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.

Can We Stay “Immune” to Germs?

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With everything that is going on around us, many of us are thinking not only about proper hand washing and decreasing the spread of germs, but also how we can stay healthy as a whole.  We all know, based on the research, that eating fruits and vegetables keeps us healthy overall.  So are there any foods that we can prioritize during seasons of illness to try to give us a healthy edge?

While no food or group of foods offer guarantees, of course, there are foods that contain specific types of nutrients that studies have shown help improve health outcomes.  Trying to consume these foods in larger amounts may help keep us healthy and possibly help our immune system fight whatever antagonists come our way.

Anthocyanins are a member of the flavonoid family with powerful antioxidant-type properties that have been shown to help our immune system.  A 2016 systematic review (of fourteen different studies) published in the journal Advanced Nutrition demonstrated the essential role of flavonoids in the function of the respiratory immune system by decreasing incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.  They have also been shown in other studies to boost cognitive function, keep our liver healthy, prevent cancer and keep our heart healthy.  Top anthocyanin containing foods (those that have a blue, purple or red hue) are:

  • Berries – blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, elderberries, cranberries and bilberries are rich sources of anthocyanins. Blueberries rank number one in terms of antioxidant activity in tests carried out at the USDA. Try using dried blueberries mixed into smoothies, plain yogurt, granola, cereal, or just by the handful.
  • Cherries – tart cherries have higher anthocyanin levels than sweet cherries; research has also found that people who eat tart cherries experience pain relief from osteoarthritis, gout and muscle soreness from workouts.
  • Purple grapes – a great source of anthocyanins and also resveratrol, they help dissolve uric acid crystals, which can contribute to gout and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  • Eggplant, purple asparagus and red cabbage – three vegetables that are very high in anthocyanins, with cooked red cabbage in particular have 36 different types of anthocyanins.
  • Black rice – has 6 times more antioxidants than brown or white rice, but one spoonful of black rice bran has the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries.

Antioxidants like Vitamins A, C and E counteract the oxidative assault in our body from everyday toxins and stress, but also from health attacks from germs (both bacterial and viral).

  • Highest sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, papaya and kiwi.
  • Vitamin A sources include sunflower seeds, almonds, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, spinach, Swiss chard and mango.
  • Vitamin E sources include sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocados, spinach and Swiss chard.

What is the take away from these lists?  If we aren’t eating these foods, we should try to add some of these items to our meal plan.  It is always best to eat a wide variety of colorful foods, organic varieties whenever possible. We CAN have a good immune defense to help us stay healthy through cold and flu season, and hopefully through anything else that comes our way.  So, get enough sleep, cover your cough and sneeze, and wash your hands, especially before food preparation and before eating.

Eating Clean in the New Year

It’s that time of year again. When we list all the changes we are going to make to “improve” ourselves.  There are many different blogs out there telling us the best way to eat, what to eat, what not to eat… and it can all be very confusing.

Clean eating encompasses the best foundation for our nutritional health by keeping our body nourished and able to repair and sustain itself in the best way.  The principles of clean eating are to put things into our body that are beneficial, and easy for our body to utilize without foreign or chemical intruders.  Virtually every disease is related to what we are eating, so by changing what we eat, we can improve our health.

These basic principals are a great starting point on the road to better health through good, CLEAN nutrition.

  1. Eat natural. This means the less processing the better; try to eat food that is closest to its natural form, in season and local if possible.
  2. Eat more plants. Fruits and vegetables provide thousands of nutrients that are synergistically available in our body because of their natural form.  Actual whole plant foods are the most beneficial for all of us because they pack the most punch nutritionally and are not processed.  Try to eat organic when possible, especially leafy greens, apples, berries and anything grown in the ground.  A whole food supplement like Juice Plus+ is a great way to bridge the gap in our daily nutrient intake.  Read the research on Juice Plus+ here.
  3. Transition to good fats. Fat is important in our diet if we are eating the right fats. Olive, perilla and avocado oil all have great health benefits, and MCT oils (coconut and palm oil, grass fed dairy) are excellent because they are easily digested and beneficial in our body.
  4. Decrease sugar intake. Americans eat way too much sugar, and much of it is hidden in our food.  Eating natural foods reduces the added sugar in our diet.  Reduce those sugary beverages and simple carbohydrates, like sweets.
  5. Change that saltshaker. High sodium consumption is largely a by-product of the processed foods consumed, as well as the sodium chloride in that standard saltshaker.  Try cooking with herbs (read my post on growing your own) and spices and use forms of salt that are beneficial.  Natural sea salt and pink Himalayan salt are excellent, beneficial forms of salt because of how our body is able to utilize them and the extra minerals they provide.
  6. Drink more water. We should all be drinking lots of purified water to help our bodies maintain the best nutrient delivery in our blood and the best digestive and detox processes.

