Introducing Atherosclerosis Attack

By Cate Moriasi

Kate and I are excited to announce that our book, Atherosclerosis Attack, which we have talked about in some of our posts, is finally published and available on Amazon in paperback and kindle edition.

We have written this book for middle schoolers, using a story to teach them about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in one’s arteries, and depending on which artery is affected different complications can result. For example, a heart attack can result if the arteries that supply blood to the heart are affected. Atherosclerosis doesn’t occur overnight; it develops over many years and may start during childhood even though complications from atherosclerosis usually don’t manifest until later in life.

The good news is that atherosclerosis can be prevented or at least its progression slowed down because it is largely dependent on lifestyle choices such as diet and physical activity. Many adults are aware of the importance of adopting or maintaining a healthier lifestyle and are actively working towards it. However, many parents struggle to get their children to eat healthy and some give up because it’s a battle that is too difficult to fight.

Just imagine if children knew exactly how sugar negatively impacts their bodies, what would they do? I’m sure they will still want to consume that sugary item to satisfy their craving. However, they might be willing to work out a plan to help them balance their cravings with what they know they need to do for their well-being.  Many children hear their parents say certain things but the ‘aha’ moment might come from someone else saying the same thing.

Atherosclerosis Attack, is a science fiction book written to help children understand how a real disease, atherosclerosis, develops and how it can be prevented. The engaging and adventure-packed story will challenge young readers to think differently about what they eat and how that relates to a real disease. Using the story format that makes learning fun, we teach children about nutrition, exercise, cholesterol, and developing good habits that have the potential to last a lifetime. As children learn that life is full of choices, our hope is that the information they get out of this book would make it easier for them to make healthier choices. Our goal is to inspire children to take charge and be heroes of their own health.

This book was largely inspired by my then eight-year old’s interest in my atherosclerosis research. He saw images on my computer and asked what they were. I explained to him that they were pictures showing atherosclerosis in blood vessels of mice. His response was, “What? What did you say?” So, we worked on the big word but he kept asking questions, wanting to know more. After the explanation of how the nice-looking blood vessels belonged to mice that had eaten fish oil and the not-so-good-looking blood vessels belonged to mice that ate bad food, he asked if that could happen to people and I told him, “yes.” When he said he didn’t want atherosclerosis in his blood, I realized that a child had understood something I would never have expected him to understand. This book project came together when my friend and colleague said, without knowing my interaction with my son, that she would like to communicate science in a fun way to children.

Here is a short description of the book. “Twelve-year-old Victor Valens and his eleven-year-old cousin Sal Sultus live on opposite sides of the country until Sal and her mother move next door to the Valenses. The children struggle to get along, and their world is further shaken when their grandpa gets sick. They try to understand the disease that has struck him and determine that the underlying cause is a deadly disease with a big word, atherosclerosis. They partner up to create a simulated computer adventure and travel into the world of atherosclerosis.”

We hope you can get a copy for your middle schooler, read along with them if possible, and start the conversation regarding what they learned about protecting their bodies and what they can do to start making small changes that will benefit their bodies in the long run. The book can be used in home or school settings. We are also working on a facilitator’s guide that will be useful in guiding conversations and getting the young readers to think about what they read and how they can apply it. If you enjoy the book, please post a review on and on your favorite social media sites. Thank you and please stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

How to Use MyPlate

For more information visit MyPlate and Choose MyPlate

By Cate Moriasi

Through our blog and book, Atherosclerosis Attack, we seek to empower children to be proactive in making healthy choices and protecting their bodies from diet-related chronic diseases, starting at an early age. MyPlate, which was published by the USDA based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is a great tool that can be used to help children visualize what they need to do regarding food choices. It is simple enough for children to understand and it is not only a good conversational starter about what the child should be eating but it has the potential to stick with them for a lifetime. As in the picture below, MyPlate shows a single meal with a plate divided into four different food groups: fruits, grains, protein, vegetables and a fifth side portion of dairy. The picture also depicts portion sizes of the different food groups that should be consumed; for example, the half side of the plate should have more vegetables than fruits.

This tool is simple, even though it comes with additional recommendations such as using whole instead of refined grains, using a variety of lean proteins, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy and limiting added sugar and salt. Many people are probably using it as a mental guide to make their kids’ plates but they could push it further by involving their children. Recently, I asked my 7th grader if she had ever heard of MyPlate and her response was “yes.” “At school?” I asked. “No, you told me about it,” she responded. If MyPlate has been taught or presented at school, she somehow does not remember. However, she was able to describe the contents of MyPlate and the implied proportions perfectly. “Isn’t half of the plate supposed to be fruits and vegetables, with more vegetables than fruits? She asked and went on describe the rest of the contents.

That’s why I believe it is important for caregivers to have the conversation about this simple visual tool with children, as soon as they can understand. I regularly use MyPlate as a guide when I make my daughter’s plate or to guide her when she makes her own plate.  We hadn’t talked about it for as long as I could remember, but she remembered it accurately from whenever we talked about it. Somehow children figure out, very early in life, what tastes good and what doesn’t. What they usually don’t know are the long-term effects of not eating certain things like vegetables. Most children try their best to eat vegetables because mom probably said they can’t have dessert if they don’t. This approach may work for some children who can develop an acceptance for certain foods, such that they are able to select them without mom threatening to withhold dessert.

For many other children like mine, it’s essential to give them better reasons to choose well for their bodies. The conversation about MyPlate is great for those who always seem to resist until they hear another person saying the same thing mom has been saying. MyPlate can be blamed on science. I have had to tell my daughter that, it’s not me who is trying to supposedly “torture” her with vegetables and prevent her from enjoying sweets. But rather, scientists have studied food patterns and health and they have determined that if we consume certain foods over a long time, or fail to consumer others, we are hurting our bodies, one meal at a time, even when we don’t feel the damage right now.

