Friday, March 15, 2013

Food for Thought - Is Brain Food for Real?

We have all heard the expression "brain food" – edibles that are supposed to increase brain power.  Is it just an old wives tale, or is there any scientific or medical evidence to support the existence of food that, when consumed, will improve your cognitive skills?

Boosting brain power – no drugs required 

You'll be happy to know that, if you wish to boost your brain power, you don't need pills, drugs, magic potions, or a hammer (to knock some sense into your head).  The fact is, an increasing number of food studies indicate a direct correlation between certain foods and your ability to think or remember.  And what better time to learn how to improve cognition, boost alertness, and enhance memory than during Brain Awareness Week, the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

Avocado, pomegranates, eggs and nuts

Yes, brain foods are for real

In one extensive recent study from UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, scientists analyzed more than 160 studies about food's effect on the brain. The scientists discovered, among other things, that the Omega-3 fatty acids that you commonly get from eating salmon, walnuts, or kiwi fruit improve learning, enhance memory, and combat mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and dementia.

And that’s just one study.  Many others, revealed below, support the long-held assumption that, when it comes to your mind, you are what you eat.

Brainpower from nuts

Ironically, one food that definitely won’t make you nuts is, you guessed, nuts.  Several types of nuts can enhance your brain, including almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.  But walnuts are the way to be nice to your neurons, according to the latest research. Walnuts are a rich source of two brain boosters: omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The 2009 study shows that walnuts can increase your mental health by improving learning, increasing comprehension, and enhancing the brain-to-muscle connections that often suffer from aging.

Fruits and vegetables that boost brainpower

It’s likely no surprise to you that some fruits and vegetables are a good, natural source for improving your brain's ability to think.  Certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants  that help you improve cognition and memory.  Many contain B-vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, choline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan – all known to support neurotransmitter synthesizing.  They supercharge brain activity on a cellular level and prevent or minimize mental health disorders.

According to the Center for Longevity of the Brain, your best bet to boost your brain with veggies is to zero in on collard greens, broccoli, beets, kale, red bell peppers, soybeans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, and definitely the darker green lettuces. A Harvard study revealed that women who eat a high amount of leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a significantly reduced rate of cognitive decline when compared to women who ate very few of these greens.  Spinach in particular is considered a super-food for the brain since it is jam-packed with magnesium and the carotenoid lutein, which, studies show, protects against cognitive decline. 

Big on fruits?  Good!  Because many of them fall into the brainfood category, such as raisins, oranges, cherries, red grapes, plums, and definitely berries: blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all brain-enhancing foods. 


Blueberries in particular have long been identified in studies as improving brain health, largely because they have the highest amounts of disease-fighting antioxidants compared to nearly all other fruits and vegetables.
  • A recent study touts a diet high in blueberries and strawberries as an effective way to slow mental decline, including focus and memory. 
  • A 2008 study reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry supports this, stating that compounds in blueberries may decrease the progression of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by (a.) minimizing the common oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain that comes with aging and (b.) by improving brain cell intercommunication. 
Consuming these berries protects brains cells from damage and boosts the brain’s ability to adapt to changes.

More evidence mounts that blueberries can not only prevent but can even reverse age-related memory decline.  Researchers at the University of Reading in Pennsylvania found that animals treated with blueberries showed an 83 percent improvement on memory tests within just three weeks, and maintained that improvement throughout the 12-week study.

In another study, elderly rats given blueberry extracts showed improved balance and coordination, as well as general brain function and memory, likely because of the flavonoids in blueberries, which successfully cross the blood-brain barrier, exerting powerful anti-inflammatory action in the brain that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases.

Avocados and beetsAs a result of the growing body of evidence, many experts speculate that the flavonoids in berries may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.  Other fruits that boost brain power include:
  • Avocados, which contain the highest omega-3 content of all fruits and are packed of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow,
  • Beets, known to improve blood flow to the brain because of their naturally-occurring nitrates.
While you’re likely not surprised about fruits and vegetables for brain health, check out these other amazing ways to nutritionally boost brainpower…

Meats and fish can feed the brain

Yes, even some meats can help your cognitive skills.  Amino acids found in protein-rich foods help connect the neurotransmitters in your brain that keep your brain humming, synaptically speaking.  The amino acids enhance the following neurotransmitters:
  • Dopamine (nervous system function)
  • Norepinephrine (alertness and concentration)
  • Serotonin (sleep, mood, memory, and learning enhancer)
  • Acetylcholine (storing memories and memory recall)
  • Tyrosine (energy)
The amino acids that help the brain function can be found in fish, meat, cheese, and yogurt.  Seek out the fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon since they are rich in brain boosting the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, shown in studies to reduce dementia risks and improve both focus and memory.
Fish is also capable of slowing cognitive decline.  One study showed older people who eat fish once a week slowed cognitive decline by nearly 10 percent.

