Healthy Holiday Eating

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Peace, love and joy are sentiments of the holidays, but not always accurate about how we feel about our eating during December. Often we stuff ourselves silly at holiday gatherings, feel guilty about it until New Years, then resolve to eat healthy the next year. Why do this to ourselves? Sure, eating healthy around the holidays can be challenging, but with a little preparation, it's very do-able.

Don't go to a holiday party starving. Have a healthy snack beforehand to help take the edge off your hunger and allow you to make better choices when you are faced with tempting foods. This goes for the kids too. You'll take comfort knowing they ate something nutritious to balance out some of the treats they'll eat later that evening.

Offer to bring a healthy dish to the party. You know there'll be one dish you can load up on.

Fill up half your plate with vegetables. The fiber will help fill you up and help you stay full longer.

Incorporate plenty of physical activity into the day. Go for a walk or hit the gym before the party or collect family and go for a post-dinner walk.

Eat mindfully. Rich, indulgent foods shouldn't be labeled as "bad" or forbidden food. Rather, they are to be enjoyed with the fullest attention. Notice the aroma, texture, and flavor of the food and savor it. Mindful eating is a proven method to prevent overeating and increase satisfaction. Give it a try!

The Importance of Sleep

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You know you are pretty sleep-deprived if you're looking forward to the fall clock change! That's how it was for me this past Sunday. Just imagining an extra hour of sleep sounded so luxurious. It's not just parents who are sleep-deprived; it's our kids are too. Jam-packed schedules of school, an after-school activity and/or a sport, dinner, followed by homework is sending our kids to bed later and later. Let's face it, unless they're done, we can't relax either. On a more serious note, according the The Journal of Sleep, lack of sleep can manifest in depressive symptoms and and even suicidal thoughts in children so just like food and water is essential for our health, so is healthy sleep.

Good Sleep-hygiene

The Academy of pediatrics recommends that elementary-aged kids get 10-12 hours of sleep, preteens get 10, and teens get 9. A prescription for healthy sleep:  

  • Have a consistent bedtime. Your body well get accustomed to sleeping at the right time.

  • Create a bedtime routine for your children (and yourselves) - put phones and computers away, dim the lights and do something calming a half-hour before bed such as a hot shower, some light reading, drinking a glass of warm milk, or whatever is relaxing.

  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom. The light from phones and computers inhibit melatonin production (the sleep-inducing hormone) and keep us falsely alert. Checking texts at night disrupts sleep.

Sleep and Weight Gain

Believe it or not, sleep deprivation can affect your weight. A recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after a night of limited sleep, people ate an average of 385 extra calories the next day, the equivalent of a frosted cupcake or serving of French fries! They also consumed less protein and more fat. Hormones that control our appetite are regulated by good quality sleep too. For the sake of mental and physical health, make sure everyone in your house gets their zzz's. Need help convincing your kids? This video sums it up in a fun way.

Boosting Your Family's Immunity

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," said Hippocrates. As the cold and flu season approaches, focus on eating healthy to keep infections at bay.

Vitamin A regulates the immune system and protects from infections by keeping skin and tissue healthy. Vitamin A rich foods include tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, peppers, and egg yolks. It's also found in orange fruit like apricots and peaches.

Vitamin C protects us from infections and stimulates the production of antibodies. Peppers, strawberries, kiwi, citrus fruit and tomatoes are great sources of this vitamin.

Vitamin E neutralizes free radicals. Seeds, nuts, nut butters and spinach are good sources.

Zinc helps the immune system too and aids in wound-healing. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, whole grain products, beans, nuts and seeds.

So many of us are low or even deficient in Vitamin D. Get your levels checked and see if supplementation is necessary. Vitamin D plays an important role in the function of our immune system.

Probiotics promote gut health and strengthens the immune system too. Sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt are good food sources.

Turn to your spice drawer
Feeling a cold coming on? Head it off with this immune boosting broth. Boil a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, 1 smashed garlic clove, and a pinch of turmeric (dried or grated fresh) in a cup of water and sip.

Tips to Help Reduce Added Sugars

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Good news! A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that health warning labels can steer teens away from sugary drinks. The average teen consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day which is twice the daily recommended amount of sugar. A diet high in added sugars leads to obesity and insulin resistance, eventually paving the way to diabetes, high blood-pressure, heart disease, inflammation, and even some kinds of cancer.

Popular beverages among teens include energy drinks, soda pop, coffee drinks, and juice, all high in sugar and most containing caffeine too. Take a look at a few examples of drinks and their sugar content:

Red Bull (can)- 7 tsp

Rock Star (can)- 10 tsp

Soda pop (can)- 10 tsp

Jamba Juice smoothie (12 oz) - 15 tsp

Starbucks mocha frappuccino (tall) - 11 tsp

Below are some tips to help reduce added sugars:

Start with a good breakfast
A protein rich breakfast rather than a sugary one can set the tone for reduced cravings throughout the day. Instead of a bowl of cereal, how about offering eggs with vegetables cooked in olive oil and a slice of whole grain toast? Regular meals and snacks throughout the day will help keep blood sugars stable and sweet cravings at bay.

