Some other foods, that despite not being high in water content, when paired with fluids, can help to rehydrate (and even prehydrate) the body as well:
It’s Back to School time again. That means it is time to ditch the “summer brain” and get ready to focus and pay attention in class. These 5 foods can literally feed our brains, boosting it’s functioning and focus to help kids stay on task at school.
One of the best sources of omega 3s is fish, especially fatty fish like salmon or tuna. Omega 3 fatty acids are brain foods, critical for healthy brain functioning and focus – and unfortunately, many Americans are deficient in omega 3s. My kids love tuna salad for lunch, which offers a mid-day brain boost. You can roll it up into a wrap, do a tuna salad with crackers, or I have even rolled it in seaweed to make “sushi.” But big fish like tuna can be high in mercury, so we choose Wild Planet brand tuna, because it has half the amount of mercury (compared to conventional brands), and a higher omega 3 content. Omega 3s not only help with brain functioning, but also are shown to boost mood, reduce inflammation, protect the heart, improve skin, and much more – one of the most important nutrients all Americans need. Additionally, tuna is a good source of protein and B6. People with focus or sleep issues tend to be B6 deficient and can also benefit from B6.
Taking a fish oil supplement is another good way to get EPA and DHA omega 3s – in our house, we like Barleans Omega Swirls, which now is available in a convenient to go packet. Omega Swirls 9 times more absorbable than other fish oil, and come in several delicious flavors.
2. Chia seeds
Walter Willet of Harvard Health recommends that we have fish or fish oils a few times a week, and a vegetarian omega 3 source every day. My favorite vegetarian source for omega 3s are chia seeds – because in addition to the omega 3s, these little seeds offers so much more. Chia seeds fill you up, offer lasting energy/endurance, and form a gel which helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. In addition, chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants & minerals. Chia seeds are rich in the ALA form of omega 3s, which the body needs to convert to the EPA/DHA forms. Chia doesn’t really taste like anything and can be easily added to many foods. Top your oatmeal, boost your smoothies, or add to your baking. I also like to make a quick chia pudding – just add a couple Tablespoons of chia seeds to a half cup of your favorite non-dairy milk (I like coconut), add a little vanilla, and a touch of your favorite all natural sweetener (like agave or stevia), and let it thicken for a few minutes. Voila – you have a delicious & nutritious pudding!
Look for foods boosted with chia seeds, like San Diego based Whales Tails torchia chips, and Nuttzo peanut free multi-seed nut butters – both great additions to the lunchbox!
3. Cacao –
A recent study showed that eating chocolate helped people to perform math problems better. Instead of a Hershey bar before math class, I recommend having something made with cacao, the key ingredient in chocolate that is good for our brains. I like to add local brand Sunfood‘s raw organic cacao to smoothies (try this Choco Banana Smoothie), I also make raw energy bars with it, dark chocolate black bean brownies, and you could even make homemade chocolate almond milk, just add cacao and your favorite natural sweetener. Cacao also is one of the best food sources of magnesium, which tends to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and introduces more oxygen rich blood to the brain. The majority of the population and up to 95% of kids with ADHD are magnesium deficient. Some signs of magnesium deficiency – poor memory/focus, headaches, dizziness, fear/anxiety/uneasiness, increased bone fractures, restless leg syndrome, hyperactivity, insomnia, constipation, apathy, and more. Kids who tend to fidget or are hyperactive might benefit from taking magnesium before school, because it will help to calm them down and boost focus. Another way to get magnesium is by taking a magnesium supplement, my kids like the raspberry lemon flavored Natural Calm. Too much magnesium can have a laxative effect, so start with the lowest dose possible.
