Relaxation breathing for kids

What does this drawing have to do with relaxation? Well, It’s one thing to use deep breathing techniques or visualization to calm down when you’re an adult. It’s quite another story to try and get children to calm themselves or decrease their own anxiety, but they can, using relaxation breathing for kids.

Triangle breathing for relaxationOne technique that works for myself is something called triangle breathing. Each step in this breathing exercise forms a side of an equilateral triangle:

  1. Take a deep breath for a measured count (some do a count of 6 or 7)
  2. Hold your breath for the same count
  3. Deeply exhale for the same count or longer.

Try doing this breathing exercise for a few minutes, and you’ll find that your mind gets cleared and you feel more relaxed.

Personalize the visualization

It’s a challenge for me to get my child to calm himself, but making him visualize the breathing technique in a more personal way helped.
Relaxation breathing for childrenMy son has a collection of six beloved bears, and for his visualization, the breathing gets broken down to these three steps:

  1. Inhale, as one of the bears climbs the ladder to a slide
  2. Hold the breath as the bear looks at four trees around the playground
  3. Exhale, as the bear slides down the slide.

Picture each of the bears taking their turn in going down the slide. Once all six bears have gone down the slide, the exercise is over. Thankfully, at this point, he has usually calmed down enough that we can better discuss what is upsetting him.
Depending on the age of your child, you may need to guide him or her into something that works best. In our case, the bears are a really good motivation at this age, and he knows he just needs to do the breathing exercise for as long as it takes to allow all the bears their chance at the slide 🙂
What helps your child to relax or calm themselves? I’m eager for more ideas. Let me know in the comments!