Educate your child or teen about added sugars
Fitness is important to most teens so sell them on how great they'll feel on a healthier diet. Suggest switching to plain water or sparkling water with a splash of juice. For older kids, caffeine-free iced teas with a touch of lemonade might be appealing.

Read nutrition labels together
If you see sucrose, glucose, dextrose or anything else that ends with "ose", these are just other names for sugar. Sugar alcohols end with "ol" like sorbitol or xylitol. Skip the artificial sweeteners. Besides not being healthy for growing bodies, studies show consumption of artificial sweeteners cause the body to respond much the same way as the consumption of sugar. Artificial sweeteners come with names like sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, and Acesulfame potassium. If the label reads "sugar-free," "no sugar added" or "diet," it's likely sweetened artificially.

Stick with it 
Taste buds take 10 days to two weeks to turn over so give a low-sugar diet a chance. Given time, foods and drinks that were once desirable will likely taste too sweet... which is a good thing!

Healthy Snacks for Traveling

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"Are we there yet?" Sound familiar? I heard it just yesterday within 30 minutes of our drive towards Point Reyes. Summer is around the corner and for many, that means travel.

Preparing a few travel-friendly snacks can help get you through the journey when tummies are rumbling and the next meal is hours away. Healthy and portable snacks for the cooler:

  • low-fat yogurt

  • cottage cheese

  • cheese sticks

  • Hard-boiled eggs

  • low-fat milk boxes (almond or soy come in individual servings too)

  • sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, or other easy-to-eat veggies

  • fresh diced fruit

Non-perishable go-tos:

  • dried fruit

  • trail mix

  • popcorn

  • whole grain crackers

Peanut butter sandwiches travel well too if allergies aren't a concern. If you're flying, pack the non-perishable items and don't forget an empty reusable water bottle to fill up once you get through security.


Keep in mind that on long road trips, kids sometimes say they're hungry but they're really just bored. Be sure to pack enough books, games, etc. in anticipation and to avoid mindless snacking.

The Sunshine Vitamin

Have you had your vitamin D levels checked recently? I was shocked when my results came back as deficient. Deficient? How can that be? I live in sunny California! As we've become better at protecting our skin from harsh UV rays, our absorption of vitamin D through sun exposure has gone down. Luckily we can also get vitamin D in other ways, through the diet and supplementation if your doctor deems it necessary. Foods naturally high in vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Liver, cheese, egg yolks and surprisingly mushrooms, especially if grown under UV light, are good sources of vitamin D as well. Foods that have vitamin D added to it or are "fortified" such as milk, soymilk, almond milk, cereals, and some juices are also good sources. Read the nutrition facts label to make sure.

Why do we need vitamin D? Working hand-in-hand with calcium, vitamin D strengthens bones and protects against the loss of bone mass. This is especially important for growing children. Muscles require it for movement and nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and the body. Vitamin D can help the immune system fend off invading bacteria and viruses. More recent studies have linked low levels of vitamin D with depression. Seniors, breast-fed babies, and people with darker skin may need extra vitamin D but check with your health-care provider before supplementing.

Prescription Drug Safety

My husband broke his collarbone a couple weeks ago while mountain biking. He needed surgery and pain medication to help him through the recovery process. Fortunately he had a strong resolve not to be on pain medication for more than a couple days, knowing it's addictive component. We disposed of the extra pills immediately afterwards.

What does all this have to do with kids? Everything! If you are like me, a parent of elementary-aged kids, you may think this is something to think about later. Did you know that prescription drug abuse can start as early as middle school? It might be taken recreationally or a for legitimate reasons like a sports injury or a tooth extraction. The fact is, left unchecked, prescription drug use can be fatal. The good news is that you can do a lot to prevent it from happening to your child. Sites like the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse (NCAPDA) can help you get educated.

In honor of Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Month, San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs is co-sponsoring a free showing of "Hooked", a documentary that  highlights the dangers of prescription drug abuse on Tuesday, March 8th, from 6:30-8:30pm at the San Ramon Valley High School Performing Arts Center. Click here for more information.

Love Your Own Heart

As busy caregivers, parents often place themselves last. We may skip exercise and opt for convenience foods or more processed foods to get dinner on the table fast. After awhile, these habits catch up with our bodies. The excessive sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats in these foods can lead to serious health problems later down the road.

In honor of American Heart month, let's take a look at ways we can make our diet heart-healthy.

  • Avoid trans fatty acids. These are often found in packaged foods like cookies, pastries, crackers, etc. Read the nutrition label to make sure the product is trans fat free.

  • Choose healthy fats: eat more avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

  • Eat Omega-3 rich foods: these be found in fatty fish, walnuts, flax, and chia. Add walnuts to salads, chia to yogurt, and grind flax into oatmeal or pancakes.

  • Add more plant based proteins to your diet including beans, lentils, legumes, and nuts. Try going meatless one day a week. Visit Meatless Monday for recipe ideas.

Children cultivate their taste for food early so let's steer their palate towards healthier choices while they're young! More tips on heart-healthy eating can be found at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.