Eight Habits for a Healthy Family

by Alyssa Simpson, RD, CDE, CLT

 A healthy family helps to create the foundation for a happy family. When Mom, Dad, the kids, and everyone else around are healthy, things just seem to run smoother! When people feel good, it is easier to manage everything that life brings. However, creating a healthy family takes more than just making a bold resolution to “Be Healthy.”

To be healthy starts with the creation of good nutrition and lifestyle habits. These habits become part of your lifestyle, and people who live a healthy lifestyle have a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. This month I am sharing with you Eight Habits for a Healthy Family, tips that I have found create the foundation for a healthier and happier family!

  1. Eat breakfast. People who eat a healthy breakfast (blueberry donuts do not count!) are more mentally alert, perform better at work, at school and on the field, and have an easier time managing their weight than non-breakfast eaters. Breakfast is an excellent time to start the day with a nutrient-packed power meal by consuming fresh fruit and vegetables along with fiber packed complex carbohydrates, lean protein and  monounsaturated fats. Breakfast is especially critical for children and adolescents; therefore, it is important to start the habit of eating a healthy breakfast early.
  2. Set a regular grocery date. One of the biggest challenges busy families face when it comes to mealtime is not having the right ingredients on hand to whip up a quick and healthy meal. This usually results in the need to head to the nearest fast food pick-up joint for a quick meal–and usually a not-so-healthy meal. A regular  grocery date will help ensure your fridge will always be stocked with healthy food for those very hectic days!
  3. Prepare meals in advance. Along with setting a regular grocery date comes the important habit of meal planning in advance. Life is busy, and few families have the luxury of being spontaneous during the work and school week to figure out “what’s for dinner,” shop for the necessary ingredients and then cook the meal! Spend a little time over the weekend prepping food for the week and I can almost guarantee your week will run a whole lot smoother! Create a system that works for you.
    For example:

    • Monday:  Meatless Monday vegetarian dish
    • Tuesday:  Poultry or fish night
    • Wednesday: Soup or chili
    • Thursday:  Leftover night!
    • Friday:  Homemade pizzas, tacos, or breakfast for dinner

Leave the weekends for a little more impromptu eating and plan according to what is going on in your life. By following a system such as the one above, you can eliminate the stress of thinking you need to create something elaborate every week, while giving yourself the flexibility to mold the menu to your family’s likings. Try one new recipe a week and use family favorites for the other nights.

  1. Involve the whole family in meal planning. Parents often feel the need to take on the weekly challenge of meal planning as a solo task, when in reality, weekly meal planning should be something everyone (ages 5 and up) is involved in. If you have young children, have them participate at an early age by letting them browse through picture cookbooks and find meals that appeal to them. Give adolescents the responsibility of planning one meal a week. Involving the whole family at an early age helps create the habit of prioritizing advanced meal planning. This also helps to reduce the “I do not like this!” tantrums and to increase the overall nutrient profile and variety of foods served because everyone has a chance to give their input.
  2. Eat at the table. Creating the habit of eating together at the table sets the foundation for many healthy habits. In today’s fast-paced, busy world it can be hard to sit down, slow down, eat and enjoy a meal together. But this is one old fashioned habit that should be reestablished as a regular part of your routine. Eating together helps people connect and share what is going on in their lives. It helps you relax, unwind and create memories. Eating at the table also helps create the habit of mindful eating. When the TV is turned off and external distractions are put on mute (i.e. telephone, email, and text alerts), people are better able to pay attention to their internal hunger and fullness cues, helping to prevent mindless eating and overeating.
  3.  Snack on fruits and vegetables. When it comes to eating healthy, we have all heard that we should “snack on more fruits and vegetables”! But the reality is, as a society, we are accustomed to snacks coming in fancy pre-packed containers. Unfortunately, our children are learning that “snacks” come from a box and not from Mother Earth; this is setting unhealthy habits from the start. We have the power to transform children’s snack habits by simply having more fruits and vegetables readily available on a regular basis. Children learn what they live, so if fruit and vegetables are served as snacks when they’re young, children will grow into adolescents and adults snacking on more fruits and vegetables!
  4.  Make water the go-to beverage. Creating the habit of drinking more water is a simple but very important one. Here are some ways to increase your overall water intake and make it a family “habit”:
    • Drink a glass of water first thing when waking up–even before breakfast!
    • Serve water with meals.
    • Keep homemade fruit-flavored water in the fridge. (You can make this by placing fresh fruit slices in a pitcher of water and letting it sit overnight.)
    • Have everyone carry a water bottle.
    • Dining out? Create the family habit of ordering water!
  5.   Pack food the night before. Help your family create the daily habit of preparing for success by packing meals and/or snacks the night before. When morning time comes, it is easy to forget to make that turkey sandwich for lunch or grab some fruit, yogurt, and nuts for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up! But if you do so the night before and make this part of your daily routine, it becomes a regular habit. Having your meals and snacks in a convenient location (like a cooler) will prevent a mid-afternoon trip to the fast food drive thru, helping everyone eat healthier and saving time and money. This is a habit that will serve your young and adolescent children for many years to come!

