Category: Nutrition

Your Forever Valentine: A Healthy Heart

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone.

Whether you were wrapped in the arms of a loved one or curled up with your favorite chick flick and chocolate, you probably thought about the holiday at least once (likely during your weekly errands when you walked by the massacre of red and pink candy that filled Target and grocery store aisles since a few days after Christmas.)

Valentine’s Day is all about the heart, and February is the official American Heart Month.  So this year, give your heart a break, and follow these 5 tips to make 2014 healthy for your heart.

  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke – Remind yourself why smoking is harmful, and make an(other) attempt to quit
  • Maintain a healthy weight – It will lowers health risks, raise self-esteem, and give you energy

Whether you hate or love the idea of Valentine’s Day, your heart deserves some love this year.

How will you improve your heart health this month?

Youth Health Hits the Minority Health Conference

On Friday, February 28th, the 35th Annual Minority Health Conference will take place at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This full-day event brings together scholars and practitioners who study and work on reducing health disparities for minority communities.

This year, the title is “Innovative Approaches to Youth Health: Engaging Youth in Creating Healthy Communities”, and will focus on enabling youth to make a difference in promoting healthy lifestyles to their peers and in their communities.

Keynote speakers include Dr. Gail C. Christopher, Vice President of Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Michael Yonas, Director or Research, Evaluation and Engagement at the Allegheny County Department of Health and Human Services.

There will be morning and afternoon breakout sessions on topics such as adolescent development, healthcare policy, hard-to-reach youth, and social media, among others.

The Minority Health Conference is the largest and longest running student-led health conference in the country. The conference aims to raise awareness around health disparities and mobilize students, academics, and community members to take action for change. The event was started in 1977 by the UNC Minority Student Caucus.

For more about the conference and the passion behind it, check out the conference video.

Click here to register for the 35th Annual Minority Health Conference.

Can’t make it to Chapel Hill?  Sign up for the free webcast of our keynote speaker: http://minorityhealth.web.unc.edu/conference/keynote-webcast/

 

*Note – Registration for the in-person event closes Friday, February 14th.

 

Why Your Sweet Tooth is Not So Sweet

Most of us love our sweets.  Chocolate, cookies, ice cream…our mouths water just thinking about them. Unfortunately, more and more research suggests how dangerous excess sugar is.

The past year especially has seen a lot of attacks on sugar, from New York City, trying to ban large sodas, to sugar being called the new fat, or even the “new tobacco”.

Most of us know the truth: sugar can lead to weight gain, which is bad for your heart…but do we know just how bad?

In the recent study, which looked at the sugar consumption of tens of thousands of people in the US as well as death rates from heart-related problems, there was a significant link between the amount of sugar consumed and heart risk.

The CDC researchers found that people who got a quarter or more of their daily calories from added sugar were more than 3x more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who consumed less sugar.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that added sugar should make up less than 10% of total calorie intake. This is about 70g for men and 50g for women.

Unfortunately, some of our favorite foods are packed with sugar.  A can of Coca-Cola has 7 teaspoons of sugar, a regular-sized milk chocolate bar between 5 and 7 teaspoons, and even Honey Nut Cheerios have 8.25 teaspoons of sugar per 100g.

How much sugar are you consuming?

Professor Naveed Sattar from the British Heart Foundation said there could be many reasons why people who eat lots of sugar became unhealthy.

“Of course, sugar per se is not harmful – we need it for the body’s energy needs – but when consumed in excess, it will contribute to weight gain and, in turn, may accelerate heart disease.”

Most adults and children in the US and the UK eat too much sugar, and need to cut back – Will you?

 

Photo Credit:  Teresa Boardman on Flickr

Peanut Allergy Be Gone!

In all our efforts to combat sickness and infections we’ve been told to wash our hands and cover our coughs, yet there’s still the age old theory that says to expose yourself to what makes you sick so your body can learn to fight it – makes sense, right? Well this idea of building tolerance made so much sense that it’s been applied by on a team of researchers working to combat peanut allergies in children and you know what? – It’s working!

