scan was necessary – so I decided to research dietary ways of boosting bone strength. An article in Parents magazine, The Broken Bone Epidemic says that more kids could be missing important bone-building nutrients, potentially one reason why there has been a steady rise in bone fractures. A Mayo Clinic study published in JAMA, found that compared to 30 years ago – forearm fractures had risen more than 32% in boys, and 56% in girls. According to the study, forearm fractures in children could be a predictor for hip and other serious fractures in late adulthood. Understanding and addressing ways to boost kids’ bone health might not only prevent bone fractures now, but it could also prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis later in life. Read about the functions of bonesfrom the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
Broken Bone – Bad Fall or Warning Sign?
An unfortunate side effect of many sports, trampolines, playground activities – a broken bone can simply be the result of a forceful impact. But in some cases it can be a warning sign of a dietary deficiency. Nutrient deficiencies can result from dietary inadequacy, impaired absorption or use, increased requirement, or increased excretion. If your child has broken a bone – don’t panic – it may be that their bone development is right on track and they simply had a really hard fall. But if your child has suffered repeated brakes, on-going bone or muscle pain, or bones fracturing from seemingly “minor impact” – it might be worth a trip to the pediatrician. Your child’s doctor can decide if a bone scan and/or an assessment of their dietary calcium, or a screen for Vitamin D levels is needed. Another issue could be hypercalcuria – which is elevated calcium in the urine.According to The International Osteoporosis Foundation, “peak bone mass” is reached before age 25. This means that critical bone-building occurs before the age of 20 or 25 – so teens that are facing critically low bone density levels, don’t have many years left to build them up. There are many factors that go into building strong bones, and missing one or more could add up to trouble.
Kids today are consuming more sports drinks, juice boxes and sodas than ever before, and less calcium rich foods and drinks. Picky eating is also becoming more prevalent. So its no surprise that kids might not be getting enough dietary calcium needed to build strong bones and teeth. Milk and other dairy products like cheese are excellent sources of calcium, but there are some potential downsides to getting our calcium from dairy products (read Got Fractures?). Fortunately there are excellent non-dairy sources of calcium – with dark green vegetables topping the list. Spinach has a high calcium content, but it also contains oxilates – which binds to the calcium therefore limiting much of the calcium absorption. An excellent source of vitamin K, spinach still contributes to a healthy bone diet. There are also a plethora of milk substitutes now – such as coconut, hemp, and almond milk – most of which are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. See this chart of calcium-rich foods. Kids who are 1-3 years old require 500 mg. a day of calcium. As kids grow, their calcium requirements grow too. At around age 11, kids need anywhere from 1,200 – 1,500 mg. of daily calcium. Yet while their calcium requirements have risen, unfortunately so has the consumption of sports drinks and sodas. This is a perfect example of why it is important to instill good eating habits as early as possible. The older a kid gets, the more set their dietary habits are and therefore more difficult to change – yet their bodies needs for nutrients are much higher. The more independence they have – means they will be making more of their own choices of what to eat and drink. Kids that have already developed good habits early on, such as reaching for fruits and vegetables – naturally are going to reach for healthier choices when they are on their own.Use this calcium calculator to find out how much dietary calcium is needed.
Calcium’s Key Partners
Calcium is just part of the bone-building picture. There are other key nutrients that work synergistically with calcium, of primary importance for bone-building are vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium. If a child is deficient in one or more of these, they could have issues with their bone density and/or strength. In fact, taking calcium without sufficient vitamin D or K to help with absorption can cause calcifications in areas they are not wanted – like the arteries of the heart. That is why too much calcium that is not properly absorbed can increase the risk of heart disease, and kidney stones.
Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a pre-hormone produced in the skin after exposure to the sun’s UVB rays. Very few foods in nature contain significant amounts of natural vitamin D – fatty fish (with wild salmon at the top of the list) and fish liver oils contain it. The majority of dietary vitamin D comes from foods that are fortified with vitamin D – such as milk. The best source by far is the sun, which is why vitamin D is called the “Sunshine Vitamin”. Vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption – which is why low levels can be associated with rickets and osteoporosis.For years doctors and dermatologists have been telling us to protect our skin from the sun, so we have dutifully slathered sunscreen on our kids. But what doctors did not tell us is that by doing this, is that we need to be careful to obtain our vitamin D from other sources. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% – 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D – a contributing factor to osteoporosis, linked to a recent rise in bone fractures, and even linked to several different types of cancers. So even if your child is getting plenty of calcium, there needs to be enough vitamin D to aid in the absorption. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for kids is 600 IUs, but there is much debate about whether or not that is enough to maintain serum blood levels. Just 15 mins in the sun a few days a week might be enough to enable our bodies to manufacture enough vitamin D (the amount of time needed depends on the pigment of skin). But even people who spend hours in the sun can be deficient – like swimmers and surfers. The reason why – is that vitamin D can actually wash off the skin before it is fully absorbed!