So how can you go about incorporating MyPlate in a food conversation with your child? The first thing is for the parent or caregiver to familiarize themselves with MyPlate. Parent and teacher resources are available to use with children starting in kindergarten. One option to start the conversation is to discuss with the child what he or she knows about eating well. Ask them what eating well means to them and why they think it is important. Follow this with a picture showing what scientists have determined as eating well, to help resolve some questions the child may have in their mind. You can then ask them about each of the five food groups, for example, the kind of vegetables she/he likes.

As you work your way through the food groups, discuss what could make each of the food groups unhealthy, for instance adding sugar, lots of fat and salt. But what can the children do about all the fun things they like to eat but are not good for their health? We can help them understand that those things can be saved for special occasions. Definitely baby steps, and not drastic changes, are needed in this regard. For example, choosing to add broccoli or another vegetable to the plate or 100 %juice instead of soda. However, the most important thing is to make these changes fun. There are several resources available in MyPlate and Choose MyPlate websites, including posters, games and recipes.  

I especially like the Choose MyPlate website and would encourage you to explore it with your child and learn more about each food group. You can browse it by audience and visit MyPlate Kids’ place, among others like MyPlate, MyWins, which has ideas about making healthy choices based on your personal eating style. But my favorite is MyPlate Kitchen. You can browse MyPlate recipes based on: the course you are interested in, for example appetizer; the kind of food group and nutrition focus, for example protein with reduced sodium;  the cooking equipment you want to use, for example electric grill; the cuisine, for example Mediterranean or American; and/or the amount of money you want to spend. The website also has an option of creating your own cookbook online, which might be a fun activity for some children. I hope you will find time to explore MyPlate and use available resources to help your child’s journey of making one healthy choice at a time, to safeguard their health.

If you have any questions or comments for us please don’t hesitate to send us a message and stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Eating Out

By Kate Coughlan (Nov 3, 2019)

Eating out has been a staple in both my personal and professional life. I EAT OUT ALL THE TIME!  Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner many laughs, ideas, stories and advise have been exchanged during these events. Whether it is dining out to meet up with old friends or new, meeting professionals in your field to discuss ideas or grabbing some to-go food as you just do not want to cook, one problem exists for all scenarios– what can we eat that is healthy? 

I think I am the outlier in the “going out to eat” model.  There are weeks at work that I visit the same fast-food deli every day. Yes, you heard that correct -5 days a week- I go out to eat for lunch. Then when I realize I have eaten out for about 2 weeks; I give in to healthy snaking throughout the day which is not as satisfying.  In fact, eating out is an escape for me. When I am stressed, I eat out, when I am busy, I eat out and when I am just having a bad day, I like to reward myself with food from one of my favorite to go spots in town.  The other reason for going out is social.  As adults, or at least for my husband and I, we catch up with family and friends over food and drink at the latest restaurant.

To be honest, it has not been to recently that I ‘sort of’ paid attention to food choices at restaurants and healthy living. I was of the mindset that going out to eat meant splurging.  And in some sense, I still believe in this model, although as I age, I also realize that those foods may have long term effects on my health.  One advancement that has helped me, has been the trend for restaurants to place calories on their menu. This was a true awakening for me!  Prior to this I knew food from restaurants was not going to be healthy and would contain high amounts of calories however I was unprepared for the number of calories found in some of my staple foods.   From appetizers to desserts, the calories presented were more than the daily recommended dose of 2000 calories.   During some meals, I was estimating 4000 calories in that meal, in addition to the other foods that I ate that day as well.  This does not include the breakdown of sugars, fats and salt, all of which are high, in these types of food.   Moreover, this was amplified by eating out daily rather than limiting it to once a week or month.   Even those foods I thought were healthy, really racked up the calories including many salads on the menu. 

The reason for eating out is personal, however, the realization that there is not much on the menu that is considered healthy eating is known by many.  Ideally, if healthy eating is your goal, then should we never go out to eat?  The answer is no, eating out is a form of socialization, stress reducer and an important part of life. 

As I began to research this topic (see out FB post: Dining Out Doesn’t Mean Ditch Your Diet-AHA), here are some tips for eating out based on my research:

·       Meal planning is so important on a daily basis but even more important when you know that you have dinner plans with family or friends at one of your favorite restaurants. For example, if you know that you will eat out on Friday night, then plan heart-healthy meals a few days before and after the dining out meal.  

·       Decide on your meal before you arrive and calculate the caloric intake of this planned meal.  Many restaurants have calorie counts on the menu, so utilize this to make informed decisions.  For example, if the appetizer you want it 1000 calories, perhaps order for the entire table thereby allowing you to sample it while only costing you 250 calories. 

·       Restrict the add-ons and additional items the server may suggest.  The server’s responsibility is to upsell. As a former waitress, the higher the bill the better the tip. Often, we buy into the appetizers, additional cocktails, desserts or supersized meals. Keep in mind the old saying ‘our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.’

·       Share meals.  Portion sizes have increased a lot.  If you are wanting a hamburger and fries, think about splitting the meal or at least splitting the sides.

·       Watch out for items that we typically do not attribute to calories: Drink choices, condiments and cooking materials (oils).

·       Take it home!  Feel free to take you food home for the next day.  Again, many meals come as a double serving hence taking a bit of that food home will reduce the caloric intake for that day and also allow you to not over extend the stomach.

Other suggestions include drinking water before you go out to eat which will help reduce your appetite (Jeong, Ji Na. Effect of Pre-meal Water Consumption on Energy Intake and Satiety in Non-obese Young Adults. Clin Nutr Res. 2018 Oct; 7(4): 291–296.) Likewise, pick your battles. So maybe you love chips, instead of eliminating the chips choice the healthier combo- guacamole instead of queso.