6 tips to be your own health advocate

The Latin root for the word “doctor”, docere, means “to show, to teach, or to cause to know“. Notably, the word doctor does not have any root-meanings of “dictate, command, or control”. Your doctor is not ‘the boss of you’, and there are many reasons why you should be your own health advocate.
While medical doctors are key when it comes to emergency situations – car accidents, broken bones or raging infections, they may be less helpful when it comes to non-urgent, chronic ailments like allergies, eczema or pre-diabetes. Increasingly, it seems that there are fewer available doctors, or of the ones who are available, they have less time to address your specific issues, and don’t take the time to show, teach or cause you to know the details of whatever might ail you.
That is why it is important for you (and not your doctor) to be the one who is in charge of your health – nobody knows your body better than you. Here are 6 tips to help you to be in charge and advocate for your own health:
1. Consider your doctor as one of your partners in healthcare
Your doctor should be your healthcare guide and not your sickcare authority. Before accepting a drug prescription, ask your doctor what you can do for yourself. Many chronic and long-term conditions can be successfully treated or greatly improved by lifestyle changes. Eating better by eliminating processed foods and common inflammatory foods will help overall health. So will regular exercise and reducing stress. It’s easy enough for a doctor to dismiss you and say, “Just eat better, exercise more and reduce stress” – these are well-intentioned but vague notions in improving health, and if your doctor cannot take the time to expound on that line of advice, it may just be that you need additional healthcare partners.
Consider seeing to a naturopathic doctor or a medical doctor who specializes in functional medicine, since they have a more integrative approach to healing, seeking the root of your problem. A nutritionist can help you find a way of eating that works for you, a personal trainer can help you find ways to better incorporate exercise regularly, and a psychologist or even a yoga instructor may be the one you need to help you reduce stress through meditation or simply letting you be heard.
2. Take your own notes and be prepared to present your own thorough medical history
The best way to help yourself is to present as much information as you can to your healthcare partners. A thorough medical professional should ask you all the pertinent questions, but be prepared if they drop the ball. For example, if you’re concerned about a chronic issue, a good place to start is a food and symptom diary. This will help your healthcare practitioner see any patterns between what you eat and how you feel.
If you’ve had the same doctor for many years, make sure they know of any major changes that you’ve experienced in your health or diet. It could very well be that you’ve gained and lost twenty pounds since you’ve seen your doctor last – on paper though, it will look as if nothing has changed.
It’s also important to be aware of your own family history and update your doctor about any major developments in the health of your immediate family (e.g. parents or siblings) as it may impact your genetic predisposition for certain conditions. If your doctor overlooks these important aspects of your health, make sure to bring it up or ask them why they don’t think these things are important.
At your appointments, ask for printed records of test results and/or take detailed notes yourself. Even if you don’t understand the numbers or results at first, it’s better to have this information and be able to do your own research later.
3. Be willing to invest both time and money in your own health
If you want to optimize your health, then you’ll need to spend either time or money or both to achieve it. Healthy living comes down to lifestyle choices that require time (e.g. preparing food yourself, keeping a food/symptom diary, exercising regularly) or money (e.g. choosing better quality food, getting nutritional supplements or seeing additional healthcare providers).
In our current medical system, the sad fact is that most people aren’t willing to put the time or money in to improve their health. They’ll happily go to the doctor to get their “quick-fix” prescription, rather than wanting to get to the root of a problem. If this isn’t you, make sure your doctor knows that you are willing to put in the work and make your health a priority.
4. Do your own research to be a health advocate
With just a few search terms and hitting “enter”, we can access a wealth of information. Whether you’re looking for a new healthcare provider or looking for information about a chronic condition, a good place to start is with an internet search. Be aware of course, that not everything you read on the internet is true, but it’s certainly a way to give you a crash course in a health topic.
If you’re researching information that contradicts what your doctor has told you, don’t be afraid to print it out and have your doctor read it. If they are truly interested in improving patient-health, then they should welcome new knowledge and research, or if they disagree with the information you’ve brought, then they can tell you why.
Here’s an example of why it’s important to do your own research. Recently, I asked my doctor for a blood test – I was unsure whether this test would be covered by my provincial health care plan (OHIP here in Ontario), but my doctor told me flatly that such a test was only done for clinical research, and did not exist as regular patient testing. Well, with a bit of googling, I found a list of blood tests that aren’t covered by OHIP, and calling my local laboratory I was able to find out that the test I wanted would only cost $35. In this case, my doctor certainly did not have up-to-date information, and to my dismay, this doctor neither admitted the lack of knowledge nor apologized for the oversight.
Looking for a good place to start your research with a Real Food approach? I recommend Weston A. Price Foundation’s list of resources. From a paleo/primal lean, Mark’s Daily Apple has informative, well-researched information that is written for the layman, and Chris Kresser has detailed, technical information on a variety of health topics. If you’re no stranger to reading journal articles, you can always dive into the deep-end and do a search on PubMed (you may not be able to access full versions of all articles, but abstracts are readily available).
5. Be willing to question your doctor’s knowledge
Here’s something most people don’t realize: doctors aren’t educated in diet and nutrition. If you’re lucky, your doctor may have taken a single course on nutrition during medical school. If your doctor is recommending that you replace your natural fats with easily-oxidizing margarine, then be willing to question their knowledge on the subject. Ask where they got their information or if they’ve read any recent journal articles on the subject, and judge for yourself if their knowledge on the subject overrides your own research. Your doctor is more educated than you are on many levels, but remember that they are human and can have gaps in their knowledge, whether they admit it or not.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion or change doctors
If you’re willing to go the extra mile in finding a good babysitter, hairdresser or mechanic, shouldn’t you put the same effort in finding a doctor or alternative healthcare provider who works for you? Your doctor should be working for you. You are the patient. You are the client. You are the one paying for their service (either directly or indirectly).
If you don’t feel that your doctor is listening to you, or helping you achieve optimal health in a way that you are comfortable with, then perhaps it is time to find another doctor.
Have you experienced less-than-stellar medical treatment or have you had to advocate strongly for your own health? Have you been prescribed medication or treatment that you didn’t feel right about following? Let us know in the comments.
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What is margarine and why is it bad for you?

What is Margarine?

Margarine was created in the early 1800s as an inexpensive substitute for butter. Early margarines were made from animal fat. In the 1900s, chemists discovered how to harden liquid oils and vegetable oil replacing animal fat. What is margarine? It is a manufactured, vegetable-oil-based substitute for butter.

How is Margarine Made?

Margarine is manufactured through a multi-step process.

  • Vegetable oils are extracted from corn, cottonseed, soybeans or safflower seeds. Hexane, an organic compound commonly used as a solvent, is used in the extraction process.
  • The oil is steam cleaned to remove most impurities. Steaming also destroys vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Hydrogen gas is bubbled through liquid oil in the presence of a catalyst (usually nickel). This  forces unsaturated fatty acids to become saturated and solid. The more complete the hydrogenation process, the firmer the finished product. Margarine undergoes partial hydrogenation, to make it semi-solid.. Partial hydrogenation produces a lumpy grey grease and results in the formation of trans-fats.
  • Emulsifiers are added to remove lumps; bleach to remove the grey color.
  • A second steam cleaning removes chemical odors.
  • Synthetic vitamins, artificial colors and a natural yellow color are added. The final product is packaged as a healthy alternative to butter.

What is Margarine’s Effect on the Body?

The health impacts of margarine are related to the types and proportion of fats it contains. These fats are divided into two categories: The fat composition of the vegetable oil and the unhealthy forms of fat created in the manufacturing process.

