With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, its time to show our children just how important it is to love your own heart. February is American Heart Month, which makes it the perfect time to raise awareness of heart health for your entire family. With heart disease being the number one killer of both men and women in the US, and child obesity rates on the rise, every member of the household from toddler to elder can benefit from adding heart healthy nutrients into their meal plan.
Boosting the heart health benefits of meals doesn’t have to be boring or cause those much dreaded food battles. With a few easy tricks, you can have your children excited about their meals, willing to try new food, and most importantly eating a nutritious, heart healthy diet and enjoying it!
#1 Make Fruits & Vegetables Fun
The research is clear. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to be protective to the heart by helping to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels while promoting a healthy body weight. But as any parent with a picky eater is aware, just telling your child to eat their veggies does not always work. So how can you get your little ones to start gobbling up their greens without a fight? Make it fun!
The more creative you can be with your little one’s food, the more likely they will be to try it. Try cutting fruit and vegetables into fun shapes, calling them fun names such as broccoli ‘trees’ or carrot stick ‘swords,’ and allowing your child to take a stab at creating food art will have them begging to eat produce. A simple activity of arranging fruits and vegetables into funny faces can increase your child’s exposure to new foods, which over time has been shown to increase acceptance and intake. And you don’t have to be an artist to make food art fun. Just be creative, silly, and have fun with it. Your kids, and your whole family, will love it. Who wouldn’t want to eat food that looks this fun?
#2 Say No to Fat Free
If you were under the impression that all dietary fats are damaging to the heart, think again! Plant based fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been found to provide multiple health benefits such as improving cholesterol levels, decreasing inflammation, and even promoting a healthy body weight. Incorporating a good source of these nutritious fats daily may aid in nutrient absorption while promoting heart health. Great sources include nuts, seeds, avocado, hummus, and plant-based oils such as olive oil.
To help your children incorporate more healthy fats into their meal plan, aim to add a healthy fat source to every meal and snack. Try topping cereal or yogurt with chopped walnuts, snacking on a handful of almonds, or using hummus or guacamole as a dip. Cooking in plant-based oils such as olive or avocado oil can be another great way to add these healthy fats into your family’s diet.
#3 Hello Whole Grains
Grains are a staple in many meals and snacks and include foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and pretzels. Although most of us eat plenty of grains, we aren’t always choosing whole grains. On average, most people consume just one serving of whole grains per day. That means that the majority of grains we are ingesting are the refined, rapidly digested forms, which can have a negative impact on overall health. Whole grains on the other hand can promote a healthy heart. These nutrient-dense foods are packed full of soluble fiber, a form of fiber that has been found to decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels.
If you worry that your child will never become a whole wheat bread covert, there’s no need to be concerned. Whole grains don’t just have to be just whole wheat. One hundred percent whole grains include options such as rye bread, brown rice, quinoa, and even popcorn (and what kid doesn’t love popcorn?!). Try introducing your child to a variety of whole grain options to find out what they love. You can even use whole grain flours, such as oat flour, to create family favorites such as pancakes and muffins.
#4 Embracing Balance
Teaching your child the important of balancing a variety of food groups at each meal is a fantastic way to get them started on the path to good health. Research has shown that visual cues are one of the best ways to educate portion size and meal planning. Using a compartmentalized lunchbox such as Yumbox, you can help illustrate what a balanced meal looks like to your child. The individualized compartments with graphics and text help to make meal planning fun and educational. Younger children can use the visual images to help them identify food groups, while older children can begin to understand the basics of meal planning and portion control. Providing a balanced meal rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, and healthy fats at each meal is the perfect combination for a healthy heart. Using a tool like Yumbox can help to take the stress out of meal planning and transform heart healthy eating into a fun activity the entire family can join in on together.
Disclosure: This blog post has been sponsored by Yumbox Lunchboxes. All opinions are my own.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas… sangria… one that contains few calories …. Lalala….