Going out to eat should be a special treat and one should be able to indulge in fun food and conversation. Simple changes can make a huge difference in eating healthier when out at a restaurant. I would love to hear your ideas for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while still enjoying the social aspect of eating out.    

Dietary/Eating Patterns

Information adapted from 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

by Cate Moriasi

We have written a book, Atherosclerosis Attack. The book, which is in preparation for publication, uses a story to teach middle schoolers about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis develops over a lifetime and is largely affected by diet. Our hope is that as young people learn more about this disease and the fact that it is preventable in most cases, they will choose protective eating patterns. But what does a dietary pattern or eating pattern mean?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture publish Dietary Guidelines that provide food and beverage recommendations for Americans ages 2 and older, based on scientific evidence about the effects of nutrition on body function. They defined an eating pattern as “the combination of all the foods and beverages a person eats and drinks over time.” The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines focused on eating patterns because of the growing evidence that the combination of all foods and beverages that an individual consumes over time significantly affects the individual’s health. The guidelines clearly spell out what a healthy eating pattern should include and what it should limit. They also provide resources on how to build a healthy eating pattern.

I love the idea of focusing on healthy eating patterns for several reasons given in the dietary guidelines, including the fact that healthy eating patterns are adaptable. They give people the ability to incorporate many of the foods they enjoy depending on their preferences, traditions, culture and budget.

I believe the idea of focusing on healthy eating patterns addresses the question of “what is the best diet out there?” I have heard this question asked several times and my take is, the best diet is the sustainable diet, in terms of your ability to stick with it but most important, sustainability in terms of providing all the nutrients you need for normal body function while minimizing diet-related illnesses. Different food groups for example fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein foods, provide various nutrients which promote health. Promoting health also requires considering the effects of food components such as added sugars, fats, salt, and others.

Focusing on healthy eating patterns is essential to helping children adopt lifestyles that avoid or at least delay onset of prevalent food-related chronic diseases. There are many ways to achieve a healthy eating pattern, which makes it less daunting even for children to adopt a healthy eating pattern that can last a lifetime. As children learn to make daily choices, we can teach and encourage them to shift to healthier foods and beverages, one choice at a time. The Dietary Guidelines emphasize shifts, which should be doable and healthy changes to how people already eat. For example, a shift from soda to water during lunch will cut down on intake of added sugar; snacking on unsalted nuts instead of chips would cut down on salt, and shifting from a cream-based pasta to one with oils and vegetables would cut down on saturated fats.

The picture below shows the current eating patterns.

Using vegetables and salt as an example, we can see that a high number of people are eating less than the recommended amount of vegetables, and an equally high number are eating more than the recommended amount of salt (sodium). “Young children and older Americans generally eat closer to the recommended amounts than adolescents and young adults.” If you take care of an adolescent (10-19 years of age according to World Health Organization), chances are that you have noticed the struggle of getting them to eat healthy. So, what are you to do if you are still interested in helping them?

This blog post is intended to encourage you to start the conversation about healthy eating patterns with your adolescent. Adolescents are learning big and fancy words at school and might be interested when you use some words like eating patterns to talk about an everyday issue of choosing what to eat or not to eat. You can discuss how what they eat or drink can make them healthy or unhealthy. Over time, little changes in the foods and drinks they choose can lead to big health benefits. Help them see that healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up all the foods they love. They can start by making one healthier choice every day. For example, having a fruit instead of chips for an afternoon snack or adding a vegetable of their choice to their favorite dish.

Whenever possible involve them in finding and selecting healthier recipes, grocery shopping, experimenting with various healthier alternatives of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, etc. Finding recipes that they help with preparing is a good step towards encouraging them to make their favorite foods healthier. My son loves pasta. Over time, we have shifted to whole grain pasta and allowed him to cook as he wants and he is quite pleased with the dishes he prepares. With my daughter, we have used the time of no ice cream in the freezer to experiment with homemade smoothies sweetened with stevia. We made a “frisky” from the Trim Healthy Mama book and she enjoyed it. Recipes for healthy meals can also be found on USDA’s What’s Cooking website. This website has different categories of cookbooks, including healthy eating on a budget. They also give an option of creating your own cookbook, which might be a fun activity for children.

Let’s encourage our kids to take advantage of everyday opportunities to make at least one healthy food or beverage choice for their bodies. Also in the Dietary Guidelines, we are reminded that physical activity is important. Children of ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

You can get more information from the Dietary Guidelines about estimated calorie needs, nutritional goals for age-sex groups, examples of healthy eating patterns, among other topics.

If you have any questions for us please don’t hesitate to send us a message, and stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Are you Salty?

By Kate Coughlan (9.3.19)

Do you like salt (sodium for short)?  For me, I am not a “salty” person, in fact my physician requested that I add more salt to my diet. I cringed!  I typically do not add salt to my foods or at least intentionally add salt to my food.  The other part of my family needs to limit their salt intake.  This makes life a challenge but has also made me realize more about what salt can do for or against the body. It has also made me look more intensely at those food labels which has been an eye opener.

Let us start with the why.  For me, I intrinsically have a lower blood pressure than the normal “120/80 mmHg” hence an increase in salt in my diet will help reabsorb more water which will intern keep my blood pressure on the higher end which is normal for others.  On the contrary, a high salt diet for those with high blood pressure can increase that blood pressure and result in damage to the blood vessels in the body as well as the heart.    Over the past three years, we have tried to keep our salt content to a minimal for the foods that we share, while the foods that we do not share, I tend to try those foods with a little salt content.  