Vegetable Oil vs Healthy Dietary Fats

About 97% of the fat content in the human body is saturated and monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats, in equal proportions of Omega-3 and Omega -6, comprise the balance. These fats are used for rebuilding cells and hormone production.
Vegetable oils, on the other hand, have a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are very unstable when stored for long periods of time and exposed to light. A diet high in polyunsaturated fats, forces the body to incorporate these unstable fats into cell repair and new cell creation. This produces inflammation and cell mutation that can result in a variety of health problems. Vegetable oils also have a much higher ratio of Omega-6 to Omega 3 fats. This higher ratio has been shown to increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.

By-products of margarine manufacture

The vegetable oils are exposed to heat, chemicals, hydrogenation, bleaches, emulsifiers, and additives. Each step moves the finished product further away from the natural plant source and creates unwanted byproducts. Let’s look at the impact of these steps.
The extraction process creates free radicals. They are “free” because they freely float around until they latch onto another molecule. They are  “radical” because there are a wide variety of molecules to which they can attach. As they attached to other molecules, they create more free radicals. This continued creation of free radicals is responsible for aging, cell damage, cancer and heart disease.
Partial hydrogenation changes liquid vegetable oil into a semi-solid form by forcing the oil to produce saturated fats. Partial hydrogenation produces trans-fats. Margarine is high in trans-fat.
Health effects caused by trans fatty acids are

  • Increased risk of coronary heart disease;
  • Increased levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowered levels of HDL (good cholesterol);
  • Decreased fertility;
  • Decreased immune response; and,
  • Increased blood insulin levels and greater risk for diabetes.

Margarine and the bottom line

Margarine is a manufactured food product. It was developed at the request of an Emperor who wanted something cheap for his poor subjects and his armies. It was never designed to be healthy, nutritious or beneficial; it was designed to be an imitation, an inexpensive substitute.
Chemists fiddled with it to make it more palatable and pleasing to your senses. Later nutritionists touted its health benefits. But those benefits were based on the original plant sources. The chemical and manufacturing processes that put margarine multi-steps away from its origins were never taken into account. Unwittingly, by encouraging a switch to margarine, they also fiddled with your health at its basic cellular level.
The human body is a perfect machine that grows, develops, repairs, replaces and reproduces. Food provides the energy and essential nutrients needed for all of these processes. The higher the quality of the food you eat, the more perfect the results.
Thousands of years have shown us what is healthy; decades of genetic modification, manufacturing and processing are showing us what is not. The message we continue to hear, but oftentimes fail to heed is “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

Genetically Modified Food: 4 Reasons to Avoid GMOs

What is genetically modified food? GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms. Farmers and ranchers have been practicing genetic engineering for thousands of years. Selective breeding of animals to encourage desirable characteristics and cross-pollination of plants are pretty basic. So how can genetically modified foods be bad?

There are fundamental differences between traditional animal husbandry and farming practices and what scientists can do in labs. Using traditional methods, cross-breeding will only work with very closely related species. You can’t insert fish DNA into a tomato plant anywhere except in a lab.
DNA is incredibly complex and information in a strand of DNA may influence multiple traits or characteristics and they may interact in unpredictable ways. In one instance, Brazil nut DNA was added to a line of soy beans. This proved deeply troublesome when soy eaters who were allergic to Brazil nuts experienced reactions to a previously safe food.
GMO experimentation is on the rise, and in an absence of strict controls, we have no way of knowing exactly what it is we might be eating. Here are four big reasons to avoid GMO foods:

1. Genetically Modified Foods are Driven by Profit

GMOs are being pushed by massive multinational corporations as a way to end world hunger and improve nutrition. In fact, profit may be their true motive. GMO crops do not seem to produce greater yields than traditionally grown crops, and many require extensive use of chemical agents like herbicides and pesticides in order to grow at all. The corporations often have strict licensing agreements that prevent independent examination of their products. They seem to be doing all they can to corner the market on food and prevent examination and study of exactly what it is they are feeding us.

2. You Can’t Unring a Bell

Once GMO products make it to fields, that genetic material becomes a part of the biome. Even if a plant turns out to be toxic, once it has been grown in open air its genes are out there. GMO crops can cross-breed with non-GMO crops whether their makers intend them to or not. In fact, a recent study found that 80% of wild canola plants in North Dakota contained genes that had been genetically modified. Somewhere, somehow, the GMO plants had contaminated the native flora.

