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NeuroGro Highlight: Meet Hannah!

Hello! My name is Hannah, and I’m thrilled to work as a NeuroGro Therapist at Lifestream Brain + Body! I graduated from Emmaus Bible College with a bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology, and I’m a proud mama to my precious six-month old son with my amazing husband, Jonah. 

Working with kids has always been my passion, and I truly believe they’re a gift from the Lord. That’s why when I was introduced to NeuroGro, I immediately knew that this was going to help so many kids. It’s tough enough for kids to navigate and regulate their emotions and find their place in the world, but add neurological challenges into the mix, and it can be a real uphill battle for both kids and parents.

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Nurturing Potential: Signs Your Child Could Benefit from NeuroGro

Wondering if NeuroGro is the right fit for your child? Here are some signs that might help you decide!

  1. EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER: If your child’s emotions seem like a wild ride – from highs to lows and everything in between – it might be a clue they could benefit from NeuroGro’s tailored approach.
  2. MOOD SWINGS: Constant mood swings that leave you scratching your head? NeuroGro can offer strategies to help your child better manage their emotions.
  3. TEMPER TANTRUMS: Explosive behaviors are tough on everyone. NeuroGro specializes in addressing these challenges, providing tools to navigate and diffuse difficult moments.
  4. DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS: If you’ve noticed delays in your child’s development, NeuroGro’s individualized sessions can target specific areas, ensuring they catch up and thrive.
  5. EASILY DISTRACTED: Difficulty focusing and being easily distracted can be a sign. NeuroGro’s targeted therapies aim to enhance attention and concentration.

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Nutrients for the Brain: Omega-3’s

Welcome to our series on brain healthy nutrients!  This week we’re talking about omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3’s are not a particular kind of oil but a type of fatty acid that makes up an oily substance- most often found in fatty fish such as fresh salmon or sardines. It is called omega 3 because of its structure that gives it its beneficial properties. Omega-3’s have been found to have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and have been studied as treatment for various psychiatric disorders.

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Diet & Blood Sugar Regulation

As a follow-up on last week’s post about regulating blood sugar and diabetes, we are going to talk about how to build meals and snacks that will help to stabilize your blood sugar.

You might be thinking that this isn’t relevant to you because you are a healthy weight and do not have pre-diabetes or any family history of diabetes. This is still relevant for you though.

Why is blood sugar regulation important for everyone?

Diabetes is not a “fat person” disease, even though an increase in body weight is a risk factor for developing diabetes. Blood sugar dysregulation, or dysglycemia, is a general term describing when blood sugar levels are too low or too high. This can happen to people who have a healthy weight. To summarize the content from last week’s post, when an individual has type 2 diabetes, the cells in their body that usually take glucose from the blood in response to insulin no longer do so like they should (this is called insulin resistance). The cause for this isn’t completely known but it is likely multifactorial. The body is supposed to regulate the hormones involved in blood sugar (insulin and many others) in order to maintain a balanced blood sugar that isn’t too low or high. A number of factors are associated with high blood sugar and the body’s regulation of blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance and then diabetes. Physical factors such as eating too many carbohydrate-rich foods that raise your blood sugar, chronic stress, illnesses, gut health, presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (refer to this blog post about EDC’s), and lack of physical activity can affect blood sugar. Other factors such as genetics and family history of diabetes and excess weight can also affect the development of diabetes.

We can do a lot with our diet and lifestyle to help our body out so it doesn’t have to work so hard to manage our blood sugar levels!

In last week’s blog, we talked about picking the right kind of carbs and incorporating a balance of fiber, protein, and fat along with your carbs. Let’s dive more into that!