In a study involving 150 children and adults with unexplained muscle and bone pain, almost all were found to be vitamin D deficient; many were severely deficient with extremely low levels of vitamin D in their bodies. A few years ago, Gwyneth Paltrow fractured her tibia, which led her doctors to discover that she had osteopenia – early stage osteoporosis. Gwyneth’s vitamin D levels were found to be dangerously low. Unfortunately they did not catch it before her tibia broke, but it was discovered in time to prevent further bone loss, and potentially worse – low levels of Vitamin D are linked to cancer. Visit her blog “Goop” to read more about her fractured tibia and vitamin D. If you suspect that your child might have low vitamin D levels, a simple blood test can find out. Read “Am I Vitamin D Deficient?” from the Vitamin D Council for more information. According to the Vitamin D Council, “although many doctors are still prescribing vitamin D2, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the preferred form for treating deficiency and is what is recommended by the majority of the experts.”
Vitamin K is one of the key nutrients for keeping our blood clotting ability at the exact right level – both enabling clots by stopping blood from flowing from a wound, and preventing blood clots in the vessels. In addition to clotting, vitamin K plays a key role in making sure calcium gets to the bones. This helps to build healthy bones, and at the same time prevent calcifications in other areas of the body – such as our arteries, to prevent “hardening of the arteries.” Vitamin K helps to make sure our bones maintain a healthy balance of minerals and proteins. Our bodies can obtain vitamin K from plant foods – such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, broccoli, kale and mustard greens. Studies have shown that individuals that consume sufficient amounts of vitamin K have fewer fractures. People who are anemic, or have trouble with bleeding gums or heavy periods could have a deficiency in vitamin K. Our bodies also manufacture vitamin K from the bacteria in our guts. So any disorder that impacts the digestion could also mean a deficiency in vitamin K – such as celiac, IBS, and other disorders of the digestive tract. Digestion disorders and food sensitivities and allergies are becoming increasingly common – so more and more people are developing deficiencies. * Learn more about Vitamin K.
The fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium comprises about 1% of bone mineral. It plays a key role in how the body converts food into energy, bone health, nerve functions, and even helps to regulate blood pressure. All the enzymes that metabolize vitamin D require magnesium to work. So even if you are supplementing with high levels of vitamin D, without sufficient magnesium, it might not be properly absorbed. Good food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds, whole grains, dried fruit, and some fish. Like many other minerals, magnesium has been consistently depleted from our soils, so levels in food can vary depending on the quality of soil it came from. Taking magnesium with calcium helps to counteract the constipating effects of calcium. Traditionally the recommended ratio of calcium to magnesium is 2:1. But many people find that a ratio of 3:2 works best for them, especially athletes – magnesium is excreted when we sweat – so people who work out and exercise a lot – might have higher needs to magnesium. If someone experiences loose stools however, the magnesium levels might need to be lowered. If someone is taking too high levels of calcium, magnesium absorption can be blocked. Salt, sugar, caffeine and stress can also deplete our magnesium. The daily recommended requirement of magnesium for children varies with age and gender. Infants under six months of age only need 30 mg, obtained from breast milk or formula. Toddlers need around 80 milligrams per day; which can be attained from a cup of yogurt (45 mg.) and 2 tablespoons of nut butter (50 mg.). Children from four to eight years need 130 mg. From the age of nine to thirteen, the daily amount of magnesium jumps to 240 mg. During the teenage years, girls need 360 mg, while boys require 410 mg. Leg pain, foot or eye twitches, muscle cramps, irritability and even sensitivity to light can all be signs of a magnesium deficiency. If allowed to progress, migraines, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even kidney stones can develop.
