Mission Impossible: Healthy Eating at an Amusement Park

The adrenaline rush while descending the first drop of a roller coaster hill and defying gravity as the coaster moves through each loop-De-loop, food is usually the last thing on your mind. But after a full day of thrill rides at the amusement park and walking all day, you’ll eventually work up an appetite. Once the sights, sounds and incredible smells of the “good eats” the park has to offer start to taunt you, you’re at their mercy. But let’s face it, you’re on vacation, right? No limitations are going to get in your way, anything goes. Cotton candy, ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries are easy to eat and quickly satisfy a hearty appetite. Sorry to be a downer, but these foods are often high in saturated fat, high in added sugar and low in healthy nutrients. For the average healthy person, in moderation they are okay. But for someone watching their weight, or has diabetes or heart disease, following their registered dietitian’s advice, can be a nightmare.

Visiting an amusement park for a day may not be problem, but if you’re staying in a hotel for a few days at one of the larger theme parks, the same menu options day-after-day can start to become extremely limited. After all, the parks are not in the business of serving food, they are in business to entertain, and amaze. They want to fuel up adults and children with a large amount of calories as fast as possible, in order to quickly get them back on the rides and attractions.

Planning ahead of time is key. If you and your family are going to be staying at a theme park resort for some time, check out the park’s website beforehand. Usually the site will post their restaurant locations and sometimes include their menus. Theme parks are starting to become sensitive to special diet needs and food allergies. Their websites are starting to include more allergen information with regards to the food they serve along with ways for guests to request special menu items before arriving at the park. But if you want specific advice or a menu plan, a registered dietitian can help you plan your meals before you leave for vacation. They are extremely helpful in providing menus for diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease to name a few. They can also help make sense of the ingredients in food and help you decipher food labels. This way you can spend less time worrying about what you eat and more time enjoying your vacation.

When my husband and I stayed at a famous theme park, we planned a strategy. During our time there, the hotel restaurant did provide healthy options cafeteria style made-for-you-hot-food like omelets, sandwich wraps and grab and go items. There was refrigerated fresh fruit, fresh raw vegetables, salad plate options, yogurt and ready-made cereal. We picked food that was healthy yet mobile, like a banana, an apple, a single-serving container of OJ, or low-fat milk along with the ready-to-eat, low sugar, whole grain cereal. We brought these items back to our hotel room and stored them in the mini fridge. This also helped us save money on meals, which allowed us to splurge on a delicious dinner and try foods we wouldn’t normally eat at home. By cutting back on heavy breakfasts and lunches and eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day instead, we were able to balance our overall caloric intake without feeling hungry.

At night when your stomach starts to growl and the restaurants are all closed, add low-fat milk to single-serving containers of ready-to-eat cereals. Cereals made with whole-grain with no added sugars are lower in calories than junk food and are packed with nutrients. This is a quick healthy way to curb the hunger late at night or first thing in the morning instead of sweet/salty low nutrient foods that are high in calories. For breakfast, add a banana or orange juice for a more balanced meal. Single servings of Greek yogurt topped with granola is a good way to add additional protein without saturated fat to help you stay full longer.

At the restaurant, always look for ways to add fruit or veggies to a meal. Try a side salad instead of fries, add veggies to an omelet, and add lettuce, tomato, cucumber, thinly sliced carrots or other veggies to sandwiches. Extra veggies provide healthy fiber which can help you feel full longer.

Don’t forget about beverages. Cut back on regular soda, especially the larger serving sizes and avoid the free refills. Think about the hidden calories from all the added sugar. Just one 20 oz bottle of soda has about 250 calories. Three refills can equate to 750 calories or more in addition to your meal! Consider a refillable water bottle instead. You’ll save money and greatly reduce your caloric intake.