Components of a blood sugar-balancing meal/ snack:

  • Complex carbs: 
        • Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat breads and pastas provide extra fiber and nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, and other important minerals.
              • It should be noted that most plants (grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, etc.) have chemicals we classify as “anti-nutrients” that can bind up the nutrients in the grains so that we can’t absorb them.
              • Preparation method greatly affects the availability of these nutrients such as soaking, fermentation (sourdough bread), or boiling. 
        • Fruits and vegetables provide beneficial fiber, complex carbohydrates and starches, water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds that help to manage blood sugar.
        • Legumes (peans, peas, and lentils) are another great complex carb choice if they don’t cause any digestive distress.
  • Nutrient-dense simple carbs:
        • Simple carbs don’t necessarily need to be completely avoided, but you can pair them with other slower digesting foods to balance your blood sugar.
        • Dairy:
              • High quality milk (organic and/ or non-homogenized if you can)
              • Yogurt with live cultures (these provide beneficial probiotics for your gut)
              • Ice cream with simple ingredients for a special treat (cream, milk, sugar, egg yolks, salt)
        • Some fruits and vegetables:
              • Fruits with more simple sugars and other nutrients: bananas (less ripe bananas have less sugar and more fiber), watermelon, mango, raisins, dates, etc.
              • Fruits with more starch: carrots, potatoes, corn, squash, etc.
              • Try to pair these items with a healthy protein or fat source.
  • Healthy fats:
        • Foods high in healthier fats:
              • Avocados, nuts and nut butters, olives, seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sesame). 
        • Oils:
              • The quality of the oil is almost as or more important than the oil itself. The unsaturated fatty acids present in oils are highly susceptible to damage from heat, oxygen, and other environmental factors that destroy the health benefits of the oil .
              • Good oil sources: cold-pressed oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil (they will have more enzymes and nutrients).
                  • Avoid cooking with olive oil though as it has a low smoke point. Use olive oil in dressings or drizzling it on freshly made foods such as bread or soup.
              • Try to limit/ avoid: fried foods (the high heats can destroy the oils), rancid oils, and poorly stored oils (store in a dark, cool room in a darker glass bottle with a tight lid).
  • Protein:
        • Meat is one of the most abundant sources of protein:
              • High intakes of red meat are associated with health risks; however, meat is one of the main sources of the B vitamins and it is the most highly absorbed form of iron. 
                  • Aim for 2-3 servings a week of lean red meats such as beef and pork
                  • Try to get organic and/ or grass-fed if you can
              • Poultry: lean cuts of chicken and turkey are great sources of protein and nutrients
              • Fish: fatty cuts of fish such as salmon, sardines, oysters, and trout are great sources of healthy omega 3’s and other nutrients
              • Organ meats such as liver are a nutrient powerhouse! Try mixing it with ground beef or turkey for extra nutrition.
        • Other nutrient-dense sources of protein: eggs (opt for “free range”), dairy (refer to the list above), and lean cheeses (feta, ricotta, mozzarella, etc.)

Tying all of this information together, you want to try to incorporate elements of all of these types of foods into your meals and snacks. This will help to balance your blood sugar. 

Other lifestyle changes to help manage blood sugar:
  • Find a way to manage the stress in your life whether that’s seeking help from a counselor, adding in stress-reducing practices, journaling, etc. 
  • Increase your overall physical activity by aiming to be physically active at least 3- 5 days a week doing something you enjoy
  • Go on a walk about a bigger meal
  • Try to eliminate endocrine-disrupting chemicals in your life such as BPA (switch to using glass storage containers and water bottles instead of plastic), phthalates, sulfates, and more (these chemicals are often present in beauty products, self-care products, and cleaning supplies)
Ultimately, you cannot always control the other factors in your life that may lead to diabetes, but there is strong evidence to show that implementing a healthy diet and exercising regularly can drastically help to decrease your risk of developing diabetes.

Please talk to your doctor if you suspect you have diabetes or if you gave diabetes and want to make some diet and lifestyle changes!

Sources:
https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/07/diabetic-level-glucose-spikes-seen-in-healthy-people.html
https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/dysglycemia
https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/insulin-resistance.html
https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hyperglycemia
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9561544/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7344713/
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325021/
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/#:~:text=Phytates%20(phytic%20acid)%20in%20whole,interfere%20with%20normal%20nutrient%20absorption.
https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diet/glycaemic-index-diet-and-diabetes.html#:~:text=Higher%20GI%20fruits%20include%20bananas,%2C%20parsnips%2C%20beetroots%20and%20sweetcorn.
https://www.ifis.org/blog/food-lipid-oxidation-and-health#:~:text=Unsaturated%20fatty%20acids%20like%20omega,et%20al.%2C%201991).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4110403/

Blood Sugar Regulation and Diabetes

What causes diabetes? Why is blood sugar regulation so important?

