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My Recent TV Interview Re Safe Sun Habits

Yesterday I was on Breakfast Television Vancouver again, this time chating with the lovely Jody Vance about keeping your skin healthy in the sun (in spite of the pouring rain in Vancouver yesterday!). You can see the clip here (and watch me squeeze sunscreen into a shot glass…)

The Sun & Your Health

In my last post I talked about a few ideas to help you trim down for summer—and, more particularly—for swimsuit season. So, once you finally feel ready to brave the great outdoors in nothing but a few bits and pieces of fabric…you’re going to need to think about the sun.

For some of you, there will be temptation to sneak into a tanning salon to get a little color in your skin before revealing those pasty limbs. I feel your anxiety on that. I have a Welsh mother and an English father. The British are not known for their golden coloring.

So…what’s the deal with indoor tanning? Is it okay? And…while we’re at it, maybe we should cover a few other issues surrounding the sun and your health. Like vitamin D. And sunscreen.

But let’s start by tackling the base tan/indoor tanning issue. Doesn’t getting a base tan protect your skin?

The base tan thing is a myth, sadly—there is no evidence it protects your skin. Basically, tanned skin is damaged skin. And the damage inflicted by UV rays accelerates skin aging, and increases your risks of skin cancer. The pigment you get in your skin with a base tan is estimated to translate to an SPF of approximately 2-3. That’s well below the recommended SPF 30. Basically, you might have bought yourself a little more time in the sun before burning, but it’s come at a cost. Better to use sunscreen.

And while we’re on it, what is the damage that’s caused by the sun, exactly? UV light causes age spots and hyperpigmentation, broken capillaries, and it damages the elastic tissue in our skin so tissues sag and wrinkle. Fact is, most skin aging, on your face and hands, is due to repeated sun exposure (and only a little bit due to actual aging). Prematurely aged skin? Not cute.

And then, of course, the sun causes precancerous skin lesions and skin cancer. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it’s caused by UV exposure. It’s a form of skin cancer that is, unfortunately, on the rise. And it’s very preventable.

One way to start is to definitely avoid indoor tanning salons. The World Health Organization recently moved tanning beds to its highest-risk category for causing cancer (Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans)—meaning it’s in the same category of carcinogen as cigarettes, arsenic, asbestos, and plutonium.

The thing about sun damage to your skin is it takes a long time to show up. But then you can’t go back in time and change your behaviour. And this is exactly why it’s important to educate kids and protect their skin.

There are lots of reasons to teach your kids about sun safety, and a few things you need to do. You gotta cover them up with sunscreen and a hat to protect them from getting a sunburn. Sunburns hurt! Obviously. I know you don’t want your poor munchkin to be in pain. Also? Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than double’s a kid’s risk of someday developing skin cancer. The other reason for teaching kids about sun safety is that maybe, just maybe, future generations will relent on the tan obsession thing. It was that way once—pale used to be ideal. It was a sign of the “leisure class”. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good class to belong in.) Anyway, maybe one day the ideal will be “pale and interesting”, as they say.

Now what about vitamin D? Isn’t it true that we get vitamin D from the sun? Yes, that is the traditional way our bodies have made vitamin D. But, given the risks of unprotected sun exposure, it’s far better to get your vitamin D through food sources, or supplements. I’m a big fan of vitamin D, but it’s not worth the skin damage to get it from the sun.

Finally, let’s talk sunscreen. Here’s what you need to know: look for a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects from both UVA rays and UVB. The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends a minimum SPF 30, and that’s what I recommend too. But—and this is key—make sure you’re applying enough sunscreen. Most people don’t. To adequately cover, head to toe, before heading to the beach, you need to use a full ounce (a shot glass full) of sunscreen. And you need to reapply every two hours, plus after swimming or exercising/sweating heavily.

Lying out in the sun feels good—it’s warming, relaxing, and gives that nice, healthy glow—but it’s anything but healthy, unfortunately. Get those good feelings from something else–a great book, a day at the spa, or some yoga perhaps?

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Should You Be Taking Vitamin D?

Are you getting enough vitamin D? Probably not.

Would you feel any symptoms if you had low levels? Nope.

Does it matter? Big. Fat. Yes.