3. Dubious Safety of Genetically Modified Food

Despite food corporations’ insistence that GMO foods are completely safe, no independent entity exists to verify those claims. And the results can be devastating. In Japan, a bacteria was genetically modified for food use. It turned out that they were producing an entirely new protein we had never encountered before. Used in nutritional shakes, the amino acid caused severe metabolic damage in consumers. Many people died. Studies proving these foods safe have not been done. It would be ridiculously naive to think that we can meddle with the very stuff of life with impunity. Yet corporations do, and as long as a few cursory studies show no short-term side effects, they are allowed to feed these things to all of us.

4. You Can’t Consent to Eating (or Not Eating) GMOs

It’s probably true that many genetically modified foods are perfectly safe. But many are not, and we need to know whether they are present in our food so that we can exercise our own best judgment in feeding them to our families. The worst part of the introduction of GMOs into our food supply is that we don’t know when we’re eating these products. In Canada, as well as in the United States, genetically modified ingredients in our food do not need to be labeled. In Europe, consumers have been granted the right to know what they are eating.
That’s four good reasons to avoid genetically modified food, which is all fine and good, but if you these foods aren’t labelled, you’ll want to read the next post about what you can do to avoid GMOs.

5 Ways to Avoid GMO Foods

We’ve already discussed 4 reasons to avoid genetically-modified organisms (GMO) or GMO foods. Today we cover how to avoid GMO foods, since there’s no way to know if you’re eating genetically-modified food in North America. So here’s what you can do to make sure genetically modified food isn’t part of your regular diet:

1. Avoid foods that are most likely to be genetically-modified

In Canada, four GM-crops are currently grown. (While only four are currently grown, you can find a complete list of Genetically-Modified Foods and Novel Foods that have been approved in Canada).

i) Soybeans

93% of all soybeans grown in the US and more than 65% of all soybeans in Canada are genetically modified to be herbicide resistant. There are plenty of reasons not to eat soy in the first place (it’s high in phytoestrogens which can block natural estrogen and it’s high in phytic acid which can block mineral absorption), so avoiding genetically-modified food is yet another reason not to eat soybeans.

Avoid GMO soy:

You might think you’re safe by just avoiding soy milk, tofu or edamame at your favorite sushi joint, but flip over to the ingredients list on just about any processed food, and you’ll find soy in the form of soybean oil or ‘vegetable’ oil, soy protein isolate, soy lecithin. If you have a food sensitivity to soy, you may find that you react when eating some eggs or meat because the animals were given soy feed.

ii) Corn

At least 65% in Canada and ~88% in the US of all corn is genetically-modified to be both insect-resistant and herbicide tolerant. A study linking GM corn to cancer has been under criticism; it was the first long-term study on the effects of eating genetically modified foods. Even if the study is under criticism, should it not be worrisome that it’s the only long-term study, despite the fact that GM-foods have been in our food system since the 1990s?

Avoid GMO corn:

Even your summertime favorite, sweet corn is in danger of being a genetically-modified food. Beyond corn-on-the-cob and popcorn, corn is found in abundance in many processed foods. It’s labelled as HFCS or high-fructose corn syrup, corn oil or ‘vegetable’ oil, corn starch, dextrose, dextrin and many other forms. Like soy, it is widely used in animal feed, and there may be implications in eating animals that have been fed corn, if you have a corn sensitivity.

iii) Canola

About 90% of all Canola in the US and Canada is genetically modified. Unlike corn and soy, canola is not consumed in any other form, except as a ‘vegetable’ oil. Even if it weren’t a GM-food, cooking with canola oil may not be advisable because it is a polyunsaturated fat, which means from a chemical point of view, it has a lot of double-bonds. To skip over the organic chemistry 101 lesson, lots of double-bonds means that it’s highly unstable and delicate (unlike a saturated fat, which is more stable), and therefore more subject to oxidizing and going rancid. Better to choose a coconut oil for higher heat or a quality olive oil for dressings instead!

Avoid GMO canola:

Canola oil is often blended with other ‘vegetable’ oils like corn and soy.

iv) Sugar Beets

About 90% of all sugar beets grown in the US have been genetically-modified to resist herbicides. Unlike the red beets you see in the produce aisle, sugar beets are used to make processed table sugar.

Avoid GMO sugar beets:

Only one company, Lantic,  in Canada processes sugar beets into table sugar, but about half of the white, refined sugar in the US is from GM sugar beets.

2. Don’t Eat Processed Food

As you’ll notice above, the big four GM-foods are all abundant in processed food as fillers, stabilizers, sweeteners and vegetable oils. Be vigilant about reading labels on your food, or better yet, don’t buy food that has a label – that is, eat whole, nutrient-dense foods instead of things that are ready-made in a box.