Eggs too: nutritionists often describe the whole egg as a perfect food due to its amino acid profile, especially when sourced from free-range chickens eating a natural diet.

Fish and vegetables

Celebrate Brain Awareness Week with food!

If you are ready to noticeably improve brain function, protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline, and find new levels of focus and clarity, start with what you put on your plate – and start it now, during Brain Awareness Week.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brain Attack! -- Surviving a Stroke

Did you know that stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States?  It kills nearly 130,000 Americans yearly—one out of every 18 deaths!  That’s why there’s no better time than now, during Brain Awareness Week, to invest three minutes of your day reading an article that can save the life of a friend or family member from the deadly threat of a stroke, the brain’s equivalent of a heart attack. 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s not likely to happen to someone you know, and right before your eyes. Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States, and someone dies of stroke every four minutes, according to the CDC.  Even when a stroke doesn't kill its victim, it is a significant source of disability in the U.S.  Strokes are responsible for causing reduced mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

Emergency Room SignThe good news is that there are simple, easy-to-remember steps you can take to quickly identify when someone is having a stroke.  And “quickly” is the key to survival and improving the victim’s odds of a better outcome: when treatment can be administered within three hours of the brain attack event (the onset of stroke symptoms), the chances of survival and recovery is significantly greater, thanks to a drug known as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) given intravenously to those diagnosed with ischemic stroke.  But the American Stroke Association (ASA) tells us that, unfortunately, only one in fifty stroke patients can be helped with tPA, simply because less than three percent of these ischemic stroke victims reach an emergency room in time.

What causes a stroke?

A brain attack, or stroke, is the result of either:
  • a blood clot suddenly blocking the blood supply to the brain (ischemic stroke); or
  • a blood vessel inside the brain bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). 
Ischemic strokes are more common – 80 percent of all brain strokes.  The lodged blood clot kills the part of the brain it blocks in ischemic strokes.  Hemorrhagic strokes result in bleeding inside the brain, which causes swelling, bruising, and, ultimately, brain malfunction.

Primary symptoms of brain stroke – Remember “sudden”

A stroke is usually a surprise - according to the ASA, of the nearly 800,000 annual stroke victims in the United States, about 600,000 are first time or new strokes. A stroke is also a surprise because symptoms often happen suddenly:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If you see any one of these symptoms, ASA advises that you immediately contact 911. 

Stroke symptom cheat sheet – think F.A.S.T

Let’s face it – most of us have trouble remembering a list of things when it’s more than three or four items.  To make things simple, the ASA has created the acronym F.A.S.T. to focus on the three most significant symptoms, plus the one thing to do when you see them.  F.A.S.T. stands for:
  • Face Drooping – one side of the face droops or is numb.  To check: ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness – one arm is weak or numb.  To check: ask the person to raise both arms and note if one arm drifts downward.
  • Speech Difficulty – speech is slurred, garbled, or the victim is unable to speak, or is hard to understand.  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue."  Can they repeat it correctly?
  • Time to call 911 – Do not wait to see if the person shows all of these symptoms.  If they show just one symptom, even if the symptom goes away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.
F.A.S.T. is the easiest way to remember the sudden signs and symptoms of a stroke.  To remember the acronym, study the image below to help you remember:  Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call.

Remember: this is a pass/fail test – any one of the symptoms means it’s time to get medical attention, FAST.  This is important because fast treatment often makes a remarkable difference in recovery.

Is stroke prevention possible?

While you cannot control some stroke risk factors (heredity, age, gender, and ethnicity can all influence likelihood of having a stroke), there are certain medical conditions can raise your stroke risk, most of which you have some measure of control over:
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • A previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
To reduce your stroke risk, the ASA recommends that you avoid smoking and excessive drinking of alcohol, and that you eat a balanced diet and get exercise.

