This weekend at the London Olympics, athletes from around the globe will compete for the ultimate prize – a gold medal. Some will be at the games for the first time, while others, like Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, are returning to win more medals, and maybe even knock a certain rival off the top of the podium.
Preparing for the Olympics requires a rigorous training schedule. Endurance athletes can burn thousands of calories each day, so they need plenty of fuel. Swimmers are notorious for eating a crazy amount of food, a 2008 New York Post article described Olympian Michael Phelps’ famous 12,000 calorie daily diet. Ryan Lochte used to fuel his swimming with regular visits to McDonalds for chicken nuggets, saying at the time that “nutrition is not really my forte.”
But just because athletes can burn off junk food, doesn’t necessarily mean they should eat it. More athletes are realizing that fast food just doesn’t make you go any faster. Every 100th of a second counts in swimming, so athletes that want to stand at the top of the podium must scrutinize every aspect of their training to gain a competitive edge, including nutrition.
In 2010 when a knee injury kept him out of the pool, Lochte decided to take nutrition and his swimming a little more seriously (read more). Now more prepared than ever for the 2012 Olympic games, Lochte recently said, “The best thing I did was change my eating – no more fast food.” He has also said, “If you don’t put the right nutrition in your body, you won’t perform at your best.”
The 200 and 400 individual medley races are highly anticipated rematches between Lochte and Phelps, and the playing field appears more level than it was in Bejing. At Olympic trials, Phelps was faster in eight of the 50 meter splits, Lochte took seven, and they tied in one.
Could ditching fast foods be what Lochte needs to edge out Phelps this go-round? Without a doubt, Americans will be glued to their seats (and TV sets) to see who comes out ahead when these two highly decorated swimmers face off.
Breakfast foods that boost focus, attention, mood, and provide lasting energy – to avoid the “Seven Dwarf Syndrome” at school.
“Presence is more than just being there.” – Malcom S. Forbes
Just being seated at their desk is not enough, kids need to be ready to focus, pay attention, and really connect to the material. Skip breakfast, or make poor choices, and kids might find themselves feeling like one of the Seven Little Dwarfs – Sleepy, Grumpy or Dopey.
According to an Australian study, people who follow a “Western”, or Standard American Diet (SAD) are more likely to have attention issues and receive an ADHD diagnosis. The SAD is characterized as more sweets, processed, fried and refined foods – in general, more packaged and convenience foods. Although there really isn’t a “Seven Dwarf Syndrome,” Dr. William Sears coined the term NDD – Nutrition Deficit Disorder, and he says that some cases of ADD are really just NDD. Read: Is it ADD or NDD?: 12 Inattention Culprits.
The Power-up Breakfast:
The first meal of the day, breakfast literally means “breaking the fast.” For kids to be able to stay on task and engaged, the morning meal should help them power-up and provide lasting energy. The right choices will properly fuel our kids’ bodies, brains, and even their mood. The wrong choices could put kids at a disadvantage to learn. Critical to provide a good foundation for learning and attention in school, the ideal power-up breakfast will be a good source of one or more of the following:
1. Healthy fats
The brain composition is over 60% fat, so in order for the brain to develop and work well – diets must have sufficient amounts of healthy fats. Fatty acids are basically what the brain needs to think and feel. The no and low-fat diet craze of recent years was literally starving our brains! One of the most important fats for the brain is omega 3s – known as essential fatty acids. Essential means that our body can not manufacture them, so they must be consumed. A 1996 Purdue University study revealed that kids with learning and behavior problems had lower levels of the omega 3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in their blood. A 2000 study showed that adding DHA fats to infant formula increased their intelligence. Conversely, declines in DHA levels of the brain are associated with cognitive decline. Consumption of fish (omega 3s) is also associated with lower levels of depression. The US Military is spending over $1 Million to study the effects of fish oils on the prevention and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the lead doctor on the study refers to fish oil as “nutritional armor” for soldiers.