To answer these questions, we are going to talk about sugar, or more specifically glucose, its role in the body, how the body controls the amount of glucose in the blood, and how dys-regulation causes insulin resistance and then ultimately, diabetes.

First, we will establish some base knowledge about what kinds of carbohydrates exist and what happens when we eat them. There are several kinds of carbohydrates categorized by their structure and how quickly they get digested and absorbed from the GI tract into the blood stream. Simple carbs are small molecules made of one or two sugars and are quickly broken down and absorbed. Complex carbs have three or more sugars linked together and are therefore more complex in structure and slower to digest. Fiber is a complex mesh of carbs that cannot be digested by the enzymes made in the human body and pass through without getting absorbed. They don’t change your blood sugar directly; however, they work to slow down the absorption of other sugars present at that time. Usually a carb-rich food such as pasta or a piece of pizza has several kinds of carbohydrates all getting digested at once. However, all carbs, once fully digested are broken down into three kinds of sugars: glucose, fructose, and galactose. These sugars are absorbed and enter your bloodstream and head right to the liver where the fructose and galactose gets converted into glucose. Once glucose enters the blood, insulin is released from the pancreas which allows glucose to enter into the cells to be used as energy. (Note: Keep in mind that glucose is not the only thing that controls the release of insulin, other substances can as well, but for this purpose, we are talking about glucose’s control of the release of insulin). Foods richer in complex carbs and fiber will help to slow the digestion and therefore the absorption of the sugars in to the blood which allows insulin to be released and offered to the cells steadily instead of all at once.

Glucose is the preferred source of energy for most of the cells in your body. It is necessary to function and live. Your body will make its own glucose if it doesn’t get supplied (during times of fasting or starvation) or it will adapt to use other nutrients for energy such as fats or proteins. Glucose in the cells in the right amounts is not the problem. The problem is when there is excess glucose in the blood or inside the cells. Persisting “hyperglycemia” or too much glucose in the blood can cause damage and disease progression to occur. Too much glucose inside the cells can also cause problems as well.

Let’s talk now about diabetes as a disease and how it can develop…

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune cells attack the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin. Therefore, someone with type 1 diabetes produces little or no insulin and must regularly provide their body with insulin. For individuals with type 2 diabetes, the issue lies in the cells in the rest of your body that don’t respond to insulin like they should. For the purpose of this post, we are going to mainly be talking about type 2 diabetes as a lot of the risk associated with type 2 is lifestyle related.

Before progressing to type 2 diabetes, a condition called insulin resistance usually occurs first. Although the cause is not completely understood, there are several mechanisms in other cells in the body that are dependent on insulin to supply it with energy that can get disrupted or impaired as a result of chronic high blood sugar. This causes a further increase in blood glucose because the cells are not taking the glucose from the blood like they should when insulin is present. As a result of continual high blood glucose, the body continues producing more insulin to try to get it lowered. Eventually, the cells in the pancreas that make insulin can get stressed and eventually die. This further decreases the body’s ability to make insulin leading to bigger increases in blood glucose. Long-term consequences of high blood glucose are damage to tissues and proteins in the body such as your heart, kidneys, brain, eyes, and nerves, and increases to your risk for developing other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, and premature death. Pre-diabetes is usually diagnosed before diabetes and is based on various tests that measure the glucose levels in the blood.

You might be asking what can be done to prevent this?

Lifestyle (diet, physical activity, stress levels, etc.) is not the only factor but is a large factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Other factors such as body weight, genetics (family history of diabetes), age, race, and ethnicity can impact your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Current evidence is showing promising outcomes with lifestyle interventions in preventing or delaying the development of diabetes. Interventions with diet and exercise particularly have significantly decreased diabetes risk.

Here are some dietary and lifestyle considerations for diabetes prevention:

Diet composition:
Like we discussed above, diet composition itself can affect how quickly your blood sugar rises and therefore how hard your pancreas has to work in order to make enough insulin. If you eat a diet composed of lots of simple carbs and little complex carbs and fiber, then the carbs that you eat will cause a sharp rise in blood sugar and a sudden need for lots of insulin. This can be taxing on your pancreas long-term. Eating carb-rich foods high in fiber and complex carbs like whole grains, some fruits, and most vegetables will help to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood to prevent a sharp rise in blood sugar.
Eating a lower carb diet is usually advised for those with pre-diabetes or diabetes to help manage the disease and their medications. It is not necessary for those just trying to prevent the development of diabetes as it may not be sustainable long-term. Choosing the right kinds of carbs and the composition of the rest of your meal is more important.
In addition to fiber, protein and fat are complex molecules that help to slow the digestion and absorption of sugars. Choosing a meal or snack that is balanced with whole grains, fruits, healthy fats, and protein will likely help balance your overall blood sugar.