Protein-rich eggs offer lasting energy which is key for focus and attention. Another focus-boosting nutrient that eggs offer is choline – which is important for brain development and memory. Over 90% of Americans are estimated to be deficient in choline. But don’t just eat the egg whites, because the choline and other important nutrients like lutein are all found in the egg yolks. I always recommend buying the organic or pastured eggs, which are naturally richer in omega 3s. A 2010 Penn State University study showed that hens raised in pastures laid eggs that had double the vitamin E and 2.5 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids compared to eggs from their caged conventional counterparts. If you can’t find pastured eggs, go for organic eggs, or organic omega 3 rich eggs that come from Chickens that are fed flax. Learn more about pasture-raised eggs, and read more about the many nutritional benefits of eggs. You can find pastured eggs at your local Whole Foods market.
Rich in antioxidants, berries help to reduce oxidative stress in the body and the brain. Strawberries also contain a flavenoid called fisetin which can improve the memory. Blueberries have Vitamin K, manganese, and vitamin C and have been shown in lab tests to help improve the cognitive function of elderly lab rats.
Getting Back On task
Getting back into the swing of school after Summer break can sometimes require a short adjustment period. Eating foods (or supplements) rich in Omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, protein and B Vitamins can help kids to focus and get on task throughout the year. Also avoiding foods with artificial colors, preservatives and too much sugar is a smart strategy. A supplement called On Task might be another option to consider for kids that continue to have trouble staying focused in school. On Task contains magnesium, B vitamins, Vitamin C, and zinc, to help improve the brain’s ability to focus and stay on task. Invented by parents whose child was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, and Tourette’s disorder, who were looking for a natural solution like On Task. They could not find one, so they created On Task. Read about their story, and some of the testimonials of customers.
Having elevated LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. “If you have too much cholesterol, your internal machinery is not going to be able to take away enough cholesterol from the cells,” says Yeon-Kyun Shin, a biophysics professor in the department of biochemistry at Iowa State. “Then cells harden and you can get these deposits.” But our bodies also need cholesterol for many important functions, such as building cells, manufacturing hormones; and with one quarter of the body’s cholesterol in the brain, it is important for brain activity. Rather than just lowering overall cholesterol, ideally we want to optimize our ratio of LDL to HDL:
Taking a Foods Based Approach to Lower Cholesterol
Foods and other lifestyle factors can have a powerful impact on our health. According to Dr. Schrott from the University of Iowa, “Although medication is a very effective way to treat high cholesterol, diet and weight loss may be the only things you need to do to lower your cholesterol.” Prescription medications can come with multiple negative side effects and drug interactions, and can be expensive. Taking a nutritional approach to lowering cholesterol can offer multiple additional benefits such as anti-aging, lowering risks of many other diseases, improved digestion, energy, and more. And taking a foods based approach is also less likely than prescriptions to lower cholesterol levels too low. The challenges associated with a nutritional approach, are that people first need to know which foods will help lower cholesterol, and unfortunately it is not as easy as popping a pill each day.
Foods that Lower Cholesterol:
1. Soluble Fiber: Fiber is very important for our digestion, it helps us to feel fuller, which can be useful to maintain a healthy weight – which is very important for overall heart health. There are two types of fiber – insoluble (which passes through the digestive system intact and provides bulk), and soluble fiber, which soaks up liquid to create a gel-like substance. It is soluble fiber which is important for lowering cholesterol. It sticks to cholesterol binding it and ushering it out of the body before it can enter into circulation, which is perhaps why it is sometimes referred to as “sticky fiber.” According to Dr. Cho from the Cleveland Clinic, a person must consume at least 3 grams of soluble fiber per day in order for it to help to lower cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of Family Practice in 2006 found that eating 5 – 10 grams of soluble fiber a day was associated with a 10% to 15% reduction in LDL levels, and a 10-15% lower heart disease risk. Unfortunately most Americans do not get anywhere near that amount of soluble fiber each day, found in fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Soluble Fiber Sources:
2. Omega 3s: For years, people with heart disease were put on strict low fat diets. But certain fats, particularly omega 3 fatty acids, are very important for our heart health and are shown to lower cholesterol levels. Found in foods like fatty fish, omega 3s are extremely important to our overall health – affecting everything from our brain functioning and our mood to disease prevention and eye health. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to lower our risk of many diseases – including heart disease and cancer. The Inuit Eskimos get lots of omega 3 fatty acids from their diets which are high in fatty fish, they also tend to have healthy HDL levels and lower triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week.
