January 24, 2011

New Blog and New Website!

Happy New Year 2011 Everyone.  I have been blogisphere-absent due to a major distraction: creating a new website and blog!  I couldn't have done it without my web designer Janine.  She (very) patiently guided me into the next level of web-presencedom.  Please visit my new professional website and my new blog, also hosted at the new site (with previous content intact).  I am also Tweeting daily - you will see a blue Twitter button on the sidebar of the site and the blog, and there is a live Twitter feed of my most recent posts on my site.  Take a tour around the new site and let me know what you think!

October 19, 2010

Nutritional Deficiencies in Healthy Children

I recently researched nutritional deficiencies in children for a talk I gave at a school and came across a study outlining the most common deficiencies in otherwise healthy children who are developing normally without any signs of chronic illness or disease.  When I looked at what foods these nutrients are found in, it was yet another affirmation of the importance of eating a whole foods diet.  

"Don't Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn't Recognize as Food." 
Our modern diet is highly processed.  Our children eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich and cookie for lunch, pasta for dinner and a granola bar for a snack.  When considering this "diet" it is easy to see that modern-day, seemingly healthy children are eating "substances" (not  "food") that are lacking in nutrition; they are overfed and undernourished. 

3 Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Otherwise Healthy Children
#1 Iron transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, muscles and brain.  It is essential for immunity and for creating energy from food.

When kids are lacking iron (microcytic anemia) they are low in energy, are often sick and can have a foggy brain.  Oftentimes kids with ADD and ADHD are anemic.  

 Iron is found in meats (lamb, pork, poultry, liver), nuts and seeds, legumes, vegetables, dried fruit and molasses, among other foods.

#2 Vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium in teeth, bones and muscle.  It is a hormone regulator and prevents cancer by promoting cell differentiation. It plays an essential role in immunity and blood sugar regulation as well as cardiovascular, muscle and brain health.

Vitamin D3 deficiencies tend to get worse as children mature. Teens tend to be quite low in Vitamin D3 at a time when they need it most for hormonal regulation, immunity and mental processing. 

Vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin found in canned salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, egg yolk and liver. Since the diet can't provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D3 the best source is sunshine.  Because we don't all have access to sunshine on a regular basis the next best source is supplementation of Vitamin D3.

#3 Calcium/Magnesium are building blocks of bones, teeth and soft tissue.  They regulate muscle and nerve function and manage blood vessel contraction and dilation affecting blood pressure.
A deficiency in Calcium could express as periodontal disease, muscle pains/, anxiety, insomnia, hyperactivity or easily broken bones. A calcium deficiency is often apparent at bed time when a child's body slows down - they may be anxious, have a hard time sleeping or complain of restless legs or "growing pains."

Calcium can be found in dairy products, broccoli, almonds, oatmeal, kale, and molasses, among other foods.  
Honorable Mentions: Zinc, Selenium, B Vitamins, Vitamin C.

A healthy diet is the best way for children to receive nutrition but prevailing farming practices produce less nutritious food and our busy lives don't always leave room for whole food preparation.  I realize how challenging it is to maintain optimal nutrition at all times and thus have become a proponent of prudent supplementation and/or "superfoods."  
A multi-vitamin can be a good way to ensure sure that your child receives adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals make it into the body.  Superfoods (see below) are nutrition-dense foods that can contribute additional nutrition to the diet.  As well, Vitamin D3 is necessary.  I prefer food-based vitamins as they are more readily absorbed by the body. Keep in mind that Iron supplementation should only take place when one has a documented case of Iron Deficiency Anemia.  Iron serves as a pro-oxidant (opposite of anti-oxidant) in the body if one is not deficient.  If you suspect anemia in your child, have your doctor order a complete blood count (CBC).  Remember, supplements are merely a "back-up" - it is important to continue to strive toward a whole foods diet! 

(Please see blog post Children Need Whole Foods for more suggestions on how to improve your child's diet.)

Blue/green algae/spirulina - rich in protein, EFAs, B Vits, minerals, calcium
Seaweeds - iodine
Chia seed - protein, omega 3’s, fiber, calcium
Hemp seed - protein, omega 3’s
Sauerkraut and fermented foods - probiotics, enzymes
Whey protein - high in antioxidants, amino acids, glutathione
Coconut oil - omega 3's, medium chain fatty acids
Eggs, butter, meats from pastured (not "cage-free" or "free-range") - high in EPA, Omega 3, Vit A, Vit D
Cod liver oil - Vit A, Vit D, Omega 3's

July 24, 2010

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad

I can't resist a creative salad that integrates sweet and savory.  While on the road with my family this summer we stopped at my all-time favorite health food store, the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Brattleboro, Vermont.  They were sampling this delicious summer salad that knocked our flip-flops off.  I highly recommend that you give it a try on a sizzling summer day.

