Tuesday, December 16, 2014

7 Awesome Children's Christmas Presents for the Health-Conscious Parent

7 Gifts to Get Your Kids for a Healthy Christmas

Christmas doesn't usually make the average person think about children's health, but it is the perfect opportunity to encourage healthful activities for your kids. Consider these fun children's gifts this Christmas season when you are battling the holiday shoppers!

1. Bicycle

This might seem like a no-brainer, but a new bicycle (or tricycle, depending on your little one's age) is an oldie-but-goodie when it comes to Christmas presents. Getting a bike will encourage your child to get outside and away from a screen, and to engage in that much needed physical activity. Just be sure to purchase a helmet to go along with it!

2. Tether Ball

A tether ball system is another way to get kids to engage in physical activity that doesn't seem like exercise. This will also encourage social interaction, as tether ball is a two-person game. A tether ball system is the perfect gift for siblings.

3. Crawling Tunnels

Crawl tunnels, play tents, and pop-up huts are all a great gift idea for children. Not only are they light and portable so that they don't take up a lot of space, they encourage active play inside. This is perfect for those stormy days when the kids can't go outside. There are a variety of options to choose from as well, from Frozen tents to Wiggly Worm tunnels.

4. Just Dance

Just Dance and other games like it are a fun and interactive way for children to play video games. These games improve coordination and are a lot of fun! They can be an individual or group activity, and appeal to all ages.

5. Themed Dishware

Buying your children interesting dishes can help them get excited about meals. Let them help you pick out some individualized dishware so that they feel included and more willing to participate in mealtime.

6. Trampoline

Safe trampolines are great for giving kids an outlet for their energy. People who live in mild climates can spring for the outdoor version, while those who live in snowy or rainy areas can choose indoor trampolines. Both will work for letting kids jump out their wiggles. You can even get small indoor trampolines with handles for the tiny tykes.

7. Play Set

If you're willing to spend money on a big ticket item, a play set is the way to go. There are many variations: swings, monkey bars, slides, rope swing, etc. You can even find compact indoor variations. They can last for years and provide a prime place for your kids to play and be active.

This list just includes some ideas for Christmas presents that promote fun, physical activity. There are many other options! As long as your gift will get your children moving (safely), then you really can't go wrong!

Bonus Tip: Skip the candy in the stockings this year and use $5 movies or dollar store toys instead!



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What to Eat to Beat PMS Cravings

How to Beat PMS Cravings

There are a few theories as to why women crave chocolate and other sugary/fattening things in the week or two before their periods. One thing that is for certain is that cravings do happen for many women-- and sometimes it's hard to resist throwing out every nutritional lesson we've ever learned and gorging on pizza and Haagen Dazs. 

While a treat every now and then is perfectly normal and even encouraged, a whole week of indulgence might throw a wrench in our health goals. Here are some ways that you can beat those monthly cravings:

1. Eat Carbs (Just Make Sure They're Complex)

In this case, it's best to fight fire with fire. Eating plenty of complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, low-sugar cereals, and whole grain breads or pastas can help prevent cravings for sugar. When these foods are eaten, they increase levels of a chemical in your body that helps keep carb cravings at bay. 

2. Avoid Simple or Processed Sugar

Although your body responds kindly to complex carbohydrates, it doesn't react well to processed and simple sugars. Simple sugars increase your insulin levels (a response to elevated blood sugar levels), which in turn drops your blood sugar. This drop in blood sugar triggers hunger, which starts the whole process over again. To avoid this vicious cycle, stay away from simple or processed sugars: pastries, packaged sweet treats, table sugar, etc.

3. Eat Fat (Essential Fat, That Is)

Foods that are high in essential fatty acids such as salmon or avocados are helpful for controlling cravings. The "good" fats slow absorption of carbohydrates, stabilize blood sugar levels, and reduce or completely get rid of cravings. They also provide more satiation than simple sugars, keeping you fuller longer.

4. Get Plenty of Sleep

Nothing makes you crave carbohydrates more than lack of sleep. Because your brain knows that those sweet treats will give you a quick burst of energy, it will be sending you signals in the form of carb cravings. Inadequate sleep also leaves you irritable and less likely to be able to control those cravings. Get in 7-9 hours of sleep in order to stave off cravings and stabilize your mood throughout the day.