I have covered this topic before. But it’s so near and dear to my heart that I think it warrants a re-visit. Over on my blog on Yummy Mummy Club, you can read my latest article all about why Vitamin D can give you an excellent edge on your health–and more importantly–how to get more of it!

When This Doctor Became A Patient

It was exactly a year ago when everything changed for me. On May 10, 2011 I logged on to check my bloodwork results. I scrolled down, and stared at the screen. And the floor dropped out from under me.

I had a positive result. Which, in the medical world, is a very big negative. I had a positive ANA. Which is a screening test for lupus.

But let’s back up a little. It all started a few weeks prior, with a little aching in my right elbow. I didn’t think much of it. Too much time on my laptop, maybe. And then, a few days later, I started to feel a little soreness in my right knee. Then my left knee.

Things were not trending in the right direction.

More joints became involved, until I could ignore it no longer. I had distinct pain, and stiffness, in both elbows and wrists, both ankles, knees, and hips. Then, a little redness about my elbows and ankles. And definite, visible swelling.

It was time to see my doctor. I booked an appointment for three days’ time. And during those three days, my symptoms became even worse. I was trying not to freak out. Trying very hard, but not particularly succeeding.

The problem, of course, with having a career in medicine is the knowledge. All the scary possibilities reared up in my imagination. Rheumatoid arthritis. MS. Lupus. Various other connective tissue disorders…

When I finally saw her, my doctor shared my concern. Which was both relieving and worrisome at the same time. I wasn’t imagining it. Also? I wasn’t imagining it.

So we did some tests. X-rays and bloodwork. The x-rays came back normal. Good. The initial bloodwork results came trickling in. Thyroid somewhat off, thyroid antibodies elevated. Low iron. Low vitamin D. It was strange to see my own bloodwork coming back abnormal, I’d always been generally healthy. But none of that stuff was alarming. None of it was stuff I couldn’t deal with.

A few days later I got the result I most definitely could not deal with.

That positive ANA.

I remember staring at the screen. My husband and my dad were making lunch and chatting in the kitchen. My dad was visiting to help us out because I was, at that point, entirely unable to do anything for myself or my children.

I started to cry. The crying got worse, and louder, as that result began to sink in. Me? Lupus? Suddenly, everything I knew about life had changed. My whole life would now be measured in two segments, before lupus, and with lupus. Nothing would ever be the same.

Again, I was simultaneously thankful for, and cursing, my knowledge base. I’d seen people with lupus, watched them deteriorate before my eyes. Lupus was a nasty disease, I knew that. It was a forever diagnosis, but unpredictably waxing and waning. It could affect every aspect of life and function. Cause end-organ damage at a whim. Force the use of potent medication that caused side effects almost as bad as the disease.

It was a terrifying moment.

But shortly after that initial terror, a few things crystallized for me. Life was going to take on a new shape. First, I was not going to do shit I did not want to do anymore. Also? I was going to do shit I did want to do.

Over the subsequent weeks, I saw two rheumatologists and an endocrinologist. There were few answers forthcoming. But one thing they hesitantly agreed on? This was not, in fact, lupus. They weren’t impressed at my antibody numbers. Said my results weren’t specific enough.

A huge relief. For the time being. Because then I entered a different world…the world in which I embraced the unknown.

I had more x-rays taken. Much more bloodwork. My doctor (bless her) called me regularly to check on me. For a while, things continued to worsen for me, physically. My joints became enormous, swollen and painful. Sleeping was very difficult. And the red welt-like lumps grew over my ankles, legs, and elbows. Erythema Nodosum, I thought, looking at the welts and nodding. I went to see my doctor. Erythema Nodosum, she said, on sight, also nodding. Not a diagnosis, per se, just a symptom that was all part of my nonspecific inflammatory flare.

I developed an annoying cough. A dry, irritating cough that seemed to correlate with worsening joint pain. I lived on anti-inflammatories. And, like the bad patient that all good doctors are, I resisted taking the prescribed prednisone. It was a line I was not ready to cross.

My mother wanted answers. “If we could just get a diagnosis, find out what it is…then we’ll know how to treat it.”