According to an experiment held at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in the U.K. a group of 99 children, ages 7 to 16 who were known to be allergic to peanuts, consumed increasing small amounts of peanut flour with their food and after six months eighty percent of the children could safely consume peanuts.

Like the theory of exposing yourself to a cold to help your body fight off a cold, the experiment was by giving the kids small exposures to the peanut so that their immune systems would slowly build a tolerance. Interestingly, however, is that the objective of the experiment to eliminate the children’s allergy but to simply build a strong enough tolerance so that their reactions wouldn’t be so severe or life-threatening.

While we still lack a cure for allergies, experiments such as this are a great step in the right direction. For unknown reasons, though food allergies are on the rise in the United States, we really know how food allergies develop; one possible theory is that our food sanitation is making us “too clean,” causing our immune systems to be too weak to fight off common food and environment allergens.

So perhaps our food allergies should be like that of the Chicken Pox? – expose yourself early so your body can learn to fight it off, it might just save a life.

For our readers: If you have a food allergy, would you ever consider being a part of this research? Why or why not?

 

Post source and credit: “Cure your kids’ peanut allergies by feeding them peanuts” by Alexandra Sifferlin from TIME Health & Family, published on January 30, 2014 at:  http://healthland.time.com/2014/01/30/scientists-to-cure-peanut-allergies/

 

A Dietary Dilemma in Developing Countries

We’ve known for some time that rates of overweight and obesity are on the rise in the world. Here in the United States it’s been on the top-of-mind, top of the news, and, all around.  The U.S. was deemed the fattest country for many years, until being passed by Mexico last year.

While high-income countries in North America and Europe are still the fattest, Mexico is the prime example of how many developing countries are quickly catching up.

The Overseas Development Institute, a public policy think tank in London, released a report showing that numbers of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has nearly quadrupled since 1980, reaching nearly one billion.

Southeast Asia has had the most rapid growth, from 7% in 1980 to now 22% of adults who are overweight or obese.

Obesity graphs

What are the causes of this sudden spike?

  • Higher incomes – leading to more choice in selecting foods
  • Higher availability of processed foods
  • More jobs are sedentary
  • Less physical activity overall

What can be done?

The report calls for policy intervention, which is a hot topic in most countries, including the U.S.  Many people don’t want the government to control, through taxes or bans, what they can eat or drink.

But with this growing public health issue and the potential for skyrocketing rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, the report says some type of government intervention is necessary.  Although the consumption of fat, sugar and salt is rising in most countries, the typical diets still vary greatly from country to country, and region to region.

The report notes that, due to varied diets, any public policy related to food will have to be very country or culture-specific

The question remains: Should the government have any influence in what we eat?

 

Photo Credit: CJ Plantinos

 

Resolutions > No Resolutions

How many New Years Resolutions have you made in your life?  How many of them have you actually kept?

Every year, losing weight and getting fit are in the top five resolutions that people in the United States make.  Unfortunately, exercise-related resolutions are usually the easiest ones not to keep, as things like lack of time, low motivation, and other barriers get in the way.

But there is good news for all of us who make these resolutions anyways.

Experts say that if you make a resolution to get in shape, you are more likely to actually follow through than those who make no resolutions at all.

According to researchers at the University of Scranton, about 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and about eight percent achieve their goal.

As most people who lead or participate in health programs know, good intentions are only half the battle, and even the best intentions are often not enough to bring about a lasting change.

Arizona-based wellness and weight management coach Lauve Metcalfe says that unrealistic expectations are why many people have a difficult time keeping New Year’s resolutions.  Some have even said that New Years resolutions can have a negative impact when they’re not met, lowering already-existing feelings of inadequacy and negative self-image.

So how do you make your resolutions, especially those about exercise, more realistic, and ultimately attainable?  Make them S.M.A.R.T.

Jacqueline Ratliff, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, borrows this acronym used for goal-setting in many workplaces, and says:

“With regard to New Year’s resolutions, it is important for people to make these goals S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound).”

