While scavenging the refrigerator on Family Day for a healthy lunch for our 18-month-old daughter, my husband and I began to lament the good old days of our culinary upbringing. We longed for the ease of our parent's food-prep epoch that innocently pulled together long-weekend lunches comprised of Chef Boyardee or SpagettiOs with a well-deserved side of fruit-roll-up. It was easy, economical and did I mention easy? We digressed into a serious analysis of whether the organic, gluten-free, kale-laden yuppie meals we prepared with such diligence were worth the effort. Would our daughter live longer, be healthier or become a more productive adult? As most parents know, convincing a two-, four- or 10-year-old kid that their kale chips and sugar-free cookies are as cool as Lunchables is a tougher sell than RIM shares in the summer of 2012.
As it pertains to the long-term perspective, when adults see me in my private practice, they are not coming because they want to live longer, they are investing their time and money because they are fed up with chronic headaches, menstrual cramps, ADD, digestive difficulties or fertility challenges. In each of these circumstances, without fail, we begin our clinical journey by addressing diet -- most of the time, reducing or eliminating the problem with lifestyle attention alone.
Although the management of menstrual cramps seems like a long way away for our 18-month-old, there is a more pressing concern lurking in corridors of real-time pediatric medicine. The one-time silent killer of adults, seemingly older adults, is stalking our offspring with the diligence of a vulture chasing an injured zebra. Early in the fall of 2012 an alarming headline hit the top rung of the medical literature: "Hypertension Rockets in U.S. Kids." Naturally I suspected this would be the most cutting edge news story to hit the U.S. airwaves in months. A serial killer was on the loose and it was no longer targeting adults, it was now after our children. You can only imagine my compounded horror as I flipped to cnn.com to review the most popular newsfeeds for the day, if it were not a breaking news headline, this was sure to be something people would be talking about. Alas, the Octomom's new boyfriend and Jenny McCarthy's seventh Playboy spread had trumped kids with heart disease.
For those of you not fully understanding the impact of this finding and others like it, allow me to reiterate, this is a BIG DEAL. Heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension were historically reserved for de-conditioned adults with genetic predispositions, chomping away on a standard North American Diets (SAD diet). In the published findings of the June 18, 2012 edition of Hypertension, the authors cited that nation-wide, pediatric hypertension-related hospitalizations had nearly doubled, from 1997 to 2006. Charges for inpatient care for hypertensive children increased by 50 per cent, to an estimated $3.1 billion over the 10 years.
All economics aside, kids are suffering unnecessarily. This is the first generation predicted to have shorter, more disease-laden life spans than their parents. While we may view our personal food choices as our right, our children deserve more respect. What will it take for us, the adults, to step up to the plate and demand better? Something better means education around food consumption, something better means less accessibility to processed foods, something better means we teach kids to value their bodies, not simply pop a pill or supplement to make the symptom; the eczema, the headache or the hypertension go away.
Step up my adult and parental colleagues, challenge yourself to squeeze a few more minutes out of your day to prepare some real food, play with your kids outdoors and talk to the little people in your life about their most valuable asset on the road to success, their health.