I nodded, but I knew the naiveté of this statement. Autoimmune diseases are multitude. There are endless categories and labels, and lots of ‘not otherwise specified’ tags on the ends of otherwise specified names. I knew that many people go years without a firm diagnosis. “I was misdiagnosed for a long time,” they say, clenching their teeth at the conspiracy.

But I know that “misdiagnosis” is really only a relevant term when you’re talking about stuff that’s black and white. And that medicine, the human body, is the exact opposite of black and white. Stuff evolves. Stuff changes. Stuff becomes more obvious, and then we’re in a position to pin down a diagnosis. There are no perfect tests, rarely any textbook cases. Often, the only time we know for sure what happened in someone’s body is when we cut it open at autopsy. And even then, there’s a whole lot of deductive work that goes on. This is all especially true when it comes to autoimmune disease, which shapeshifts to its heart’s desire.

So I prepared for a long period of not exactly “knowing”. But, just because I didn’t have an exact name for the maelstrom that had taken over my body, didn’t mean there was nothing I could do.

I knew that my immune system was freaking out. I knew that my body was going on inflammatory overdrive. And I knew I could do something about that.

So I started taking care of myself, I mean really taking care of myself. I knew about the physical stuff I could do. I needed to get more sleep. I needed to start eating more veggies, more fruit, more whole grains, more superfoods. I started taking vitamin D, and omega-3. And selenium. Incidentally, I suddenly understood the desperate patient’s plight oh-so-well, in a way I’d never experienced before. The urge to take supplements. The urge to do something—anything—to grasp on and hope that I’d discovered the thing that would make me better. I was grappling for the reins of control. Just as I’d seen so many patients do, sitting across from me, sitting in the cheap examination room chair while I sat in the comfy, expensive desk chair. And now I was in that cheap chair.

I couldn’t exercise. I was getting passed by the octogenarians who live in my neighborhood as we walked the snail’s race to the village. I’m not kidding. Literally, I was lapped by seniors with walkers. But I started doing yoga. I could barely do any of the poses at first, could barely move, really, but I still managed to spend a couple of minutes doing deep breathing, meditating, and very gentle stretches.

Significantly, I started exploring the less tangible aspects of health. Mostly, stress. I had been under a lot of stress. New baby, living through major house renovations, putting tons of pressure on myself to work and be a great mom and wife…plus my own writing aspirations. It was too much.

I started reading a lot about stress, which led me to reading about happiness. And that has revolutionized my life.

And then…as the weeks went by, things peaked and began, ever so gradually, to improve. About three months after things started, I was mostly back to normal. Physically, anyway. Psychologically, I would never be the same. In a good way.

I don’t know what improved things for me. Was it the omega-3? Was it the yoga? Or was it just the natural course of things; would I have gotten better on my own?

The rheumatologists, at last, agreed on a diagnosis. Most likely, I’d been battling a thing called Lofgren’s Syndrome. A rare form of a rare disease called sarcoidosis. Which is classified as an idiopathic autoimmune disorder. Idiopathic, here, meaning: no identifiable cause. Read: we have no freaking idea why it happens.

In me, maybe stress triggered it. Maybe not. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I knew I was too stressed. And whether the stress caused it, contributed to it, or was merely an innocent bystander…I knew I had to do something about it.

I wrote a bucket list. I’ve got a very specific stress management plan now. I figured out some priorities. Happiness has become a cornerstone goal for me.

One year later, is everything exactly as I want it? Nope. I’ve been symptom free since everything settled in the summer. Am I stress free? Not exactly. Am I blissfully happy? Ummm, not quite. But you know what? It’s pretty damn close. Do I have a perfect lifestyle?

Well…it’s getting there. And that’s okay, because it’s a work in progress. A healthy lifestyle isn’t something you just turn on overnight. You work at it. I’m working at it.

A big milestone for me? I started running. At first I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. My husband was nervous for me, didn’t want me to do anything that would stress my joints, for fear of things coming back. But…so far, so awesome.

And I embrace the uncertainty every day. Because although the rheumatologists believe Lofgren’s syndrome to be the most likely diagnosis, there’s still a chance it could have been—could be—something else. Something that could come back. Like lupus. See, I read their consultation letters. There was lots of room for reassessment should my symptoms recur.