Helpful:
– Complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
– Fats, proteins, and carbs at every meal and snack

Not as helpful:
– Too many simple sugars in one setting
– A lot of simple sugars, or even complex carbs without protein or fats

Amount of Food:
Too much overall energy intake can lead to increases in body weight which is a risk factor for developing diabetes. Having excess energy, in the form of carbs, proteins, or fats, can result in the same response of insulin resistance in the body’s cells.

Helpful:
– Eating the right amount of calories

Not as helpful:
– Eating too many calories overall

Physical Activity:
Regular exercise has been shown to improve blood sugar regulation and control in individuals, help prevent weight gain, and maintain overall energy balance. It is good to start slow and gradually add in more exercise in order to prevent injury. The currently recommendations are 150 minutes of exercise per week, or just 30 minutes, 5 times a week.

Other lifestyle factors:
There are many other factors such as stress (positive or negative), illness, dehydration, etc. that can influence your blood sugar. Overall, do your best to manage and control what you can and let everything else go. Worrying about things you cannot control is not beneficial!

Conclusions:
While there are so many factors at play in the development of type 2 diabetes, weight loss for overweight individuals, adequate exercise, and a balanced diet has been shown to be helpful to decrease your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Seek the advice and counsel of your healthcare provider to figure out what you can do today to help lower your risk for developing diabetes.

Sources:
https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/diet-trends/what-is-glycemic-index
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8116552/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387426/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996922/#R10
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30317615/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404204/#R11
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738809/#B18
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes#:~:text=Diabetes%20is%20a%20disease%20that,from%20the%20food%20you%20eat.
https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4219937/
https://diabetesjournals.org/diabetes/article/54/suppl_2/S97/12821/Mechanisms-of-Pancreatic-Cell-Death-in-Type-1-and
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/tests-diagnosis
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125024/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31451269/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK585052/
https://extension.usu.edu/nutrition/research/controlling-blood-glucose-levels-through-diet
https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/endocrine-and-metabolic-disorders/diabetes-mellitus-and-disorders-of-carbohydrate-metabolism/diabetes-mellitus-dm?query=Blood%20sugar%20regulation
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5898168/
https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

Genetics and Health

How much do your “genetics” actually control your health?

It has become a common thing to blame genetics as the reason for a lot of health maladies. What role do genetics play in health and the development of disease?

To tackle this question, we must first understand the role and function of genetics. Every single cell in your body (except red blood cells) has a  unique set of genetic material made up of DNA which is a series of codes that specific molecules can read and do certain things with. It is essentially just a recipe that your body attempts to follow. “Genes” are sections of your DNA that code for a specific thing. For example, you have specific genes that dictate every physical attribute about your yourself and also what proteins get made that run every process that happens in your body.

If all cells have the exact same DNA and set of genes, how then can you have different cells in the body that function and look completely different? This is the completely amazing and miraculous thing about how we were created. A neuron can be up to 4 feet long and is completely different from a cell that makes and secretes hydrochloric acid into the stomach for digestion. These differences in the structure and function of cells happen when certain genes are turned on or off during the process in which new cells are created and mature. These differences in gene expression in a particular cell also dictate the needs for that particular cell (in terms of energy or nutrients) and therefore the function that cell is responsible for (i.e. making stomach acid, making and releasing hormones, providing structure, receiving and sending nerve signals, etc). These functions are accomplished by hundreds or even thousands of proteins that are produced by the cell’s DNA.