Omega 3s are found in: fatty fish like salmon, some nuts and seeds (like flax and chia seeds), and fish oils. Since most American kids don’t like fish for breakfast, taking a fish oil or another omega 3 supplement in the morning is an easy way to boost those omega 3s. Kids definitely will run the other way if it smells or tastes fishy, so here are some delicious options, with no fishy taste or smell:
Fats also provide the body with an important source of energy after they are metabolized. Other healthy fats are found in olive oil, avocados, and coconut oil. Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides which are shown to be metabolized more quickly than other fats, so they can be more quickly converted to energy and will be less likely to be stored (as fat).
A good component of a solid power-up breakfast, protein gives kids lasting energy – key to help them stay energized and focused throughout the morning.
Eggs are one of the highest quality protein sources, providing about 6 grams of protein per large egg. Another important nutrient that can be obtained from eggs is choline, which supports memory and brain functioning. More than 90% of Americans were found to be deficient in choline according to a Iowa State University study. Many people have been led to believe that egg yolks raise our cholesterol, and have been advised to limit egg consumption, or skip the yolks. But researchers at Harvard School of Nutrition have found that the majority of the population, eggs do not raise blood cholesterol. Egg yolks are a rich source of lecithin, needed for proper nerve functioning, and which play a role in memory and concentration. Kansas State University discovered that the lecithin in eggs reduces the absorption of cholesterol. So go ahead and eat the yolks, and please – do not be tricked into buying those boxed “eggs” to avoid the cholesterol! Choosing organic eggs is worth the extra pennies, as they are naturally higher in omega 3 fatty acids.
Yogurt is produced by fermentation of dairy (or dairy alternatives). Not only is yogurt high in protein, it is one of the richest sources of calcium, and contains probiotics. Probiotics promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, which promotes good digestion and boosts immunity. Gut disbiosys is an imbalance of bacteria in the intestines, and is a evolving theory for the etiology of Autism, ADHD, sensory processing and related disorders. But watch out for the flavored varieties – they can have too much sugar and even artificial coloring. Look for brands that have lower sugar content, and I always choose organic whenever possible. You can buy plain yogurt, and sweeten it yourself with a little Natures Agave, Barleans Omega Swirl, or your own fruit. Try these brands I like:
Nuts and Nut Butters – Spreading some nut butter on their toast will give kids some protein and healthy fats for longer lasting energy. Nuts and nut butters are great on apple slices, you can even add a spoonful to oatmeal. Nuts are also a good source of healthy fats. But read the labels to make sure that there is no added sugar or trans fats. If if you do choose peanut butter, look for the all-natural varieties with no added sugars or oils. I prefer the nutrition of almond butter over peanut, but if you do choose peanut – look for a brand that is made from Valencia peanuts, they are less likely to contain aflatoxins, a carcinogen. Read: Perplexed About Peanuts for more info. This brand is a particularly good nut butter:
Smoothies are a great way to pack in protein, fiber, and omega 3s- I like to put frozen berries, banana, vanilla protein powder, a greens powder (such as Barleans Greens) and 2 Tablespoons of chia seed. I also like to add some So Delicious coconut keifer, or yogurt. Add some Good Belly mango – it contains probiotics, and will add mango flavors and a little sweetness. Smoothies are great because they are portable in case you are running late – just pour into a water bottle or glass – voila! A power-up meal in a glass.
3. Whole Grains/Fiber
Many kids (and adults) just simply do not get enough fiber in their diets. Fiber is important because it keeps our digestive system working well, and it also provides longer lasting energy – because unlike white flour, foods made with whole grains takes the body longer to use/digest. Many kids miss school because of “tummy toubles” that could be solved by increasing the amount of natural fiber in their diets. Good sources of fiber are whole grains, whole fruits, and vegetables. A food is considered a good fiber source if it has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, excellent if it has over 5 grams. Foods with fiber in them are considered complex carbohydrates – digesting complex carbs with fiber takes longer than digesting simple carbs (sugar and all processed “white” grains). High fiber foods stay in the system longer and and provide the body with more energy for longer periods. When grains are processed, the fiber is removed along with most of the natural nutrients. Processed grains are simple carbs – and are quickly converted to sugar in the body. Some good whole grain options:
Fruits – fruits are a delicious start to your morning, and a good source of nutritious fiber. A bowl of berries with some yogurt, a half of a grapefruit, a fresh fruit smoothie – all will provide extra fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins to your kids’ morning. Each meal of the day is an opportunity to eat some fruits and veggies – the new My Plate suggests we fill half our plate with plant-based foods! What about fruit juice? Definitely avoid any juice that is not 100% juice, or has the artificial colors. Drinking juice (even 100% juice) can do the same thing that sugar does – it causes our blood sugar to spike and then shortly after, it will fall. So you are always better eating the whole fruit instead of drinking the juice. The fruit contains fiber which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, gives us lasting energy, aids digestion, and fills up our tummies. If you do choose juice, make sure it is real juice, serve a small glass, and pair it with some protein, fiber, and/or healthy fats to prevent the sugar spike and crash.