So where to begin?  If all of these items are problems in our eating habits, pick the one thing on the list above that is the biggest offender. Make that a priority for one month. Once that is an actual good habit, pick another item on the list to incorporate.  Remember, it takes at least 21 days to establish a new habit, so allow 3-4 weeks to cement it into the routine.

Our health is the greatest gift we can give our family and ourselves.  While there are no guarantees in life, we can give ourselves the best chance at preventing health problems and illness/disease through good nutrition.

Happy New Year!

A Bountiful Fall

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This time of year is wonderful for taking advantage of the many types of fall vegetables that are overflowing at the market.  They are great for making soups and stews, as well as other dishes. Keeping our meals healthy centers around several principles: adding vegetables, keeping the sodium lower by using other spices and herbs, and limiting unhealthy fats.  Soups and stews also offer the advantage of preserving all the nutrition that can sometimes be cooked out of a vegetable because all the fluid stays in the pot.

Squash is the vegetable group that we typically think of in the fall.  It can be a wonderful base for soup!  Pumpkin and butternut squash can be cooked and pureed for a soup base, and then vegetables can be added to that base, either chopped or pureed in.  In stews, the squash can be left in chunks along with other veggies and it will add another element, flavor and texture. Squash can also be seasoned and roasted, and even stuffed with other veggies or meats as a side dish or even a main dish.

Rutabagas can also be cooked and chopped up and added to soups and stews, as well as a variety of different potatoes, like gold, purple and sweet.  These tubers can also be mixed together and roasted with olive oil, garlic and other herbs and spices for a wonderful side dish. Each of them can also be cooked and mashed.  The usual soup standard veggies of celery, carrots, and onions always provide wonderful flavor to start our stock and can be cut into different shapes to vary the dish.

Choosing healthy fats in our cooking applies to our soups, too.  Use coconut cream or coconut milk to make a creamy soup that isn’t dairy based.  Coconut is an excellent source of healthy fat that has terrific health benefits.  Another way to make a “creamy” soup without adding too much fat is to also puree different veggies to add to the soup to make a thicker, creamier texture.  Rutabaga, squash and sweet potato are all easy to cook and puree and then add to a broth-based soup to thicken the base.  I use an immersion blender right in the pot of soup to puree up the veggies.

Any recipe for soup or stew that calls for meat can be varied to reduce or eliminate the meat portion, if desired.  For recipes that contain meat, we can add a larger portion of each vegetable than what the recipe calls for, and a smaller portion of the meat.  This allows the soup or stew to remain hearty while upping our percentage of plant-based foods.  Remember the rule:  75% of each meal should be plant-based, so this rule can apply to the pot of soup or stew, as well.  Use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock for a different flavor and try fresh kale, basil, parsley or cilantro based on the “origin” of the soup.  For instance: tomato-based soup with fresh basil or black bean soup with cilantro.

Enjoy the season and all it has to offer.  Happy Fall!

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1-2 celery ribs, chopped (about ¾ cup)
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 Tbsp grass-fed butter
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped, seeds discarded
  • 1 tart green apple, peeled, cored, chopped (squash and apple ratio should be 3:1)
  • 3 cups chicken stock or broth (use vegetable broth if desired, but not a tomato based option)
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinches of nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat a large thick-bottomed pot on medium-high heat. Melt the butter in the pot and let it foam up and recede.  Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté for 5 minutes.  Lower the heat if the veggies begin to brown.
  2. Add the butternut squash, apple, broth and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the squash and carrots have softened.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or work in batches and puree the soup in a standing blender.
  4. Add pinches of nutmeg, cinnamon and cayenne. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or chives.

This recipe works well with a cast iron dutch oven, I love my 5.5 quart Staub dutch oven.  It is very versatile, and beautiful, too.  I leave it out on my stovetop all the time, and use it regularly.  The soup can also be done in an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker on the soup/stew cycle.