Thursday, 23 November 2017

You are what you eat

Making the most of fruit and vegetables

In a country like South Africa where there’s sunshine all year round, where citrus, Mediterranean and tropical fruits (and seasonal vegetables) grow in abundance the northern, southern and eastern provinces, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be a healthy nation!  What’s more, wholesalers like ‘Fruit ‘n Veg City’, ‘The Apple Tree’ and ‘Fruit and Vegiland’ stock a healthy variety of these at affordable prices.

Prioritising raw fruit and vegetables with every meal has many health benefits. They provide all the minerals (like calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium) and vitamins that we need every day. They’re filling, provide roughage and prevent constipation. They give you a healthy, glowing skin and shining hair, support the immune system and give you energy. When properly prepared they’re delicious. Eaten raw, they’re good for your teeth.

Because the body stores proteins, sugars and fats, we don’t need to eat these every day. But we do need to eat fruit and vegetables because minerals and vitamins are mostly water soluble. This means that they need to be replaced daily. We should eat at least two fruits and vegetables with every meal.

Healthy vegetables:

Children don’t like eating vegetables when they’re overcooked. Then they’re colourless, odourless and tasteless!

Make vegetables appetising by eating them raw – in salads – stir-fried or grilled. Vegetables can also be baked in their skins – this helps to retain the goodness – or slow-cooked in a casserole, soup, stew or curry.

When boiled, cook only till soft but firm. Don’t throw the water away – keep it for gravy, soup or a casserole.

Don’t throw vegetable peels away. Thick potato peels can be grilled with olive oil to make tasty chips. Peels and pips can be added to your composter.

Season vegetables with spices and herbs rather than sauces and salt.

Combine colour and texture, taste and flavours.

  • Don’t be over-ambitious when shopping for fruit and vegetables. You could overspend and buy too much and then it goes bad
  • Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables – they’re they cheaper and naturally ripened
  • Grow your own fruit and vegetables.
  • Vegetables like egg plant, baby marrows, green pepper, mushrooms and pumpkin can be grilled. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil and spices.
  • Oven-bake-chips or potato wedges. Soften these for a few minutes in the micro-wave before grilling with olive oil and spices
  • Keep cucumber, celery and carrot sticks in a plastic container in the fridge for day-time snacking.

 Healthy fruits:

Don’t add sugar to fruits and eat these raw e.g. fruit-salad or kebab sticks.

Liquidise fruit to make smoothies or ice-lollies – add yogurt or ice-cream for a treat.

Combine fruit with jelly e.g. tinned pineapples / granadilla and coconut milk for dessert.

Add fruit to your baking e.g. bran muffins with mashed banana / grated apple or carrots or even baby marrow / raisons, dates or cranberries.

Put peels and left-over fruit pieces in the garden for the birds. You’ll attract an amazing variety.

  • Parents set the example.
  • You are what you eat.
  • Bad eating affects your health e.g. type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and even some types of cancers
  • Resist the junk-food revolution!
  • Add fruit to the family’s lunch boxes.
  • If your child is going to crèche, make sure there’s fruit and vegetables on the menu.
  • Resist junk-food advertising.
  • When you eat a healthy variety of fruit and vegetables, you don’t crave sweets and junk food.
  • Make visits to fast food outlets a treat – not a regular event.
  • Plan meals before you go shopping so that you buy only what you need, and use what you buy.
  • Include family favourites and variety in these meal plans.
  • Use your imagination when it comes to getting resistant toddlers and teens to eat more fruit and vegetables. Cut fruit into small pieces, arrange fruits into funny faces on a plate (for toddlers), make fruit smoothies or a fruit salad (for teenagers).
  • For fussy eaters, sneak veggies and lentils into lasagne, soups, stews and pasta/rice dishes.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Teens, sleep and exams

Teens and sleep

Tiredness and tardiness go hand in hand with teenagers, but did you know that a lack of sleep is also linked with carelessness and poor performance – something that teens don’t need this time of the year when it’s at exam time. Not getting enough sleep can affect balance, co-ordination and decision making. If left to become chronic, severe sleep deprivation in teens can make them depressed and lethargic, and according to the US Academy of Sleep Medicine, even suicidal.

Teens and students who are cram-studying, and taking ‘stay-awake’ tablets to work through the night are especially at risk. Little do they realise that getting a good night’s sleep will improve their performance the next day! This happens because neurons in the brain that transmit messages during the day get a chance to re-organise themselves at night. A tired brain is like an overheated computer.

Teenagers aged 13 to 18 should sleep for at least 8 to 10 hours every night, ideally between 10pm and 6am. But besides the stress of exams, teens are also going through puberty and this means hormonal surges and changes, including changes to their diurnal rhythms (sleep/awake patterns). Research has found that the pineal gland that produces melatonin or the sleep hormone when the sun goes down, takes longer to respond in teenagers than in younger children or adults. This means that teenagers take much longer to feel tired after it gets dark and prefer going to bed much later. They also struggle to get up the next morning! When teenage girls don’t get enough sleep, their periods can become irregular because they ovulate either earlier or later than expected.

