How to decrease added sugar in your child’s diet

Dr. Lauren Raimer-GoodmanSugar is sneaky.  There are plenty of foods out there that we think of as healthy that have added sugar.  Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how much added sugar there is, as companies are not required to make a distinction between natural and processed or added sugars on nutrition labels. They also don’t have to tell you what percent of the recommended daily value of added sugar their product contains.  (fortunately the FDA has proprosed changing this – if the proposed changes can make it through the legislative process).

There is a lot in the news these days about the negative health effects of added sugar.  Notably, increased sugar intake adds to the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and many other health issues we would rather our children not have to experience. Continue reading

Planting trees whose fruit we will never eat

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The week before last, I made a house call to Robert, a patient on hospice. He was listless, semi-comatose, with pinpoint pupils from the morphine, and yellow as a gourd from cancer-related liver failure. His devoted wife, along with friends, family, and the hospice care team were keeping him as comfortable as possible as he transitioned from life after a decadelong courageous battle with colon cancer.

Even after spending some time with him talking, examining, reading, praying, I wasn’t quite sure he could hear or understand me. At that point, I started to feel like I had done what I could for him. Now I was there for his family.

This was a special man who had fought his hardest, had created a cancer survivor support group, and who was dying at a prematurely young age. He kept going to his work as a scientist at a local university up until about 2 weeks before his death. Yes, he could only last a few hours at the lab, but his study of sargassum seaweed was his passion and gave his life meaning and purpose until the end. He also played a huge role in the education of the students he mentored. Like his love of planting fruit-bearing trees, he planted seeds of scholarly inquiry, motivated them, and challenged them to achieve more. Continue reading

The Myopia pandemic

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

You’ve probably heard of pandemics — the plague, influenza, HIV — but you might not have seen coverage of the growing myopia pandemic. Before you consider bathing in sanitizer, you should know that myopia isn’t contagious. Another word for it is nearsightedness.

Myopia is a condition in which close objects are seen clearly but distant objects are blurred due to the elongation of the eye or too much curvature of the cornea. This causes light entering the eye to focus in front of the retina rather than on it. Myopia is different from hyperopia, which is the kind of nearsightedness that comes from growing older. In fact, the myopia pandemic is primarily affecting young people.

It currently affects 90 percent of the young adults in China, although 60 years ago it was 10-20 percent. In the United States and Europe it affects about half of all young adults, double what it was 50 years ago. Seoul has the highest incidence: 96.5 percent of young people in South Korea’s capital have myopia. An estimated 2.5 billion people will experience myopia by 2020. Continue reading

Obesity and diabetes: Is your gut in control?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Your body is like a forest, providing a home to microscopic flora and fauna. In fact, your body is home to up to 100 times more microbes than your own cells, which make up your microbiome. While we provide them residence, these microbes help us out by providing a first line of defense against disease trying to invade our bodies, even breaking down food during digestion and producing vitamins. Now, the microbes that live in the digestive tract are helping us understand diabetes better.

According to the Human Microbiome Project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the microbiome plays a huge role in human health. When the microbiome is altered or unbalanced, it can cause conditions like obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, skin disease, urogenital infection, allergy and can even affect emotion and behavior. Continue reading

Oil and vinegar

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The Latin derivation of the word ‘salad’ simply meant “with salt.” A little sprinkle of salt over green herbs, maybe with a drizzle of olive oil was the essence of a salad. This is a far cry from our current prepared dressings containing hundreds of calories of unhealthy fats and other chemical ingredients.

So instead of store-bought salad dressings, why not do it yourself? You control taste, ingredients, and freshness. The easiest way to make a healthy homemade dressing is whisking your own vinaigrette. Stir in a small bowl: ¾ cup of extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup of red or white wine vinegar or add a touch of balsamic, ¼ teaspoon of fine sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Making your own dressing can be as much fun as creating the salad.

You can expand your culinary delight by adding any of the following to the basic mixture: mince a small to medium shallot; add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard; add 2-3 finely chopped garlic cloves; blend fresh or dry oregano, tarragon, or lemon juice. Other interesting ingredients include sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, or walnuts. Red pepper flakes on top of a salad or in the dressing instead of the regular coarse ground black pepper add a nice extra zest. Continue reading

Salads: Simple is best

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Often when I called my dad to see how he was doing, he’d start with saying, “I’m making a salad.” He died at 92 and taught me the value of how enjoying a salad regularly is a truly healthy habit. Eating salads is an easy way to get close to our daily goal of 5 to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables. A half-cup of salad is pretty small so a typical lunch or dinner salad can garner 2 to 3 servings of veggies.