Vegetables – not one of the foods we typically think about for breakfast – veggies are a great addition to our morning routine. Add in some spinach, tomatoes and peppers into your morning omelette. I like this recipe for a kid-friendly veggie omelette. Roasted and pureed sweet potatoes are a wonderful addition to your pancake batter. I like to sneak in some veggies into smoothies – carrots go great in a mango/peach smoothie, and add lots of extra color. Baby spinach is a wonderful addition to smoothies too. I like to use Greens Powders in my morning smoothies too. Try Barleans Greens, they come in a variety of flavors, or just plain.
Just Don’t Skip It!
If your child frequently is running late for school and skips breakfast, having some healthy on-the-go options on hand is a good plan. When I make smoothies, I like to pour any extra into popsicle molds – they make a great after school snack, and also a quick on-the-go breakfast. Cereal or granola bars can also be a good option – but watch out! Many bars are full of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, low in fiber, and even have artificial coloring! Here are some better choices:
Top 3 Breakfast Ingredients to Avoid for Focus:
1. Sugar. We all know that eating sugar is not nutritious. But besides being empty calories – a sugary breakfast is a disastrous way to send a kid off to school. Sugary foods give us an initial burst of energy; but then shortly after it is followed by a ‘crash,” something I call “The Sugar Rollercoaster.” When we crash, our blood sugar drops, and we can lose focus, energy; some individuals who are hypoglycemic or pre-diabetic can even become shaky, sleepy, and lethargic – not the ideal state for our kids to learn.
If you do choose a food with some sweetness, try to select one with primarily naturally occurring sugars (not added), that are a good source of fiber, protein and/or healthy fats. Sugary cereals, pastries, donuts, or anything swimming in syrup is not likely to give anyone the lasting energy they will need to get through first period, never mind getting them to lunchtime. Avoiding cereals with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving is a smart approach, or anything that lists sugar as the first or second ingredient. Also watch out for the sneaky sugar sources – foods that seem healthy, but are loaded with sugar. Although they can be a good source of protein and calcium, and some of the sugar is naturally-occurring, certain brands of yogurt can also have a lot of added sugar. Read labels – look at the grams of sugar, and also the percentage of calcium in the yogurt. The higher the percentage of calcium, typically – the less sugar, choose brands that are closer to 30% calcium. Some other sneaky “health foods’ are muffins and granola – both can be full of sugar. Try to choose the lowest sugar option, or better yet – make it yourself! The best way to watch your sugar intake is to make it yourself and become a label-reader – get familiar with the sugar content in the foods you are feeding your kids. Next time you are at the store, see if there is a better choice – there often is! Have you ever added up all the sugar you or your kids eat in a day? Try it – it might shock you!
2. Trans fats. Do doughnuts Make you Dumber? Increasing all fats in the diet is not the answer. There are some fats that we want to avoid: trans fats. Trans fats are “altered fats,” which are created when food heated in fats for a long period (ie: deep fried), or when they are hydrogenated (ie: margarine). Trans fats tend to be solid at body temperature, and therefore act more like saturated fats, making cells more rigid and inflexible, and interfering with normal functioning of cell membranes. Studies have shown that trans fats can interfere with DHA utilization in the brain, leading to diminished brain functioning. Additionally, trans fats have been shown to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol. Foods that contain trans fat include; doughnuts, margarines, mayonnaise, salad dressings, french fries and other fast foods, and many processed/packaged foods like cakes, pastries, cookies, etc. Even if the package says “contains no trans fats”, it can contain them – in small amounts (if there is less than 1 gram, they can claim no trans fats). Avoiding or limiting processed and packaged foods, or anything that says “may contain partially hydrogenated soybean, sunflower, safflower, or corn oil” on the label will help you steer clear of trans fats.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is generally too high in omega 6 fats, and deficient in omega 3s. This imbalance leads to chronic inflammation, a foundation of most degenerative diseases. Besides behavior, focus and attention issues, some other signs of fatty acid imbalances are: dry or cracked skin, dandruff/dry hair, dry eyes, allergies, poor wound healing, fatigue, frequent infections, and excessive thirst. Other disorders that have been linked to fatty acid imbalances: Alzheimers/dementia, autoimmune disorders, MS, Schizophrenia, Depression, aggression, migraines, neurological diseases, tinnitis, and more.