To be honest, it’s hard not to freak out every time I get a little twang in a joint, now and then. But, in a way, it’s a good thing. It certainly keeps me from taking my health for granted. Those little twangs serve as momentary reminders.

Health can be snatched away, even one evening while you’re sitting there on Twitter and your elbow starts to ache a little. Taking your health for granted is a mistake we all make. But I’m working on correcting that, and enjoying my good health every day.

Just the other day I jogged swiftly past a pair of seniors ambling along with their walkers. And my heart soared. Of course, I know I’ll be just like them one day.

But not yet. Not just yet.

My Recent TV Appearance About Cancer Prevention

Yesterday was Daffodil Day–which means it was the big day for cancer awareness in Canada, as designated by the Canadian Cancer Society. I was honoured to be invited, for the occasion, to appear on Breakfast Television Vancouver to talk about cancer. Specifically, we focused on ways you can protect yourself from cancer. Click this link to watch the segment. And if you’d like to read a little more, here are my most recent posts on cancer prevention:

7 Cancer Fighting Foods

10 Tips to Prevent Cancer

How Aspirin May Help Protect You From Cancer

10 Tips to Prevent Cancer

It’s like Voldemort. It strikes such fear into people’s hearts, some of us are afraid to even speak the word, for fear of invoking the name…but let’s just say it: Cancer.

Everybody is afraid of cancer.

It’s the elephant in the room for many, many of my patient visits. Occasionally people will vocalize their fear, but often it’s lurking there, unsaid. 

One of the scary things about cancer is the feeling that it could strike us down, randomly, like winning some horrible lottery. And that makes us feel like we’re out of control. 

Fact is, there are lots of things we can do to stay healthy. To counteract feelings of helplessness, here are my top tips on how to prevent cancer:

1.Eat a Mediterranean diet.

This diet, rich in fruit & veggies, fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil has been repeatedly linked with lower rates of cancer. The Mediterranean diet is my personal fave, and it’s not just about cancer prevention…there are other health reasons to adopt this way of eating (and lifestyle), like heart disease prevention. And then there’s the pleasure factor, something the Mediterranean diet has in spades. 

2.Quit smoking.

Do I really need to go into detail on why this one is a good idea? Of course, easier said than done, I know. Quitting smoking is huge-ola. But help is out there. See your friendly doctor as a starting point! If you’re in BC, check out QuitNow. Or check out Health Canada’s advice. Also, the American Cancer Society has some ideas.

3.Wear sunblock.

Preventing skin cancer is definitely within your control. Wear the highest SPF you can get your hands on. Also? Sport a hat, slide on those sunglasses. Another benefit of sunblock: wrinkle prevention. Leathery skin is so 1986. A caveat: if, like me, you wear sunblock like a religion…think about your vitamin D level–you could be deficient (which is easily fixed, though–see below).  

4.Drink green tea.

Green tea is chock full of antioxidants. Those are the compounds that fight free radicals and reduce inflammation–underlying mechanisms that cause cancer. Early research on green tea is showing some promise in terms of cancer prevention, but some study results have been mixed. Still, green tea is safe, and if you find a blend you like, it’s a pleasurable ritual. Plus there are other health benefits to tea. While the scientists are busy sorting out the full story, I say enjoy a cup or two of green tea a day.

5.Eat superfoods.

If you’ve adopted a Mediterranean diet, you’ll already be getting many of these superfoods shown to reduce cancer risk, but as extra weapons in your arsenal, try adding these yummies to your diet: blueberries, broccoli, beans, apples, garlic, grapes, tomatoes, and…wait for it: dark chocolate. Oh yes, people, I said chocolate.

6.Aim for a healthy weight.

There is a clear connection between excess body fat and cancer risk. Why? Fat cells don’t just sit there, merely thwarting your desire to squeeze into last year’s jeans. They produce estrogen. And estrogen promotes cell growth. They also secrete various chemicals and proteins that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance. Which also encourages cell growth. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer. But…easier said than done. Need assistance? Start with portion control. Belly fat your issue? Here’s help in that department.

7.Take an Aspirin and call me in the morning.

