Young Children, Junk Food, and Mental Illness


As an adult you know that you feel much better when you eat healthier.  Think about it, how do you feel after you munch out at McDonalds or Burger King vs. having a home cooked meal of grilled skinless chicken breast, steamed veggies, and a whole wheat roll with a dab of butter.  Hopefully everyone said they feel much better after a home cooked meal in comparison to McDonalds or Burger King.  Or what about a nice crisp apple vs. a bag of sour and cream chips?  Hmm…
All those high energy, healthy foods we have been discussing really are key, aren’t they?!  But who else is your diet affecting?  Ever think about how your diet is affecting your unborn or young children?

Junk Food

Junk Food

A new study from Deakin University in Australia suggests that children who are exposed to “junk food” have an increased risk of developing mental health problems.  This includes when a child is still in the womb as well as a child’s first few years of life.

Researchers of the study found that those who consume a high quantity of unhealthy foods during pregnancy and provide an unhealthy diet to their children during the first few years of life increase a children’s risk.  Risk to what you ask?  Children exposed to an unhealthy diet early in life have been linked to having higher emotional and behavioral problems such as anxiety and/or depression.  If you are a parent, you know that your children look up to you as a role model.  This includes their food choices as well.  If you tell your child that they are not allowed to have cookies or cake but then they see you sneaking these foods, they will think it is okay.  Why do you think it is so important during the first few years of childhood?  Once a child reaches the age of nine or ten it will be more difficult to try and change their habits when it comes to eating.

When counseling young children, many parents comment “well I don’t let him/her have that anyways because it makes him/her hyper.”  Did you know that it is a myth that one becomes hyper from eating too much sugar?  What a dirty little trick parents play on their children. J But, if you didn’t know, now you do.  However, too much sugar can lead to it being stored as fat and possibly diabetes.  Most kids run around enough that a treat aka “junk food” every now and then won’t necessarily hurt them so don’t be ‘that mom or dad’.

What do I consider “junk food” anything that is package or pre-made that has a low nutritional value.  This means things that are high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories.  Don’t get me wrong some of these things are delicious, but only every once in a while.  I like to think of them as special occasion treats! This means a few times a year, just because you got an A on a paper doesn’t mean it’s a special occasion.  Okay, maybe but treat yourself with something other than junk food.  Now, you are more than welcome to make homemade items and “health” them up like I do!  No one ever said you couldn’t eat healthy junk food!

Brain food


Have you ever wondered if there are certain foods that you can eat to help preserve your memory?!  I have.  We already know that food provides our bodies with energy and that there is always new research out about how healthy this or that is for you.  So, there has to be some foods that help with memory right?!  Whether you are looking for a short-term fix before an exam or thinking long term there are foods that have been proven to help.  Of course they are the healthier foods that I always preach about, just one more reason to eat healthy!

Brain food

Brain food

Everyone either has exams or meeting from time to time so what can you do to keep your mind focused, your energy level up, and your stomach from growling? The number one thing is to NOT SKIP BREAKFAST.  So many people say they are not a morning person and choose to sleep an extra 10 minutes instead of eat breakfast, but as you know it is the most important meal of the day.  Breakfast gets your body and mind going each day, so make sure you fuel it with something healthy.  However, timing is key!  Try to allow at least an hour between eating and taking a test or heading into an important meeting.  I’m sure you or your partner always gets tired after eating a meal, especially when sitting down or laying in front of the TV afterwards.  This is because the body is focusing on digestion which makes you tired.
Take a look at some of foods that will help save your memory (now and years down the road):

  • Foods high in vitamin E:
  • salad dressings that have a vegetable oil base
  • whole grains
  • peanuts and peanut butter
  • other nuts/seeds
  • avocados
  • Fish; which is high in omega 3
  • Dark leafy greens; which are also high in vitamin E, folic acid, and other useful memory savers
  • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, and acia berries)
  • Fiber rich whole grains (high in vitamin E and fiber, WIN-WIN!)

This means that if you have to go to the cafeteria or vending machine choose wisely.  I have patients who say “well a muffin is quick how about that?”  Yes they are quick but are they really the idea healthy snack?  What kind of muffin are you choosing?  Try to choose something that is on the healthier side if you just have to have a muffin.  This means, if you take the muffin and imagine it in a square or circular shape could you consider it a cookie or a cake?  Yes that means, double chocolate chip.  Try an oatmeal raisin or bran muffin instead.

Also try to avoid high sugar and carbohydrate snacks, they will provide you with a quick energy boost but it will also wear off quicker than other snacks.  Carbohydrates also stimulate a production in the body that gives your brain a feeling of relaxation.  This is just another reason people get so tired after a large meal, like pasta for example.

It is also very important to stay hydrated and be well rested.  Why is this is so important?  Staying hydrated helps the body maintain its chemical reactions, without proper hydration our brains speed is affected.  A lack of sleep will make you turn to those sugary, high calorie energy products that are taking over the shelves.  But, what if you can’t sleep?  Try an herbal tea or warm milk before bed, these have a natural sedative effect.  I know plenty of people who drink warm tea before bed for this sole purpose and it works.