Are you drinking of relaxing over this holiday with a delicious cocktail that won’t pack in the calories and sugar? Me too! That’s why I decided to combine my two favorite adult beverages (wine & rum) into a healthy slimmed down sangria that pairs perfectly with this week’s festivities. On top of it being Christmas Eve, it’s also Joey’s 2nd birthday, so I figured I deserved some celebration time myself- you know to mark my 2 year anniversary of never sleeping thanks to one very fun, but very hyper toddler 😉 So yes, I need a drink!
You do have to prep a little to make this drink (it doesn’t take long, I swear) because you want to allow time for the fruit to defuse into the alcohol for a sweet taste. You can still make the drink with the fruit without allowing it time to defuse, but it won’t taste quite as sweet. So if you can, make this overnight tonight and it will be ready for you to enjoy all day tomorrow – of course if you start enjoying it too early it may lead to a very early bedtime for you. Hey, maybe that’s the solution to Joey’s sleep problems- just kidding!
I hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas, a happy holiday, and of course a happy & healthy New Year! Enjoy!
Slimmed Down White Christmas Sangria
- 1 bottle Pinot Grigio (750 mL bottle)
- 1/2 cup fruit infused white rum (I used Bacardi Razz)
- 1 cup 100% white grape juice
- 2 cups seltzer water
- 1 cup sliced red apple
- 1 cup sliced green apple
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
In a large bowl, place sliced fruit, rum, and wine and chill for 2 hours. In a large pitcher, mix together the fruit & alcohol mixture along with the grape juice and seltzer. Add 1 cup of ice to chill. Serve by scooping some fruit into a wine glass and pouring liquid mixture on top. Makes 12 servings.
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
95 calories, 8gm carbs
*Remember if you have #diabetes, alcohol can increase the chances of hypoglycemia- drink responsibly, test blood sugar often, and never drink on an empty stomach
On average, Americans consume about 20 teaspoons of added caloric sweeteners daily.1 This is two to three times the recommendation from the American Heart Association, which suggests that most women consume no more than 100 calories of added sugar (about 6 teaspoons) per day, and most men consume no more than 150 calories of added sugar (about 9 teaspoons) per day.2 Increased intake of added sugars can have a negative impact on health, including decreasing HDL-cholesterol levels and elevating triglyceride levels.3
Helping patients reduce their intake of added sugars can be a struggle, especially during the holidays if they experience frequent food cravings. However, food cravings themselves may be brought on by the meal choices your patient makes. One study compared brain activity following consumption of a high glycemic index meal, such as a meal rich in added sugars and refined grains, to consumption of a low glycemic index meal. Eating a high glycemic index meal resulted in lower blood glucose and increased hunger, and stimulated the regions of the brain associated with reward and cravings in the late postprandial period, which could impact food choices at the next meal.4This finding points to the possible value of helping our patients reduce the glycemic load of meals in an effort to help increase satiety and reduce overall cravings. The good news is, working to lower the glycemic index through simple substitutions, such as swapping brown rice for white rice, may be a tool to help manage the spikes and dips in blood sugar that may occur from more refined, starchy carbs.
Researchers are also exploring the role of added sugars in leptin resistance.5Leptin, a hormone released by fat cells, helps signal the brain to decrease food consumption and increase energy expenditure. Leptin resistance has been referred to as the hallmark of obesity.6 A recent study found a significant correlation between plasma leptin levels and carbohydrate cravings.7 This may be especially valuable information for those with diabetes or prediabetes, as insulin resistance has been associated with leptin resistance.8
To help curb cravings this holiday season, one strategy may be to work with your patients to help them reduce the overall glycemic load of their meal choices, while simultaneously working with them to reduce intake of added sugars. This combination may help fight cravings, as well as manage hunger. As mentioned earlier, certain meal swaps may help reduce the glycemic load and limit added sugars without sacrificing flavor. For instance, work with your clients to find whole grain alternatives to common refined grain choices such as whole grain pasta over white pasta or steal cut oats over instant oatmeal. Added sugars can also be reduced by making simple swaps, such as seltzer for soda, 100% juice for fruit juice, and unsweetened teas for sweetened varieties.