Research presented at a meeting last year of the American Heart Association shows that eating <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/kiwis-blood-pressure-apples_n_1097364.html" target="_hplink">three kiwis a day</a> is linked with decreased blood pressure. That study included 188 men and women age 55 and older, with slightly high blood pressure. They were instructed to eat three kiwis a day, or an apple a day for eight weeks. The researchers found that the people who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/kiwis-blood-pressure-apples_n_1097364.html" target="_hplink">ate the kiwis</a> had lower systolic blood pressure levels than those who ate the apples. Kiwis are known to be rich in lutein, which means they have antioxidant properties. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hulagway/5941766050/">by whologwhy</a>.</em>
A 2005 study in the journal <em>Hypertension</em> found that it's possible to get the blood pressure-lowering effects from <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0705c.shtml" target="_hplink">potassium-containing foods</a>, instead of just from a potassium supplement. Researchers from St. George's Medical School in London found that people who consumed potassium citrate -- which is found naturally in food -- has the same effects in <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0705c.shtml" target="_hplink">decreasing blood pressure</a> in people with hypertension as those who took potassium chloride, which is only available as a supplement, Harvard Medical School reported. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/robin24/5131280208/">by robin_24</a>.</em>
<a href="http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/watermelon-lowers-blood-pressure-study-finds" target="_hplink">Watermelon</a> is not just refreshing, it contains a bounty of nutrients including fiber, lycopenes, vitamin A and potassium, according to the Mother Nature Network. And, a study from Florida State University researchers shows that an amino acid found -- called <a href="http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/watermelon-lowers-blood-pressure-study-finds" target="_hplink">L-citrulline/L-arginine</a> -- in watermelon could also have blood pressure-lowering effects. The researchers had nine people with prehypertension take 6 grams of the L-citrulline/L-arginine amino acid a day over a six-week period. They found that the study participants had lower blood pressure, as well as better functioning of their arteries. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gudlyf/3657294414/">by Gudlyf</a>.</em>
Spuds may get a bad rap in the foodsphere, but a small study presented last year at a meeting of the American Chemical Society showed that the purple-hued root vegetables have <a href="http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_028109&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=6e3e7956-f304-482b-96f2-b644d1a2aaa5" target="_hplink">blood pressure-lowering powers</a> that are nearly as effective as oatmeal, without packing on pounds. The study included 18 people with high blood pressure. They ate six to eight <a href="http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_028109&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=6e3e7956-f304-482b-96f2-b644d1a2aaa5" target="_hplink">purple potatoes</a> (including the skins!) twice a day, for a month-long period. The researchers found that the study participants' systolic and diastolic blood pressure dropped at the end of the research period. (Though, it should be noted that this was just an observational study, and the potato-eaters' blood pressure was not compared to people who did not eat purple potatoes during the study.) <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/taransa/5499878925/">by Taransa</a>.</em>
Eating a lot of tofu and other soy foods -- like soy nuts, miso, edamame, tempeh and soy milk -- is linked with <a href="http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20120327/soy-nutrient-may-lower-blood-pressure" target="_hplink">decreased blood pressure</a>, WebMD reported. The study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, included 5,000 people whose diets were tracked over 20 years. The researchers found that the ones who <a href="http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20120327/soy-nutrient-may-lower-blood-pressure" target="_hplink">consumed the most isoflavones</a> -- found in soy, as well as peanuts and green tea -- had lower systolic blood pressure than those who consumed the fewest isoflavones, according to WebMD. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoosvanrobin/5776783857/">by FotoosVanRobin</a>.</em>
Chocolate is linked with a lower BMI -- <em>and</em> it could be beneficial for people with hypertension. A 2010 review of studies in the journal <em>BMC Medicine</em> showed that <a href="http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/8/39" target="_hplink">flavanols</a>, which are found in chocolate, seemed to promote the dilation of blood vessels, which in turn can lower blood pressure. "Flavanols have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation and consequently may lower blood pressure," study researcher Dr. Karin Ried, of the University of Adelaide in Austria, said <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100628075746.htm" target="_hplink">in a statement</a>. "There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real-life effects of eating chocolate. We've found that consumption can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure." <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sionakaren/3871516012/">by Siona Karen</a>.</em>
If you love a little heat with your food, it could be doing your <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413110002287" target="_hplink">blood pressure</a> a favor, too. A 2010 study in the journal <em>Cell Metabolism</em> showed that <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413110002287" target="_hplink">capsaicin</a> -- the spicy ingredient in chili peppers -- could help to lower blood pressure in rats with hypertension. However, the researchers from the Third Military Medical University in China noted that the results need to be replicated in humans. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/trostle/6114402110/">by Trostle</a>.</em>
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