Health on Vacation

June 9th, 2015

Summer time is here. Families all over are taking vacations. Some families are getting away for weekend excursions. Others are traveling for a week or two at a time. Last year our family is less than a mile from Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida spending a week with my dad. We know keeping everyone fed and happy is an adventure in itself. Here are the tips and strategies we are using to make sure everyone is having a magical adventure.

First is sleep.  Sleep is crucial when the days are full of walking and caloric expenditure. Each adult is getting at least 7 hours and every child is getting a minimum of 8 hours at night. During the hottest part of the day (between 2 and 4 pm),we are leaving the parks or finding an activity in the shade for an afternoon rest. Exhaustion and sunburn can put a damper on the fun quick.

Staying hydrated is the next important tip. Everyone is drinking at least 8 ounces of water first thing in the morning.  Most summer recreation spots will let you bring water. The goal is to consume over half of our body weight in pounds as ounce of water. We are using frozen water bottles to help keep things cold in our cooler and then drinking the ice cold water later in the day after it has melted. We are also packing Emergen-C packets around with us. Without taking up too much space, an Emergen-C packet adds a quick flavor burst while also providing electrolytes and antioxidants. We are limiting each person to 1 soda per day.

The next important tip is to use sunscreen.  When we spend time in the sun, everyone is using an EWG (environmental working group – approved sunblock and reapplying sun protection hourly. Using wide brimmed hats and long sleeve shirts is another great way to protect the face and arms from sunburn. Do not forget to apply sunblock to the feet and the backs of the calves.

On vacation we have a realistic expectation regarding food and nutrition. It is not the same as eating at home, yet it need not be all fast food and junk food either. We start each vacation day with a typical breakfast at our condo – eggs, gluten free granola and yogurt, fruit, and some sauteed veggies. This is a great foundation for the rest of the day.

Packing snacks is the difference between overspending on food that you slows you down for the rest of your day and having the energy to keep up with the “vacation” schedule. Here’s a few of the staples that keep us going:

Homemade trail mix – Use a variety of nuts and unsweetened fruit. Avoid chocolate, avoid a melty mess and portion out into individual servings before heading out for the day.

  • Apples and squeeze peanut or almond butter.
  • Beef Jerky.
  • Gluten Free Almond Butter and Banana sandwich.
  • Cut veggies – cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers are perfect.
  • Snack Bars – We usually take less than 1 per person and share when we eat these. Snack bars are convenient and also often high in calories and sugar. They are perfect when you need a quick snack and can be kept in easily accessible locations for a quick bite.

By keeping health a priority when on vacation we are showing our children that health is an everyday investment. We are also encouraging an easy recovery when we return back to our normal routines at the end of the vacation. Too often when we need a vacation to recover from our vacation, food and drink can be to blame. With a little planning, we need not take a vacation from our health.

~Dr. Swanz

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Questioning Your Health

March 20th, 2015

Do you want to FEEL healthy? Or do you want to BE healthy? What is the difference? I believe it is possible to FEEL healthy, to be free of symptoms that would indicate disease or imbalance, and not actually BE healthy. Our conventional medical system that is directed towards alleviating the symptoms has the potential to help an individual to feel more healthy without actually helping the individual become healthier. I do not believe feeling healthy through the absence of symptoms is the same as being healthy through a diet and lifestyle that is in accordance with the needs of our body. I am sharing this distinction again to help demonstrate a concept I believe is vital towards reclaiming our health. In order to truly become healthy, we must begin questioning our health and our choices in order to challenge ourselves and inspire change in the way we are living. Do you want to help motivate your family to make changes in their lifestyle choices so they will both FEEL and BE healthy? If so, you must begin questioning the choices they are currently making.

It is crucial to question in a manner that will encourage discovery for yourself or your family. For example, when talking with our children about nutrition we want to pose questions in an open ended fashion. Do not simply ask your children if they want salad with dinner. If you ask this, they say “yes” or “no”. Instead create a dialogue about nutrition by engaging the children with questions they can not simply blow off with a one word answer. Try something along these lines:

I was thinking about making either a salad or a veggie stir fry to eat with our grass fed steaks tonight. Which do you think would be a healthier and more tasty option for our family? Do you have any suggestions on how to prepare it? Oh, you don’t really want salad or veggie stir fry? What would you suggest we eat instead to be certain we are getting our 9 to 12 veggies servings per day?