Some omega 3 sources:
3. Antioxidants: Powerful botanical antioxidants such as Polyphenols and Flavinoids can offer protection against free radical exposure and offer a wide range of health benefits from anti-aging and boosting the skin’s SPF protection to reducing cancer risk and Alzheimer’s protection. Polyphenols have been shown in some studies to lower cholesterol by increasing the amount of cholesterol excreted by the body as well as boosting levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Flavinoids such as those found in cocoa have been shown to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, so have a square of chocolate without guilt! And then pour yourself a some tea – drinking three cups of green or black tea a day has been shown in studies to improve cholesterol ratios and lower heart attack risk. Coffee and even red wine (in moderation) can offer beneficial antioxidants.
Some good sources:
4. Plant Sterols. Over 140 clinical studies show that plant sterols can help reduce LDL blood cholesterol. Plant sterols occur naturally in plant-based foods, but generally in concentrations that are too low to affect blood cholesterol levels. But when plant sterols are extracted, they can be concentrated and added to fortify other foods. Sterols are basically plant cholesterol, which in the human body competes with and prevents the uptake and absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. Sterols are shown to improve the important LDL to HDL ratios, because they lower LDL cholesterol, without affecting the HDL (the good kind). Plant sterols have been studied for over 50 years, and found to be a safe and effective way to lower cholesterol. The American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommends that individuals with high cholesterol consume plant sterols and plant stanols from a variety of foods and beverages every day—just as they would use cholesterol-lowering medication to maintain LDL (bad) cholesterol reductions from these products. Studies have found that 1.3 g. of plant sterols can have significant cholesterol lowering effects. The AHA recommends patients with high cholesterol consume approximately 2 grams of plant sterol/stanols per day. The average American gets about 250 milligrams (.25 g.) of sterols from plant-based foods daily. Vegetarians average around 700 milligrams. But people who eat a highly processed diet can get significantly less.
Plant Sterol Sources:
5. Nuts and other plant-based fats: Nuts are little nutritional powerhouses, containing protein, fiber, healthy fats, and many other excellent nutrients. Nuts are so good for you that in 2003 the FDA made this claim: “Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease.” One 2004 study of 58 adults with diabetes looked at the effects of eating a handful of walnuts each day in addition to a healthy diet. The researchers found that on average, people who ate the walnuts had an increase in their good HDL cholesterol and a drop of 10% in their bad LDL cholesterol levels. The results were published in the publication Diabetes Care.
Healthy Fats Sources:
Foods to Avoid:
It is also important to know which foods to avoid to promote healthy cholesterol levels and heart health. Many people have been told for years that eggs are bad for our cholesterol. But new research is showing that for the majority of the population, eating an egg a day will not raise blood cholesterol and is a healthy choice. According to Harvard Health, the biggest influence on blood cholesterol level is the mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet—not the amount of cholesterol you eat from food. So more important than avoiding foods with cholesterol in them, is avoiding foods that contain trans fats, which can be found in many packaged, processed, baked goods, most margarines, and fast foods. Another surprising food to avoid for cholesterol and heart health is sugar. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that added sugars found in packaged foods increased blood lipid levels while lowering the good cholesterol (HDL) levels.
What About Statins?