So how much salt is needed? This depends on the person, however, the dietary guidelines recommends no more than 2300 mg per day. However, those recommendations for individuals that are middle aged or older adults should be limited to 1500 mg per day.   Is that a lot?  There is nothing better on a cold day than some good old hot soup, right?  Well, canned soups, like chicken noodle, contain 600-900 mg of sodium per cup and typically one can is anywhere from 2-4 cups. WOW- that is a lot of salt!  So can my family never have soup on a cold day? No,but in planning out our meals we think about the salt content for the other food that we are having that week. 

This example brings me to the major challenge faced with salt- the number of food items that have salt.  We typically understand things like potato chips, popcorn, soups and processed meats contain salt however there are a lot of other foods that contain salt that was unexpected to me.   For example, some frozen vegetables, cheeses and many sauces are high in sodium content.  Therefore, we have gotten in the habit of checking out those food labels even if we think the salt content is low.  A huge surprise for me were breakfast cereals. Yes, I knew many where high in sugar and added sugars, but most are high in sodium as well. Some of my favorite cereals contain between 5-8% of my daily intake per serving which let us be honest, that ¾ cup of cereal is not cutting it for me!  I typically have 2-3 servings (15-24% of my salt).  So what are some foods to take caution with? The American Heart Association published what they deem as the “Salty Six.” 

Six foods to avoid or limit if needing to cut salt from the diet.

Another tale to the salt issue is many times low sodium or no sodium food items comes with a catch……. Increased sugars, even added sugars, and/or increased fats.  Hence, when I look at food labels, I not only compare the salt but also look at the difference in carbs and fats with the normal item or a similar item that has low or no sodium.  

What about those that need additional salt in the diet to regulate blood pressure. So for me, I wish I can say instead of avoiding the “salty six” eat the “salty six.”   Well, not exactly as those items are not only high in salt but also contain added sugars, carbs and fats that are not the best for me.  So, what foods can I eat that have a bit of salt but are not super unhealthy in other aspects.  One suggestion is to add salt to foods such as vegetables that are healthy. Alternatively, healthy snacks such as salted nuts, olives or cottage cheese may also help.  One caution, salt is not the only way to increase blood pressure. Through my research an increase in water intake and increase exercise especially those that require movement of the legs when seated or lying down will assist in increasing blood pressure.

One may think that when we eat a meal in our household, we cook two different meals. Not the case, we do not cook a sodium free and sodium plus meal. What we do is look for items that have reduced sodium while still maintaining a healthy standard. Often this means fresh foods over processed foods.  Once our meal is served, the additional salt I may need simply comes from the saltshaker hence it’s a win-win for both of us.  I will say, that this new lifestyle does require some prep work and has taken grocery shopping to a new level.  For example, I am more aware of the contents of food labels and if we have a higher than average “salty” meal, we compensate by having food that day and/or the next day with limited salt. Overall, it’s a balancing act!  However, we are creatures of habit!  After doing this for a few years we have a day-by-day menu that fits both our lifestyles and is relatively easy to prepare.  Getting to that point took a little bit of work, but it is well worth it in the end. 

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Eating for Your Taste Buds or for Your Body?

Eating for Your Taste Buds or for Your Body?

August 4th 2019 by Cate Moriasi

I am so thankful for my taste buds and the rest of the sensory organs that make food taste so good and so pleasurable. Then I wonder, even as an adult, why is it that those foods that are good for you don’t usually taste that good? Why the disconnect? Is it possible to find a balance? This is a hard reality in many cases but I’m sure most of us know that taste buds are ‘trainable’. Yes, we can’t deny the genetic component that for some of us, certain vegetables or fruits don’t settle well–those of us who may be very sensitive to a bitter taste or strong smell or textural issues that from the time we are babies, we just spit it out. However, we also can’t deny the fact that we learn to like, accept and eat those foods that are presented to us from an early age or frequently. That’s why in most cases if the care giver/ food preparer likes it, those under their care will be presented with that food and in many cases the cared for will learn to associate positively with that food. My children have seen beans and broccoli served from the time they were very young, therefore, seeing broccoli on their plates is not a big deal. But because I had issues with cauliflower, I didn’t serve it at all. When I became more health conscious and I wanted to limit my rice consumption, I experimented with riced cauliflower. I have learned to like the texture as a good alternative to rice but my kids (at 12 & 14 years of age) and even my husband have struggled with it. However, I haven’t given up on trying different ways of preparation that will hopefully make it more acceptable to them.

That is where I believe information comes in handy. I help my kids see why it would be beneficial to learn to eat those foods that may not be that good for their taste buds but good for their bodies. I then give them the freedom to experiment with how they could make it taste better without making it unhealthy. I show them my spices and leave it up to them to spice in ways that are acceptable to them. My daughter has become quite the expert in seasoning salmon and she will not even share the recipe with us, claiming that every time she spices, she does it according to how she feels–more herbal, less herbal, lemony, etc. For my son, when we first made a shift from refined to whole grain pasta, it was a tough sell. But we allowed him to cook and season it the way he sees best. I explained the spices that would be a good addition for health, for example turmeric and how he could use other spices like garlic or onion powder to soften the strong turmeric flavor. He has become quite an expert now and he loves what he comes up with.