If you've done all you can and still can't shake that craving, it's okay to give in once in a while. Being too restrictive may lead to overeating later. It's best to just have a little bit of what you're craving. Can't get your mind off of chocolate? Have a few squares of the dark variety, which contains more antioxidants and fiber. Is it pizza that is keeping you up at night? Grab a slice of thin crust with lots of veggies (make it at home to cut down on the sodium and save cash). 



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

With the dark and dreary winter months approaching, an issue arises that is forgotten throughout the rest of the year. That issue is seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is related to the seasons. Symptoms typically start in the fall and continue into the winter months. The specific cause of SAD is still unknown, but there are some factors that may come into play:

1. Your circadian rhythm. 
Your circadian rhythm, or biological clock, may be disrupted in winter months when there is a reduced amount of sunlight. That disruption may, in turn, lead to feelings of depression.
2. Drop in serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a chemical in your brain (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin level, which can trigger depression.
3. Decrease in melatonin. 
Melatonin plays a role in sleep pattern and mood. When the seasons change, melatonin levels may be disrupted, causing symptoms consistent with depression.

Risk factors for developing SAD include: being female; being younger in age; having a family history of SAD; having preexisting conditions like clinical depression or bipolar disorder; and living far from the equator.

Symptoms of SAD are related to those of major depression, including:
  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide*
More specific symptoms consistent with SAD include:
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

If you are experiencing multiple symptoms from this list, don't chalk it up to the "winter blues." If you feel depressed for days at a time and no longer find pleasure in activities you once enjoyed, it's time to see your provider. If not treated, SAD can lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior, substance abuse, social withdrawal, or school/work problems. 

*Lists taken directly from the Mayo Clinic website



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ways to Increase Milk Supply While Breastfeeding

What You Need to Know About Your Breast Milk Supply

We learn when we become mothers that things don't always go according to plan. It may have never before occurred to you that supplying enough milk for your infant would be a problem, but it is in fact very common for mothers to struggle to produce enough breast milk. There are several things that can cause a decrease in supply:

1. Fatigue
A sleep schedule that provides sufficient rest is important for nursing mothers (easier said than done, right?). Enlist the help of your partner or loved ones so that you can get adequate sleep.

2. Illness or Infection
Viral or bacterial infections can decrease breast milk supply, as well as other illness such as low thyroid function or anemia. When you see your provider about your health issues, be sure to tell them you are breastfeeding.

3. Caffeine
Soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate are all sources of caffeine. While caffeine is okay in moderation, large amounts can affect your body's ability to produce milk. Additionally, some of that caffeine is passed through your milk to your baby, potentially causing irritability and sleep disturbances.

4. Medications
Some medications can interfere with your body's natural cues to produce milk. Antihistamines, diuretics, and decongestants are among them. Birth control pills can also interfere with your supply by causing a decline in your milk production. Again, consult with your provider and let them know you're breastfeeding so they can prescribe the appropriate medications.

5. Stress
If you are anxious, worried, or otherwise stressed while breastfeeding, it can lead to a decrease in supply or inhibit your let-down response.

6. Not Nursing Enough
Inadequate sucking stimulation and infrequent feedings can lead to a reduction in milk supply, as your body starts to adapt to less feedings. Additionally, incomplete emptying may result in a decrease in production

Ways to Increase Your Milk Supply

1. Take Care of Yourself
Drink plenty of fluids, eat several servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and exercise regularly. Taking care of your body and keeping it healthy is important for your body to be able to operate effectively. An important aspect of nutrition for nursing women is to eat enough. Lactating women need up to 500 calories extra per day, for a total of at least 1800 calories a day.

2. Take Care at Each Feeding
Be sure to offer both breasts each time your baby feeds by switching sides each time they slow their swallowing. Nurse as long as your baby needs-- don't cut them off prematurely. If your breasts aren't completely emptied by the end of feedings, your supply may decrease. In addition to offering both breasts, try massaging each breast when you nurse. This process will allow your breasts to release hindmilk (milk that is richer and higher in calories) and help to continue the flow.