By asking open ended questions we draw the other participant into the conversation. This is empowering and allows that individual to help direct and create the desired outcome still within the perimeters of our overall objective – to get the kids to eat some veggies with dinner.

The same technique can be employed regarding exercise. Do not simply ask your partner if they want to go to the gym with you, especially if you know they don’t like working out at the gym. Instead mention that you have been sitting all day at work and your body is really craving some physical activity. You want to spend time with them too. Do they have any suggestions on an activity that would be enjoyable for both while also providing some level of physical exertion.

When we engage our loved ones with open ended questions in discussions about healthy living, and encourage each other to make healthy choices, we can begin to improve our own and their health.  Interacting in a fashion that is more encouraging and supportive can help us chose activities and behaviors that make us both FEEL healthy and BE healthy. Ultimately, this is our goal. Good luck on your journey.

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Organic or Not Organic… Is that the Question?

January 15th, 2015

Stanford University Scientists published a meta-analysis article in the Annals of Internal Medicine casting doubt on the nutritional quality of organic foods. A meta-analysis is not an experiment; it is more appropriately described as a research project. The Stanford scientists scoured the medical databases to find studies that investigated the nutritional and toxic qualities of foods. Based on the data they collected they concluded that there was nearly no nutritional benefit in eating organic food. They did acknowledge that the contamination from pesticides and toxins was found to be significantly lower in the organic produce. I am going to elaborate on the two primary problems I have with both this analysis and the multiple news stories it created.

As my egg article from the last issue demonstrated, there is plenty of poor research that is being performed and published. And certainly this is also the case regarding organic / non-organic foods. I am not trying to say that if a study on organic food showed no nutritional health benefits that it can’t be a good study, but we must consider if all studies are providing the same level of quality and testing. For example, studies on organic foods have shown more nutritional value in foods grown on older organic farms. Brand new organic farms don’t have the nutrient rich soil we would expect to find on a mature farm. This seems like an obvious discovery, but consider how this might influence a small scale study in a university lab where two crops of tomatoes are being grown and compared for nutritional quality – one crop meets all organic standards and one is grown following the conventional methodology. I would not expect there to be a significant difference in the end nutritional results because the organic crop is a first generation product. The problem here is that this study would be perfectly fine to publish and be included in the meta-analysis performed by the Stanford crew. Because we know there is a naturally occurring discrepancy on the research methodology performed by scientists looking at the nutritional value in organic foods, we would expect the findings to bridge the gap between no nutritional benefit and very beneficial in the foods. This is the case and hence the results from the meta-analysis pulling a large majority of these studies together is going to leave us pretty close to smack dab in the middle regarding the findings. When the overall result is an average nutritional state, it is understandable why the researchers would propose that there is little nutritional benefit in organic foods, even though there absolutely have been individual experiments that demonstrated a nutritional advantage from organically grown produce.

The meta-analysis did find a significantly lower amount of pesticide residue on the organic foods vs the non-organic foods. Once again this seems like an obvious discovery, yet the headlines from the study downplayed the importance of this finding. Any organic food, regardless of the maturity of the farm, the soil nutrient quality, the age of the produce when it was picked and tested, is going to have less pesticides used in the production. This finding should be enough for many to choose organic foods over the conventionally grown counterparts. Pesticide and herbicide use are two of the primary areas where we are exposed to neuro-endocrine disruptors. These various chemicals can behave like hormones in our body. Neuro-endocrine disrupting hormones are considered to be contributing factors in the health concerns we are dealing with today: thyroid issues, diabetes, cancers, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases are just the tip of the iceberg. We want to avoid these chemicals whenever possible and by choosing organic foods we can do that.