The Good Guys – How Beneficial Bacteria Affects Digestion

by Alyssa Simpson, RD, CDE, CLT

The “microbiome” is a term used to describe the dynamic community of microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal tract. This community is comprised of beneficial and symbiotic organisms that cohabitate within us.

You may be asking, how many of these little buggers are inside of us? What roles do they play with our digestive and overall health?

Right now there are around 1,000 different types of bacteria living in your digestive system. While your first thought might be “Get them out!” these organisms have many positive influences on your health.

These good guys function in symbiosis with your immune system and play an integral role protecting you from potential illnesses including parasitic infection and overgrowth of yeast and bacteria; like candida albicans and H-pylori respectively.

Beyond its protective role, these bacteria have many other beneficial functions. Chief among them is aiding in digestion. Balancing pH in the gut, reducing inflammation, regulating our bowel movements, manufacturing B vitamins and essential fatty acids, aiding in mineral absorption and protecting against toxic substances are all influenced by these good guys.

When our good guys become compromised, allowing disease-causing bacteria, parasites and yeast to proliferate, it can lead to a multitude of unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms including gas, bloating and diarrhea. This imbalance is referred to as dysbiosis.

The delicate balance of good and bad microorganisms in your gut can be easily disrupted by many factors. These include chemical exposure, stress, poor diet, alcohol intake, antibiotic use and medications such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors.

Recently, I’ve been working with a patient who was experiencing persistent abdominal pain, distention, bloating, gas and indigestion. With the pressure and pain in her belly barely allowing her to eat, she knew she had to see a doctor.

Initially she had a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, but no causes for her symptoms were found. The medication she was prescribed did not offer much relief either and she knew the way she was feeling was not normal for her.

Working with this patient, I first identified foods that were triggering her symptoms. Once we eliminated these foods from her diet, we were able to begin to restore her good bacteria using probiotic supplements and nutrition therapy; including foods rich in prebiotics like onions, garlic, and honey.

Within two weeks of beginning treatment her symptoms had dramatically decreased and her condition continues to improve.

Once treatment for dysbiosis begins, patients usually experience relief from symptoms in the first few weeks. This is because the treatments are patient-specific and tailored to each individual’s needs.

As in this case, treatment usually includes taking probiotics and prebiotics in coordination with medical nutrition therapy to boost development of good bacteria and inhibit growth of bad bacteria.

When selecting a probiotic supplement it is important to look for products containing living, viable organisms, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum for example, in addition to any condition-specific strain recommended by your healthcare provider.

As a Registered Dietitian, I can determine which probiotics and prebiotics would be most beneficial for you, help you to plan a therapeutic diet and identify lifestyle changes designed to re-balance your system and help you find relief from your symptoms.

If you suffer from a gastrointestinal condition or chronic GI symptoms, your microbiome is likely an important factor to address.

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