3. Avoid Bottles and Pacifiers if Possible
You want your baby to learn to suck from the breast, especially in the early months. Once they're older they're more likely to switch back and forth.

4. Pump After Feeding
To increase your supply by using a pump, it is best to double pump after breast feeding for five to ten minutes, or at least eight times in a 24 hour period. Set your pump to the maximum setting (unless you are experiencing pain), as most breast pumps work better on the higher suction settings.

5. Herbs
Some food supplements may help with the production of breast milk. Those that are commonly used to increase supply include fenugreek, blessed thistle, red raspberry, and brewers yeast containing B vitamins.

If your efforts fail, don't be afraid to supplement breast milk with formula. It is more important that your baby be at a healthy weight and getting enough nutrition than it is to give inadequate amounts of exclusively breast milk. Talk with your provider about different options for a decreasing milk supply.



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Truth About Kids and Food

Kids and Food: What You Need to Know

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) released a documentary series called The Truth About Food. One of the episodes explains common misconceptions about children and food. The episode also gave helpful hints about helping your children to improve their eating habits. Here are the highlights from this documentary episode:

1. Don't forbid foods-- especially if they're in plain sight!

The worst thing you can tell a child is that they can't have that treat in the pantry. That food now becomes the "forbidden fruit," and their obsession with it will only grow. The documentary did an experiment with preschool aged children where they distributed two snacks of equal liking: dried mangoes and raisins. The children had rated the snacks equally before the experiment. The teachers told the children they could only have the mangoes until the last two minutes, at which point it was okay to have the raisins. However, they kept both snacks out in plain sight for the duration of snack time. They did this for a few days, and each day the children became more and more fixated on the raisins. It was observed that the children became territorial and even violent to get access to the raisins. By the end of the experiment, the children said that they liked raisins more than the mangoes, even though they had previously rated them equally.
Moral of the story: Don't tell your children that they're not allowed to eat a food, especially if it's in the house! It's as the old adage goes: everything in moderation.

2. There ARE ways to get your kids to eat that vegetable they hate.

The episode explored two main ways to get a picky young boy to eat broccoli – the first being peer pressure. Child actors, hired as classmates, were directed to speak to the boy about the glamorous life of acting and were also told convince him to eat his broccoli. The boy eventually gave in to peer pressure, tasting the broccoli and saying that he liked it after being encouraged by the child actors.
Because it's unrealistic to hire child actors for your kids, there is another option (though it requires more patience). Another young boy who didn’t like avocados was followedHis mother offered the avocado to him every day for ten days. After the ten days, he didn't love the avocados, but there was certainly an improvement in his preference. With more time, he might have even developed a preference for them.
Moral of the story: Peer pressure works, but if you can't manage that, then expose your children to the food over and over until there is a marked improvement (ten times is supposed to be the magic number).

 3. Do Kids Stop When They're Full?

The documentary showed an experiment with young school children having lunch. On the first week, they prepared a daily lunch with a portion size of spaghetti and meat sauce that was deemed appropriate for their age by a registered dietitian. The children were given the portion and they happily ate the majority of their lunches. A week later, the children were given double the portion size of the same spaghetti and meat sauce. The results were astounding: the children had eaten 73% more with the bigger portion sizes. They even said yes to dessert after!
Moral of the story: monitor your children's portion sizes. They don't need adult sized plates at restaurants, and they don't need their food super-sized or king-sized.

4. Does Sugar Make Kids Hyper?

This is perhaps the most widespread notion: kids go crazy on sugar. In The Truth About Food, they decided to find out whether this is a myth. They had two birthday parties on two consecutive days. The first day, they showed the parents the food that would be served at the party and asked them to guess which foods their child would eat. They were told that for the first party, the kids would be eating healthy, sugar-free foods. In reality, the first party would be serving all the sugary treats that the kids could eat. The kids ate the sugar and then proceeded to participate in the underwater, story-telling themed party. The parents reported afterward how calm their children were.
The next day was the healthy lunch party, though the parents were told that their kids would be served sugary snacks. This party had more boisterous activities, like a bounce house. The children at this party were rowdy and energetic, and their parents commented afterward how hyper they were being, claiming it to be the effects of the sweets. Imagine their surprise when they learned that this was the sugar-free party!
Moral of the story: it's the activity, more than the food served, that affects how "boisterous" your child may be acting. However, too much sugar can lead to a drop in blood sugar afterward, which can cause irritability and moodiness. Make sure your children's sources of sugar mainly come in the form of fruit, milk products, and complex carbohydrates.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why You Should Be Taking Care of Your Bone Health NOW