So whether you’re already pressing the snooze button instead of hitting the gym in the morning, or you’re still trying to figure out which healthy resolutions you should be making this year, remember that making a resolutions is an important first step, and consider making your professional and personal goals S.M.A.R.T. this year.

Cancer + Toxics Update – Everyday Action for Everyday Products We Use

For many cancer patients + advocates, the link between toxics in our environments, and our environment’s role in igniting cancerous activity in our bodies, is increasingly apparent. Scientific research is catching up to what we might guess, intuitively — that toxic chemicals to which we’re repeatedly exposed in our homes, transit, and places of work, might spell bad news for cancer spreading in our bodies.

Many toxic chemicals which disrupt the function of our hormonal and endocrine systems, our nervous and respiratory systems, are a part of our “normal” daily experiences, such as foods with petrochemical pesticides,  and cosmetics with parabens. Consumer campaigns have often focused on products once research is able to prove their carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, effects, such as in the case of BPA.  Another example is Triclosan — a common “anti-microbial” agent in most soaps, many toothpastes, and hygienic cosmetics. Several years ago, Triclosan was proven as an environmentally ubiquitous endocrine disruptor (J. Applied Toxicology), possibly linked to breast and other cancers. While the FDA provides no conclusive answer, many research advocacy groups, like the renowned Environmental Working Group and affiliate programs in “Safer Chemicals Healthy Families“, recommend against the use of Triclosan, which also has no proven increase in “cleaning” capacity over other soap components. (Indeed, with many industry bulwarks to Safe Chemicals Legislation, the FDA “caution” may prove to be “as good as it gets” unless we can advocate for more resounding chemicals legislation for consumers!)

The most recent President’s Cancer Panel Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now?” walks through the environmental impacts of the status-quo (i.e. stuff we just don’t question) when it comes to our manufacture of carcinogenic products. In 2010, the panel posited that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” While legislation to regulate toxics in our everyday lives has been introduced in the house and senate each year since that time, it has yet to be voted upon in Congress.

Why is this concern about toxics in our everyday lives not a part of our everyday conversations and everyday actions for cancer prevention and cancer advocacy?

Let us know what you think, readers — !

 

PS – In the meantime, here are some great “everyday” approaches* you can take for:

(1) Cosmetics …. scroll to see which “ingredients” mean you should throw away, or avoid buying

(2) Pesticides in Produce ….. what are the “clean 15″ or the “dirty dozen“? ….how to eat well on budget?

(3) Cleaning Products ….how do your cleaning products “rank”?

(4) Household Items …. and things we use with our kids (sunscreen, and bug repellent, stuff in cans)

(5) ….and best of all, advocacy for Safer Chemicals Legislation, in your district (call or email today!)

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BONUS: Readers, in order to match up to all these well-designed guides by EWG Scientists, let us know: what approaches to advocating against and reducing toxicity do you value in your own life?

 

 

Thanksgiving Health Myths and Facts

Before scrolling to the bottom of the page to see the answers, see if you can figure out which of the following statements are facts and which are fiction:

#1. Turkey makes you sleepy.

#2. Thanksgiving chefs have an increased risk of burns and cuts.

#3. The average Thanksgiving costs 3000 calories and 226 grams of fat.

#4. Stuffing your turkey increases the risk of salmonella poisoning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….figured out which statements are fact and which are fiction?  If yes, keep scrolling…if no, keep scrolling…

 

 

 

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Facts:

#2: Thanksgiving chefs have an increased risk for burns and cuts.

It’s TRUE!  Think about how busy the kitchen gets during the Thanksgiving holiday – people can’t resist the smell of Thanksgiving dinner, leading them to gravitate toward and around the kitchen; kids running around playing tag and/or football in and around the kitchen; and the college students grazing on more free food than they have probably had set in front of them all semester…more hands in the kitchen increases the likelihood of cuts and burns whether due to cooking, or just being in the way of the cook.

#3:  The average Thanksgiving costs 3000 calories and 275 grams of fat!

Also true, but this can’t be THAT much of a surprise, right?  All those starches and desserts…so wrong, yet so right…just don’t make a habit of it and try to listen to your stomach – if it’s full, maybe stop after only two slices of Aunt Suzie’s famous pie.