The old adage “use it or lose it” that goes for our muscles – also applies to our bones. Exercise is very important for our bone health – especially the weight-bearing kind. When we lift weights, or stress our muscles, they get broken down, and then rebuild themselves – stronger. This is similar with our bones. Weight bearing activities that apply a “force” on our bones are important for building strong bones. The need for weight bearing activities can be well-illustrated by astronauts – spending 6 months without gravity can cause them to lose up to 30% of their bone strength.
There are more reasons than ever for kids to sit still – homework, TV, video or computer games, and phone texting. Exercise with impact is very important for building bones. Kids need to be running, jumping rope, playing tag, doing gymnastics, and other sports that require impact. Although better than sitting – scootering around the cul-de-sac does not count for bone-building, as there should be force exerted on their bodies and bones, which causes the bones to be stronger. But we want to be careful here – if you suspect your child might have deficiencies – too much stress can result in a break or a fracture. So we want to make sure our bones are in good health first.
Sugar & Salt:
Further complicating matters could be a diet that is high in salt or sugar. If consumed in excess, salt causes us to excrete more calcium, depleting it from our bodies. Sugary foods cause the body to not absorb calcium as well – especially sodas. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that daily soda consumption was linked to lower bone density. Sodas give us a double-whammy against bones – the sugar and the phosphoric acid. Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral. But if you’re drinking a lot of soda, you could be getting a disproportionate amount of phosphorus compared to the amount of calcium you’re getting, and that could lead to bone loss. Not all sugars are created equal – lactose which is the naturally occurring sugar in milk – actually enhances calcium absorption. However, it is estimated that because less than half the population actually is able to completely digest lactose – they could be suffering from inflammation, which interferes with absorption of minerals and vitamins. Agave nectar is a better sweetener alternative than sugar, because it naturally contains inulin fructans, which also enhances the absorption of calicum, and potentially even magnesium.
Untreated celiac disease can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Celiac disease occurs when someone is not able to tolerate the gluten found in wheat and other foods. Consuming gluten can create serious and debilitating inflammation and “leaks” in the intestinal lining of someone with celiac – which can result in low absorption of many nutrients, including important bone-building blocks like vitamin K, and vitamin D. Celiac disease used to be a rare condition, but it is much more common now – affecting as many as 1 in 33 people by some estimations. And even if a person does not have a full blown allergy to gluten, they can be “sensitive” to it – overtime this can lead to chronic gut inflammation which can limit the proper absorption of nutrients. Other disorders of the digestive tract can also cause malabsorption issues – such as IBS, Crohns, and more.
Kids whose daily diet contains dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli, calcium sources, nuts or seeds, along with exercise, and a short amount of time in the sun, are probably going to be right on track for bone-building. But if you have a picky eater, you probably are worrying that your kid is not getting the right nutrients, including the ones needed to build strong bones. You are not alone, most households have at least one picky eater nowadays. Don’t give up on them, most kids can expand their palate if given time and encouragement (and not allowed to “snack” and eat treats all day long). The younger you can start, the better. Read 20 Tips for Picky Eaters for more ideas.
Taking a high quality well-balanced multi-vitamin is a nice safeguard against dietary imbalances, ideally one that is whole-foods based. I like Animal Parade multivitamins or Rainbow Light products, both brands use high quality ingredients, no artificial colors, and they also contains foods and herbs. As far as calcium supplements, I recommend and use AlgaeCal, which is an algae-based calcium supplement that contains the co-factors needed for proper absorption. When using supplements, follow the dosing directions on the label or from your doctor – as the fat soluble vitamins are not readily excreted like the water-soluble vitamins and can accumulate in the body if too many are taken. Unabsorbed calcium can end up in places it is not wanted too – like the arteries of the heart, or as kidney stones. Realize that most multi-vitamins do not contain all the vitamins and minerals that kids need every day, some are missing several key nutrients. So even the highest quality multi-vitamin or supplement is not a replacement for a balanced diet – vitamins and minerals obtained from foods work together synergistically and are better absorbed. A well-balanced diet boosts the immune system, improves energy, mood, and digestion – so the benefits extend way beyond the bones.
If you are worried that something could be amiss – such as unexplained bone or muscle pain, poor healing bones, or repeated fractures, the pediatrician can run a simple blood test to check for vitamin D levels, and a screening for celiac disease. If bone pain or a broken bone does turn out to be related to a deficiency – the sooner it is discovered the better – while there is still time to make the diet/lifestyle changes needed to help build strong bones to last a lifetime. Because Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to many types of cancer, it is even more important to identify deficiencies as early as possible.
© copyright 2016 Sara Vance