Lifestyle is medicine

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What if lifestyle were medicine? What if we could prevent almost 80% of chronic disease? What if the only thing we had to do was make the choice to eat well and move our bodies every day?

It is. We can. Let’s do it.

There is an overwhelming body of research indicating that most chronic diseases including, many cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, may be prevented through lifestyle interventions. This concept is not new—the body of medical research supporting it goes back decades.

In 1993, The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published ‘The Actual Causes of Death’, data from approximately 20 years of research, showing that the prominent causes of death in the United States were the result of disease caused by smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. In 2004, this finding remained the same with smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise at the top of the list. But, the gap between smoking (18.1% of deaths) and poor diet and/or lack of physical activity  (16.6% of deaths) had narrowed. There’s no denying that disease is an effect of poor lifestyle choices.

JAMA also published a study demonstrating that there is a 78% lower risk of developing chronic disease—type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and many cancers (at least 13 types)—when we don’t smoke, aren’t overweight (BMI less than 30), eat well (high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and some meat), and are physically active (3.5 hours/week). A 78% decrease in developing chronic disease through lifestyle—that’s dramatic and an inspiration to be curious about wellness.

Yet, here we are, with more than 37% of American adults and 17% of youth 2-19 years old obese. This translates into over $150 million dollars a year in health care costs. Effectively, we are making ourselves sick through poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, and smoking.

Let’s avoid seeking medical intervention when we are already ill and be more curious about how we can prevent illness with lifestyle medicine.

How do we do this? Every day, we have so many opportunities to eat well or to eat poorly, to exercise, whether that be going for a walk or taking a spin class, or to not exercise. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or pretzels, grab an apple, some carrots and hummus or other real food. Go for a walk during lunch break at work, dance around the room, or stream a workout video at home (there are many low cost and free options). Making these changes permanent is certainly not easy, but it’s worth it for yourself and for your family.

We can’t afford to do nothing about our wellness. Lifestyle medicine is the best medicine we can ever create and we already have access to it.

Project: Make it rain

Project: Make it rain

“Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” Miss Frizzle, the adventurous teacher from “The Magic School Bus,” said it best with these words. As a mom of two young children, I see firsthand how children naturally want to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. It’s important for us adults to encourage their exploration and not caution against it because it might make a mess. These projects don’t have to be complicated—they only require our excitement, attention, and a good dose of curiosity. 

All summer long, we’ve been reading “The Magic School Bus” books and enjoying some of the episodes on Netflix. These books, which are colorful and well-written explanations of topics ranging from how hurricanes form to how we fight infections, are an inspiration for simple at-home science projects. Below is a fun project that you can do with items you have readily available at home.

Ingredients

  • Ice
  • Tin can (from canned food)
  • Tongs
  • Oven mitt
  • Tea kettle
  • Stove
  • Bowl to catch “rain”

Instructions

  1. Boil water in tea kettle
  2. Add several ice cubes to tin can
  3. When water is boiling, hold tin can over steam that is coming from kettle with tongs and oven mitt
  4. Place bowl on counter under tin can
  5. As tin can heats and ice melts, watch rain droplets form on the bottom of tin can and catch them in the bowl

What’s happening?

As the water in the kettle is heated, it evaporates into vapor. The vapor (steam) escapes from the kettle and hits the cold ice-filled tin can held above it. This cools the steam causing the vapor to condense into water droplets, which then drip off the can into the bowl.  

Protein: it’s what’s for breakfast

FullSizeRender 4Many of us can recall at least a few mornings when we were told, “Don’t skip your breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day.” This sentiment is true—eating breakfast is essential to our health. At breakfast time, we are breaking an overnight fast and it’s critical for us to consume the nutrients we need to prepare our body and mind for the day. It’s not just consuming any breakfast that’s important, but consuming a breakfast that is packed with protein that’s key. 

How does protein fuel our body?

Protein digestion begins in the stomach, where proteins are split into smaller parts (proteoses, peptones, and large polypeptides). Digestion continues in the upper portion of the small intestine, where most protein digestion occurs, and then through the GI tract. The end result of protein digestion is amino acids and small peptides, specifically di- and tripeptides. These amino acids are essential for most biological processes, including: the transport and storage of nutrients; function of organs, glands, tendons, and arteries; wound healing; and tissue repair of muscles, bones, skin, and hair. Lack of protein leads to anemia, physical weakness, edema, vascular dysfunction, and impaired immunity. Protein is indispensable because it is the only dietary source of the amino acids necessary for carrying out these biological processes.

How does protein at breakfast improve our wellness?

Through various mechanisms, consuming a high protein breakfast changes appetite, hormonal signals, and neural signals that affect our mood, energy, and food intake throughout the entire day. When we eat protein at breakfast, the levels of tyrosine, one of the amino acids synthesized by protein digestion, in the brain is increased. This results in the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that make us feel awake and alert.  Protein consumption at breakfast also lowers the daily level of ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates the appetite by regulating the secretion of Ghrelin Hormone (GH), resulting in the desire to eat. When ghrelin levels are lower, we may stave off hunger longer between breakfast and lunch. Protein at breakfast reduces activation of the brain in the amygdala, hippocampal, and midfrontal corticolimbic regions, which helps prevent pre-dinner snacking. Breakfasts that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates also lead to lower blood glucose and insulin levels post-breakfast, which helps stabilize energy levels. Overall, consuming protein at breakfast can help to set us up for a high-energy day where we aren’t starving by lunchtime. 