Hydration is extremely important especially in hot and humid environments, especially when you are active. Remember to drink water every hour or so to stay hydrated. Dehydration can zap energy and increase the desire for energy dense foods. Drinking a lot caffeinated sugar sweetened beverages can cause an energy crash later in the day. Caffeine is a diuretic, in large amounts can cause the kidneys to release more water, which can increase dehydration.

Planning ahead before going on vacation can help you to plan more balanced meals. Above all, have fun and try not to be too hard on yourself if you feel you’ve eaten more than you should. Try to balance some of the unhealthy options with healthy ones. Become conscious of your food choices at every meal. Is this meal just to fuel up for the next excursion or do you really want to sit down and enjoy it? If you’re planning the next ride on a colossal hill twist and turn roller coaster you might want to save that heavy meal for another time.




How Do You Get Energized on Zero Calories?

How do you get energy without an energy supply? Energy drinks with zero calories claim to give you more energy throughout the day. What is energy? Where does is come from? There are two things to consider, caffeine and calories. Caffeine is a stimulant drug and a calorie is a unit of energy that comes from fat, protein and carbohydrates.

As a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine promotes alertness by affecting the neurons in the brain that cause the heart rate to increase and constrict blood vessels. This rises blood pressure. Over time, caffeine can become addictive. For those of us who know what it’s like to give up our morning cup of Joe for more than a few days, can attest to the excruciating headaches.

Calories are units of energy: the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of water by 1 degree Celsius. There are only three macro-nutrients that provide calories, fats, protein and carbohydrates. A healthy percentage of all three will provide us the necessary energy we need each day for exercise, the growth and repair of cells in our body, building and maintaining a healthy immune system and metabolizing the food we eat. We do need a fair amount of glucose to power our brains and muscles. That tired feeling may be from skipping meals or not getting enough complex carbohydrates throughout the day. It can also signal dehydration.

An energy drink provides temporary stimulation through the use of caffeine, which like some other drugs has an addictive quality. The down side is, that energy drinks don’t really provide needed nutrition. Some have B vitamins added. Manufacturers of these drinks also like to confuse consumers into thinking that B vitamins provide energy as well. B vitamins assist in the metabolizing the food we eat, but they are not an energy source. If the body is deficient in B vitamins it can feel like an energy boost when consuming a large amount of them.

If you’re finding that you’re consuming a large quantity of beverages that contain caffeine throughout the day or the week, to increase your energy, it might be a sign to slow down a bit. The best way to boost energy is eating a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of water and most of all, a good night sleep.

Are the Majority of Our Teenagers in the U.S. Doomed to Become Unhealthy Adults?

In April of 2013, the American Heart Association released a report about a study surveying 4673 teenagers that represent 33 million 12-19 year-old adolescents, male and female across all ethnic groups. What the researchers found was that only 1% of the group ate what the AHA considers a perfectly healthy diet.

The results were staggering. More than 80 percent of the participants ate an unhealthy diet high in saturated fat and added sugar and didn’t get regular exercise. The diet score was based on levels of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole-grains, salt and sugar-sweetened beverages. According to the AHA, the results also show physical activity levels well-below optimal and it is putting teens at risk for obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood glucose. Heart disease, stroke and diabetes are more likely in their future as these unhealthy habits are a strong predictors of adult health.

Unhealthy habits are learned at home and among peers. With each generation less and less of us actually learn how cook a meal at home anymore. Busy families with parents that don’t know how to cook or don’t have the time to prepare healthy options could be putting their teenagers at risk for chronic illness, by teaching them unhealthy habits early in life. If parents aren’t too concerned with their own health, chances are their children won’t be concerned either. Coupled with more time in front of the computer or TV rather than being active outdoors, their adult health can be doomed to a chronic illness.

Getting healthy and staying healthy is a challenge. We are bombarded with food advertisements 24-hours a day on TV, we have soda and junk food machines at the ready at work or at school, we drive pass fast-food restaurants one after another on the way home— our will is tested every day. Our food choices are always under a constant influence, usually by some advertisement. Not to mention, the words “I never have enough time” is engrained in our heads.