Salad Ingredients

2 large ripe peaches, sliced into 8 wedges each
4 cups mixed greens, packed
6-8 oz thin sliced prosciutto (or thinly sliced ham)
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cups pistachios, shelled (or pine nuts)

Dressing (makes 1 cup)

1 clove shallot, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup orange juice
zest from one orange
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


In a blender or food processor combine the shallot, garlic, mustard, orange juice and zest, honey and red wine vinegar.  Blend until smooth.  With the blender on low speed, slowly add the olive oil until it is incorporated into the dressing.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Preheat the grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat.  Lightly brush the peach slices with a little of the prepared dressing.  Grill peaches on each side 2-3 minutes.

Arrange 1 cup of greens on each plate and top with 2 oz prosciutto or ham and 4 slices grilled peaches. Sprinkle each salad with 1 Tbsp pistachios or pine nuts and 1 ounce goat cheese crumbles, then drizzle with about 2 Tbsp of remaining dressing.

July 8, 2010

The Coolest App Ever

I am not a techno-geek at all.  I have an Apple Computer and iPhone that I hardly know how to use despite an entire year of lessons with Apple Store hipsters.  Oftentimes I don't recognize my own phone as a result of my children's tampering: the screen saver, the wallpaper, the ring.  Mind you these changes take place in a nanosecond, about the same amount of time it takes a teenager to text a paragraph.  One thing I can manage, if I might toot my own horn for a moment, are apps.  I have a little "thing" for them - they are small and snappy, intuitive and simple.  Apps appeal to my little-brain-that-could which is still in the reptilian stage of technological evolution.

My favorite new app is another brainchild of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Have I mentioned how much I love those guys lately?  (Safe Summer Sunscreen posting.)  The app has lists of most commerically avaiable sunscreens and rates them from 0-10, 0 being safest and 10 being the most toxic.  It is also interactive so when your head is spinning with options standing in the sunscreen aisle at Whole Foods you don't have to pick up each bottle and read the ingredients, you can just type in the name and see its rating.  Brilliant.

You can test-drive the EWG Sunscreen Buyer's Guide app here

June 17, 2010

Safe Summer Sunscreen

In summer we can’t resist exposing our bodies to sunshine.  Our long-cloistered winter skin seeks air and and the warmth of the sun.  While some sun exposure is healthy, it can be difficult to know how much is enough.  One’s chances of developing skin cancer doubles with five or more sunburns.  Yet overall cancer rates drop when vitamin D levels are adequate, and Vitamin D comes from the sun.  So what to do?
Be prudent.  Many experts like Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr Cannell of the Vitamin D Council agree that some sun exposure is a good way to get Vitamin D.  Since the amount of exposure will be different for everyone depending on skin color, time of day and season, a safe place to start is to expose one’s skin to sunshine for 10-15 minutes per day with arms and legs exposed.  (More on Vitamin D supplementation will be forthcoming in a future blog posting.)  When the skin starts to get pink it’s time to get out of the sun.
And then what?  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) there is no sunscreen safer than covering up with a long sleeve shirt, hat and sunglasses.  And babies under 6 months old should not be exposed to sunscreen lotions at all.  But many, especially children, can’t resist exposing their bodies once the weather warms up, and this is where healthy sunscreen comes in.  The EWG has done all the research for us in this area.  They have divided sunscreens into two groups: mineral-based and chemical-based.  
The mineral based sunscreens are the safest in terms of lack of toxicity as the sun blocking agents are the minerals zinc or titanium which deflect the sun’s rays.  They also offer the most extensive sun protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The downside is that the texture or white hue that they might impart may be objectionable to the user.  The most recent formulations contain tiny particles of zinc and titanium, called nanoparticles, reportedly appearing more transparent than formulations of the past.  I plan to do some extensive sunscreen slathering on myself and my family this summer so stay tuned here for our scientific findings.
The chemical-based sunscreens (containing oxybenzone) are just plain scary.  Chemical sunscreens tout effectiveness against UVB rays which cause sunburning and tanning, but are not effective in blocking harmful UVA rays which are harder to detect as they don’t affect the color of your skin.  A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that 97% of Americans are contaminated with the chemical oxybenzone which has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption and cell damage.  As well, oxybenzone is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers were exposed to the chemical during pregnancy.  To add insult to injury, oxybenzone is a “penetration enhancer” which means that it helps other chemicals penetrate the skin. 

SPF is a measurement of sun protection from UVB rays.  If your skin would burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, a SPF 15 sunscreen would enable you to stay in the sun for 150 minutes (10 x 15) without burning.  (A 30 SPF sunscreen would enable this person to remain in the sun for 10 x 30 = 300 minutes without burning.)  An SPF can be misleading however as the rating does not take into consideration UVA rays which cause photoaging and cancer.  Avoid sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 as a higher number does not impart more protection.  The American Cancer Society recommends that people use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests an SPF of 30.  More important than a high SPF is a generous application of sunscreen — most people never reach the SPF rating because they don’t put on enough sunscreen.  The FDA recommends applying one ounce (about a palmful, or shotglass) evenly to all exposed skin. 