The US Academy of Sleep Medicine has suggested that teenagers should start school around 10 am when their sleeping pattern (that’s three hours behind that of an adult) has caught up with them.  Of course, all teenagers would agree with this theory and sleep their way through adolescence – whenever, wherever, however! As a parent you have to keep them on track, instill discipline and teach them responsibility. But it does help to understand that what they’re going through is normal – and that in time, when their hormones have settled down, and the frontal lobe of their brain has matured, they will fall into the pattern of what is expected from them by society.

What can you do to help your teen?
  • Understand that this is normal and accept that your teenager will sleep whenever he gets the chance. It’s OK to let him snooze in the afternoon after school, and you’ll have to accept for a while that he will prowl the house at night and burn the midnight oil.
  • If possible, minimise his caffeine during the day – maximise water instead
  • Put him on a multivitamin for teenagers
  • Make sure he is not hungry!
  • Understand that teenagers are disorderly, and untidy – but they will work through this stage of their lives! Close the bedroom door if you don’t want to look at the mess. They have to live with it – not you!
  • Insist on having a copy of the exam schedule on the fridge to make sure that they don’t miss writing any exams!

If sleeping problems persist, there could be an underlying medical, emotional or psychological problem. Have this checked by a medical practitioner. Please don’t resort to sleeping tablets. They only mask the problem and could make things worse.

PS – I have mostly referred to boys in this blog – the same of course applies to girls!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Suitable toys for every age

Toys for Christmas

Whether you’re staying at home or going to the seaside this Christmas, holidays with children (of all ages) can be a challenge. They get bored, bicker, get up to mischief, and mope. Don’t imagine the things that you did as a child will make them happy – kids of today want to do their own thing in their space, time and way!

If you have teenagers, they only want to go to the mall and watch movies (with their friends), eat, sleep, talk on the phone, watch TV and play video games. It’s just about impossible to get them to do ‘Christmassy’ things like decorate the house, visit their grandparents and get involved with roasting the turkey. Tweens are slightly more co-operative as long as there is a reward, they can bring their friends and you don’t get involved. Younger than 10 age-group enjoy activities like art or acting classes, baking or karate courses, playing sport, picnics, fishing, camping and trail blazing. Preschoolers are often catered for at community centres or the local library. Shopping malls sometimes offer secure entertainment while you shop, and selected nursery schools offer holiday programmes run by students.

Toys for every age:

Babies are happy with wrapping paper and empty boxes!

Toddlers are at the destructive, messy stage. They’re also developing gross motor skills like walking, kicking, pushing and catching. Because they can’t sit still or concentrate for very long they need a variety of colourful, noisy, messy toys and games. Drums and anything musical with buttons to press, little doors to open and shapes to fit into are suitable gifts. They enjoy building towers only to knock them down, popping bubbles and throwing a ball at skittles. They love playing in the sand and water with cups and spades and messing with finger paint.
Preschoolers enjoy imitating adults so toys like prams, trolleys, tool kits and tea sets. They also have vivid imaginations and enjoy dressing up games, concerts and pantomimes they can participate in.  Because they’re becoming constructive and learning fine-motor skills, preschoolers enjoy creating order out of chaos – like puzzles, Lego, making things, playing house and colouring in. 

In primary school, children enjoy competitive sports and board games with the family. They’re also learning to play by the rules and accepting that you can’t always win. Children love tablets and computer games and by now, should be old enough to understand that these ‘toys’ will break if they’re dropped. Because these games tend to be ‘addictive’, parents need to allocate ‘time slots’ and stick to theses.

It’s best to give tweens and teens money for Christmas. This gives them the freedom (and responsibility) to budget and to buy what they want.  

Tips when buying toys for Christmas:

It’s best to buy what your child really wants – and not what you think your child should have. Writing a letter to Father Christmas gives you an idea of what to buy.

Play should come from the child and not the toy!

Children learn through their senses. Toys should stimulate touch, sight, sound and even smell.

Don’t buy cheap toys – they break easily and sharp edges can be dangerous.

Beware of imitation musical instruments e.g. piano’s and guitars – these could damage your child’s musical tone. If your child is musical, buy a second-hand instrument that’s in good condition.  

Friday, 3 November 2017

Gestational Diabetes - November is Diabetes Awareness Month

When is too much sugar ‘too much’ during pregnancy?

Craving sugar during pregnancy is normal and having your urine tested for sugar at ante-natal visits is pretty routine. On the odd occasion when sugar is found in your urine, it simply means that excess blood sugar has spilled from your kidneys into your urine.

After 28 weeks, all women are checked for ‘gestational diabetes’ or ‘pregnancy diabetes’. At this stage, hormones from the placenta can cause an ‘insulin resistance’. As a result, the body sometimes can’t make enough insulin to cope with higher blood sugar levels associated with pregnancy. This causes gestational diabetes, and if not treated, can lead to a few complications.

Urine testing is done with labstix, so the results are instant. How often and how much sugar is found in your urine will tell your doctor or midwife whether more tests are necessary e.g. glucose screening or glucose tolerance tests.