A fascinating thing was discovered recently–a daily aspirin seems to reduce the risk of some big-time cancers: colon, lung, prostate, and more. And in this study, it reduced them by a lot. Why might this be? Aspirin is a potent anti-inflammatory, and it may also cause DNA-damaged cells to die. But aspirin is not for everyone–it can cause stomach lining irritation and bleeding. If you’re considering this route, talk to your doctor first. 

8.Exercise.

Beyond keeping our weight under control, physical activity itself helps prevent cancer. It regulates hormone levels, boosts our immune systems, helps the digestive tract function smoothly…and we call that winning. Of course, shoe-horning exercise in to our busy lives is no small challenge. Here’s how to do it.

9.Take Vitamin D.

Studies have recently shown a higher cancer risk when vitamin D levels are low. Many of us are walking around deficient in vitamin D with no idea (ahem, count me as one of those). Consider a blood test to check your level, consider a little more sunshine in your life (but not too much!), consider supplements.

10.Get regular checkups & screening.

Paps, mammograms, colonoscopies…we’ve got all kinds of tools now to help us detect cancer early. Recommendations for screening will vary based on age and individual risk factors, so see your doc about this.

There you go, you’re on your way to a healthier future. Nothing to fear. Now…say it with me: Voldemort.

Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

Calcium has taken a back seat, lately, to some of the current darlings of the vitamin and supplement scene (like vitamin D and omega-3). So it’s easy to forget about calcium.

But…is calcium something you need to worry about? Should you take supplemental calcium?

The answer: it depends. It depends who you are, what your risk factors are, and what your diet is like. But most of us, to be honest, don’t get enough calcium.

Going vegan is a big-time trend right now, and while it can be a healthy lifestyle if done right, it can also leave you deficient in some things–and calcium is one of those things.

Cutting out dairy for food sensitivity/allergy/lactose intolerance is another trend. And something that can leave you wanting for calcium, too.

Calcium is important for bone health. And while that may sound a little on the boring side…trust me, you do not want to be one of those frail little things in your advanced years. Fractured hips and spines are an excruciating thing. Taking care of your bones, like many things about health, is an investment. You won’t see the payoff for a long time. But if you neglect your bones, by the time your body is showing signs, it will be too late.

So how do you make sure you’re getting enough calcium?

Adults need to aim for 1000 milligrams of calcium a day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need to pay special attention to getting sufficient calcium. Women over age 50, and men over 70, should get 1200 mg a day.

Good food sources? Dairy is the best. A cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. Other dairy products like cheese and yogurt, are excellent sources. But you can certainly find calcium in non-dairy foods: salmon, spinach, tofu, almonds, white beans, fortified OJ, and kale, to name a few. Some yummy stuff in that list, no?

The National Institutes of Health has a factsheet on calcium and a chart of calcium-rich food sources.

One approach: try to get at least half your calcium intake from food. Then supplement the rest to fill in the gaps.

The key with supplemental calcium is taking the right amount. Our bodies have a tough time absorbing calcium if the dose is higher than 500 mg at one sitting. So, two separate doses of 500 mg will be more effective than a single mega-dose of 1000 mg.

Also, recent research has shown that too much calcium may be not-so-great for your heart. If you overdo it with supplements, you could increase your risk of a heart attack. But this is a relatively new finding–more research is needed to figure out exactly what’s going on, here. In the meantime, use caution with calcium supplements if you’re at high risk of heart disease. Stick with food sources to be safe.

If you do take calcium supplements, you should also take vitamin D, to improve calcium absorption. (besides the other benefits of vitamin D).

And what do I do, personally? Well, I love milk. Love yogurt, couldn’t live without cheese (wouldn’t want to, either), take real cream in my coffee….basically, I could do commercials for the dairy board.

But that’s just me.

Wicked Healthy: 7 Vices That Are Good For You

It’s this little thing I do: I like “collecting” things that, traditionally, have been considered bad for you…but turn out to be healthy. Girl’s gotta have a hobby!

Anyway. Here’s my lovely little roundup of vices you should be indulging in.

1.Shopping. Oh yes, it’s true. In a recent study, seniors who shopped every day had mortality rates 27 percent lower than their peers who rarely or never shopped. Every. Day. I’m sending this link to my husband as we speak.