So, one tip for helping your kids eat the foods that they wouldn’t otherwise care for is to help them know why it is important and then give them the freedom to work with it and make it acceptable. There are different ways that one can deal with the bitter in some dark green vegetables, or the strong smells in some vegetables, let the kids experiment. Give them the opportunity to participate in deciding the menu. You can use my plate ( as the guideline and offer guidance. For example, when it comes to selecting the vegetable part, help them to see the importance of eating a variety so that they don’t always select the same. Show them or ask them to find a fun way that vegetables they wouldn’t consider eating could be prepared.  Zucchini was a tough sell at our house until the spiraling came about. Each of my children likes it seasoned differently, so they take turns and then bear with each other. Zucchini noodles with grilled chicken and a touch of pesto is one of my daughter’s favorite dishes. She can prepare it to her satisfaction. The opportunities we have had to plant a garden as a family have also been very helpful. It was amazing to see how willing our children were to eat green beans that had come out of our garden. For many it’s not easy to plant a garden but you can involve your children in healthy menu planning. Ask them to come up with a healthy recipe. My kids found Helen Cavallo’s that’s fresh and they love her homemade spaghetti sauce ( When they showed me the recipe, I bought the ingredients and let them prepare the sauce, with my supervision. It has become one of their favorite sauces and yet it’s filled with vegetables like celery they wouldn’t eat otherwise.

Probably as you go through this article you are thinking, “I know all this and I would like to make it happen, but how, when we are hardly home because of all we have got to do?” Take heart! We are looking at the long haul. We want to help our children develop habits that will be good for their health in the long term. They do understand when life is go-go-go! You can start small and add an activity once a week that helps your kids think about healthy food choices. For example, on the day when you are all at home, maybe a Sunday afternoon, you can get them all involved in preparing that healthy recipe that one of them came up with. To ensure that you don’t use up precious family time by spending hours cooking, someone can pre-prep. For instance, we found out that the vegetables in Helen Cavallo’s spaghetti sauce work well even when we chop them before hand and freeze them. Alternatively, you could choose not to involve the kids in the cooking but on that designated healthy day (hopefully at least once a week) you prepare that healthy recipe that one of your children came up with. Then rotate so that each child takes a turn in selecting a healthy recipe and maybe it becomes a tradition that they will all probably come to look forward to, and all the while they are learning some healthier recipes.

Can a child understand whether they are eating for their taste buds or their body? It depends on the age and that’s why the time you introduce any kind of food to your child matters. It makes sense when the U.S. dietary guidelines ( give advice that children under two years should not be given sugar because they probably won’t miss what they don’t know. As they get older, one other helpful thing is to associate a certain vegetable with one of their favorite foods. For example, we have associated macaroni and cheese with broccoli for so long that our kids know that if macaroni and cheese is part of the menu, then broccoli is going to be served.

As we explain to our children the importance of eating healthy even at their age, we help them see that just like everything else in life, they have to make choices, choices to do the right thing even when they may not want to. Our children get to know that they can’t go through the day eating only for their taste buds – only what tastes good without considering the rest of their bodies. What is that one thing they are willing to do for their bodies? It might not be exciting for the taste buds but their bodies will be very thankful. Children can understand that they can be kind to their bodies. A message like – “help your body out so it can help you for the long haul,” can help them think about their choices.  We don’t have to eat all the junk today so that we can be in good health and enjoy eating what we like in reasonable portions. Take for example salt, if you are a salt lover and you don’t eat it in moderation, blood pressure issues that can develop could force you to eliminate salt from your diet entirely later in life. Wouldn’t it be better to learn to eat salt in moderation from a young age so you can prevent or at least delay any adverse effects of too much salt?  Salt in fact is a tricky one because once one develops a high salt threshold as they get used to more salty foods, it becomes difficult to eat food with less than the amount of salt they are used to.

The bottom line is to help our kids become mindful eaters from their young age through adulthood. Mindful eating in terms of knowing what you are putting in your body and the effects of it; knowing it is a choice between good for my taste buds and good for my body. What will thank me after I’m done eating, my taste buds or the rest of my body? Mindful eating can involve rewarding yourself with something tasty–remember the road to pizza goes through a bed of broccoli. What about helping our children think about activity to balance out what they eat? Are you willing to work it off? You could ask. Then help them see how long it would take to work off a couple of cookies they had with lunch. Since we are focused on the long term, whatever we do has to be doable and sustainable. Can you combine your food in ways that one will reduce the negative effects of another? That way you appease your taste buds but also leave your body happy. We are looking forward to hearing what your kids will think about the idea of mindful eating after they read our book for middle grade readers. It tells a story of cousins who are determined to work through their differences in order to understand the terrible disease that has struck down their beloved grandpa. The question is will they discover the road back to health for Grandpa? Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices.

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Why do I eat cake when I don’t like it?

July 5, 2019 by Kate Coughlan

It’s no doubt I am my father’s daughter in more than one way- I like sweets!!!  In fact, when my husband went to dinner with my parents the first few times, he noted that we always got dessert -at least my dad and I did.  I am finding now, more than ever, that I eat desserts which I am not even fond of, particularly cake!  Of course, red velvet and carrot are excluded, but most others I just don’t prefer.  Yet, I eat them despite knowing the health consequences of my choices. So why?

Perhaps I am just desperate for that sweet taste to fulfill a temporary happiness in me. Or perhaps I do not want to displease the person who spent all that time in the kitchen baking that cake or took the 4 minutes to run to the store and buy it!  I think it is a combination of the two.  Instant gratification is becoming the norm, hence, despite not being my favorite I do get a bit of that sweetness and sugar that comes with cake and perhaps for a brief moment I am ‘happy with sugar’.  Am I addicted?  That is difficult to say. Some suggest food addiction shares similar neurochemical changes (increased dopamine) in the brain to other “pleasing” legal and illegal drugs. The idea that processed foods cause addictive like behavior was looked at intently by Gerhardt et al through the Yale Food Addiction Scale (Gearhardt, Corbin, & Brownell, 2009).  They looked at those groups of food that have a high propensity for addiction as defined by the inability to control the amount a person eats, or the inability to stop eating these foods. These studies suggest that foods such as starches (fries), salty foods, sugary drinks and sweets are more likely to be craved by individuals than other food groups ( ).  However, others believe that the food addiction model is not completely accurate. For instance, addictive models pinpoint a specific chemical additive that triggers the neurochemical response (nicotine in cigarettes). With the various foods that act as “addictors”, what is the common chemical? Sugar? Fats? Also, it has been suggested that the animal and human studies that suggested changes in brain activity when given certain ‘addictive’ foods are flawed in their findings.  Whether food addiction is real or not, the fact remains that certain foods are more likely to increase cardiovascular disease. Hence, we have to be cognizant of what we eat. For more information about food addiction go to: (Fletcher and Kenny, 2018).

