Category Archives: Health

Help prevent eye disease

Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These eye diseases occur as we grow older, and proper nutrition may have some affect on both of them.

Cataracts develop on the lens of the eye when the proteins in the lens are damaged. These proteins are responsible for keeping the lens clear. When they become damaged, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, and your vision may become blurry. You may also have poor night vision or double vision with cataracts. Cataract surgery is often necessary to remove and replace the damaged lens with an artificial lens.

AMD occurs when cells in the macula of the eye die. The macula is located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye, and is responsible for your sharp, central vision, which you need for reading and other tasks that require good eyesight. Once the macula is damaged, your vision is no longer clear, and you cannot make out fine details of objects. There is no cure for AMD, but proper nutrition may help prevent it from worsening.

Diet and Eye Disease: What Is a “Healthy Eyes” Diet?

According to Nelson, the nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E; carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids; zinc; and vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid or folate), and B12.

“Antioxidants, especially lutein, help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce your risk for AMD,” says Jennifer K. Nelson, MS, RD, director of clinical dietetics and associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minn. “Folate and vitamin B6 decrease the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine, which lowers your risk for AMD. Antioxidants also help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts.”

Here’s a list of foods containing eye-healthy nutrients:

  • Fruits and vegetables (good sources of vitamins C and E)
  • Dark green vegetables such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
  • Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (beta carotene and zeaxanthin)
  • Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Beef, eggs, lamb, milk, peanuts, pork, and whole grains (zinc)
  • Bananas, chicken, dried beans, fish, liver, pork, and potatoes (vitamin B6)
  • Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, mushrooms, nuts, and peas (folic acid)
  • Dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and shellfish (vitamin B12)

Some even boost their nutritional content

If you’re like most Americans, you read the ingredients list on food packages. But what exactly is alpha-tocopherol? Ascorbic acid? Sodium nitrite? And how do these and 3,000 other approved food additives affect you and your health?

Food Additives: What Are They?

A “food additive” is any substance added during the production, processing, or storage of food. A manufactured product or a product derived from nature, it can be salt used to preserve or sugar used to sweeten. Additives can be vitamins or minerals used to enrich, a fat replacement used to enhance texture, or a color or dye to enhance appearance.

Regardless of whether an additive contributes nutritionally or just cosmetically, it cannot be used in a food product until it has been deemed safe for the general public by the U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and sometimes other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Food Additives: FDA Regulations

While new additives must pass rigorous testing before approved, the 1958 Food Additives Amendment that set the stage for FDA approval of food additives stipulates that:

  • Certain food additives in use before 1958 and “believed to be safe” will not undergo further review. These include sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite, which are used to preserve lunch meats (and some are nonetheless questioned by consumer watchdog groups).
  • Several hundred other food additives, including salt, sugar, spices, and baking soda — all used in cooking for centuries — are “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).”
  • Before any other additive can be used in a product, the FDA will investigate the makeup of the additive, the amount the consumer will most likely ingest in a product, and possible short- and long-term health effects.

Food Additives: Guaranteed Safety?

Does this mean every additive in every food is absolutely safe for every one of us?

“Like all of science, food science evolves,” says Kathryn M. Kolasa, PhD, RD, professor and section head of nutrition education and sciences at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. “As science progresses, we do find things to be bad. Then you re-look at your laws, regulations, and labeling.”

Sulfites, for example, were once widely used to prevent discoloration and spoilage in fresh foods; produce managers at grocery stores commonly sprayed produce with sulfites, while restaurant managers sprayed sulfite solution on foods at salad bars. When the FDA began fielding reports of severe allergic reactions among severe asthmatics, and even some deaths after ingestion of sulfites, new regulations were put in place. The FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh produce, while most restaurants and grocery stores voluntarily quit using sulfites on their salad bars and produce. Better labeling is also now required on products that have come in contact with sulfites.

Caught the gardening bug early

“It wasn’t that much. It was like a few tomato plants, a pepper plant, and a lettuce,” Katie says of her “salad garden.”

Of course it may not seem like much now to this ambitious seventh grader, who turned her passion for planting and picking into a thriving non-profit organization that manages nearly 20 gardens to help to feed the homeless and hungry through local shelters and soup kitchens. The group, Katie’s Krops is featured on the next episode of Everyday Health airing October 1 or 2 on your local ABC station.