The convenience of fast-food and processed food overrides any health consequences on a daily basis. It’s available immediately and tastes great. How do healthier options compete with that? Healthier options most of the time take a while to cutup, peel, mix together and cook. Even though a healthier dish can be pretty tasty, it seems most people simply don’t want to take the time.

Healthy children between the ages of 12-19 are less likely to care about the consequences of what they eat, when peer support and acceptance is first and foremost on their mind. Food is a social component, if a child isn’t eating what everyone else is eating they can feel left out. Acceptance by peers may include poor eating habits while hanging out at the local fast-food joint.

Childhood past-times now-days are defined by more time on the couch in front of the TV, sending text messages to friends on a cell phone, or playing games on a digital tablet. It’s increasingly difficult to get some kids to pay attention to what is actually going on around them. But that is an entirely different subject.

What do we do? We live in a society that’s “gotta have it now.” We are driving by how fast, and how much we can consume. We are inpatient, and we when we are hungry, we want to eat, “NOW.”

Change can only happen when people decide to make a conscious effort. When we decide to “make the time.” It’ll only happen for people who think that their health and their family’s health is important and for people that truly understand that their choices and actions, no matter how big or small, have a direct impact on their future lives. The decision to change and act on that decision needs a strong motivator. Unfortunately for a lot of us, the looming thread of a chronic illness isn’t enough.





Putting Babies at Risk: Introducing Solid Food too Soon

Recent findings by the Center for Disease Control, has caused a firestorm of news reports. They found that mothers are introducing solid food to infants way too soon— well before their little bodies can handle it. From less than 4 months and as early as 4 weeks, some reasons for starting too early range from “I want my my baby to sleep longer at night, my baby seemed hungry, to my doctor said it was time to introduce solid food.” It seems that mothers are not aware of what recommendations are or find them difficult to follow. Mothers who gave their babies solid foods earlier than 4 months where more likely to do so if they fed them infant formula then if they breastfed. The high cost of formula seems to be one motivating factor. Mothers who were less educated about nutrition, unmarried, lower income and/or participating in supplemental nutrition programs were also more likely to start a baby on solid food sooner than they should.

When is the right time to feed your baby solid foods? Around 6 months is usually the time to start thinking about introducing semi-solid to solid foods, like rice cereal. But ask yourself, “Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position? Can your baby sit with support? Is your baby interested in what you’re eating?” Without noticing these physical signs first, your baby may not be ready to properly chew and swallow pieces of food, and can start to choke, which can be life-threatening.

What some parents don’t realize is that babies don’t have the ability to swallow small lumps of food until about 6-7 months. At about 10 months, they begin to fine-tune the skill for chewing and start to feed themselves. Babies don’t come equipped with these faculties, they need to grow into them. A baby’s digestive system isn’t matured until about 4-6 months of age. Until then they don’t have the ability to digest food like an adult can.

Try to introduce single food options first to see how your baby reacts. Wait three to five days before introducing something new. In case your baby has an allergic reaction, it will be easier to figure out which type of food it is. But don’t forget to keep giving breast milk at least up to a year if possible, if you are breastfeeding.

By 8 to 10 months most babies can handle small cut up pieces of food such as cheese, soft fruits, or cooked ground meat. As your baby approaches one-year, a mini cut up version of what the rest of the family is eating can start to become the main diet.

Any time you’re unsure, consult your baby’s doctor or a dietitian. A dietitian can offer healthy food suggestions. Remember too that just about any type of food can be pureed and mixed with breast milk.

Another idea to consider, take CPR classes and learn what to do if your baby begins to choke. The more education you have in case of an emergency, the better prepared you will be during one. What you learn may save your baby’s life.





What Makes High Fructose Corn Syrup so Toxic?

High fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch. Enzymes are used to convert glucose molecules into fructose molecules to create a compound that has a ratio of about 55% fructose and 45% glucose, which is why it’s called, “high fructose.” This combination is much sweeter than table sugar and cheaper to make, so food manufacturers can add less of it and save money. Over the years, this low cost sweetener it has been added to bread, condiments, sauces and many other processed foods, but the most popular use is in soft drinks.

Sucrose, which is table sugar, is also a combination of fructose and glucose about 50% of each. In simple terms, the crystallized sugar is extracted from cane or beets, by using hot water and a centrifuge. Since it isn’t as sweet as HFC, it costs a little more to produce and add to foods and beverages.

Both sweeteners are nearly identical, made from the same two sugar molecules. The only difference is the ratio of one to the other. But over some time now, sucrose has become defined as the “angel sugar” that is naturally derived from nature, while high fructose corn syrup is the bad “devil sugar” created in an evil scientific laboratory. It somehow has earned the reputation of a substance that is very toxic to our bodies in that is worsens diabetes, causes metabolic syndrome, damages your immune system, speeds up the aging process or has dangerous amounts of mercury. Some websites have articles that claim the creation of HFC is so top secret and so mysterious— almost as if food companies are trying to hide the creation of a chemical weapon.

If a population hears this information over and over from generation to generation does it become fact? Is it now a household idea to believe that HFCs are toxic chemicals and that people just automatically accept it and automatically learn to fear it without even questioning it?

The topic seems so ingrained in the beliefs of the average American that even the FDA felt compelled to post a very open ended article in response to this topic on their website. They claim that after receiving a large number of inquiries about HFCs they are not aware of any evidence that it is any more harmful than other sweeteners. The article clearly demonstrates the FDA taking a step back to avoid taking any responsibility for this issue.

So what makes high fructose corn syrup so toxic? Well, it depends on who you ask. Without going into detail on specifics, anyone can do a Google search on the internet and find thousands of websites with many explanations. Are they all true? Which ones are based on actual scientific research? Is the research even peer-reviewed? Opinions on both sides hold strong to their beliefs. Some websites seem to be designed to scare the heck out of people while boasting a claim that food companies are out to get us.

The answer may be much simpler than most of us think. It may be just the fact that it has been added to just about every process food we consume. Everyone has some understanding that too much added sugar isn’t good for you, and it could simply mean that we are consuming more foods that contain it without knowing it. If we don’t check the list of ingredients on the back of a box and see HFC listed as one of the first three ingredients, we have no idea how much we are consuming, and THAT’S what food companies probably don’t want us to take notice of— that they are using a cheap sugar to enhance food flavor as much as they can so they can increase profit and lower production costs. They are counting on the fact that most of us pay more attention to the colorful graphics on the front of a package, don’t know how to read a nutrition label, much less how do decipher the list of ingredients that clearly look like they are written in a different language. I suppose it’s those underhanded tactics and savvy marketing tricks that a food company uses that can be partly to blame for why these ideas get started in the first place. When a lack of trust begins to form in people’s minds, a feeling and a belief that companies are knowingly using harmful ingredients in order to sell their products can spread within a population.









What is the Motivation of your Resources?

When we look for information about nutrition and health, do we ever think to question where the information is coming from, who is delivering the information and why they are delivering it? There are many reasons to inform an audience, one big reason I’ve noticed lately is the competition to grab viewers for TV ratings.

TV is by far one of the top ways the public gets their education about nutrition or health. Anyone can have an opinion on weight loss, how to stay healthy or even a claim to cure disease. Talk-shows are falling over each other to get these “experts” to be guests on their show. Usually its a best-selling author of the latest greatest in health information tell-all-book. But who is writing these books? Is it information we can trust? Is the author(s) educated in the field of nutrition or medicine? If not, what are their sources of information? Are they from individuals who are licensed, certified health practitioners with first-hand experience?