These days, making a salad is easier than ever. Pre-washed, pre-cut, packaged spinach, romaine lettuce, mixed greens, arugula, kale, radicchio/endive, collards, mustard greens, and others shave long eclipsed the boring and low nutrient iceberg lettuce most of us remember from childhood. This was perhaps drizzled
Thousand Island dressing or these days Ranch, currently the most popular U.S. dressing. Unfortunately it is relatively high in fats, carbs, and other unhealthy ingredients compared to simpler dressings like vinaigrettes which we will discuss next week.

Remember that the darker, leafy greens are chock full of health-essential fiber, phyto-oxidants, B vitamins, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids, and are tastier by a long shot than common iceberg lettuce. Continue reading

Wellness challenge

Here is a quote by Phillips Brook that emphasizes the value of taking on new challenges in our lives:

“Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

For any of us to grow into a newer, better version of ourselves, we must accept challenges which by definition require us to stretch our limits into our unexplored and possible selves.

Just picture a toddler learning to walk. No longer satisfied with just crawling or cruising the furniture, he or she takes a tentative few steps and then, with a wide-eyed look of delight, plunks down on a soft bottom only to get up and try again. And again. Trip, stumble, fall, get up, get up, and then, miraculously, they just keep going until parents, grandparents, and other loved ones can barely keep up with the little speedsters.

Challenging ourselves to achieve wellness is a similar process.

Start, drop, stop, try again, again, believe, achieve. Continue reading

Doctor’s simple advice for men: a few simple steps can lead to a healthier life

Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers

Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers

When I moved to Galveston last year, I was overweight and out of shape.

An annual visit to the doctor diagnosed me with hypertension and an abnormal glucose level. I was anything but a model for wellness. And I was about to become the Chief Medical Officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Confession is good for the soul and hard on the ego, but if I can grab control of my life, anybody can. It wasn’t long before I copied the behavior of healthy islanders and began jogging on the beach and cycling on the sea wall. The result for me is better controlled blood pressure and glucose and I lost 10 percent of my arrival weight!

This month, we celebrate National Men’s Health Month, a time to focus on heightening awareness of preventable health problems and encouraging early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. I encourage all the men reading this column to think about taking some small steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Continue reading

Move On

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A recent ode to the benefits of tennis by a 74-year-old writer caught my eye. Citing various classical authors, philosophers, and the gradual improvement of his game since his 20s, the author championed the power of vigorous sport on his writing and his mind. Riffing off a Robert Frost poem that ended “Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion,” the author concluded: “The tennis court is my watering place where I drink and am whole again beyond confusion — at least for a couple of hours.”

As an aging tennis player myself, I found his essay in The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page uplifting as he described “tennis as a refuge from the racket of everyday life.” We all need some kind of healthy activity and discipline to allow us to shut down the grinding gears of our minds for brief periods and refresh it with the drink of stillness and the water of life.

The Physical Activity Council recently reported 28 percent of Americans over 6 get no physical activity meaning they are totally sedentary in the past year. This report is also included a sharp increase in inactivity for those over 65. These are unhealthy trends. Continue reading

A body in motion

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

In high school physics class, I learned from Sir Isaac Newton that a body in motion will stay in motion. The opposite is true and it is called inertia. The other day in clinic, I went in to see Dylan, a 12 year old. He didn’t look up or say hi to me as I came into the room as he was intently working his thumbs on a handheld device. His mother told him to be polite and say hello. He raised his head briefly, said, “Hi,” then back to the gaming thing. She shrugged apologetically and helplessly. I won’t dwell on how we should socialize the digital generation to learn polite human interaction, though it is quite relevant to bodies in motion.

Dylan’s complaint was a minor one and he basically came in needing a school excuse. It could have been a 5 to 10 minute visit but I noticed he was a bit chunky. In fact, his BMI at 29 was close to the obese range. At mom’s request, we ran a urine and blood test to make sure he wasn’t diabetic. He wasn’t, fortunately, at least not yet.

I asked Dylan what kinds of sports or other activities he liked to do. Mom motioned to me with both thumbs moving rapidly to mime the reality of his activity. Continue reading