There are genetic disorders that are passed on that directly affect a certain protein’s function in the body and cause an inevitable disease such as Down syndrome or Sickle Cell Anemia. In other cases, there are genetic variations in inherited genes that result in things like varying reactions to medications, “predisposition” or even protection for a certain disease, or nothing at all. Genetic “predisposition” means that because of a certain gene variant, you may be more susceptible to a certain disease but it does not mean that you will develop the disease. There are other factors like lifestyle and environment that also affect the development of a potential disease positively or negatively. For example, it has been shown that healthy lifestyles (exercise, diet, stress management, etc.) can counteract a genetic predisposition to being overweight.

What does this all mean for your health?

You may or may not know of any genetic variations you have that could have potential impacts on your health. However, more and more research is showing that genetics are just a part of disease development. Epigenetics are another factor. “Epi” means above or upon. Therefore, “epi-genetics” means upon or on top of genetics. Epigenetic changes do not change the DNA itself, but are external and can change how the body reads a certain gene (turning it on or off). Some of these changes are reversible and are impacted positively or negatively by lifestyle (diet, alcohol, exercise), exposure to environmental toxins (metals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals), and environment (in utero, stress, work habits). In early childhood, the brain is particularly susceptible to epigenetic change through positive and negative experiences. Others of these changes can become permanent after long-term adverse experiences.

While a lot of the environments in which you grew up in and the genetics you were given are out of your control, there are changes you can make now that can positively impact your health and longevity.

Here are some positive diet and lifestyle changes that have been shown to impact epigenetics:
– Folate and Vitamin B12: Both of these B vitamins are essential in DNA metabolism and are epigenetically active.

– Other nutrients with protective effects: selenium, SAM, choline, resveratrol, methionine, etc.
– Polyphenols: These types of compounds are found in plants such as berries, beans, nuts, seeds, spices, etc.
– Dietary patterns: Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats (less saturated fats and red meats)
– Physical activity: Exercise and overall physical activity has been shown to be epigenetically protective.

Here are some substances that have been known to negatively impact epigenetics:
– Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: These types of chemicals interfere with our body’s hormone signaling pathways. Examples of these chemicals include phthalates and parabens (used in beauty and personal care products), BPA, Atrazine (herbicide), etc. (refer to this earlier blog post for more information)
– Heavy metals and environmental pollutants: arsenic, lead, mercury, and air pollution (refer to this earlier blog post for more information)
– Alcohol and tobacco consumption: Overconsumption of both of these substances are pro-inflammatory and associated with increased risk of cancer and other diseases.

This information is not meant to scare you or make you feel like you can control every thing that happens in your body. Sometimes things still happen that we can’t control or that we tried to actively prevent. Please reach out to your doctor if you would like assistance in figuring out how you can change your lifestyle to positively benefit you and your genetics!

Sources:
https://nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/genetics.aspx#:~:text=Genetics%20is%20the%20scientific%20study,that%20help%20the%20body%20work.
https://www.ludwig.ox.ac.uk/news/investigating-mechanisms-of-gene-repression#:~:text=Two%20main%20mechanisms%20of%20gene,containing%20histone%20deacetylases%20(HDACs).
https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/mutationsanddisorders/predisposition/
https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/mutationsanddisorders/mutationscausedisease/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26821/#:~:text=DNA%20encodes%20information%20through%20the,chemical%20structure%20of%20the%20DNA.https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/basics/gene/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26885/#:~:text=The%20genome%20of%20a%20cell,sets%20of%20genes%20are%20expressed.

https://www.genome.gov/For-Patients-and-Families/Genetic-Disorders
https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/gene-environment-interaction/#:~:text=Positive%20experiences%2C%20such%20as%20exposure,process%20is%20called%20epigenetic%20modification.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752894/
https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm#:~:text=Unlike%20genetic%20changes%2C%20epigenetic%20changes,body%20reads%20a%20DNA%20sequence.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4783933/#:~:text=Several%20recent%20studies%20have%20indicated,differentiation%20%5B13%2C14%5D.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6275017/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9953584/#:~:text=Exercise%2DInduced%20Epigenetic%20Modifications%20in,both%2C%20can%20alter%20the%20epigenome.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bcpt.12878
https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/edcs
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4395649/

Creating Effective Routines

How do habits form?

First days of school are right around the corner. It’s about that time of the summer when kids and teenagers (and parents too) are getting antsy and ready for some routine again. However, we often feel the strain from adjusting back to more strict or slightly busier routines.

Humans are habitual by nature and thrive on routines. In order to discuss some ideas for establishing routines, we must first understand the importance and role that the brain plays.