Myths:

#1: The biggest myth of all: Turkey makes you sleepy.

No it doesn’t.  Turkey has no more of that magical natural sedative called tryptophan than any other meat.  So what is it that makes you sleepy? Carbs...

#4: Stuffing your turkey increases the risk of salmonella poisoning.

Not true.  Some people like the stuffing that comes out of the bird, and others would rather never see anything put on their plate that was prepared in such a way.  However, whatever your taste may be, fresh-out-the-bird stuffing can be safe (and for those of you who like that sort of thing, I’m sure you would add ‘yummy’) as long as you follow some very easy guidelines:

1.Make sure the stuffing is moist and loosely packed

2. DO NOT BUY A PRE-STUFFED TURKEY! Instead, stuff it yourself right before popping it in the oven.

3. Internal stuffing temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Red Wine – Revving Up Against Cancer

Alcohol is a double-edged sword. Usually a social libation associated with pleasure, alcohol’s “sharper” side also cuts deeply the world over, in unhealthy compulsions, peer pressures, binge drinking, or addiction.

But what can a drink — like red winegive us, in terms of health, when consumed in moderation?  Red wine is a drink present in religious and cultural lore for thousands of years, and also the subject of contemporary scientific interest in its instrumental use in fighting cancer.

Curious about family and friends’ anecdotal evidence of the health benefits of red wine, I wondered: why red wine over white (see this MD Anderson plug), and, for that matter, over any other drinks?

My inquiry begins with the book Foods To Fight Cancer, an accessible “go-to” guide by researchers Dr. Richard Believeau, and Dr. Denis Gingras. The book lays out in “lay terms” the science of preventative (and potentially therapeutic) anti-cancer nutrition. Molecular processes are whittled to their core, essential facts (and even supplemented by appealing color photos!). In a chapter detailing the unique characteristics of this alcoholic beverage we know as red wine, the authors focus on the variety of phytochemical compounds contained in the fermented skin of red grapes. (Phytochemical compounds are made by plants, and are studied for their effects on human health).

Benefits:

  • Reservatrol is present in red wine at 16 times the level of white wine, according to Beleiveau and Gingras’ research; and comes in far more concentrated forms through alcohol-based extraction, even more so than in its original grape form. Because it is absorbed quickly in the body and bloodstream, including in amounts attained by moderate human consumption of red wine, reservatrol can act swiftly in the body to attack cancerous cells  — a finding accorded by studies with animal models of colon, esophogeal, and breast cancers induced by chemical substances and inhibited by reservatrol.
  • This compound turns out to be pretty impressive – ! Namely, reservatrol present in red wine “possesses powerful anticancer activity” at 3 important levels: cancer cell initiation, promotion, and progression. Once inside the body, reservatrol’s power even extends into its byproducts, such as piceatannol, a molecule which specifically produces cancer cell death in the body.
  • Reservatrol’s “modes of action” can be compared to synthetic drugs designed to limit the growth of cancerous cells — akin to several other key anticancer foods, such as the spice curcumin. In order to prove their “weight” as an anticancer force, these natural compounds are now paradoxically entering the world of pharmaceutical trials (in the case of the spice curcumin), and food design and engineering (in the case of reservatrol), with the possibilities afforded by concentrated form.

So, if we are talking about choices in the field of play, relaxation, and leisure — venturing beyond our “typical” discussions of dietary options which feed or stem the spread of cancerous cells in our bodies — it appears red wine is on the table! Of course, anything on the table has both its benefits and drawbacks.

Of course, when we’re talking cancer and nutrition, the larger questions also still remain — whether or not we can access and afford vegetables and plant-based foods, foods which are whole and not toxically amended with chemicals.

But if the simple question is which drink to have when gathering with friends or coworkers for the holidays or over the weekend, or which beverage to “unwind” with after a long day once or twice per week, then one option stands out above all the rest: red wine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Photo taken of the book “Foods to Fight Cancer,” by Beliveau, Gingras, London: DK Publishing, 2007.