Stroke Facts

To learn more, see the CDC Stroke Fact Sheet, the CDC Stroke statistics from National Center for Health Statistics, and review the American Stroke Association’s site.  On the ASA site, you’ll find valuable stroke statistics and stroke information, including more on warning signs, more about stroke in general, and guidance on life after a stroke

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, March 11, 2013

Make Brain Awareness Week an Event to Remember

Welcome to worldwide Brain Awareness Week – a campaign that unites families, schools, and communities in a worldwide celebration of the brain. Brain Awareness Week was founded in 1996 by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and has grown into a global campaign with partner organizations in 82 countries.
Brain Awareness Week
Source: and

Brain Awareness Week – four ways to make it personal

Here are four ways to celebrate Brain Awareness Week in a way that you and your family will remember for years to come.

1.  Find Brain Awareness Week events in your area

Many organizations are honoring Brain Awareness Week with official events for individuals and families. To find one in your area, search the official Brain Awareness Week International Calendar by country, US state, or city.

2.  Improve your memory with some useful tips

Here are some practicable memory strategies adapted from the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives’ Staying Sharp program.  These tips can help you improve your ability to learn and remember new things, no matter your current age.

  • Pay attention:  Engage your brain and actively attend to what you’re trying to learn.
  • Stay focused:  Concentrate on what you’re doing and reduce distractions or interruptions.
  • Repeat it:  Repetition increases the strength of the relevant connections in your brain.
  • Write it down:  Writing down important things serves two purposes: it constitutes another way to repeat the information, and it provides a visual reminder.
  • Visualize it:  Creating a visual image of what you’re trying to remember can reinforce brain connections, essentially giving your brain another way to access the information.
  • Make associations:  Relate new information to things you already know. By doing so, you’re using existing synaptic connections to learn something new. This strategy can also be useful when trying to remember names: at a dinner party, for example, you might associate “Pam” with “red dress,” “lawyer,” “friend of Bill,” “drinking red wine,” etc.
  • Stay organized:  Keep things you use regularly in the same place, and always return them to their place...put keys on a hook by the door; wallet in a basket on your dresser, etc..
  • Plan and prioritize:  Because multi-tasking may be more difficult, planning our time and prioritizing our activities becomes more critical. This may mean that some things simply have to wait. Recognize that “doing it all” may not be realistic, and let yourself off the hook. This can go a long way toward reducing stress and regaining control over your time and your life.

3.  Make Brain Awareness Week a family affair

The site has many brain and memory activities appropriate for kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.  Celebrate the week as a family by trying these:
You can get more downloadable brain activities here.

Family playing a board game
Make Brain Awareness Week a family affair

4.  Take a brain quiz

Want to test your family's (or your own) knowledge on matters of the brain? Here are some simple brain quiz questions. You'll find the answers at the bottom of the article.
1.  About how many nerve cells are in the human brain?
A. One Billion 
B. 10 Billion
C. 100 Billion
2.  What does the eye’s lens do to the orientation of the visual image?
A. Rotates it right 
B. Rotates it left
C. It turns it upside down
3.  Holding a memory in mind while we think about it is called what type of memory?
A. Procedural memory
B. Working/short term memory
C. Momentary memory
4.  During what period of sleep do we dream?
A. Stage IV sleep
B. NREM sleep
C. REM sleep
5.  Name the contact points where one neuron communicates with another.
A. Somas
B. Synapses
C. Axon terminals
6.  What do you call it when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or suddenly becomes clogged?
A. Stroke
B. Aneurysm
C. Aphasia
7.  What do you call an involuntary, fixed muscle response to a particular stimuli?
A. Spasm
B. Reflex
C. Dystonia
8.  Name the part of the brain that is important for emotional learning and memory and its dysfunction is related to anxiety disorders.
A. Amygdala
B. Thalamus
C. Hippocampus
9.  Name the disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and disturbances of thought and emotions.
A. Manic-depressive disorder
B. Huntington’s chorea
C. Schizophrenia
10. To the closest pound, how heavy is the average adult brain?
A. Three pounds
B. Two pounds
C. One pound
Wouldn't it be ironic if you forget this week to do activities or events related to Brain Awareness Week?  To be safe then, partake of some of these recommended steps right away.
Don’t forget….