What is important to me has little to do with organic vs non-organic produce. Study after study has shown that health in an individual that consumes more fresh produce and fruits is better than that of an individual that doesn’t eat produce regularly… organic or not! Research is conclusive, the more veggies and fruits we eat, the healthier we will be! It is just that simple. I stress the benefit of eating locally, and often encourage that even more than I do consuming organic foods. The reason is that local produce is allowed to ripen on the vine and has spent nearly no time sitting in a truck or on a shelf. Heat and time are the greatest threat to the nutritional quality of food. So eat locally and eat veggies and fruit because our health depends on it. If you are eating store bought non-organic produce, please be sure to wash it to lessen the exposure to toxic chemicals. And if you can afford organic produce for your family, choose it! We can pay the grocer, or we can pay the pharmacist. The choice is ours to make.

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Holiday Eating Tips

November 9th, 2014

November is the perfect time to revisit a few of the important ideas I have written about regarding food and nutrition.  The holiday months are often a stretch where individuals just throw in the towel and consider the season a food free for all.  Folks will wait to the new year and then pledge to start eating healthy all over again.  I think the season is a fantastic missed opportunity to actually move in the opposite direction.  Because our eating is going to diverge from the norm significantly during the holidays, it provides an opportunity to change our nutritional habits.  If we embrace this moment we can not only eat the holiday meals we want, we can also feel delighted that we are two months ahead on our New Year’s resolution and laying a foundation for a healthy year to come.

Eat a warm, balanced breakfast every day.  The morning meal stokes the body’s metabolism and every day we should strive to eat a warm breakfast.  Eggs are incredibly easy to prepare and can be a wonderful pallet for adding servings of vegetables before you even leave your house.  During the holidays, a warm balanced breakfast will provide a stable blood sugar level and energy to sustain one until the large holiday meal without having to snack excessively on the seasonal treats.  It also is vitally important to have a nutritional breakfast the morning following a holiday meal that is particularly high in calories, grains, carbohydrates, and sugars.  This will bring us back on track so that we can more easily have a normal eating day even with all the leftovers in the house.

Be sure and consume protein with every meal and/or snack.  Protein is crucial for balancing blood sugar levels, stabilizing insulin, and maintaining good energy levels throughout the day.  This is a key component of the naturopathic nutritional guidelines I share with my patients.  When we eat in a manner that balances blood sugars, we help to protect our adrenals from excess stress, we minimize the storage of consumed foods as fats, we lower our systemic inflammation, and we generally feel better throughout the day.  These benefits will continue to apply during the holidays.  If we focus just a little bit more on eating healthy proteins and veggies during the big meals while decreasing the portion sizes of processed carbohydrates, grain products, sugars, and sweets we just might not need the long nap after eating with our families and friends.

Avoid becoming judgemental when eating holiday treats.  I have said it over and over again that foods are neither good or bad on their own accord.  It is the quantity, frequency, and relationship we have with a given food that ultimately determines if it is beneficial or detrimental to our overall health.  The holidays provide ample opportunities for the consumption of sweet treats and the seasonal traditions foster a feeling of acceptance when eating them.  This is a time of year when even the iron-willed individual will often indulge in a slice of pie.  I think this time of acceptance can be a slippery slope for many and so it is imperative to keep in perspective that there is no shortage of cakes, pies, cookies, fudge, and candies; there is no need to eat them all at once or even every day.  They are seasonal staples to be enjoyed with our loved ones at holiday meals.  My suggestion would be to consider making (or purchasing) smaller size desserts so as to avoid having leftover sweets in house for weeks at a time.  Also try and limit dessert consumption to 1 or 2 days a week.  This is another general recommendation that if carried through the year can allow us to indulge in our favorite treats while simultaneously modeling a healthy relationship with sweets to our friends and family.  At our home we normally eat dessert after Wednesday and Saturday dinner.

I encourage everyone to consider following these simple concepts throughout the holiday season.  It can lead to a more balanced and less stressful few months while increasing our energy and starting us well on our way to the healthiest 2015 we can have.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, thank you so much for reading and embracing my ideas about health and nutrition this past year.

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

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