How much protein do we need?

Kids require approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight. For a 50 lb child, that is 23-34 grams of protein per day. Adults require 0.8 g/kg – 1.6 g/kg. For a 150 lb adult, that is 55-109 g per day. If you or your child are more active, err on the higher end of the spectrum. 

How can we fuel our bodies with protein in the morning?

As a parent, I know how busy mornings become getting oneself and children ready, while ensuring everyone in the family starts the day with proper nutrition. I admit, our kids don’t always sit at the breakfast table, but often play before we head out the door. Because of this, I’ve gotten in the habit of making everyone a smoothie, packed with protein, that can be eaten while they’re enjoying play time. I hope you enjoy our “good morning smoothie” for the kids and “berry chocolate shake” for the adults as much as we do!

Weeknight bolognese

Servings: 2 children and 2 adults + leftover sauce to freeze for future meal

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lb lean ground turkey or beef (or combination of both)
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 c red wine, preferably a wine with pepper flavors
  • 1/2 c chicken stock (more as needed)
  • 2 tbsp herbs de Provence (dried mix or make with fresh herbs)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • gluten free pasta, as much as needed
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (EVO)
  • large, deep pan or cast-iron pot

Instructions

  1. Add EVO, garlic, salt, and pepper to hot pan over medium/high heat and sauté for approximately 3 min
  2. Add onion and sauté until transparent for approximately 5 min
  3. Add ground turkey or beef and season with salt and pepper
  4. Sauté beef until browned, using spatula to break meat into smaller pieces
  5. Add red wine, chicken stock, herbs de Provence, bay leaf, and tomato paste
  6. Stirring frequently, simmer for at least 30 min on medium heat
  7. While sauce is simmering, boil large pot of water and cook pasta al dente
  8. Serve sauce over pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes if desired

Everyone I’ve served this dish to has loved it! The best part is, it’s so simple to make on a weeknight. If you have several guests for dinner, just double the recipe, and make sauce ahead of time.

Welcome to Cultivated Curiosity

thomas jamieson kelly 263Welcome to Cultivated Curiosity! My name is Kelly Jamieson Thomas. As an engineer, scientist, spiritual being, and mother of two young children, my passion for wellness is not only driven by my desire to prevent disease so that I may live a long, vibrant life, but also by my passion to inspire others to do the same.

My love for engineering, science, and wellness began as a preschooler hunting in the yard for insects to dissect, cooking delicious meals with my parents, and dedicating many years to the sports of swimming and tennis. This passion continued while studying biomedical engineering at Columbia University, where I also worked in a tissue engineering laboratory on campus. As a student in NYC, I found yoga on the Upper West Side and was immediately fascinated with how strong and calm both my body and mind felt not only during asanas, but all day.

After graduating, I began as a clinical research scientist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, utilizing cytogenetics and tissue analysis to diagnose patients with leukemia and solid tumors. I recognized my passion for studying how we may understand, prevent, and treat cancer, not only diagnose it. This led me to pursue my PhD in oncology, with a structural biology focus, at NYU. I continued to practice yoga regularly, began to explore meditation, and ran the NYC marathon. While I was never a diehard runner, I was curious to know if I could actually run 26.2 miles. It was an incredibly rewarding mental and physical challenge.

Following my PhD, I joined Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee at Columbia University as a postdoctoral researcher investigating the stem cell niche of acute myeloid leukemia. When our first child was born, I focused on teaching and raising our children, but continued to pursue other endeavors that combined my medical background and interest in wellness. My exploration of meditation continues as a daily practice, which not only benefits me, but everyone around me, especially my children.

My passion for wellness, science, fitness, cooking, and crafting projects with my children has inspired me to create this space where I can share my experiences and inspire curiosity to live healthfully and mindfully. Let’s be curious about how we can improve our mental and physical wellness in an effort to prevent disease.

Our favorite whole wheat waffles

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Servings: 12 servings, 1 waffle each

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • ¼ cup ground flax seed (optional if you don’t have on hand)
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • cups unsweetened almond milk (or milk)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower, vegetable, or avocado oil
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Instructions

  1. Combine flours, baking powder, flax seed, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well
  2. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, and oil and mix well with a whisk
  3. Add flour mixture slowly to egg mixture and mix with whisk until blended
  4. Pour ¾ cup of batter at a time onto hot waffle iron, lightly coated with spray
  5. Cook waffles until golden brown and crisp
  6. Serve with fresh berries and syrup

1 serving = 1 waffle. Freeze leftover waffles. 

The whole family loves these waffles! We also use this recipe for pancakes and cook about 1/4 cup mix per pancake on a hot skillet, adding blueberries while they cook.