Answers to Brain Quiz
  1. About how many nerve cells are in the human brain? 
    C. 100 Billion
  2. What does the eye’s lens do to the orientation of the visual image? 
    C. It turns it upside down
  3. Holding a memory in mind while we think about it is called what type of memory? 
    B. Working/short term memory
  4. During what period of sleep do we dream? 
    C.  REM sleep
  5. Name the contact points where one neuron communicates with another.  
    B. Synapses
  6. What do you call it when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or suddenly becomes clogged? 
    A. Stroke
  7. What do you call an involuntary, fixed muscle response to a particular stimuli? 
    B. Reflex
  8. Name the part of the brain that is important for emotional learning and memory and its dysfunction is related to anxiety disorders. 
    A. Amygdala
  9. Name the disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and disturbances of thought and emotions. 
    C. Schizophrenia
  10. To the closest pound, how heavy is the average adult brain? 
    A. Three pounds

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 8, 2013

Getting More for Less: Tips for a Frugal Family

It's almost springtime, which calls for some seasonal upkeep inside and outside the home. Frugal moms, take note: there are quite a few practical things you can do to reduce your household expenses and keep the whole family happy at the same time. Here are five:


From the annual registration and insurance costs, to fuel and tires, driving and maintaining a vehicle is expensive. has some great tips on negotiating that can help you stay on top of vehicle maintenance. Try exchange babysitting services or homemade meals for car repairs or new tires, and don't be afraid to ask for a loyal customer discount. Also, make sure you compare rates from other companies and ask the mechanic to match his competitors' prices.

Woman shopping for a used car
Many families can't find reasonably priced vehicles, especially if they have bad credit. If finding a used vehicle you can afford is your problem, you may want to try an option like DriveTime bad credit auto loans. With a simple two-minute online application, moms find out if they're qualified for a used car that won't break their budget.


Feeding a growing family can feel like you're throwing your cash into a never-ending money pit. Moms can feed their families healthy meals and stay on track financially with a variety of money-saving tactics:
  • Clip coupons. This enables families to buy the groceries they love at a reduced price. Coupons are available in the Sunday newspaper, online and through coupon exchange sites. Use them before they expire and combine them with store sales to increase your savings.
  • Stock the pantry with foods when they're on sale. Grocery stores place the same items on sale every three to four months.
  • Store brands cost less than brand names and usually taste just as good.

Coupons for food
Coupons can help make mealtime more affordable


Refinancing a mortgage isn't always possible, but frugal moms can save money on utility bills and other expenses. Turn off the lights before leaving a room and unplug unused electric appliances. Lower the thermostat during winter months and raise it in the summer.

Also, investigate if electric deregulation means you have an option to choose your energy provider. It depends on what state you live in, but one phone call may increase your family's disposable income without sacrificing indoor comfort.


Buying new books and seeing movies at the theater are expensive ways to stay entertained. The local public library offers numerous resources for frugal moms. You and your family can get free movies, books and magazines rentals, as well as Internet access, free children's story times and adult book clubs. Many libraries even offer free museum day passes.


Keeping closets stocked with cute clothes that fit growing kids challenges even the most frugal moms. Secondhand stores are the perfect places to find quality, affordable clothing.

Consignment stores sell brand-name, gently used clothes and shoes for the entire family. Moms can earn credit toward clothes by consigning the clothes that don't fit their kids anymore. Thrift stores offer clothing, shoes and household goods that are usually less expensive than consignment stores. Savvy secondhand shoppers search the dollar bins regularly and buy items during half-off sales.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Give Your Kid an Edge With Breakfast

It’s National School Breakfast Week: a week-long celebration to boost awareness among students and parents of local school breakfast programs.  School cafeterias around the country will celebrate school breakfast with special menus and decorations, activities, and school breakfast related brainteasers to help students to warm up their brains before they head to class.  The 2013 theme – Be a Star with School Breakfast – highlights how eating a balanced breakfast at school can help your kids shine like their favorite stars in the movies, on the field, and on TV. 

Can your family benefit from National School Breakfast Week? Absolutely!  You can use this opportunity to teach your kids the nutritional value of breakfast, supporting the message they’ll be getting at school this week. 
It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of your school’s breakfast program itself – not only for your kids, but check to see; many schools invite parents, family members, and district patrons to join in the meal itself during National School Breakfast Week.