Making a few easy swaps to meals and snacks may help boost satiety, rather than stimulate cravings. When our patients’ cravings are diminished, the goals of improved blood glucose management and reduced body weight may become easier to work towards, and our overall health may be enhanced.
1. American Heart Association. 19 May 2014. Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Frequently-Asked-Questions-About-Sugar_UCM_306725_Article.jsp#.Vk4AKBNViko
2. Johnson R, et al. Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. 2009. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/120/11/1011.full.pdf. Accessed November 10, 2015.
3. Welsh JA, et al. Caloric sweetener consumption and dyslipidemia among US adults. JAMA. 2010 Apr 21;303(15):1490-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.449. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045262/
4. Lennerz BS, et al. Effects of dietary glycemic index on brain regions related to reward and craving in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Sep;98(3):641-7. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.064113. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743729/
5. Shapiro A, et al. Prevention and reversal of diet-induced leptin resistance with a sugar-free diet despite high fat content. Br J Nutr. 2011 Aug;106(3):390-7. doi: 10.1017/S000711451100033X. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21418711. Full text accessible at http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN106_03%2FS000711451100033Xa.pdf&code=b39b75fcef66d9e30244640216120c97
6. Lustig RH, et al. Obesity, leptin resistance, and the effects of insulin reduction. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Oct;28(10):1344-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15314628
7. Licinio J, Negrao AB, Wong ML. Plasma leptin concentrations are highly correlated to emotional states throughout the day. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Oct 28;4:e475. doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.115. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350520/
8. Fischer S, et al. Insulin-resistant patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have higher serum leptin levels independently of body fat mass. Acta Diabetol. 2002 Sep;39(3):105-10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12357293
Guest Post By Elana Natker, MS, RD
Eating well during pregnancy is important for a healthy birth and healthy baby – makes perfect sense, right? But emerging research suggests that mom’s diet may have lifelong effects on the baby – such as increasing risk of heart disease and other later-in-life chronic conditions. Known as the “Barker Hypothesis” and named after researcher David Barker in the United Kingdom, the theory is that environment – namely the environment of the uterus – plays a critical role in the development of the fetus. If the mother does not eat enough, that could activate genes to create cells in the growing baby’s body which are programmed to hold onto as much nutrients as possible. So while the baby might be born small and underweight after living in essentially a starved environment (in his mom’s belly), he might quickly catch up and then become overweight, since his body may have adapted to storing nutrients (such as fat) to draw upon later in the event of future starvation. This so-called fetal programming may also increase the baby’s risk for developing heart and coronary diseases in adulthood.
While this is still very much a hypothesis and much more research needs to be done, there is one thing we can’t argue: a healthy pregnancy resulting in a normal-weight baby is critical.
So what should a mama eat when she’s pregnant? For starters, don’t eat for two! A baby isn’t a second adult and doesn’t need the same number of calories as his mom. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a pregnant mom should:
- Not increase daily calories at all in the first trimester;
- Have about 340 additional calories per day in the second trimester; and
- Take in about 450 additional calories per day in her third trimester.
The additional calories should all be high-quality calories that promote growth and development. Foods like beans which provide folate to prevent neural tube defects, fatty fish like salmon or mackerel which provide EPA and DHA fatty acids to support brain and eye development, lowfat dairy foods like milk and yogurt for bone-building calcium and vitamin D, and lean red meat for iron which keeps blood healthy.
Of course, eating healthy foods can be challenging when pregnant and dealing with food aversions and overpowering smells (since the sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy – great for popcorn, bad for kimchi). Your best bet is to meet with a registered dietitian who can help create a plan based on your personal preferences and meal patterns. An online research I like is this meal plan developed by RDs and featured in Parents magazine: http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/nutrition/prenatal-meal-plan/.
Elana Natker, MS, RD, is a nutrition communications consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. Find her online at www.enlightennutrition.com and @elanaRD on Twitter.