Want to boost your energy?


Boost your energy needs with high energy foods! Next time you take a trip with your family or heck, next time you go to work; pack some healthy snacks instead of going to the snack bar/machine.  I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who eat at least six times a day.  I mean we all get hungry between meals right?!  As long as you keep snacks small, healthy, and within your guidelines everything is good.

Many of my patients get three meals and three snacks a day because like you, they get hungry throughout the day. But what do you consider “snack” time, 10am, 2pm, midnight?  Let’s take a look at some of the most common “snack” times:

  • When you’re tired or need a quick pick me up
  • Before a test or meeting
  • Before working out
  • After leaving school or work
  • While watching TV/a movie or playing a computer/video game
  • While you’re sitting in a vehicle
  • Before bedtime
  • When you’re crash dieting
Healthy Snacking

Healthy Snacking

Now that you are nodding your head and agreeing with me, how do you control your “snacking” without gaining 10 pounds?  Try to snack smart!

  • Choose smart carbs (high in fiber), which means staying away from those sweets (i.e. donuts)!  Try whole grains, bran cereals, and/or brown rice instead.
  • Eat well balanced and frequent meals.
  • Snack on nuts!  Almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews are high in protein and magnesium (which converts sugar into energy).
  • Incorporate lean meats and fish into your diet.
  • Incorporate leafy greens or rabbit food as some of you may call it into your diet.
  • Eat a square or two of dark chocolate (yes, I said chocolate).
  • Drink water!
  • Eat plenty of fresh (or naturally dried) fruits and veggies.
  • Drink a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Exercise!

Now of course you are like “well duh, but could you give me an example or two?”  This is the same question many dietitians here day in and day out.  Most patients are actually genuinely concerned and want to make sure they are snacking right, where the other 5-10% are just too lazy to think about or come up with their own ideas from the foods they love.  So here are some healthy snacking ideas!  Remember, many times we mistake hungry for thirst so try drinking a glass of water or tea (which provides energy especially if you add a small amount of honey) first and see if that helps!

  • An apple or banana with nut butter
  • Whole wheat crackers with hummus or nut butter
  • A healthy/homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruits
  • Yogurt with fresh fruit and/or granola
  • ½ of a healthy made sandwich
  • Fresh veggies with hummus
  • Ants on a log (you’re never too old)
  • Add honey!

I hope I haven’t made anyone too hungry!  Making changes to smart snacking will not happen overnight.  Like any other dietary change it takes time and starting with small steps is okay!  Whether it is cutting out the soda and exchanging it for a glass of water twice a week, throwing your bag of Doritos out and replacing them with a healthy trail mix, or maybe just adding in a piece of fruit with nut butter each day.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will a new habit.  Stay positive and focus on your end goal.  Plus, now you won’t be too tired, since you have a few tricks and ideas!

Where is my energy going?


Do you ever think people are making up excuses just so they don’t have to do something?  Well, I do.  I always hear “well I would but I’m just so exhausted when I get home at night.”  Please tell me why you have enough energy to pour five glasses of wine but you don’t have enough energy to rinse some fresh fruits and/or veggies for work tomorrow.  Both of which could be energy boosting foods!  Yes, we are all humans but there is a difference between excuses and really being exhausted.

I know everyone at some point in their life wonders why they are “dog tired” three to four hours after you get up?!  Or maybe after a relaxing day getting your hair and nails done?!  There are some common energy stealers that may be to blame.  These little suckers seem to get us all from time to time.  Some of these culprits you may have never even thought about, but you will now.  The most common energy stealers I see are:

  • Crash dieting
  • Being a couch potato
  • Energy suckers
  • Over exercising
  • A breakfast high in sugar
  • Cabin fever

I know you are looking at some of these and thinking “agh now it all makes sense but why?”

  • Crash dieting: is among the top reasons for low energy levels seen among dietitians.  A lot of patients come in and say “well, I only eat 800 calories a day at home because….”  This is neither safe nor does it provide your body with the amount of energy it needs to properly function.  It may be a quick way to lose weight (most of which will come back when lost in such a quick manner), but you are also making yourself more tired.
Crash Diet

Crash Diet

  • Being a couch potato: I mean who doesn’t love to just sit on the couch and watch TV every now and then? I know I sure do!  However, your body associates sitting/laying in the same position for longer periods with sleep.  Therefore, it steals your energy.
  • Energy suckers: what in the world is an energy sucker you may ask?  Energy suckers are people who lower your energy levels when you are a mission to pursue a dream.  For example trying to start a new business, this is not only stressful but very tiring.
  • Over exercising: ha, who does that?  More people than you may think.  Now, we all know that exercising is good for you but too much exercise or too much high intensity exercise each day may not be good for your energy levels.  Take a break every once in a while.
  • A breakfast high in sugar: may give you a burst of energy but it will go back down and you will crash when your energy runs out.  Hints the getting “dog-tired” a few hours after getting up and having breakfast.
  • Cabin fever: is a major cause of tiredness.  Are you a stay at home mom/dad or do you work from home?  Staying inside daily results in a lack of light and fresh air which has been shown to lower your energy levels.