3. Artificial Colors, Preservatives, other Chemicals. The jury is still out as far as the FDA is concerned, but several studies have revealed that certain susceptible kids are negatively affected by the chemicals in artificial coloring, especially kids with ADHD and Autism. So when there are plenty of alternatives, why would we feed our kids a cereal or another food that has artificial colors in them? According to the Mayo Clinic, kids who are prone to hyperactivity should especially avoid foods with yellow dye numbers 5, 6 and 10, as well as sodium benzoate and red dye number 40. Look at the ingredients list on all cereals, on the sparkly toothpaste your kids uses in the morning, some brands of flavored yogurts, some strawberry flavored milk, and some “fruit” drinks. If it is brightly colored, chances are the color came from artificial sources. Choosing organic cereal, yogurt and natural toothpastes is a good approach, as you can be sure that there are not artificial colors in anything that has the USDA certified organic label. But even some natural compounds can be a problem – salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals that can create issues in individuals with ADHD. Dehydrated fruits, fresh berries, tomatoes, tea, licorice, peppermint candy/extract, cucumbers and spices such as curry powder, paprika, thyme and rosemary can all contain salicylates.
A study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has found that eating a healthy diet in childhood can be associated with small increases in I.Q. Breakfast could be the tipping point to make or break students’ ability to pay attention and focus in class. But a better diet may not be the full answer for all kids. There are a number of physiological reasons that can cause behavior and attention problems, including but not limited to ADHD. Read: Is it ADD or NDD? for more information about various physiological reasons for attention and behavior issues.
Note: This article was originally written in 2011, it was edited in 2014.
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.
Lower Cholesterol Naturally – with Chia!
People with high cholesterol looking for an all-natural way to lower their numbers might want to consider taking 2 tablespoons of chia seed each day. Exactly how can one food significantly lower cholesterol and heart disease risk?
ONE: Soluble Fiber
Chia is covered in a very unique soluble fiber. Unlike the soluble fiber of oats or flax seed, Chia’s fiber is hydrophilic – meaning it can absorb approximately 10-12 times the weight of the seed in water*. When chia seeds come in contact with liquid, they soak up the water and turn into a gel. Being hydrophilic means that Chia prolongs hydration and retains electrolytes in body fluids which protects against dehydration and promotes endurance and recovery. This gel stays in the system for a long time and helps to control blood sugar levels by slowing down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars. This can also help to reduce cravings for sugar while slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. The digestive system uses the nutrients and takes a while to remove the gel, thus hydrating the colon and easing digestion and also might help with digestive disorders. Chia acts kind of like an “internal band-aid” helping to hydrate, protect and heal the digestive path – which might be helpful for people with a “leaky gut syndrome.” A well hydrated colon has an easier time moving food through it. Keeping the body hydrated is also important for absorbing nutrients and for endurance. This fiber in Chia also makes you feel fuller – so it can help with weight loss.
*Note: it is very important to drink plenty of water when taking Chia, to facilitate this absorption and uptake of water. See below for how to make the chia gel.
TWO: Insoluble Fiber
The insoluble dietary fiber in chia is different from other fibers – as chia is highly nutrient dense – whereas many other fiber products are not. The fiber in chia promotes healthy regularity. Taking chia daily helps to sweep out old debris in your intestines and detoxify your system naturally. Keeping the colon clean means that toxic substances aren’t allowed to build up and unfriendly bacteria gets swept away. Like soluble fiber, insoluble fiber creates a feeling of fullness for longer. Consuming chia can help people to lose excess weight, which can itself help to lower cholesterol.