And it all got started with a not-so-small cabbage.

Planting the Seed of Change — Literally

When Katie, now 13, was in third grade, her school participated in the Bonnie Plants’ Third Grade Cabbage Program, which provides students with cabbage plants to grow to win a $1,000 scholarship (and bragging rights, natch).

“We planted it and treated it like every other plant in the garden,” Katie recalls. “But it ended up growing to be so much bigger than every other plant.”

In fact, the cabbage (an O.S. Cross variety, known for producing giant heads) ultimately weighed in at a staggering 40 pounds — and won Katie the contest.

But after the initial cheers and congratulations, there was the question of what exactly to do with a 40-pound cabbage plant. After all, serving it to Katie’s own family of four — or even her classroom — would result in a waste of perfectly good and wholesome food.

That’s when Katie had her light bulb moment.

“My dad had always told us not to waste because there are people out there that weren’t fortunate enough to have a hot meal on their table every night,” Katie says. “So I thought, why not donate my cabbage to those people.”

For her mom, Stacy Stagliano, the moment was a proud one. “She grew so attached to that cabbage,” Stacy remembers. “As it grew bigger and bigger it was like her little baby almost.”

To find the perfect home for her cabbage, Stacy searched online for “vegetable donation” and discovered Tri-County Family Ministries in North Charleston, S.C. Katie vividly remembers the day she and her mom went to deliver the massive vegetable. When they pulled up to the kitchen at the shelter, hundreds of people stood in line waiting to get in.

“Katie’s jaw just dropped and she was asking a million questions like, ‘Is this really the only meal they get?'” Stacy says. “When we took the cabbage out, all these people came over asking where it came from and if Katie really grew it.”

A great way to remember

Ever wish there was a quick-reference guide to remind you of the basics of good nutrition and healthy eating? If it’s tough for you to track how many grains, meats, fruits, veggies, and dairy products you need each day, just think back to the food groups or food pyramid that we learned about as kids. Today’s food pyramid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is new and improved, with even more great information to help everyone eat their way to good health.

The Food Pyramid for Nutrition Guidance: The Changes

Figuring out the food groups has actually become a little easier in recent years. “The look of the food pyramid has changed,” notes Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist, online nutritional coach, and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky. Vertical stripes replace the old blocks.

The changes were made, she says, to make the food pyramid easier to use. “People can take a quick look and understand without going into too much detail,” says Meyerowitz. “The stripes on the pyramid are of varying widths, and that’s to represent that you need more of some foods and less of others.” For instance, the food pyramid stripes are thicker for grains, fruits, and vegetables to emphasize their importance and thinner for oils and meats because they are to be eaten more sparingly.

It’s important to remember though that the food pyramid is meant to be a guide to good nutrition, not a set of hard and fast rules. “The pyramid is based on the average adult,” says Meyerowitz. “It doesn’t take into consideration special dietary concerns or children.”

The Food Pyramid for Nutrition Guidance: How to Use It

The new pyramid format gives you daily quantity totals for each of the food groups, then allows you to divide those amounts up into however many servings you want — of course, the more servings, the smaller each one will be.

According to Meyerowitz, once you become familiar with the food pyramid and the different types of food groups it contains, there are quick ways to translate the nutrition recommendations directly to your plate. Meyerowitz suggests mentally breaking your plate into quarters at each meal. One half of your plate should be covered with vegetables, she says. One quarter should be taken up with protein, and the last quarter with whole grains. Think of fruit as a side dish or even dessert. “It’s an easy way without using any calculations or measurements to know you’re on the right track. The hallmarks of good nutrition are balance, variety, and moderation,” explains Meyerowitz.

The Food Pyramid for Nutrition Guidance: A Snapshot

Here’s a breakdown of the food pyramid guidelines, which now list total daily amounts in each category that you can assign to meals and snacks throughout the day:

  • Grain Group: six ounce-equivalents or servings each day. Choose at least three that are whole grain.
  • Vegetable Group: 2.5 cups total for five servings each day. Choose a variety of vegetables of different colors, including dark green and orange.
  • Fruit Group: 2 cups total for four servings each day. Choose a variety of fruits of different colors.
  • Milk Group: 3 cups each day. Yogurt, milk, and cheese (low-fat or fat-free versions are best).
  • Meats and Beans Group: 5.5 ounces total for two or three servings each day. Lean meats, chicken, eggs, nuts, dried beans and peas, and fish.
  • Oils: six teaspoons or servings each day. Choose mono- and polyunsaturated oils.

