Teen Nutrition

We hear in the news how obesity in our youth reached epidemic status with 33% being overweight or obese in 2012.  However, according to the most recent CDC report (Oct 2017), that has decreased to 20.6% (ages 12-19) being overweight or obese.  This is a great improvement, but there is still work to do.  Even if our teenager doesn’t have a weight problem, many may have a nutrition problem.  Regardless of which category our teens fall into, the goals for their nutritional health are the same as ours, but they can have some unique needs such as rapid hormonal changes, growth spurts and intense physical and mental activities that can be helped or harmed by good nutrition.

Mood swings and depression have been linked to high sugar type of diets.  When any of us eat large amount of simple carbohydrates like sweets, soda, etc., we can cause imbalances in our body and create mood issues and even depressive difficulties.  Add to that rapid hormonal swings due to puberty and growth spurts and our teens can have an even harder time.  Complex carbohydrates such as lots of veggies, whole fruits, whole grains and legumes help keep our blood sugar stable and can help to keep our hormones in the proper progression.

Growth spurts are another factor that adults don’t face, and adolescents can see the most rapid ones.  Their bodies need more calories, for sure, but the right calories to feed their rapid muscle and bone growth.  Good, lean protein sources (avoid the fried options whenever possible) and complex carbohydrates are key for teens as they grow and change.

Many of our teens are the most active athletically in their life during the teen years.  Most of them will play sports in high school, some at a pretty intense level, and may not play in college.  Learning how to eat for athletic needs is important for when they perform now and also how to change their eating patterns when they are not playing those sports any longer.  Complex carbohydrates from whole food sources, lean protein and hydration are important for athletes, with larger portions based on the intensity of their sport.  For example, cross-country and track will need more calories because they burn more calories than softball or baseball players.

Muscle building is intense for many of our teens in their sports during adolescence, but don’t allow them to over do it on large amounts of protein shakes and powders.  There is certainly an increased need for both protein and good carbohydrates, but too much protein can be harmful.  Consult a sport nutritionist for the best plan for your athlete and don’t let them rely solely on their coach or their buddies for the best advice.

Mental energy is intense in the teen years, as well.  High school classes are designed to up the ante to get our kids ready for college, and they need to be mentally sharp and focused.  Sugary foods are not great choices for our brain focus either.

All in all, our teens need to learn to make good choices.  Snacking on whole grain type of snack bars, whole fruits, packs of veggies and avoiding fast food restaurants are key to laying a good foundation for the adult years and preventing illness and disease.  Our body responds to cumulative efforts on our part, whether good or bad.  Make good nutrition a focus for your whole family and the benefits will accumulate in all areas of life.

Keep Our Heart Pumping

The Christmas decorations are put away and the Valentine’s Day decorations are coming out.  We show our love to each other in specific ways on Valentine’s Day, but remember that February is also Healthy Heart Month.  What are the top things we can do to show our heart some love and keep it pumping at its best?

  1. Eat less processed carbohydrates. Low-carb diets are increasingly popular because the reality is that too much carbohydrate, especially processed/refined carbohydrates can cause an imbalance in our digestive tract and consequently can put our health out of balance. By choosing carbohydrates largely from the “greens” category, our nutrient intake remains high while our refined carbohydrate intake stays low.

Those in the “greens” category would be: leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts) asparagus, celery, cucumber, zucchini, chives, leeks, are very low in carbs but very high in nutrients.  The bulk of our produce choices should be from this category.   Some fruit is good for us, and also packs a big nutritional punch.  But given the “sweetness” of fruit, it should be a smaller part of our produce choices.  The exception to the fruit rule is avocado.  It is an excellent source of nutrients and healthy fats.  Keep sugars to a minimum by only eating sweet treats (processed carbs like cookies, etc.) occasionally.

  1. Eat healthy fats to provide other energy sources, such as olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, avocado oil, grass fed butter and ghee. These provide nutrients and a concentrated energy source that complements our diet and helps keep our digestive tract healthy, as well as keeping all our joints lubricated.  Good fats also help us feel full and less likely to wander to the vending machine or the cookie jar.
  2. Avoid unhealthy fats, which are very inflammatory. Trans fats are so dangerous to our health, and do not supply any nutritional value. Our bodies do not process them well and they cause inflammation.  Steer clear of any fat listed in an ingredient as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
  3. Choose healthy protein options like grass-fed meat, pastured chicken, cage-free or Omega 3 eggs and wild-caught fish. Prepare these with healthy fats and flavorful herbs to keep us on target and eating the best food sources.  Protein requirements on average are 1.2 grams per kg of body weight.  (Pounds/2.2=kilograms).  Don’t overload on protein, it is not necessary and is not a balanced diet providing the maximum nutrients.
  4. Reduce stress and make time for exercise to promote a healthy heart. Stress management and regular exercise are key not only to our heart health, but bone health and brain health, as well. We often think that stress is just part of our job, or our life situation, but there are great stress management techniques that help us keep ourselves from feeling that overwhelmed, stress-out feeling too often.  Exercise is a great stress-reliever, so it’s really a double bonus.  Make time to be active 3-5 days a week.
  5. Supplements may be helpful for our heart and overall health. Vitamin D is essential for our immune system, keeping inflammation in check and subsequently protecting our heart. Blood levels of Vitamin D are woefully low in many people, and supplements may be the only way to keep our blood levels in the beneficial range (especially during the winter months).  We want our Vitamin D levels to be at the high end of normal: 50-80 ng/mL.  CoQ10 is essential for our brain health, and anyone taking a statin MUST supplement with a high quality CoQ10.  (Other supplements may be necessary if there are deficiencies or specific healthy concerns/goals, but those require a personalized nutrition analysis and plan.)