A region of the brain called the basal ganglia has largely been associated with the formation of habits and routines. It communicates in loops with the cerebral cortex (the outer portion of the brain involved in a lot of the higher processing functions such as muscle movement, language, learning, reason, etc.) and the thalamus (involved in integration of various body senses). The basal ganglia is involved in and sensitive to various systems in which reward feedback occurs. The basis of habit learning often falls in this sort of sequence:
stimulus -> response -> reward/ feedback. Since the basal ganglia sits in the loop between the senses and motor response and is involved in reward and motivation, it makes sense that it is involved in habit learning.

As discussed above, habit formation occurs in a repeated particular environment with a repeated particular event (the stimulus) in which a response develops and is reinforced by feedback or a “reward”. For example, if you experience pain every day and are prescribed pain medication and the pain goes away when you take the medication, the reward that helps you remember to take the medication is the lack of pain. Once these habits are formed, the response becomes automatic without the conscious decision to do so. A resulting feature is often speed, efficiency, and limited thought requirement as executive control is not required. This is obviously desirable as it saves energy, time, and the stress to make a conscious decision for something that we have to do regularly.

How do you create effective routines?

Having simple morning, night, and after school routines can provide security and even other health benefits for you and your family. Studies have shown that families and children with consistent, healthy routines have better sleeping habits, better weight maintenance, less stress, more family resilience during crisis, academic success and development of social, emotional, and language skills.

Here are some tips for creating routines:

Make a plan: If a routine does not currently exist, you will likely need to plan and intentionally schedule tasks for when and how you want a regular routine to go. A plan should include when, where, and what you will be doing as well as creating action steps to enact the plan. This sets expectations for yourself and those in your home.
Communicate the plan: Making a plan is only one part of the step. Including others in on your plan for a routine or explaining to others who are included in your routine (like your spouse or kids) what the routine is will help to establish the context of the routine and its repetitive nature. Explaining the routine before or as you are doing it (especially with kids) is also beneficial.
Create consistent contexts: One of the most important factors is the context in which a behavior is expected as well as the regularity of the context. For example, if you are attempting to remember to take some supplements every day, but they end up floating around the house to various spots, you will not likely remember to take them. However, if you set the supplements by the coffee pot and say “I will not make my coffee until l’ve taken my supplements”, then you will likely remember. In this example, the context of taking the supplements before you make coffee is established by keeping the supplements by the coffee pot.
Start simple and build: Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming and lead to frustration and burnout before the habit formation occurs. Pick something small to add into your routine and once it becomes more of a habit, try adding in something else. You will eventually find yourself with a routine that works well for you!

Sources:
https://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147192599/habits-how-they-form-and-how-to-break-them
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526748/
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23073-cerebral-cortex#:~:text=Each%20of%20these%20lobes%20is,%2C%20emotion%2C%20intelligence%20and%20personality.
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22652-thalamus#:~:text=Your%20thalamus%20is%20your%20body%27s,%2C%20consciousness%2C%20learning%20and%20memory.
https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033417?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4816693/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10357511/
https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/about-us/article/importance-schedules-routines#:~:text=Just%20like%20adults%2C%20children%20feel,in%20control%20of%20their%20environment
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6378489/#:~:text=Observational%20research%20indicates%20that%20individuals,and%20do%20not%20skip%20meals.
https://journals.lww.com/iycjournal/Fulltext/2007/10000/Family_Routines_and_Rituals__A_Context_for.2.aspx

Food Portioning

How do you portion your food correctly?

I have been told many times that one of the hardest things in regard to nutrition and eating a healthy diet is the portioning. The idea that the American public has about the amount of food that we should be eating has become based on the amount of food that is given at restaurants. However, the average food portions in American restaurants have doubled or even tripled in some cases over the last few decades. Furthermore, we read on the internet that you should be eating a certain amount of calories or a number of grams of carbohydrates or protein but we have no idea what that actually translates to for food.

Maybe a personal trainer or another health professional has told you how many calories you should be eating or has told you something like “you need to eat 100 grams of protein per day”. What does that actually mean though? How do you figure out how many calories and amounts of carbs, protein, and fat are in the food you are eating?