Drinks at mealtimes linked to careless eating habits

Drinking is associated with a poor diet, a new study says.

Spanish researchers surveyed more than 12,000 adults aged 18 to 64 about their drinking and eating habits. They found that heavy drinking, binge drinking, a preference for hard liquor and even drinking at mealtimes were associated with poor adherence to major nutrition guidelines.

Although drinking during mealtimes is traditionally associated with good health, the researchers found that this was not true if the drinkers ate carelessly.

“Our results are of relevance because they show that drinking at mealtimes is associated with insufficient intake of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and with excessive intake of animal protein,” said study corresponding author Jose Lorenzo Valencia-Martin, a doctor at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, said in a journal news release.

“In Spain, alcohol is frequently drunk during meals, particularly lunch and dinner. Because of this, and the lower prevalence of abstainers, our findings apply to most adults in Spain and in other Mediterranean countries in Europe,” he added.

Valencia-Martin pointed out that heavy drinkers were likely to develop liver disease, and that many tended to favor high-energy fast foods high in trans fat. Unfortunately, a diet high in trans fats might also contribute to liver disease, he said.

Excessive drinking and an unhealthy diet are two major preventable factors that contribute to health problems in developed nations, the researchers noted.

“Drinking alcohol may reduce maintaining a healthy diet, leading to adverse metabolic effects which, in turn, add to those directly produced by alcohol,” Valencia-Martin said.

“Alcohol may indirectly contribute to several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease or cancer,” he added.

Whats The Benefits of Honey

Every September, Jews all over the world celebrate the Jewish New Year with a slew of traditional foods, including apples and honey and honey cake to symbolize a sweet year ahead. This tradition dates back hundreds (if not thousands) of years, but there’s more to it than good wishes — honey can also be used as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments.

Ring in the Jewish year 5,773, (and the tail end of National Honey Month!) by taking advantage of the amazing health benefits of honey — and try some great seasonal honey recipes that Jews and non-Jews alike will enjoy this fall.

  • Immune booster: Honey’s antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties can help your immune system defend you against illness, including the common cold.
  • Weight-loss aid: Honey may help dieters lose weight when used in moderation as a replacement for other sweeteners. Keep in mind that one tablespoon of honey has about 63 calories, so use it sparingly.
  • Digestion aid: Honey is a popular home remedy (though the science behind this isn’t conclusive) for all kinds of digestive problems, including constipation and ulcers. For a homemade digestion aid, try tea with honey and lemon.
  • Cold remedy: Many people swear by honey’s cold and throat-soothing properties. Add honey to tea or hot water with lemon for an instant throat soother.
  • Anti-Inflammatory agent: In a 2005 study, topical application of honey was found to reduce mucositis, or inflammation of the digestive tract, in 85 percent of patients studied. A drink made from honey and apple cider vinegar is popularly used as a home remedy for arthritic pain or joint inflammation.
  • Anti-bacterial treatment: Honey has long been used as a topical anti-bacterial treatment for minor cuts, burns, and scrapes. Although the scientific community is still undecided about how effective this treatment is, preliminary data suggests that honey, applied in bulk to a wound, may indeed help prevent infection.
  • Skin soother: Honey is a popular ingredient, along with beeswax, in natural lotions and lip balms. Its antimicrobial properties are thought to make it a good choice as a home acne treatment. Combine honey with warm water and oatmeal for an all-natural skin scrub.
  • Energy booster: Honey, like all sugars, can provide a temporary energy boost and spike in blood glucose, and it’s a healthier option than many sugar substitutes. Research shows that diabetics can eat limited amounts of honey, too, provided they’re closely monitoring blood sugar levels.

The Healthier Option

The gluten-free craze is no new trend. For nearly a decade people have been removing the protein from their menu – many with the hope of dropping a few extra pounds.