To make matters worse some people who hold the credentials as trusted health practitioners are persuaded toward sensationalism. They write a best-seller. They become the host of a TV show. During the time the show airs, I wonder if the desire to help people gets lost in the competition for ratings. Do the topics on these shows cross the line of irresponsibility because of the need to create dramatic or emotional sensationalism as a hook to get viewers to watch every week? Has their role as a health practitioner turned into a new role of the entertainer who becomes hell-bend on ratings and increasing traffic to their website?

The arsenic in apple-juice warning comes to mind. It became a very hot topic last year on the Dr. Oz show. Since when did his show turn from helping people stay healthy with sound advice, into a crusade against food companies and grocery stores?

In my opinion this was very irresponsible programming. He ignited fears in every parent who gave their kid apple juice. He build a strong following based on trust and respect from his audience for years since he first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. What happened?

What do you think? Below is a link to the Dr. Oz episode on arsenic in apple juice, a link to the FDA’s findings that the arsenic levels in apple juice are safe for consumption, and a news clip of Dr. Oz reluctantly back-peddling in front of a colleague telling viewers that it’s “OK” to drink apple juice.

Shows like Dr. Oz are entertaining to watch, but as viewers they should cause us to wonder, “Do the people producing the show have my personal interest in mind, or is the main goal only to capture ratings?” Sensationalism is a red flag that indicates more research is needed. It is this sensationalism that should prompt us to ask the three questions about what we are watching, “Where is this information is coming from? Who is delivering it? Why they are delivering it?” Then instead of accepting the information as “the gospel,” we should consider looking for reputable resources to validate or disprove it.





Serving Size is One Package, Right?

There is a vast array of microwave popcorn brands to temp your taste-buds. But which one should you choose? The different boxes on the grocery shelf say “low in fat, high in fiber, low sodium.” With not a lot of time, you choose one. The front of the box says 160 calories, 4g of saturated fat, 190mg of sodium, but what really hooks you in is this one comes with its own bowl. Wow! Healthy AND convenient. The top flap even has illustrated instructions on how to unwrap the package, pop in the microwave, pull off the top and “enjoy right from the bowl.”

Problem… most people don’t have time to read the nutrient facts carefully printed on the side. One side in English the other side in Spanish. All I need to know is printed on the front, right?


According to the nutrition label you might end up eating 320 calories, 8g saturated fat, 380mg of sodium— if you eat all the popcorn that comes in the bowl. Even though the nutrition information matches the nutrition facts label, what people fail to notice is the 2 tbsp serving size. This serving amount is about 2.5 servings per bowl. But unfortunately, the bowl makes is very easy to pop in the microwave, open, plop down on the couch in front of the TV, and eat without looking down once. So much for convenience.

But hold on, there’s another thing to consider. If you notice in the image of the nutrition label above, there are two columns, the first column lists 2 TBSP UNPOPPED, the second column lists 1 CUP POPPED. OK, what gives? Well popped pop corn takes up more space so there will be less kernels in one cup compared to 2 tbsp of unpopped kernels. What the company shows on the front of the box is actually nutrition information for the popcorn as is, how you buy it.

Since popped pop corn is what we will most likely eat the “1 cup popped” column is the one we should be looking at when counting calories. So the good news is if we eat the whole bowl we will be eating approximately 120 instead of 320 calories.

The microwave popcorn story has a happy ending, not so with pre-made soup, canned fruit and some microwave meals. The savvy colorful graphics on the front can lure you in, but you may not be aware that if you eat the whole container you have eaten double the calories, fat and sodium as is the case with canned soup, which usually has a serving size of 2 or about 2 per container.

So it pays to do a little research. Check out the nutrient label of your favorite per-packaged meals online before grocery shopping. Are the serving sizes what you thought? Always consider having a list before going, it can save you a lot of calories in the long run. You will be focused on getting what you need off of the list because you’ve made your choice long before you’ve entered the store. You might be less tempted to be taken in by the lure of savvy marketing.