This blog post below is a great place to start to help you learn how to read a nutrition label so that you can understand what is in the food you’re eating:

https://lifestreamclinics.com/how-to-read-a-nutrition-label/

However, most of the time, people are not going to measure out their portions or weigh out other foods like chicken or fruit that don’t have a nutrition label on them. Additionally, most people are not trying to hit a perfect number of calories and are just looking to estimate the amount of food they’re eating so that they don’t overeat.

Here are some quick tips for estimating the nutrient content of common foods*:

– 3 oz of protein (chicken, steak, salmon, etc.) is about the size of the palm of your hand and has approximately 25 grams of protein
– 1/2 cup of most carbohydrate sources (pasta, oatmeal, crackers, etc.) is roughly the size of a cupped handful or a tennis ball and contains roughly 15- 25 grams of carbs
– 1 cup of fresh fruit is roughly one serving and is the size of a baseball or a closed fist and has roughly 15 grams of carbs
– 1 teaspoon of oil or solid fat is the size of a postage stamp and is roughly 5 grams of fat
– 1 tablespoons is about the size of your thumb and is the approximate serving size of peanut butter (or other nut butters)
* These are very rough estimates
Reach out to a health professional for more help with figuring out how much food you should be eating to stay healthy!

Sources:
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/news-events/matte1.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t4/?report=objectonly
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000337.htm
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/diet-physical-activity/eat-healthy/controlling-portion-sizes.html
https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eyeball-carbohydrate-servings
https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/diabetes-and-carbohydrates.html#:~:text=For%20diabetes%20meal%20planning%2C%201,counts%20as%202%20carb%20servings.
https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/diabetes-and-carbs/carbohydrate-choice-lists.html
https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/nutrition-panels-and-food-labels/serving-size-vs-portion-size-is-there-a-difference
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/multimedia/portion-control/sls-20076148

How to Read a Nutrition Label

How do you read a nutrition label? What information can you obtain from it?

Reading a nutrition label can be so overwhelming! You might just want to know if this food is healthy for me or not. I want to help simplify the process for looking at nutrition labels and offer some tips!

Tips for analyzing the label:
  1. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to figure out about this food item?” For example, do you want to know if it has a lot of added sugar? Or do you want to know if it is rich in nutrients such as vitamin D or iron? Is this food going to spike my blood sugar?
         – Focus on one part of the nutrition label and compare it to other similar products to get a feel for which one is better suited for your needs.
  2. Look at the serving size (they’re often smaller than you might think) before analyzing the amount of a certain nutrient in the food item (for example, 13 grams of sugar may not seem like that much for M&M’s until you realize that’s only 16 pieces)
  3. Look at what is actually in the product verses nutrient claims on the outside of the package such as “less fat” or “lower sugar”. These products still may be high in saturated fat and sugar.

Things to keep in mind about a nutrition label:

  •  The order in which the ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight (for example, the first ingredient has the highest weight and the last ingredient has the lowest weight compared to all other ingredients)
  • The percentages on the nutrition labels are all based on someone eating a 2,000 calorie diet. Therefore, unless you are certain you eat that many calories every day, the percent of your daily value might not be an accurate measure to go by. 

– Percent Daily Value (% DV) is a measure of how much of a particular nutrient you are consuming in this product compared to the recommendations for an average American consuming 2,000 calories.

  • The only additional nutrients that are required to be on the label are vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. Just because another nutrient isn’t on the label doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in the product (folate, vitamin A, etc.). 
  • Ingredients that are in “incidental amounts” or have “no functional or technical effect in the finished product” do not have to be included on the ingredients list.
  • “Common names” can be used on the ingredient label for things such as flavorings, colors, or spices unless otherwise regulated. 
Tips for picking a good snack:
  1. A food item that has similar ratios of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber will help to stabilize your blood sugar and provide lasting energy.
  2. Foods high in added sugars or carbohydrates (without fiber) will generally provide a higher spike in blood sugar without helping you feel full.
  3. The simpler and shorter the ingredient list, the better. Honestly, if a food doesn’t have a food label, then it might be the best choice yet (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables)!

 

Sources:
https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label
https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-read-food-and-beverage-labels
https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label
https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/trans-fat
https://www.fda.gov/files/food/published/Food-Labeling-Guide-%28PDF%29.pdf

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