And the restrictive diet trend is still going strong. Case in point: Pizza Hut has finally hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon, announcing that it will offer gluten-free pies at almost half of their United States chains by the end of the month.

While promising news for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance who want to enjoy an occasional slice, there’s no doubt that those looking for a healthier option may be tempted by the new menu addition.

Despite years of debate, it’s still a common misconception that removing gluten from your diet is a quick-fix weight loss trick. But unless you have a gluten intolerance, choosing only gluten-free foods is not necessarily going to benefit you and could certainly make meal planning more difficult.

“A gluten-free diet is a diet that does not include gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley,” says Tricia Thompson, RD, a dietitian based in Manchester, Mass., who focuses on developing gluten-free eating programs for people with celiac disease. “It is a medically prescribed diet for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.”

People who are sensitive to gluten may have gastrointestinal distress to varying degrees as well as joint pain and skin rashes. Thompson says that many people are living with some degree of gluten sensitivity but have never been diagnosed, which is why you may have heard from friends that they felt much better after cutting the gluten out of their diet.

But Thompson emphasizes it is a much better idea to get a simple blood test from your doctor before you take that step. That way, you will know for sure if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Be aware that getting tested after you have switched to gluten-free foods won’t reveal your sensitivity. You must be testing while you are still eating a non-restricted diet.

How Soda Affects for Your Kids

Cavities, weight gain … and violence? Soda may have a shocking new side effect for kids, according to a new study published online today in the journal Injury Prevention.

When researchers surveyed the habits of 1,878 Boston-area high school students, they found that those who drank five or more fizzy non-diet soft drinks a week were more likely to be violent toward family and friends, to carry a gun or knife, and to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes than teens who drank soda less often.

Although most people would agree that soda isn’t exactly healthy — for kids or adults, for that matter — this news may be alarming to parents concerned about this surprising effect on kids’ emotional health. Just how worried should you be? Here, five things you should know about soda and your child’s health:

  1. The sugary soda-aggression link needs more research. The new study is food for thought, so to speak, but it’s still not clear that the soft drinks themselves actually cause violent behavior in teenagers. Could there be underlying social factors in a child’s life, such as a low-income household or lack of parental supervision, that encourages him or her to drink a lot of sugary soda and also predisposes him or her to aggression? More research needs to be done to tease that out. What this study does do is add to the mounting evidence that a diet high in sugary soft drinks is harmful to children — both physically and emotionally. It is clear that, for a variety of reasons, parents need to take steps to limit their children’s consumption of soda.
  2. More alarming are soda’s effects on childhood obesity and diabetes risk. Studies have shown that regular consumption of sugary sodas can increase a child’s risk of obesity, and soda has also been associated with an increased risk of diabetes later in life. Dentists aren’t fans of sodas, not just because of the sugar content, but also because sodas can contain acid, which can erode tooth enamel and increase the risk of cavities. In adults, sugary sodas are linked to these issues and more — studies have shown that regular soda use can lead to a loss of calcium in the urine and may weaken bones over time.
  3. Soda isn’t the only food or drink that may harm kids’ mental health. Soda isn’t the only potential villain in a kid’s diet. Studies have suggested that an overall poor diet — one that’s high in processed foods and lacking in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains — can affect mood and increase the risk of anxiety. More studies need to be done, especially in kids, but researchers believe that diet plays an important role in both physical and mental health.
  4. Soda is okay every now and then — not every day. Ideally, soda should not be a regular part of any child’s diet. Sugary sodas not only contain tons of “empty calories,” but many contain caffeine, which can affect kids’ behavior and sleep patterns. One 12-ounce can of soda contains 6 teaspoons of added sugar; for comparison, the American Heart Association recommends adults consume fewer than 6 to 9 teaspoons a day — and for kids eating fewer overall calories, that number is even lower. Of course, it’s fine for a child to have soft drinks as a treat once in a while, but certainly not daily. Even non-soda sugary drinks such as lemonade, fruit punch, and fruit juices should be limited. Despite what the packaging might want you to believe, fruit juice has little nutritional value and is another source of refined sugar, so children should have no more than 4 to 8 ounces daily.

What Are the Dangers of Food

Many people who are watching their weight — or trying to lose some pounds — turn to their bathroom scale. But that old familiar standby is not the only way to measure one’s size. Another possibility to consider is your body fat percentage.