Whatever the reason, I have learned that at the age of 40 I need to think about myself and my health.  For me, my calorie intake with regards to “unhealthy” foods must be worth it. That food must be euphoric!  It must melt in my mouth as I eat it.  It has to transcend me!  Cake just doesn’t do it for me! Sorry cake lovers out there but it is not my cup of tea.    

So I have learned, for the most part, that saying ‘no thank you’ to a high caloric food is not a bad thing. At birthday parties I now pass on the cake or if they hand me a piece, I may take one bite then politely and nonchalantly throw the rest away, if the cake does not illicit an ah-ha moment in me. A good rule of thumb for sugar lovers like me – don’t harm your body by eating something you don’t really care about. For both kids and adults, food and money are very similar- don’t buy it or eat it unless you really want it because it will cost you. Understandably, when it comes to children, you may have to work at explaining this to them, but they will eventually get it.

Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices. Also stay connected with us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Clean Plate

June 2nd, 2019 by Kate Coughlan

As a child I remember going to my grandparents and the rule of thumb was you had to have a clean plate in order to get dessert. My grandma’s favorite phrase was “you need to be able to turn your plate over, if you want dessert.” 

It is so ingrained in many of us that leaving food on your plate is wrong, in fact it’s a monstrosity. My mom used the old adage that children are starving in Africa, to which I responded, “then send it to them.” This did not go over well!

On a serious note, hunger is real.  It’s evident in many third world countries and surprisingly in our country as well. But is this the reason we push ourselves to eat all the food on our plates despite the fact that we are full?

The idea of cleaning your plate, so to speak, has different driving forces for adults and kids. In my childhood, a clean plate was easy when it came to pizza! Almost too easy.  However, as a kid there were two main reasons why I did not want to finish my plate:

1.) I filled up on junk food or snacks or

2.) I did not like the food that was on my plate. 

Either way, at my grandparents’ house I forged ahead and finished that plate as I wanted the reward … dessert!  It is ironic I was able to eat that dessert despite the fact that I was “full”.  As adults we typically finish our plates as we tend to be the decision makers of what we will eat and tend to eat what we can tolerate. We also recognize the cost of food and what it takes to purchase that food. But for some, including my husband ad I, finishing our plate is a habit.  A habit that has been ingrained in us for over 35 years.

So how can you break the habit? How can you reconcile it?

Here are my tips (although sometimes I don’t take my own advice)

1. Plan your meals. 

Knowing what you want for the meal is vital and allows you to cook concisely. Hence you can scale down on the main entrée as well as the sides. 

2. Small portions

Fill your plate with small portions, especially your starches.  After you eat all the small portions, if you are still hungry you can always take a little more.  The less on your plate the less you eat!

3. Split a meal

Splitting a meal is great!  At restaurants my husband and I never did this because as a former waitress I felt we were being cheap. Now, we will split meals especially if the protein in that meal is between 10-14 ounces.  We do this at home as well. When we eat red meat, we often buy 10-14 ounces as that is how they are cut at the store and we share it. Luckily, we like our meat cooked to the same temperature.  We also, on occasion do this with fish although I am a bit pickier with my fish.

4. Leftovers

When did the word leftover become taboo?  It is fine to have leftovers.  The leftovers can be used for sides with other meals or in some cases as a complete meal.    

5. Throw it away

It is okay to throw food away. I repeat, it is okay to through food away. Think of the alternative, eating food despite being full, so that it doesn’t get wasted.  We must accept that we can throw food way, because the alternative might be more costly in the long run. It is the choice between wasting the food and wasting your body. Especially since you have the first four tips to ensure that it doesn’t come to this.

I have learned to take less portions and once I am full, I am done (although I do slip on foods like pizza).  However, my concern now is that my husband feels that he needs to eat my scraps so to speak. If I leave extra protein on my plate, he feels the need to eat it.  So my next task is to work on him accepting that it just needs to be thrown away or eaten at a later date!

Of course, with children it’s a thin line. When having foods such as pizza, a favorite of most kids as well as mine, they will usually clean the plate with no issues even if they are full. So start with only one piece of pizza on the plate rather than placing three pieces on the plate. If they finish off the first piece and are still hungry offer a healthy side.  More often than not, kids will not feel the need to finish off their plates. For example, they may claim they are full, but is the child “full” because he or she has eaten all the “good, tasty” stuff and leaves only the vegetables?  If so, think about points 1 and 2 above. Planning meals with all major food groups in the correct proportions will help! In fact, this is something I have seen and many parents do it.  At holiday get-togethers, often times parents will tell the child to finish the veggies before having another piece of bread. 

Another issue that children may face for not wanting to finish their plate is they spent their time snacking on everything “fun” before dinner and now they are truly full. There is no way that broccoli is going down? So here, there is the issue of why they can’t eat their food even when they should be hungry – but that’s a topic for another day.

Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices. Also stay connected with us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Food! A Double-Edged Sword?

by Cate Moriasi

My dad once asked me, “Do you ever eat food to enjoy it?” I knew, at least in part, why he had asked that question. For the short period of time we had spent together, he heard me analyze every kind of food that I or any other person was going to eat. This comes naturally for me because I have been studying, analyzing and working with food for about two decades. I’m not exactly sure about all that was going on in my dad’s mind when he asked that question but by stepping into the shoes of another person, I can imagine the negative emotions that could be associated with always having to think about what you are eating. I can see why this could be a downer. Food is meant to be enjoyed. And yet another important aspect is that food delivers the nutrients that our bodies need. Right from elementary school, children are introduced to the major nutrients they need in their food in order to grow up strong and healthy. But also, children learn early on that whenever something special is happening, good food is a major part of it. Food is pleasurable. For many, food doesn’t just satisfy hunger but it lifts up their spirits.  Even our brains know that food is meant to be enjoyed – we were created that way.

Do I Ever Eat Food to Enjoy It?

My answer is, yes! But for those who have heard me automatically analyze food before I eat it, the next question would be, “How can you possibly enjoy food when you make it a point to know all that is in it?” This is a good question because I start with an obvious disadvantage, which I believe can be a vantage point as well. My training in food has mainly focused on food chemistry, food composition and analysis. This requires knowing food components and how they interact with each other. I also had my training during the era of functional foods. A functional food has components that can prevent disease in addition to the basic nutrition it delivers.  The functional food term became a big deal because of the evidence that our dietary habits were partly responsible for the increasing rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, among others. For a long time, I studied components of food that affect health, positively or negatively. Part of that was a quest to find out exactly what these food components do to benefit or hurt our health. Then I got the opportunity during my postdoctoral years to study how some specific food components affect real known diseases. With every additional experiment, it became clearer that these diseases are difficult to get rid of once they are established. And it makes sense – if it has taken a long time for the disease to get established, how can you knock it down that easily? A light bulb went off in my head – “prevention!” You do your part in preventing these diseases one day at a time. So, after all this background information, the answer to the question above is yes, I eat food to enjoy it. But more accurately, I enjoy my food because I know what I’m putting into my body.

What If You Don’t Have A Food Analysis Background?

Do you have to know everything going on with the food you are eating? I think the answer is “yes” to a certain extent and thankfully there are food labels, which most people read to get an idea about what their food contains. For the most part, you don’t have to know all the technical details. For example, what do pesticides exactly do to my body if they are part of my food? Or what does lycopene, which makes tomatoes red, do to my body? Instead you just need to know that pesticides are bad for your body and that fruits and vegetables are generally good for you.  I think it would also be good to know that the different fruit and vegetable colors indicate that these foods have different components. Depending on your situation, you may have to learn what component is in what food, for example those that need to avoid gluten. In some cases, you don’t have to know the details of which protein in nuts causes you allergies – you just know you are allergic to nuts and you avoid them. There are times when going a bit technical in knowing what is in your fruit or vegetable might be beneficial. For example, a tomato has lycopene which is an antioxidant that would be good for your body but that tomato may have some tiny amounts of natural toxins that the plant produces to defend itself. Most people will get the benefit of the lycopene antioxidant in tomatoes without being affected by the tiny amounts of the natural toxin but some people are sensitive to these tiny amounts. In this case you need to avoid the tomato and other fruits or vegetables that might have that toxin and eat others that would give you antioxidants without the pain. Mainly this is for the adults, many of whom are already analyzing what they eat.

What About Children?

For the children who like to ask “why,” we can use this to our advantage and give them some more knowledge about what they eat. In our earlier post, we said that we have an upcoming book that uses a story to teach children about atherosclerosis. This book was largely inspired by my then eight-year old’s interest in my atherosclerosis research. One day I was called to get him from school because he was having some eye problems. After the doctor’s visit and feeding him, I put him to bed and then started working on my data. When he woke up, he saw images on my computer and asked what they were. I explained to him that they were pictures showing atherosclerosis in blood vessels of mice. Of course, the response was, “What? What did you say?” So, we had to work on that big word. I was surprised that he kept asking questions wanting to know more. I ended up explaining to him how the nice-looking blood vessels were from mice that I had fed fish oil and the not-so good-looking blood vessels from mice that I had given the bad food. He asked if that could happen to people and I told him, “yes.” When he said he didn’t want atherosclerosis in his blood vessels, it dawned on me that a child had understood something which I would never have expected him to understand. It was interesting when my friend and coworker said that she would like to communicate science to children and here we are today. We realized that instead of shielding children from this knowledge that actually affects them, we need to communicate the science in a fun way and let them have a choice. Let them be in control. Let them know what some of these foods can do to them so that they can answer their why – why they should or shouldn’t eat a specific food – and the answer is not just because “mom said so”, or just plain “it’s not good for you.”

Children Understand More Than We Give Them Credit

For my son, it became easy to understand why the road to pizza or macaroni and cheese went through broccoli. He was willing to compromise and eat something that was good for him, even though he didn’t necessarily enjoy it and then rewarded himself with the “good” stuff as he calls it. So, food is to be enjoyed but you can enjoy it much more when you know that it can be a double-edged sword and you can do something about it. It’s good to know whether you are eating for your taste buds or for your whole body – and children can understand this. We will provide more information about this in a follow up post but you will ultimately enjoy food when you know what you are putting into your body – maybe it’s a control issue. Since children like to be in control, we can train them to be in control of their food desires and cravings instead of the other way around. Most adults are already doing this. We can help our children make a conscious choice to eat what is good for them and start developing healthier patterns at an early age.

Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices. Also stay connected with us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Welcome to the Chronic Disease Patrol Blog

by Cate Moriasi and Kathleen Coughlan

We appreciate you choosing to check out our blog. This is a shared blog run by two friends who happen to be coauthors and former colleagues, Dr. Cate Munene Moriasi and Dr. Kathleen Coughlan. We (Cate and Kate) met in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the OU Health Sciences Center, where we conducted research in some of the most common chronic diseases. The main thing we learned during our long research hours is that, when it comes to chronic diseases, prevention is your best bet, if at all possible. As a current college professor in STEM, Kate strives to teach others about the human body and disease prevention. Cate, a mom of two children, has educational degrees in food science and postdoctoral training in dietary prevention of disease. Cate seeks to help others understand what happens to our bodies when we eat certain foods. Our desire and passion is to communicate to a younger generation, knowledge that can inspire them to be excited about healthy living.  It is our hope that parents and children can discuss healthy living in a fun way that leads to a better lifestyle for kids and parents.

Upcoming Atherosclerosis Book

To that end, we have written a book that uses a story to teach children about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in one’s arteries and depending on which artery is affected, different diseases can result. For example, if an artery in the brain is affected it can lead to a stroke. If the coronary arteries are affected, coronary artery disease (CAD) results, in which case the blood supply to the heart is affected.

This book is for middle schoolers. Children at this age are still impressionable and are learning to make informed decisions. But you might wonder why it is important to bother them with the subject of a chronic disease that will probably never bother them until they are much older. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) heart disease causes about 1 out of 4 deaths every year in the United States alone, and the most common type of heart disease in the United States, coronary artery disease (CAD), is caused by atherosclerosis. But more than just the statistics, most of us probably know people with heart-related complications and all of us should be aware of the symptoms as that can save lives. So much about the causes of atherosclerosis is still unknown, but we know that it develops over many years and may start in childhood.

The Good News

All this doesn’t sound encouraging, but there is good news! For the most part, atherosclerosis is preventable since it’s affected by healthy lifestyle choices such as heart-healthy eating and physical activity.

However, you might still wonder, “atherosclerosis is a big word, even for adults. Now what about kids?” We too thought about it but realized that kids can learn big words. If you stop for a second, you might remember a time when you had to ask your preteen or even younger child to repeat a word. A big word probably coined in the entertainment industry that perhaps an 8-year old said with ease because he or she was interested in it. Something like “Decepticon Terrorsaur” and the easier to say “Optimus Primal,” from the beloved Transformers franchise or the “legendary Regigigas” from the beloved Pokémon franchise.  Children learn to comfortably say these words because they are interested in them. Therefore, we believe that if we give them reason to, they can learn and know words like atherosclerosis. You never know how learning such a big word can get them interested in making simple daily choices that can keep atherosclerosis at bay and reduce the burden of the associated chronic diseases later in life.

So, what is the Purpose of the Chronic Disease Patrol Blog?

The aim of our blog is to work alongside parents and educators interested in helping kids take a stand against preventable chronic diseases. Through this blog and our children’s book, we seek to help you form partnerships with children. Partnerships based on knowledge and meant to empower children to be actively involved in safeguarding their own health. Currently, our focus is on heart disease but there are many parallels between lifestyle choices that affect heart disease and those that affect other chronic diseases.  Since children like to be in charge from a very young age, we want to use this attribute to help them choose what is right for their bodies. In our book, we have used a story to convey the dangers of atherosclerosis and how to develop good habits early on to avoid or delay the pitfalls of a heart attack later in life. The book has been contracted for publication by All Things That Matter Press and we will let you know as soon as we have a publication date.

In the meantime, we want to start sharing ideas about how to form these knowledge-based partnerships where children are allowed to take charge and become heroes of their own health, while you play a supportive role. Could this improve the outcome of the many negotiations going on between parents and their children about why the child needs to eat a particular vegetable? Maybe not for every child, but for some the conversation will shift the question from, “Why do I have to eat that?” to “How can we make it taste better?” In a later post, we will share ideas about how children can play a significant role in making food they wouldn’t otherwise care for, become acceptable to them. On the flip side, we know the battle relating to denying a child the food they have come to love. One of the favorite phrases is, “I want more because it tastes so good!” And the parents’ response might be something like, “no you can’t have any more because it is not good for you.” Just imagine if the children knew exactly what sugar does to their bodies! They might not ask why for too long but instead they might be willing to work out a plan to help them balance their cravings with what they know they need to do for their well being.

Healthy Habits Early in Life

Children are impressionable until a certain age, even though in many cases it will take another person saying the exact thing mom has been saying for a long time for the light bulb to go on. As they transition to adulthood, certain habits (healthy or unhealthy) are slowly set in stone. Granted at some point, many adults start actively working to change the not-so healthy habits. Why? Maybe because of the slowing metabolism, they begin to feel the cumulative effects of their long-term unhealthy habits or maybe they begin to think a little more about their mortality. It’s amazing what happens when one doesn’t feel invincible anymore; all of a sudden, a green-looking glass full of blended spinach, kale and green apple doesn’t look too bad. So, while many of us make these changes as adults, we continue to cater to our kids’ desire to consume things that we know may not be good for them but they like them. After all, many of us find ourselves thinking, “my child is more active than I am, they will be okay with a couple of cookies a day.” True as that may be, what about we give our children good reasons to take charge early enough and choose a healthier pattern that might stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Partnership: Where Do You Come In?

Every parent or educator has experiences that have made this issue a success or an ongoing battle in their home or at school. It’s our desire that you all stay connected with us (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) so we can learn from each other and share ideas on how to help our children embrace healthier living and in doing so make us healthier too. Granted, there are many factors that affect our health, some of which we can control and some we cannot. A quote in Beth Lambert’s “A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children,” summarizes it best: “Genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.” Problematic environmental factors don’t just include exposure to toxins but they also include diet and nutrition and habits and lifestyles – including what kinds of leisure activities we engage in, individually or corporately. Therefore, in this blog we seek to inspire all of us to do something about the factors that we can control and help our children take a stand against preventable chronic diseases now. Currently, we are planning on one new post per month. We hope you chose to visit our blog again to see updates.