Now that I shared some of these energy stealing culprits, you may be wondering how you can boost your energy without drinking an energy drink that is full of sugar.  Look for my next blog “want to boost your energy?” to find out!

**some tiredness/fatigue may be caused by unknown or known medical conditions, please consult your physician if you feel like there is something more behind your fatigue than mentioned above**

What is Energy?

What is Energy

What is Energy

As a dietitian, patients are continuously complaining day in and day out about how they do not have enough energy to eat their breakfast or whatever meal or snack it may be.  But of course, since I am just a “youngen” I would not understand what it is like (you know).  In my defense I ask “where do you think you get your energy from?”  Normally I get lots of questionable and quizzical looks when I ask this but then I say “well from the food you eat of course!” Yes, sometimes it is a long and hard battle trying to explain to patients that they get energy from the foods they do not have enough energy to eat, but encouragement and patience is key!  When you see those patients finally able to enjoy their meals, up walking around, and enjoying company, it is such a rewarding feeling.

So what is energy?  Energy is simply defined as the strength your body requires to continue both mental and physical activity.  When you go to the doctors, dietitians, read the label on your foods/drinks, or possibly even the gym you hear (and see) people talking about energy in terms of calories (kilocalories/kcal) but why?  Calories are used to describe the amount of heat energy that is required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

So let’s take a look into your daily diet, there are four main groups of ‘energy foods’.

  • Carbohydrates, which provide the body with 4kcal/gram of energy
  • Proteins, which provide the body with 4kcal/gram of energy
  • Alcohol, which provides the body with 7kcal/gram of energy
  • Fats, which provide the body with 9kcal/gram of energy

Granted many patients do have the pleasure to get to discuss alcohol with me and if they do, I’m not exactly their best friend afterwards.  However, alcohol does contain calories (aka energy) so we have to give it its two seconds of fame right?!

Since I am a dietitian, my friends and family like to take advantage of this and are always asking me “would it be okay if I eat some triple chocolate peanut butter brownies, maybe a hot fudge sundae with all the toppings, or oh what about chocolate turtle cheesecake?”  No matter the question, I respond “why not? as long as you eat in moderation, do not eat it every day, and exercise!”  There is nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and then; it’s how you incorporate these “treats” into your diet that is important.  But do not forget that exercise is an important part in controlling your weight as well.  Once I suggest that exercise is important, everyone starts asking “Well, where do I burn the most fat from when I walk?  Will it take care of these muffin tops I have going on?  What about if I do circuit training then hop on the treadmill or elliptical?”  So, let’s take a look at exercising.  When exercising energy is burned based on the three main intensity levels.  The body sees exercise as either low intensity, medium intensity, or high intensity and burns various forms of energy in different amounts based on the intensity level (this also depends on what exercise you are doing and how long you are doing it for).

  • Low intensity exercise: during this stage your body will primarily use stored fat as its main source of energy, which is made into energy in the presence of oxygen.
  • Medium intensity exercise: during this stage your body increases the use of muscle glycogen (which is the main form of stored carbohydrates) and plasma glucose (aka blood sugar concentration).  When the intensity increases the body has to change its primary energy source (to glycogen and glucose) due to the amount of provided energy from fat being insufficient.
  • High intensity exercise: during this stage your body will primarily use muscle glycogen.  During high intensity exercise the amount of energy once again changes but only last for a short period of time.

So where is all this energy stored? What a fabulous question.

  • Carbohydrates are stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver.
  • Proteins are stored in the muscles, but are not a primary source of energy during most exercise.
  • Fats are stored around the abdomen and underneath the skin .
  • Alcohol, as you know is not a large energy contributor in the thoughts of exercise but it does provide energy that is stored as fuel.

No matter what exercise or intensity level you are doing, you are always going to be burning calories.  But, in order to lose a few pounds you have to look at the calories you take in versus the calories you burn “out” through daily activity and exercise.  Having a diet that is full of healthy high energy foods along with daily exercise should help you get to the level you are looking for or stay at the level you are currently on (or want to get too and then stay on!).  You have to know what you are comfortable with.

I have had patients in the past who are out there at the age 80 and up still going to the pool at least once a day (most twice) to swim laps and then still go to the gym or community center to exercise on top of that. Plus all their little outings they take with their friends and family throughout the week.  I don’t know about you, but I hope I am blessed enough to be that fit and energetic when I am 80 years old!

There are however, pesky little culprits out there that drain us of our energy.  Want to know more about what culprits may be causing you to be so tired and out of energy? Keep an eye open for my next blog “Where is my energy going”.  I will fill you in on some of the top energy stealing culprits out there.