Body Fat: What Are the Dangers?

When most of us hear the words “body fat” they have immediate negative connotations. However, in the right proportion, fat is actually critical to our diet and health. In the not-so-distant past, the ability to store extra body fat allowed our ancestors to survive in times of famine, when food was hard to come by. Even today it’s essential to keep the body functioning, to preserve body heat, and to protect organs from trauma.

Problems arise when our bodies store too much fat. This can lead to a variety of health issues, including high cholesterol, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. Especially dangerous is fat stored at the waist, creating what is often called an “apple-shaped” body, as opposed to fat on the hips and thighs, a “pear-shaped” body.

“Normal body fat for men is around 8 to 15 percent of their total body weight and for women approximately 20 to 30 percent,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center.

Body Fat: How Can It Be Measured?

There are a variety of ways to measure the amount of body fat a person is carrying. “The most accurate way is ‘underwater weighing,’ which weighs the person on land and then underwater,” says Mary M. Flynn, PhD, RD, chief research dietitian and assistant professor of medicine at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Providence, R.I. “But equipment for this is very expensive and not readily available.”

Another fairly accurate option is Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA). BIA consists of electrodes being placed on a person’s hand and foot while a current (which is not felt) is passed through the body. Fat has less water and is more resistant to the current, whereas muscle, which contains more water, is less resistant. The resulting numbers are entered into an equation which figures the percentage of fat and lean tissue.

The easiest method is measuring waist circumference and determining the Body Mass Index (BMI). A waist circumference over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is cause for concern.

Figuring BMI involves a little more calculation. BMI is done by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, then dividing that number by your height in inches two times. If the end result is less than 18.5, the individual is underweight;18.5 to 24.9 is normal; 25.0 to 29.9 is overweight; and over 30 is obese.

“However, you must be aware of this disclaimer. BMI alone is not an indication of body fat, especially in athletes and bodybuilders. Growing children under 18 years old should also avoid using BMI,” says Elizabeth Downs, RD, clinical dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center at the University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

One final way of determining body fat is using skin calipers to measure fat at specific places in the body. However, not only is it easy to make errors, but this method also doesn’t measure any interior fat or fat contained in thighs and women’s breasts.

The reason of vegetables is important for good health

If we are what we eat, then many of us must be tripping all over the place due to a lack of balance. That’s because the average American eats about three servings of fruits and vegetables per day — a stark contrast to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new guidelines stating that we should be eating 5 to 13 servings of nature’s best, depending on the number of calories you need.

So if we want to grow to be strong like Popeye, why can’t we just down some supplements instead of devouring a pile of spinach?

Nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables work together. Kristine Wallerius Cuthrell, MPH, RD, a research nutritionist and senior project coordinator for Hawaii Foods at the Center on the Family at University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that in the past five to 10 years, many large research studies have found that vitamin supplements don’t provide the benefits that foods do. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, created jointly between HHS and USDA and reviewed every five years, say that foods are the best sources of nutrients because they contain naturally occurring ingredients, like carotenoids and flavonoids.

“In addition to the substances we are aware of, there are many present in fruits and vegetables that have yet to be discovered. Food and the nutrients they contain aren’t consumed singly, but with each other. As such, they may act in synergistic ways to promote health,” Cuthrell says. For instance, eating iron-rich plants, like spinach, with an iron-absorbing enhancer, like the vitamin C in orange juice, is great for people who don’t get enough iron (typically young women).

Fruits and vegetables may prevent many illnesses. Eating fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. The Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study examined nearly 110,000 people over the course of 14 years. Part of the study revealed that the more fruits and vegetables people ate daily, the less chance they would develop cardiovascular diseases.

The relationship between fruits and vegetables and cancer prevention has been more difficult to prove. However, recent studies show that some types of produce are associated with lower rates of some types of cancer. For example, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that mouth, stomach, and colorectal cancers are less likely with high intakes of non-starchy foods like leafy greens, broccoli, and cabbage. Though studies have been mixed, lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color, may help stave off prostate cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are great for watching your weight. They’re low in fat and calories, and loaded with fiber and water, which create a feeling of fullness. This is particularly helpful for dieters who want more filling calories. Plus, that fiber helps keep you “regular.”