Promote breakfast in your family

Whether you serve it up at home or have your kids get their breakfast at school, there are plenty of good reasons to make sure the day starts with a wholesome, nutritious breakfast.  Studies reported by the Food Research and Action Center on the importance of a healthy breakfast show that students who eat breakfast: 
  • Increase their math and reading scores
  • Improve cognitive speed and memory
  • Improve vocabulary skills
  • Have lower rates of absence
  • Have fewer discipline and tardiness problems
  • Visit school nurses’ offices less often
  • Exhibit decreased behavioral and psychological problems
  • Are less likely to be overweight
With proven links between eating a good breakfast and academic achievement and healthy lifestyles, this is something worth promoting in your own home.

The Value of School Breakfast Programs

Parents, you probably grew up without the option of having breakfast at school. You may therefore even be wondering whether or not it's a good idea. There are in fact a few good reasons to support school breakfasts.
First, let's face it – in today’s rushed world, in which often both parents work outside the home or there is only one parent at home, we don’t always have time to make the good and healthy breakfast we’d like our kids to have.  It’s good to know that your public school system likely has a healthy breakfast ready for your child at their school.  
Second, some families are too cash-strapped to make a daily breakfast for their children.  Fortunately, most states or communities have programs available for low income families that  allow for reduced cost, or even free, school breakfasts and school lunches.

According to stats from the Food Research and Action Center, in the 2009–2010 school year nearly 9.5 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program on an average day, indicating a definite need for such programs.  To see if you qualify, review Income Guidelines & Reimbursement Rates for the School Breakfast Program on page 9 of this downloadable PDF report.

But are school breakfasts good for you?

And, as in turns out, school breakfasts are a nutritionally sound alternative.  Because of the USDA’s 2012 Meal Pattern (Nutrition Standards) for School Meals, every school breakfast served must meet federal nutrition standards, including limiting fat and portion size.  To get the full scoop on requirements, read this report.

Many school nutrition programs are also implementing Farm-to-School programs and serving locally sourced foods in the cafeteria.   There are big health advantages to locally grown produce; the closer to the vine that ripening occurs, the more nutritional value each fruit and vegetable contains. Plus, connecting school breakfasts and school lunches to locally grown products supports the local economy.
There are surprising statistics supporting the value of eating breakfast at school in particular.
  • Children who eat breakfast at school—closer to class and test-taking time—perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast earlier at home.
  • Children who participate in school breakfast eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume a wider variety of foods than those who do not eat school breakfast or who have breakfast at home.

How you and your kids can benefit from National School Breakfast Week

Beyond the big event week, every school day, most school districts in the US have breakfast programs offering students the healthy foods they need to get set for a busy school day.   If your morning routine is already too rushed to ensure a healthy, shared family breakfast, why not make sure your children get the nutritional and educational edge that comes with a good school breakfast?  You could be helping your children develop good habits that, over time, could give them a competitive advantage at school, and even beyond in the workplace.

To get involved in National School Breakfast Week, and boost your children’s participation, here are some additional resources:
To see what breakfast nutrition events are happening that you and your kids can participate in this week, check with your local school or district offices.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

What your parents or grandparents taught you about eating healthfully might be right … but it might not.  With so much conflicting data on what is good for you or not, the sad truth is that more Americans today feel that is is easier to figure out how to do their own taxes than it is to figure out what they should or should not eat to be healthy, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2012 survey.

Is it any wonder?  It shouldn't be, when you consider that what we eat, and how much, has changed significantly in the last 50 to 80 years.  As well, what we know about what we eat is continually evolving, thanks to medical and scientific advancement. Here are some things you need to know about using surgar alternatives for health and weight loss.

Sugar cubes

Put a little sugar on it, honey

One of the biggest dietary changes over the past few decades is the choices we have to reduce the sugars in our diet.  In the past, just about the only way to reduce sugars in your diet was to reduce the sweetness altogether.  But today, we are inundated with choices in sugar substitutes.
With more than half of Americans surveyed trying to lose weight – and with no foreseeable change in the number of us with a sweet tooth – the proliferation and consumption of low-calorie sugar alternatives is likely to continue. 

Why do we consume artificial sweeteners?

Survey says:
  • To reduce calorie intake: 73 percent – presumably to achieve weight loss, or to avoid weight gain
  • To prevent health issues: 37 percent
  • To manage existing health issues:  29 percent
With such high numbers of us (95 percent of those surveyed!) swapping natural sugars for artificial sweeteners to lose weight and to be healthier, we’d better be certain that artificial sugars actually do improve health or facilitate weight loss. 
It turns out that this is one thing we cannot count on.  Mounting evidence indicates that some artificial sweeteners previously thought to be healthy sugar alternatives may actually pose serious health risks.  More shocking is the new evidence suggesting that some sugar alternatives are resulting in weight gain, not weight loss!