2. Chocolate. Once considered the devil, chocolate turns out to be packed with antioxidants, flavonoids and phytonutrients. Dark chocolate is best. And just a square or two, please. Not a family-sized bar in one sitting.

3. Fat. Here’s another little demon we’ve become enlightened about. We know, now, that not all fats are bad–just the saturated stuff and the trans-fat nasties. Steer clear of those (fried food, etc) and instead savor olive oil, avocadoes and nuts, and benefit from body-lovin’ monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats (which improve your cholesterol profile, help prevent heart disease and cancer and a multitude of other health benefits).

4.The Sun. Personally, I have to admit to a certain sun terror. Wrinkles, age spots, and cancer? No thank you. Truth is, a little sun can do wonders for your mood, and for your vitamin D levels. You don’t have to be terrified of the sun. Go out every once in a while for a few minutes, without (gasp) sunblock, and enjoy the warmth on your skin. After all, we’re creatures of the earth; what’s more natural than a dash of sunlight?

5.Sleep. For those Type As among us, is there anything lazier than sleeping? Sleep when you’re dead, surely. I mean, teenagers sleep all day long and look at them. Useless! (Kidding. I love teenagers). Many of us feel guilty sleeping in, or going to bed early. Truth be told, most of us don’t get enough shut-eye. And we’re suffering for it. Inadequate sleep has been linked to depression, heart disease, and obesity. Yikes! Nighty-night.

6.The Spa. Pampering yourself at the spa: another guilty pleasure? Nope. That massage appointment? That dip in a mineral bath? That pedi with reflexology? More than just preening, more than just vanity and self-indulgence. There’s growing evidence that the spa is good for you. Pinch me.

7. Coffee. Feeling badly because you can’t get through your day without a trip (or two) to Starbucks? Fret no more. Evidence is building in favor of coffee. In moderation, not only is it not a vice, it looks like it’s actually healthy for you.

So there you go. Permission granted.

And just when you thought achieving a healthy lifestyle would be no fun.

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Healthy Mommy: How to Get Healthy So You Can Live Long Enough to Enjoy your Freedom When You Finally Frigging Get It

Here’s the thing. It’s not all about the kids. Moms deserve to take care of mom, too.

Whenever I’m on a mommy blog or website and I see something posted about health, it invariably seems to be about kids’ health. Now don’t get me wrong. Of course I want my kids (and everyone else’s) to be healthy. Kids need help with eating nutritious food, and moms need to know how to treat a fever, and all that. But…what about moms? We need to be healthy too.

And the truth? We’re not.

Well, not as healthy as we could or should be. See there was this study recently showing that moms are not taking care of themselves. Mothers reading this newsflash will react with a resounding “ya think?”. Even still, the cold truth is pretty painful. We’re not getting as much exercise as women our same age who don’t have children. We’re taking in more calories, gobbling more saturated fat and sugar. And we have higher BMIs (plainspeak: we’re fatter).

Not good, people.

However. It wasn’t this research that motivated me to start thinking hard about “mommy health”. The thing that really made this come home for me, personally, was reflection on another harsh truth: I love my kids…but they are stealing a lot of prime years from me. And when my head comes up from underwater again, when I finally get some freedom, when I finally get to hang out with my husband again on a regular basis…I want to be healthy and strong and look great. I want to be able to travel and do all the fun stuff that, okay, yes, I’m trying to squeeze in now in a “family” sort of way, but really will be so much more fun once my kids have flown the nest.

As long as I don’t have a stroke before I get there.

As long as I don’t have advanced osteoarthritis of my knees that makes a stroll along the Seine less than pleasurable. As long as I don’t have class 4 heart failure that makes flying to Capetown for a wine tour & safari impossible.

So that’s my motivation. (By the way, what’s yours?)

Of course the catch, here, is this: moms have no freaking time. I know. It’s ridiculous. I have survived a lot of stressful/time-pressured situations in my life (residency springs to mind), but it simply does not compare to the relentless time starvation of motherhood. 

So. Is there a way for moms to get healthy? Are there things we can do given the time constraints? 

You bet, sister.