The Scary Truth About Osteoporosis

Bone health may not be something you think about very often, especially if you're a young woman, but maybe it should be. Osteoporosis affects up to 200 million women worldwide. About half of women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Of the 10 million women with osteoporosis in America, a whopping 80% are women. It may seem like it doesn't matter while you're young, but the time to prevent osteoporosis is now.

The Facts

Let's talk about something called peak bone mass. Peak bone mass is the greatest amount of bone tissue that a person has during their life. For most people, peak bone mass is reached by the time they reach the age of 30. However, ninety percent of calcium is deposited by the age of eighteen to twenty years. This means that twenty-somethings need to work extra hard to add to or maintain that peak bone mass, because here's some bad news: after a certain age, bone mass starts to decrease (see graph).

As you can see, there is a gradual loss until menopause, where there is an acceleration of bone loss.  A measly ten percent loss in bone mass can double the risk of vertebral fractures. In women over the age of 45, osteoporosis accounts for more time spent in the hospital than diabetes, heart attack, and even breast cancer. Women need to be diligent about calcium intake and store up bone mass now so that later they won't be left with brittle bones. High peak bone density early in life reduces the risk of osteoporosis later. 

Factors That Affect Peak Bone Mass

1. Gender
Obviously gender plays a role in the risk for bone loss as men don't go through menopause, so they don't have that drastic loss in a relatively short period of time. Additionally, after puberty men tend to acquire greater bone mass than women.
2. Race
Caucasian females are at a higher risk than African American females. The difference in bone density is even seen during childhood and adolescence.
3. Hormonal factors
Women who had their first menstrual cycle at an early age and those who use oral contraceptives that contain estrogen often have higher bone mineral density than women whose periods started late or who lost it because of excessive exercise or extremely low weight.
4. Nutrition
Calcium is essential for bone health. Sadly, less than ten percent of girls age 9 to 17 are getting the calcium they need each day.
5. Physical activity
Regular exercise may play a part in achieving greater peak bone mass. Women can help prevent bone loss with regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise (see below).
6. Lifestyle Behaviors
Smoking has been linked to low bone density in adolescents and when those smokers grow up they are at further risk for bone loss and fracture.

Things You Can Do Now

Now that you've been intimidated by scary facts and charts, here are things that you can do now while you're young to prevent osteoporosis:

1. Take in Calcium and Vitamin D

This first one is obvious (hopefully). Calcium and vitamin D are both essential to healthy bones. Calcium builds the bones, but vitamin D is what helps the body absorb the calcium. Women should aim for at least 1,000 mg of calcium daily, and 1,200 mg over the age of 50. Here's the catch: the body can only absorb about 500 mg at a time, so you need to spread your calcium intake throughout the day, whether its in food form or pill form. Women should also aim for about 600 IU (international units) each day of vitamin D.

Good sources of calcium include milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, canned salmon, calcium-fortified orange juice, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens and broccoli. You can go here to see a great list of  calcium-rich foods and how much calcium is in each of them. If you feel like you just can't eat all of those collard greens, or maybe have a diet absent of dairy, calcium supplements are available in two forms: calcium carbonate (take with food) and calcium citrate (okay without food). Be sure whatever form you decide on to take twice a day in order to absorb enough calcium.
As for Vitamin D, you can stimulate production by being in the sun, but if you aren't outside all day and need that extra dose, some other good sources are: flesh of fatty fish, fortified milk, fortified orange juice, supplements, egg yolks, fortified cereal, and cod liver oil.