Artificial Sweeteners: The good, the Bad, the Ugly

Soda can
An earlier FamilyWize article Is There Danger in Your Diet Soda? focused on diet soda risks – an important subject if you consume diet soft drinks.  But there are many artificial sweeteners available for cooking and food preparation that you aren't likely to find in your diet soft drink.  Here, we’ll take a look at the usual suspects in the wider sugar substitute market – aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, sugar alcohols, and stevia – all  food additives that imitate the taste of sugar.

Are they good for you or bad?
Let’s start with a universally acknowledged scientific truth; obesity is bad for us: often blamed for many of our most common and dangerous health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.  If reducing calories by switching from sugar to a sugar substitute can help reduce obesity, it’s all good, right?  Mostly, yes; just be aware of the following sugar substitute risks and balance that with the benefits.

Another widely accepted (and FDA-stated) sugar substitutes benefit is that – with the exception of sugar alcohols – they do not affect your blood sugar, which makes them safe to use if you have diabetes.
One overarching concern though is the common tendency we have to justify eating more food because we are using artificial sweeteners.  When I was a teen, working at a Wendy’s restaurant, I lost count of the numbers of people who would order the largest burger, the largest order of fries, a Frosty for dessert … and a diet soda!  Net weight loss with such dietary habits as this will be nil, no matter which sugar substitute you use.

Other risks associated with sugar substitutes in general:
  • In one study, daily consumption of diet drinks showed a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome and nearly 70 percent for type 2 diabetes. 
  • Another study seems to indicate that artificial sweeteners may be addictive, at least in rats.
  • A San Antonio heart study showed that those who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight as those who didn’t drink diet soda.
What you should know about certain sugar substitutes:
Saccharin, the original artificial sweetener, first synthesized in the late 1800s, is considered much safer than previously thought.  A 1960 study created a cancer scare associated with Saccharin, until it was later discovered that saccharin’s cancer risk only occurred in male rats by a process that does not occur in humans. The World Health Organization has consequently ruled that saccharin is not consider carcinogenic to humans, stating that, “despite sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity to animals … saccharin is no longer considered a potential hazard to human health.”  Nonetheless, the stigma persists. That, combined with its reputation for a bitter aftertaste, compared to many of the newer alternative sweeteners, has kept Saccharin low in the selection of sugar substitutes.
Aspartame, is the most common sweetener found in diet sodas on the market.  It’s also used as a sugar bowl sweetener alternatives, and in frozen desserts, gelatins, and chewing gum.  Some aspartame risks:
  • Do not cook with aspartame, and store it at cool temperatures; aspartame breaks down under heat. 
  • A bigger risk: a 2012 study linked aspartame to a heightened risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia. 
  • A separate study indicated that aspartame can cause brain damage by leaving traces of methanol in the blood.
Sucralose (Splenda)
Until recently sucralose was thought to be the safest alternative to sugar.  But a 2002 study showed sucralose presenting gastrointestinal risks. A 2006 study indicated that it may be a trigger for migraines.  

Sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols include sorbitol and xylitol, produced by catalytic hydrogenation of natural sugars.  On the good side: studies indicate the xylitol has positive benefits to teeth, reducing cavities.  But be aware that many individuals find that sugar alcohols cause gastrointestinal issues.
The plant-based stevia is a natural sugar substitute (i.e. not classified as an artificial sugar) that has been in use in other countries for centuries, and is rapidly gaining in popularity in the U.S., especially since modern processing techniques have helped to reduce the bitter aftertaste.  There are no known studies that indicate any known risks in the use of stevia to humans. It’s available in a concentrated liquid form and also in a powdered form.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 1, 2013

Celebrate Dr. Seuss's Birthday

10 ways to make National Read across America Day a family fun day

March 1 is the National Education Association’s (NEA) Read Across America Day, part of the annual celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  NEA’s Read Across America, a year-round program, is building a nation of readers by motivating children and teens.
Now in its 16th year, the Read Across America Day movement is asking every child in every community to celebrate reading on the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.  To help with this exciting challenge, here are 10 easy ways to make this day a special event for your family.