Let’s begin with:

Eating Habits.

Step number one: stop eating discarded sandwich crusts. Stop wolfing down the leftover mac and cheese from your kid’s bowl, leave the abandoned mini-ravioli alone.

Of course the most sensible advice for nutrition is to only give your kids healthy food, then you’ll be eating healthy stuff too. Sounds logical, right? Well, what if you’ve got a super-picky eater? What if at your house, if you don’t serve hot dogs and chicken nuggets your kid won’t get any protein (for that month, anyway, until his tastes flip-flop again)? What if your kid completely refuses anything that even resembles a vegetable? If your children won’t eat whole grains, does that mean you don’t get to either?

Naturally, you do your best to help your kids develop healthy habits. But that project might have to be a whole separate venture. Struggling to get your kids to eat salad should be independent of allowing yourself a healthy life. I’m not saying you give up on your kids. You just have to take care of yourself…

So you need to clean up your diet. Big topic (way more coming soon). But for now, one of the quickest & easiest ways is to add “superfoods”. Think: salmon, walnuts, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, soy, avocados, broccoli. Check this article for more info. Sneaking superfoods into your diet is one of the easiest ways to improve your nutrition. Make a list, stick it on your fridge, throw these foods into your shopping cart when you’re at the store, and then slide them onto your plate at every opportunity. Even if it goes like this: grilled cheese sandwich, or….grilled cheese sandwich with slices of avocado on the side. Every little helps.

Next topic:

Supplements.

Granted, this may feel like a shortcut. And although I generally advocate healthy eating first (and not using supplements to fool yourself into thinking you’ve got a healthy lifestyle), if there is one life phase when you need to take a shortcut, this would be it. So what supplements should you take when you’re a mom with young kids? You may be in your twenties, thirties, or forties…but these are the supplements you should consider:

  • A multivitamin (continuing your prenatal vitamin will work just fine).
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3

There may be other supplements you may need, depending on your risk factors etcetera, but let’s keep this simple and manageable for now.

Mommy health is a BIG topic for me–I’ll be writing more in the near future. Coming soon, in Healthy Mommy Part 2: Exercise and Stress Management.

The Vitamin You Absolutely Need to Take

Many people have heard rumblings and murmurs about vitamin D lately. But do you need to take it? I get enough sunlight, you’re thinking, do I really need to worry about it?

In a word: yes. You should be taking vitamin D.

There’s a growing body of research that shows a boatload of benefits from Vitamin D. We used to just recommend vitamin D for the prevention of osteoporosis. But we’ve gone way beyond that now. Seems this is one little vitamin with big dreams. And it’s turning up in all sorts of unexpected places, making itself useful at the preventive health party (mingling, mixing martinis for people, doing the dishes after the guests leave…)

 So. It looks like adults with low levels of vitamin D have increased risks of heart disease—specifically heart attacks and hypertension. Taking supplements appears to help prevent cancer, with the strongest evidence so far for colorectal cancer. It also seems to play a role in preventing depression. And diabetes. It also appears to help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation, which might help reduce the risks of autoimmune disease, and infections such as influenza.

Does that all sound good?

Hell, yes.

So, onto pumping up your D quotient. Turns out D-deficiency is something of an epidemic. Vitamin D is manufactured in your skin, with sunlight exposure. But most of us don’t get enough sunlight to make sufficient amounts. And we shouldn’t try, either! Skin cancer, anyone? Wrinkles? No thank you. I’ll take my vitamin D in oral form. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to get sufficient amounts in food. Fortified dairy and breakfast cereals, and fatty fish are sources, but you’re probably not going to meet your needs through food alone. This is where supplementation comes in.

How much to take? Official recommendations from the Institute of Medicine look a little like this: 600 IU for people up to age 70, 800 IU for people over 70. But most health care providers (me included) seem to advise 1000 IU daily. Infants and kids should be getting 400 IU daily.

If you’re curious, you can get a blood test to diagnose deficiency. But based on all the research, and the fact that vitamin D is cheap, readily available, and safe, my thinking is that people should be taking a supplement regardless.

One caveat: don’t go getting all vitamin D slap happy. Take too much and you run the risk of kidney stones. Ouch.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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