3. Buy Organic and Good Quality

Buying organic produce and food products that are certified organic will help you avoid GMOs since food labelled as ‘organic’ cannot knowingly have any genetically-modified components.
For meat, you’ll want to look for not only organically-raised animals, but grass-fed too.

4. Support Local Farmers

Shop your farmers’ markets! The biggest users of genetically-modified seeds are large industrial farms, and not smaller family farms. Knowing the grower of your food and how they feel about GMOs can help you make more informed choices.

5. Plant a Garden

Take matters into your own hands and grow your own food. You’ll learn to appreciate the effort it takes to grow food and you’ll know exactly how it was grown and what went into your food.

How to Sleep Better: 6 Natural Sleep Remedies to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

People underestimate the importance of a lot of things, but sleep isn’t one of them. Still, most of these poor wretches would rather rub the dark circles under their eyes and lament the lack of rest they got last night than take action. If only they knew solving the problem of how to sleep better isn’t always a daunting self-improvement project. While serious dedication yields the best results, here are a few natural sleep remedies to make it easy to call on Mr. Sandman tonight.

1. Have a light dinner

Perhaps you’re familiar with the old chestnut: Eat a king’s breakfast, a prince’s lunch and a pauper’s dinner. A big breakfast has gained traction in dieting, but in the case of sleep, a spare final meal is the key. Eating a small, light meal allows your body to focus on sleep instead of digestion. It seems like we’re always offered that rich, delicious dessert after dinner, but if you must indulge, take it home and enjoy it tomorrow.

2. Eat some nuts (or a bit of turkey)

While you don’t want to go to bed on a full stomach, you certainly don’t want to do it on an empty one either! Enter nuts. A small handful is just enough to give your stomach something to digest slowly—perfect for hypoglycemics and anyone who finds themselves stalking the pantry with 3 a.m. cravings. Nuts also contain sleep enhancing magnesium and tryptophan. You may best know the latter as the cause of “Turkey Coma” after a Thanksgiving meal. In fact, if nuts aren’t your style, a small amount of turkey can work as a bedtime snack. Whichever you choose, try to consume it without excessive salt.

3. Have a glass of wine

What’s the Latin for “How to sleep better?” Whatever it is, it probably also involves vino. A single glass of wine relaxes the muscles and the mind. I probably don’t need to tell you how bad it feels to wake up after overindulging in alcohol, but even a couple of glasses before bed can lead to intermittent sleep.

4. Write out the next day’s agenda

shauns to do list: how to sleep better?What keeps you from going to sleep? Does your mind race, trying to digest the previous day’s events as it attempts to set a schedule for the next? You can avoid this by doing a bit of writing before bed. Do some heartfelt journaling, or just make a short list of what you need to accomplish the next day. Let your mind relax, safe in the knowledge that the paper is remembering it, so you don’t have to. If you doubt the power of list making, witness the title character in Shaun of the Dead. Sure, he made that lovely list on his fridge after a night of binge drinking, but one thing at a time.

5. Limit light exposure

Night owls get a bad rap. One sleep expert doesn’t even believe they exist! But even an avowed night owl like the author will agree that limiting light exposure before bed is a good thing. That means drawing some heavy curtains before dawn if you’re retiring after an all-nighter or the graveyard shift, but it’s even more complex for the regular sleeper. No matter how much comfort may come from Craig Ferguson’s dulcet Scottish tones, turn off that TV. Even something as small as the backlit display on a digital clock may need to be covered up. If you prefer, a sleep mask will do the same thing.
Also, if you’re spending a lot of time in front of a computer, you’ll want to install an application like f.lux which helps reduce the amount of sleep-disrupting blue light from your monitor.

6. How to sleep better? Give sleep a room of its own!

Often the most effective trick for how to sleep better is the hardest to implement. Training yourself to associate your bedroom with only sleep can help you get into restful sleep faster and easier. It’s okay if you also associate the bedroom with sex, but reading, phone calls, long discussions, or video games need to take it elsewhere. Once the association is formed between your bed and anything that’s not sleeping, it’s hard to break. As a side note, anything mentally stimulating should be avoided. Some swear by reading before, others find it makes them want to read the next chapter more than drift into dreamland. A book can go either way, but Internet usage, with its endless branching paths and multiple tabs, is always too agitating before bed.
Rest is important. The next time you think it’s not worth a little extra effort, try to remember we spend about a third of our lives asleep. Cats, who sleep away two thirds of their lives, would say that’s not nearly enough. Ask them how to sleep better and you’re unlikely to get a good answer. But if you do, make sure to put it on YouTube. Famous pet owners must sleep like babies!