Cardiovascular health is key in keeping ourselves healthy: not only our heart, but our brain and our circulatory system, as well.  Strive to pump up your heart-healthy strategies this month… and the months to come.

Walkin’ On Sunshine

Sunshine, exercise and a nutrient-rich diet are essential to our overall health. By coordinating diet along with exercise and proper sun exposure we can achieve the best recipe for the healthiest levels of vitamin D, and other essential nutrients needed for our overall health. God has created our body in an amazing way to produce this wonderfully protective nutrient.

Recently, in the ongoing quest to figure out why some people are more susceptible to dying from the novel coronavirus, this article was published by Northwestern University. This compilation of data seems to reinforce what many other studies have shown about Vitamin D levels and our immune systems.

Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, but a “prehormone” produced in our body from a conversion that occurs when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The National Institutes of Health has a fact sheet on Vitamin D. Without adequate vitamin D circulating in our blood, our immune system is not operating as efficiently as it should.  Low levels can affect our digestion, our cardiovascular system, our bones and increase our risk for illness and many cancers. We must have adequate vitamin D to absorb calcium, and it has also been shown to be a key factor in prevention of many different types of cancer, including breast cancer. Vit D deficiency has been linked to the onset of diabetes and supplementation with Vitamin D showed an improvement in glycemic control (Hgb A1C) as well as lipid profiles.

Limited sun exposure without sunscreen is essential for our body to synthesize vitamin D correctly. This means that we should shoot for at least 15-30 minutes of exposure daily with as much skin uncovered as possible.  This level of exposure has been shown to potentially produce 10,000 – 20,000 IU of Vitamin D. Sunscreen will block the sun’s rays necessary to synthesize the Vitamin D3 in our body, as does glass in a window.  UVB rays have the protective effects of producing the synthesis of Vitamin D3 in our blood and counteracting the harmful UVA rays.  Recent studies have shown that the best time to get the beneficial UVB rays is between 10am and 3 pm.  This can mean a walk around the neighborhood, golf on the golf course, tennis, or enjoying the pool. The key is to not use sunscreen during that limited exposure while we are trying to get that Vitamin D synthesis, but also NOT to allow our skin to burn.  To get the necessary synthesis, expose as much skin as possible until it begins to take on a slight pink “warmed” color, but then STOP the exposure by moving to the shade, covering up or using a natural mineral sunscreen to prevent burning.  We can increase our exposure time gradually (always preventing burning) and gradually increase our Vitamin D synthesis.

There are many foods that provide naturally occurring compounds, which provide great protection for our skin, as well as many other health benefits.  Astaxanthin is the powerful antioxidant that gives wild salmon, lobster and shrimp their red/pink color.  It is excellent for skin protection, and the wild salmon is not only a dietary source of Vitamin D, but also provides omega 3 fatty acids, which is also very beneficial for skin protection.  Both of these nutrients are also excellent for brain health.  Eating 2-3 servings of the wild varieties each week will help us get those nutrients.

Colorful fruits and veggies, especially the red and orange flesh, provide beta carotene (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots and mangoes) and lycopene (tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, blood orange) which are both powerful antioxidants being shown to have protection for our skin.  We should try to eat some of these daily.

Polyphenols in tea have been shown in studies to help prevent skin cancer, with the evidence for green tea being stronger.  Daily consumption is highly beneficial.

Studies have shown that people with a higher intake of foods containing selenium (Brazil nuts, grass-fed beef) and zinc (grass-fed beef and lamb, shellfish, legumes) have a lower risk of cancer and better functioning immune systems.

Vitamin K (leafy greens) is being shown in studies to help manage some cancers and it is also essential for the synergy of absorbing Vitamin D and calcium for our bone health.  Recent research suggests that without adequate vitamin K in our diets, it is much harder for our body to absorb vitamin D and calcium. We should be eating leafy greens at least once a day.