Statins lower cholesterol by inhibiting HMG CoA reductase, an enzyme that helps the body make cholesterol, which reduces the total cholesterol in the blood according to Dr. Mark Houston, MD. In the past, statins success at preventing heart attacks, had led doctors to joke about “putting it into the water supply,” according to this USA Today Article. But increasing research is revealing that raising the HDL cholesterol, which is responsible for removing cholesterol from the blood and delivering it to the liver for removal is as important as lowering LDL for heart health. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, a 2009 study looked at nearly a quarter of a million people who were hospitalized with heart disease, almost half of those people had optimal LDL levels. Additionally, some studies have linked Statin use to side effects, including:
Adopting healthy dietary and lifestyle habits can help to lower your cholesterol, your overall heart attack risk factors, and many other diseases. But despite making all the above dietary and lifestyle changes, some people (such as those who have already had a heart attack) might still need a statin. Patients need to speak to their doctor to assess and develop their personal heart health plan. But according Dr. Mark Hyman, “You can not take your statin, and then go to McDonald’s and expect it to work.” Dr. Hyman, the founder of The Ultra Wellness Center in Lenox, MA; also says that when it comes to cholesterol medication, men and women are not created equal – read his article Why Women Should Stop Their Cholesterol Lowering Medication.
Note: Persons currently taking cholesterol lowering medications who have questions, or wish to stop taking them (or any prescription medications) should consult with their doctor. Changes to prescription medications should be done only under their doctor’s care.
Other Heart Health Factors:
Cholesterol is only one piece of the puzzle with regards to heart health. Other important factors to consider are:
Additional Supporting Articles/Research:
Giving a Chia Pet has been a long-standing holiday tradition, I can remember finding a chia pet under the tree when I was young girl. My siblings and I would watch with wonderment as the the seeds sprouted into green “fur” on the terracotta animal over the days that followed Christmas. The Chia Pet is not only a fun and entertaining gift, it also has educational value. Even kids who live in high rise buildings without so much as a patch of grass can experience nature with a Chia Pet, learning first-hand how seeds can be sprouted.
It is unfortunate that Joseph Enterprises, the makers of the Chia Pet did not seek FDA approval for human consumption of the chia seeds or sprouts – as chia is one of the most nutritious superfoods available. So while the Chia Pet is fun present for the kids this holiday season, I recommend also eating chia seed this season.
Six Reasons to Take Chia Seeds this Holiday:
whole dry chia seed.
Hydrated chia seed (whole).
of water/liquid, or they will soak up the water inside your body and could actually dehydrate you. But when taken with plenty of water, chia seeds are very hydrating. Chia seeds are an excellent hydration tools for athletes, but they also can be helpful if you are planning to do a couple “4 oz. curls.” I always take a couple Tablespoons of chia seed with a full glass of water before heading off to a party. If I have one or two cocktails, the chia seed will not only slow the absorption of sugar alcohols into the bloodstream, but it will help to prevent the dehydrating effects of the alcohol, which is one of the main causes of hangovers. Read Prehydrate with Chia for more info.
So how do you take chia seeds? Chia seeds are tiny seeds – they can be added to water, smoothies, included in baked goods, and sprinkled on things like yogurt. You can buy them as whole seeds, or ground. When buying the ground seeds make sure to look for cold water processed – it preserves more of the nutrients. Do not buy the kind that has some of the oils or fats removed – chia oil is a healthy omega 3 fatty acid!! You can add the ground chia seed to baked goods, pancakes, muffins, oatmeal, and the like. You can add the ground or whole seed to smoothies, just a plain glass of water, or stir it into some yogurt. You can even find it at your local Whole Foods or other health food store – in bottled beverages like Mamma Chia, and GT’s Kombucha Cherry with Chia. Try this energizing smoothie made with chia seed.
Chia seeds are one of my favorite foods offering protein, minerals, fiber, and omega 3s. Chia seeds provide a mood boost, enhance brain functioning, improve digestion, and can benefit all levels of athletic performance, especially hydration, endurance, and recovery. So enjoy the Chia Pet for it’s educational and entertainment value, and go buy some chia seeds for consumption – both can make your holiday season ch..ch..ch..cheery!