THREE: Essential Fatty Acids/Omega 3s:
Not all fats are bad, in fact, healthy fatty acids are a very important part of a balanced diet. Many Americans have gone crazy with the low fat diets – and there is some evidence that low fat diets are actually WORSE for your heart health! So getting high quality fatty acids in our diets is important. Chia is a very rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, yielding 25-30% extractable oil, including α-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies show that ALA levels found in chia are higher than those in flax seed, and are more stable because of its high antioxidant content. The combination of antioxidants and fatty acids are important for transporting oxygen into cells, and the lubrication and resilience of cells. This makes our cells healthier and more resistant to damage. Linoleic fatty acids can not be made by the body and are very important – they combine with cholesterol in the body to form membranes that hold cells together. Healthy fats are an important component for anti-aging, and keeping our skin and cells looking and acting young. Dr. Walter Willet is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and has been chair of the Harvard Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology since 1991. He is also the author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy and Eat Drink, and Weigh Less. Dr. Willet indicates that you should be eating plant-based Omega 3’s 7 days a week and wild fatty fish 2 days a week.
Chia’s antioxidants include flavonol aglycones: quercetin, kaempferol, and myricetin; and flavonol glycosides: chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. Chia that is comprised of black chia seeds, which may contain 12%-15% more antioxidants that the white seeds. Other essential fatty acids from other sources (fish and flax seeds) can be damaged and become rancid by heat, light, and oxygen. Chia’s natural antioxidants keep the omega-3 fatty acid stable and prevent it from going rancid. Not only that, but when you eat chia, the antioxidants also protect YOU and your cells from oxidative damage – the hallmark of most degenerative diseases and signs of aging.
Manage Risk Factors
Reducing or eliminating risk factors for high cholesterol is also important. Some risk factors you can’t do anything about – like heredity. But others such as obesity and diabetes you can help to control with chia and other diet and lifestyle factors. Eating a diet that reduces inflammation is important, and regular exercise is also key. One of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, chia contains:
Chia is very adaptable to any recipe – it has no flavor, so it won’t interfere with the taste of foods you are making. To make the gel, simply put 1-2 Tablespoons of chia into water. The chia will soak up the water and form a “gel.” It is good to make the gel – because you can be certain that the chia will be hydrated and will not soak up your body fluids. This gel is a great thickener for sauces, you can even replace eggs in a recipe with the chia “gel.” Chia is a wonderful Omega 3 source for anyone, and especially vegans. If I don’t have time to make a smoothie or another recipe – often I simply stir into a glass of water and drink it down.
You can buy the whole seed, or ground – if you get the ground chia – look for cold water processed chia, which helps to protect the essential fatty acids from heat damage. But some people like the crunch of the whole chia seeds. Adding chia seed daily improved my energy, mood, digestion, lowered my inflammation and more. It is the things we do every day that have the biggest impact on our health. So one of the most important things you can do – is to simply be consistent with foods like chia. Taking 1-2 Tablespoons of chia each day, can have a major impact on your health, your outlook, and your life.
Eating the right foods can help us improve our skin from the inside out – even boosting the natural SPF of our skin! Foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and omega-3s can help to provide an added layer of protection for the skin from UV damage, and also help to prevent the signs of aging.
Antioxidants such as carotenoids give foods their vibrant colors, and are critical to the photosynthetic process, protecting a plant from damage by light and oxygen. By consuming plants or organisms that contain these pigments, people can gain a similar protective benefit. Antioxidants and other key nutrients protect cells from oxidation, encourage cell growth, fight inflammation and boost our skin’s ability to prevent free radical damage. When the skin is exposed to the sun or other sources of radiation, this causes free radicals to form – which can damage the membranes of skin cells and harm the DNA of that cell. Antioxidants slow or prevent the effect of free radicals and oxidation – which can lead to cell dysfunction. We can see oxidation in action when a sliced apple turns brown. But a little squeeze of lemon juice can prevent the oxidation – providing antioxidant protective-effects. Oxidative stress appears to be an important part of many human diseases – linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration, as well as the signs of aging. In addition to helping fortify cells against free radicals, antioxidants also encourage cell and tissue growth, helping the body to repair itself.