A great way to get the entire family involved in Read Across America Day is with their stomachs.  Serve up a day full of book-themed and reading-themed meals, even involving the children in some of the simpler recipes. For example, all it takes is a couple drops of green food dye to make a Dr. Seuss-themed breakfast by scrambling up some green eggs and ham. Or make a Robinson Crusoe-themed meal by serving up island food, including coconut water, pineapple slices, and other Polynesian, Hawaiian, or Caribbean treats.

Green eggs and ham
Green eggs and ham is an easy Dr. Seuss-themed breakfast to make!

2. Check your local library for reading programs

Many libraries and communities are celebrating Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss's birthday with special programs, such as readings of Dr. Seuss's books or movies.  Contact your local library for details.

3. Make a Seuss-themed day

We already suggested green eggs and ham for breakfast, but you can make the entire day special right there at home by reading Dr. Seuss books. 
Consider making each book even more special by also renting Dr. Seuss videos of the book.  And if your child is less interested in reading then watching a video, consider making the movie of the book a reward for first reading the book.
But don't stop there; think how much fun it would be to have the family get dressed up like Dr. Seuss, or like the colorful characters from his one of his books. 

4. Family reading in character

While reading aloud helps make the day special for children who don't yet read, you may find your older children getting fidgety. A fun and easy way to spice up reading aloud is to choose a book with several characters and assign each child to become that character when you read, perhaps with the adult reading the narrator parts. Encourage your kids to have fun with this, "getting into character" with their readings, and possibly even with movement or attire.

Mother reading to kids
Reading together can be fun for kids of all ages

5. Read in chorus

If you are reading a Dr. Seuss book, or any other book with strong rhymes and rhythms, you can make reading aloud more participative by reading aloud together, in chorus.  This is especially helpful if you have some shy members of the group who might not be confident enough in their reading to do so aloud solo.

6. Reading day crafts

Between moments of celebrating by reading books, you can also celebrate the day with reading-related crafts and projects. Ideas include handcrafting bookmarks, decorating or making a lap desk, and doing author-related or book-related coloring or painting projects.

7. Literary Field Trip

Even if your library isn't doing something Dr. Seuss-themed, this is still a perfect day for a field trip to your library or a local bookstore.  Encourage children to find books related to their personal interests. Without your prompting, a child might not consider that, if they enjoy flying kites, there might be books on how to make kites, for instance.  Or locate a fiction story that is set in the city or country where you are going for an upcoming vacation.

8. Reading contests

Kids reading
Reading contests can be both fun and rewarding. It could be a short contest, such as accurately or quickly counting the number of times an author uses a particular word. Or make it a daylong contest, such as who can read the most pages before dinner.
You can also use this special day as a kickoff to a month-long reading challenge. Such a challenge in my fourth grade created the foundation to what became a lifelong love of reading for me.  It was simple enough; the student to read the most books (and write a one-page book report on each) by the end of the semester got to have lunch at a local restaurant with the teacher.  Several of us took the challenge seriously. Yes: I won.  But the real victory was for any of us who created a habit of reading as a result of the contest.
The reward for your contest need not be expensive to be worth winning, and their only needs to be one competitor.  For example, give your child a challenge to read a certain number of books before 5 PM.  If they succeed, they get to stay up an hour late, or they get to turn you into a chocolate sundae, painting your hair with chocolate syrup and whipped topping.

9. Embrace internet reading

Books are not the only way to encourage reading. I remember when my teen daughter went through a phase of being "too cool" for reading. Yet at that same age, she would voluntarily spend hours on the family computer, studying information about a topic she was deeply interested in.
Obviously, the Internet introduces some risks to children, so use it wisely as a teaching tool.  But your Internet connection can bring reading fun to your family.  For instance, take a look at the Skype an Author Network, which lets you create a virtual visit with an author.  Also check out Google Lit Trips, offering free downloadable files that mark the journeys of famous authors or characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. 

10.  Make it buy-a-book day

If you are on a limited budget, and it's therefore a rare treat when your child gets a new book, make this that exception day, allowing them to go to your local bookstore and pick their own book.  This not only encourages reading, but makes the day more of a celebration – a positive memory related to reading and family.


For more information and more resources for your family's Read across America Day celebration, check out the following resources.
Got any great ideas of your own for Read Across America Day?  Don't keep them to yourself – use the comment section below to share with our readers.