2. Exercise

Regular exercise has a vast number of benefits. One of those is improved bone health. The best kind of exercise for osteoporosis prevention is weight-bearing exercise and strength training. This includes a combination of walking, jogging, stair climbing, lifting weights, yoga, or body-weight exercises (push-ups, planks, wall-sits, sit-ups, etc). These exercises help keep bones strong by causing the muscles and tendons to pull on the bones, which in turn stimulates bone cells to produce more bones.

3. Cut Down on the Soda

Some studies have shown that the extra phosphorous in carbonated drinks may contribute to bone loss by binding with calcium and preventing it from being deposited in the body.

4. Make Sure Your Weight Loss Isn't Over the Top

When women lose too much weight they are at risk for losing their period. This can lead to major bone loss and can add to the risk of osteoporosis. What's worse is that in cases of prolonged low weight, as in anorexia nervosa, the bone loss is often irreversible.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Things You Can Do to Set Yourself Up for a Healthy Pregnancy

Trying to Get Pregnant: How to Set Yourself Up for Success

Are you ready to start "trying?" First of all, congratulations! No matter the outcome of these next few months, this stage is one of the most exciting times in a woman's (and a couple's) life! But some of us get to this point and then wonder, "Now what?"

The following are some helpful suggestions on what you can do to prepare yourself for a successful pregnancy.

1. Go off your birth control.

Whether it's the pill, the shot, or the ring, it's time to give up any and all birth control. You should also give your body a few months to readjust before you really start trying to conceive. Give yourself a while to get used to your natural menstrual cycle again. If you've stopped your birth control and haven't gotten your period for three months, talk with your provider.

2. Just say no to smoking and drinking.
If you are someone who smokes or drinks, it's time to stop now. Those toxins can affect your developing embryo before you even know you're pregnant. Smoking and drinking has also been shown to negative affect your chance of getting pregnant. Practice abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs for the months before, during, and after your pregnancy. You should also remove yourself from all secondhand smoke.

3. Cut back on caffeine.
Doctors are mixed about how much caffeine is safe when expecting or trying to conceive, so it may be best to just forgo it completely if possible. Not only can too much caffeine lead to miscarriage, you don't want to experience withdrawals while pregnant.

4. Get to your "ideal weight."
It sounds counter-intuitive to lose weight just to gain some, but a healthy weight helps with a safer and healthier pregnancy. Start exercising and eating healthier (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and sufficient vitamins and minerals) now so that it is a habit when you become pregnant. If you're underweight, try to gain a few pounds by adding in extra healthy fats like avocado, nuts and nut butters, olive oil, fatty fish, etc. Being overweight or underweight can hinder getting pregnant and may lead to pregnancy or birth complications down the road.

5. Take a prenatal supplement.
While taking a prenatal supplement might seem like jumping the gun, it will pay out when you find out you're pregnant. Actually, all women of child-bearing age are advised to take a prenatal supplement. The reason for this is mainly because inadequate intake of folic acid, present in prenatal supplements, can lead to serious birth defects in infants. These defects can be prevented by adequate folic acid intake, but the problem is that these defects occur in the first month of your pregnancy before you even get a positive pregnancy test. So be proactive by taking a prenatal supplement while you are in your child bearing years. As always, be cautious about the kind of supplement you buy. Stay away from the "gummy" vitamins, as these don't contain iron.

6. Get some rest.
Make your nights count. You probably don't expect much sleep with an infant, but you might not be aware of the sleepless nights you'll have while pregnant. Between heartburn, nighttime bathroom runs, and joint pain, you'll soon miss the days you could get a good night's sleep. Get in those z's while you still can!

7. Go see your provider.
Make an appointment and let your provider know you're thinking about getting pregnant. Make sure you're up-to-date on vaccinations, check for STD's, test for heart-health issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol, and ensure that any chronic conditions are in check (or that it's safe to get pregnant with your current condition). You may also choose to do genetic counseling/testing. Seeing your provider before you get pregnant also gives you a chance to determine whether you'll want to keep working with them once you get pregnant.

8. Be patient.
Just because you decided it's time doesn't mean you'll be pregnant next month. It can take months or even years to get pregnant. The odds that you'll get pregnant on the first try, although not impossible, are lower than you think. If you have been trying for a year or more with no success, don't hesitate to consult with your physician about a course of action.



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