Gestational diabetes is more likely to affect overweight and older women and those who have a family history of diabetes.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes: 

Sudden and intense bouts of hunger with an urgent thirst. Needing to pee more often. Frequent vaginal and urinary tract infections. High blood pressure.

Complications of gestational diabetes (if left untreated): 

Very large baby, hypertension and the risk of preeclampsia.

What can you do?

For your glucose screening test at 28 weeks, you will be given something very sweet to drink and an hour later, your blood will be tested for sugar levels. A normal reading will be less than 140 mg/dL or 7.8 mmol/L. If your doctor/midwife is not happy with the results, you may need to have a glucose-tolerance test.

Gestational diabetes can be easily managed with diet, exercise and if necessary, medication.

Your blood sugar levels and urine will be tested regularly.

Because you may be more prone to infections (especially bladder or UTIs), take extra precautions to prevent these by always wiping from front to back after using the toilet, not wearing tight jeans or underwear and urinating after sex.

Overweight women who exercise, cut their risks of gestational diabetes by half!

After the birth:

Your health-care will be pretty routine. Luckily, most women (98%) recover from gestational diabetes. Very few (about 2%) may go on to becoming type 2 diabetics after the pregnancy, or when they are older.

Women who have had gestational diabetes should go for regular check-ups, control their weight with diet and regular exercise, and tell their doctor if they notice any diabetes symptoms.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Help your child cope with bullying

What to do about bullying

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is a symptom of a lawless society and one of the biggest problems in schools today. It’s not only physical bullying that’s on the increase, emotional and cyber-bullying is too.

When my son was bullied at school in grade 7, I knew that he had to learn to stand up for himself, and that intervening would make the situation worse. So, I suggested that we bake a batch of ‘Brooklax’ cookies for him to take to school and teach the bullies a lesson. (Brooklax is a ‘chocolate’ laxative).

I bought two boxes of the stuff, grated it and added it to the biscuit mix. We had great fun imagining the chaos that would erupt in the classroom after lunch break – or later the next afternoon on the sports field. We left the biscuits on a wire-rack to cool with strict instructions to the rest of the family not to sample any – if they chose to, they did so at their own risk!

When my husband came home from work, we managed to warn him in time before he sampled a cookie. But he was not impressed and said that I, a nurse of all people, was behaving irresponsibly! So, I threw the cookies away. But I considered the exercise a success because my son and I had had a good laugh and this seemed to quell his inhibitions. It was the last I heard of the problem.

Bulling amongst girls comes in the way of bitchiness. When my daughter was continually demeaned by a girl in her class, I suggested she take her a slab of chocolate (no Brooklax this time) to sweeten the friendship. As a result, they became firm friends. It turned out the girl’s parents were going through a really ugly divorce at the time.

I appreciate that these are really minor examples of bullying, but the point I want to make is that it is how parents and teachers react to bullying that’s important. Inevitably the bully is punished, exiled or even expelled and this only expounds the problem for the bully – whose trouble-making was a cry for help in the first place.

The profile of a bully is a child/teenager who is often withdrawn, seemingly ungrateful, stubborn and sulky, defensive with extreme mood changes, who can’t control their temper. Some of these characteristics may stem from genetic make-up, an unhappy family with issues like depression, dependency or divorce. As a result, the child has a poor self-image, may always get into trouble at school and gets their revenge by hurting others.

Why do children become bullies?

For some children who are brought up in institutions or foster homes, bullying is their survival. Living on the dingy side of town where gangs, drugs, alcohol and poverty is part of its make-up, initiates children into bullying as a way of life.

Problems at home such as illness, the death of a parent, abusive partners, sexual assault and illegal immigration that forces families to live on the edge of survival, erupts when children lash out at ‘privileged’ children at school or in the neighbourhood as a way of coping with their own anger and frustrations.

Children who are constantly criticized or belittled by their parents, become accustomed to this type of communication, and doing this to other children is their way of coping. Children who are always disappointed by their parents, never learn trust or responsibility.  

How do you know when your child is being bullied?

Children often hide bullying. They feel humiliated and ashamed and don’t like talking about it – even to their parents. Tell-tale signs like torn clothes, cuts and bruises should alert parents. If there are no physical signs, children can become withdrawn and behave differently – they may not want to eat or overeat, become diligent or slack, start getting poor grades at school or become aggressive at home.

What can parents do if their child is bullied?

Make time to talk to your child. Take a walk to the shops or go for a milk-shake. If your child is a teenager, go to the park (remember they don’t want their friends to see them at the mall with their parents).

Be calm. Give your child the chance to tell you the whole story without interruptions. Discuss options. Make decisions and act on these. Talk about the progress.
If the bullying continues or the issues are beyond your control, make an appointment to speak to the school principal. It may be necessary for authorities to step in before the situation gets out of hand.

Above all, teach your child confidence. Learning to take control of the situation will teach your child a valuable life lesson. After all, bullies are not limited to childhood. We have to learn how to deal with them in everyday in adult-life too.