Eating an antioxidant-rich diet – commonly found in fruits and vegetables and other foods – can protect and repair the cellular walls. Important antioxidants for boosting the SPF of the skin include:
An important antioxidant found in egg yolks and vegetables such as kale, broccoli, carrots and spinach that helps us to maintain healthful eyes, teeth, bones and skin as we age.
Another carotenoid antioxidant with skin-friendly properties, shows up in yellow-orange foods such as orange peppers, carrots, and squash.
Perhaps the least well-known member of the carotenoid family, but is poised to be the new superstar of antioxidants with reports suggesting it has anywhere between 10 – 500 times the activity compared to other antioxidants.
Perhaps best known for it’s heart health benefits – lycopene is also from the carotene family, and is an excellent free radical scavenger – it is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta-carotene.
Powerful botanical antioxidants, polyphenols offer protection against free radical exposure to help prevent skin aging and boost the skin’s antioxidant protection from the inside out.
Believed to have the ability to diffuse UV light, beta carotene can help prevent burning and counteract the damaging and aging effect of the sun’s rays.
A trace mineral that increases the potency of vitamins C and E and prevents damage from free-radicals.
It strengthens the immune system, and protects all the cells in the body from free radical damage.
Found in fruits and vegetables like strawberries, red pepper, and citrus fruits; vitamin C helps to boost the immune system to fight free radical damage.
It is important to eat a variety of colors of the rainbow – because antioxidants work best when taken in conjunction with each other – they are better absorbed that way, and can magnify each other’s effects. The American Heart Association recommends obtaining antioxidants from a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than just from supplements. The body absorbs antoxidants from whole food sources better than most supplements. But many people can benefit from a good multivitamin as well as a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables. When supplementing, just be aware that more is not always better when it comes to vitamins – the fat soluble vitamins are not readily excreted like the water-soluble vitamins and can accumulate in the body if too many are taken.
Omega-3 rich foods protect our cells from inflammation, oxidation, and free radical damage, and also offer important heart protective-effects. Research shows that omega-3 fats are inhibitors of development and progression of a range of human cancers, including melanoma. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids – which means the body can not make them, so we must obtain them from the foods we eat or supplements we take.
Omega 3s are important for focus and brain development, mood, and heart health too.
Consuming a diet high in sugar not only contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance, it also damages our skin. When sugar enters the bloodstream, it attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs damage collagen and elastin – the proteins in the skin that keep it looking young and healthy. AGEs also causes the body to covert the more stable form of collegen into collagen that is more fragile and prone to wrinkles and sagging. Finally – AGEs deactivate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving us more vulnerable to sun damage. Ideally, no more than 10% of daily calories should come from sugar (which is about 9-10 teaspoons a day for an average woman). The good thing is that reducing dietary sugar consumption can quickly reverse some of the AGEs and collagen damage to result in more youthful looking and functioning skin.
What we put on our plate is important to the overall health and appearance of our skin – and it can boost the SPF of our skin. But it does not mean we can sit in the sun for too long. Consuming the above antioxidants can provide a modest level of SPF. Too much time in the sun can be very damaging. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer affects 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime – making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. If you plan to be in the sun for an extended period, these 4 tips can help prevent overexposure to the sun:
Because the sun of the best source of vitamin D, wearing sunscreen all the time could have an unintended side effect – it could potentially reduce our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is a very important nutrient for our immune system and overall health. And low levels may raise our risk for bone fractures and several different cancers.
More research is needed on the topic of sun, sunscreens, antioxidants and omega-3s – but it appears that a limited amount of time in the sun (approx 15 mins. for fair-skinned people), actually could have protective effects against skin cancer because it can boost vitamin D levels (read related blog: Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin).
Whether or not we decide to get a limited amount of unprotected sunlight or not – we can all boost the natural SPF of our skin, and boost our skin’s ability to fight free radicals and the signs of aging – by getting more antioxidants and omega 3s in our daily diets. A diet rich in antioxidants, obtaining the right balance of essential fatty acids, and limiting processed or foods with high levels of sugar, preservatives and chemicals – will help protect our skin, and our overall health.
Note: Article updated on May 22, 2017 to include niacin.