Do you recognize your favorite sunscreen on this list?  Each of these brands contain oxybenzone: Bull Frog, Banana Boat, Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, Neutrogena.  Better choices are Alba Botanica, Badger, All Terrain, California Baby, UV Natural, Jason, etc. Please see EWG’s Sunscreen Guide for a complete list of safe and unsafe sunscreens.
I find it ironic that populations who live closer to the equator wear more clothing than we of northern climes.  Because they are accustomed to living with sun every day and have a healthy respect for it they know how to protect themselves against it, as opposed to the binge mentality of the sun deprived.  Personally, my sun strategy is to wear a big hat and a long-sleeve shirt with an SPF rating.  I am the killjoy on the beach; I happily forego beach fashion to protect my skin.  I have found that being covered is a better strategy for temperature control - if it’s breezy I have another layer, if the sun is particularly hot that day my skin stays cooler due to the fabric barrier.  We are fans of SPF clothing in our family and everyone has a short or long sleeved rash guard for swimming, dry shirt for hiking and land activities, and a hat.  Columbia has a great line of SPF clothing, as does REI, Land’s End, LL Bean, Sun Precautions and Coolibar.  I am more relaxed knowing that my family is protected without having to be vigilant about sunscreen.  

I urge you to take a look at the EWG sunscreen report and type in your favorite sunscreen to see where it falls on the spectrum.  You will likely be surprised that a sunscreen you thought was safe is actually quite toxic.  Throw away your leftovers from last year and start fresh this summer with a chemical-free sunscreen and hat.  Healthy skin and peace of mind will be your reward.  

June 1, 2010

Beef With Sugar Snap Peas

This is our new favorite recipe in our family, modified slightly from Bust-a-meal.  (See my recent blog posting on this fabulous meal-planning site.)  This nutritious dish is simple, delicious, and even popular with the kids, especially if you make your own hoisin sauce, which is much easier than it sounds.

1 cup brown rice
1 12 oz flank steak
2 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce (Optional: make your own! Super easy recipe below - guaranteed gluten-free)
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup sliced yellow onion
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
3 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup shredded carrot

Hoisin Sauce:
4 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp molasses
2 tsp rice vinegar (any vinegar would do)
1 clove minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
black pepper

1. Cook rice according to package directions and combine ingredients for hoisin sauce unless using a commercial variety.
2. Cut steak diagonally across grain into thin slices.
3. Combine steak and 1 Tbsp soy sauce, toss to coat.
4. Combine the remaining 1 Tbsp soy sauce, broth and hoisin; stir well with a whisk and set aside.
5. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.
6. Add steak and soy sauce mixture; saute a couple minutes until lightly browned then remove steak from pan.
7. Add onion and ginger to pan; saute 2 min.
8. Return steak mixture to pan; saute for 30 seconds.
9. Add broth mixture, bring to a boil and cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly.
10. Serve over rice.
Serves 4.

May 31, 2010

Healthy Teen Tidbits

Teenagers are under a lot of stress in our modern world.  Like adults they often adopt coping mechanisms (coffee, inadequate sleep, junk foods) enabling them to power through the moment which have cumulative negative effects.  Summer is a great time to catch up on sleep and develop healthy habits.  Here are some very simple health tips for teens. 

*Coffee is dehydrating as it depletes your body’s fluids.  Every time you drink a cup ocoffee you need to replace two cups (16 oz) of water.

*Coffee unnecessarily puts your body in the fight or flight state.  Your body thinks it is running from the tiger even though you are sitting around. Your hands can become sweaty, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure raises.  It interferes with the ability to concentrate, to relax, to eat and digest and metabolize your food, not to mention sleep.  Switch to decaf or better yet, green tea (which still has plenty of caffeine but has positive rather than negative effects on the body).  If you need a pick-me-up mid afternoon eat a handful of nuts, have some veggies, get some exercise, drink some water or herbal tea.  

*Teens need 9.5 hours of sleep/night.  Sleep in a completely dark room to maximize the effects of the hormone Melatonin that is released in the middle of the night in a dark environment.  It regulates the body’s hormones, the circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle), it stimulates the immune system and contributes to anti-aging.  The very best thing you can do for your overall health is to get enough sleep.  When you are well-rested your whole body works better and can better handle the stress of daily life.

*Soy, despite its press, is not a health food.  If you are lactose intolerant and avoid dairy, switch to hemp milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk or rice milk.  Eating too much soy can interfere with your hormones.  It can interfere with your thyroid gland causing fatigue, weight gain, depression and moodiness.  We natural folks used to think of soy as a miracle food, now we know that it is the opposite.

*Improve your diet!  Teens tend to eat a lot of foods that are high in carbohydrates such as pizza, bread, pasta and fast food. In addition to being empty calories that can deplete your nutritional reserves, they negatively affect your glucose/insulin metabolism and can make you feel tired, jumpy, light-headed, irritable, etc.  Simple carbohydrates such as the above-mentioned are turned into sugar in the body.  Increase the amount of vegetables, salads and proteins (meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs) and whole grains you eat and you will feel and look better.  I guarantee it!