There are not many foods that provide Vitamin D. Wild caught salmon is an excellent source providing about 500 IU in a 4 oz. serving, sardines are a very good source providing about 175 IU in a 3 oz. serving, mushrooms exposed to UV light provide about 350 IU per 1/2 cup, and cows milk is fortified with Vitamin D, providing 50 IU per 4 oz. Many of us may need to supplement with Vitamin D if we are not getting enough and our blood levels are low. To test for our blood level, we want to ask for 25-hydroxy vitamin D to be tested. This is the circulating, converted form of Vitamin D that our body utilizes. Optimal levels are 50-100 ng/ml. Try to increase sun exposure safely, but supplement if necessary, 1,000 – 4,000 per day. It is best to use a supplement that also has K2 for best absorption.

The most important thing to remember for our health is that just like our body is made of many parts, our health is dependent on many things working together and being nourished properly with a large variety of foods.  Enjoy a colorful menu each day and enjoy some sunshine!

Supplemental Information

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We have just participated in a “Stay-At-Home” order for our health, something we have never experienced as a whole community.  Hopefully, when we have been sick in the past, we have practiced our own version of staying at home and staying away from others.  Because we encounter many germs each day, the biggest factor is not really trying to “stay away” from all germs as an effective means of staying healthy.  The best way is to have a body equipped to “fight” and protect us.  Our bodies were created with an immune system, and unless we have an immune-compromising condition, our immune system, when healthy and fueled with the proper nutrients, works to fight off any invaders that we encounter.  We MUST keep our immune system working at its best and support it even further during a “fight” to help our immune system do exactly what it was designed to do.

The way we do this is two-fold:

First, keep our immune system healthy every day by following several basic principles:

  • Eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, organic whenever possible, to help us to get the thousands of micro-nutrients that our bodies need to stay healthy
  • Keep our digestive system healthy with pre- and probiotic foods such as yogurt, onions, garlic, cabbage/sauerkraut (see my previous article on this topic)
  • Sleep at least 7 hours a night, preferably in a very dark, cool room
  • Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes
  • Reduce stress by prayer, meditation, delegating and letting go of some things
  • Laugh and sing and enjoy life with a positive outlook.

Second, there are times when we may need to take supplements to get additional nutrients.  As a huge proponent of getting our nutrients from whole food, I am also realistic that there are times and factors that influence our need to add additional sources of certain nutrients to our routine to keep us healthy.  Cold and flu season is probably one of those times.  We cannot always get enough of certain nutrients from food while we are in the “fight” and it is widely known in the medical field that certain nutrients support our immune system during those times.

  • Vitamin C has long been known to help support our immune system while we are fighting off an infection, particularly viral. It has been shown to be helpful against many viruses, including COVID-19.  At the first sign of a cold or flu, many health professionals recommend taking additional Vitamin C in addition to eating foods high in vitamin C.  Liposomal Vit C is absorbed at a much better rate without digestive upset at higher doses.  We can safely take 1000-4000 mg per day during times of “fight”, spread this out during the day and take with food.  For daily maintenance, I recommend Juice Plus+ as it provides all the thousands of phytonutrients along with vitamin C, but because it is whole food form, it is very bio-available and doesn’t need high dosing
  • Vitamin D is very well documented to modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses in our body. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. In northern climates, it is difficult to get enough sun exposure to synthesize vitamin D in adequate amounts to support our immune system, and there are few foods that offer enough vitamin D to keep our blood levels high during the winter.  Supplementing with liquid Vitamin D and K2 combined maximizes absorption, as well as taking with food.
  • Zinc has been in the news lately as one of the treatment modalities some doctors are using, but it has long been recognized as important for helping us during the seasonal “fight”. There are many forms of zinc as a supplement,  sulfate and picolinate are the most common.  Zinc picolinate seems to be the best absorbed when taken orally.  Taking 50-100 mg per day is widely recommended during the “fight” and seems to be very effective in breaking down viruses.  It is helpful to take zinc on a daily basis, 30 mg per day, for maintenance since we don’t store zinc in the body.  Quercetin and green tea are shown to help with absorption, and cellular uptake of zinc, so take your zinc with green tea or an apple, which is high in quercetin.

I have used and recommended a product called Juice Plus+ for many years.  It is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, juiced, dried and put into capsule form.  It is supported by vast amounts of published research and shown to be bioavailable, to support our immune function and help to keep us healthy overall.  Visit my Juice Plus+ website to read the research and find out more about using this product to fill in the nutrient gaps we all experience every day.

Stay healthy by taking charge of your own immune system and supporting its ability to “fight” when it needs to.  Blessings of great health to you!

If you think you have any symptoms of COVID-19, or are feeling ill in any way, contact your health professional.