Archive for April, 2010

Preventing Food-Borne Illness: A Seasonal Health Woe to Avoid

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

BBQ cookingJust about everyone will attend some sort of picnic, cookout or outdoor get-together this spring or summer at some point. And while this may be a good time to get together and enjoy a great meal outdoors with friends, this is also a good time for a seasonal health woe that we all need to be made aware of: food-borne illness.

According to MSNBC.com, each summer, the Centers for Disease Control and USDA report that food safety-related illnesses increase over 150 percent. When the temperatures outside are higher, the chances of leaving food in the “danger zone” – anything above 40 and below 140 degrees – is also greater and is bound to happen at family outings and picnics.

In the “danger zone” microorganisms that cause food-borne illnesses multiply and your chances of being affected by a food-borne illness multiply as well. Here are a few guidelines provided by MSNBC.com to prevent such illness from ruining your picnic.

• Cook- Make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly. And be sure your grill is hot before you cook. Electric grills should be heated at least 15 minutes prior to cooking and gas grills at least 10 minutes. Don’t rely on a visual image thinking that meats that are brown are thoroughly cooked. Experts suggest using a thermometer when you are cooking for a picnic or an outdoor event. By using a thermometer you will know that your food is adequately heated and able to be consumed without harming others. Make sure that ground beef is heated to 160 degrees, steaks and roasts to 150, poultry to 180. If you are BBQing fish make sure it is cooked thoroughly and be especially careful with shellfish.

• Clean- Whether you are planning on being outside or not, when you are working with foods that others will be eating it is especially important to remember to wash your hands with soap and water. The amount of bacteria that can be passed from uncooked foods to your hands is great, so it is best to be as safe as possible. If soap and water are not available, then a hand sanitizer will work just as well. Also, fill a spray bottle with water and one tablespoon of bleach to keep handy to wipe off surfaces and utensils. Wipe dry with a heavy duty paper towel and throw those germs away — don’t use cloth towels that help germs breed and multiply.

• Chill- When you are heading outdoors with your meal, remember to use a cooler that will keep your food at a cool temperature. Here’s an idea, freeze juice boxes; kids and adults love them and they also are terrific temperature controllers. Intermingle them with your foods and they will help keep your foods cold. Also make sure to pack a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature. You would be surprised to see just how quick the temperature changes — and that means the foods’ temperature as well. Be sure to keep your cooler and all foods in the passenger compartment and out of direct sunlight. Most trunks are not air cooled and can raise the temperature of your foods to well over 100 degrees.

If you don’t have a cooler or are unable to refrigerate your food, then perhaps you should bring an item that does not require heating or cooling to your picnic. And don’t forget to refrigerate leftovers as soon as you can- no more than one hour after cooking, especially when it’s warm outside.

• Separate- Never, never, never use the same utensils to serve a hot meal that you used to prepare that same meal. Be sure to wash all of your prep utensils with hot water and soap before using them in any way. Also use plastic Tupperware-type containers or Zip-Lock bags to separate foods and securely seal them. Avoid paper bags, aluminum foil or plastic wrap where the foods can leak and cross contaminate other foods.

By following these four simple rules, your next picnic or get together won’t be ruined by any nasty food-borne illnesses and your guests will enjoy themselves even more.

BUZZ OFF! How to Deal with Insect Bites and Stings

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

mosquito biteJust like we have been cooped up all winter, so have a number of those creatures that we’ve come to despise: insects. With summer just around the corner, insects are beginning to emerge and are readying themselves for attack.

According to MSNBC.com every year, bug bites and stings send more than 500,000 people to emergency rooms with potentially fatal allergic reactions. So what’s the best way to avoid bug and mosquito bites? Experts suggest that the best way to deal with insect bites and stings is to prevent them before they happen.

Here are a few ways, provided by MSNBC.com to prevent these nasty little bites:

• Apply repellents to exposed skin. Insect repellents can help reduce exposure to mosquito bites that may carry viruses like West Nile and Lyme disease while still allowing you to play and work outdoors. Do not apply repellents directly to your face, instead spray the repellent into your hands and apply to your face that way.

• Consider DEET. DEET is considered the most effective repellent in bug sprays. Even though it has scared away some consumers because of its potent chemical properties, in 1998 the EPA ruled DEET safe for repelling mosquitoes and ticks. However, it’s still a good idea to only apply DEET every 6 to 8 hours.

• If you prefer a more natural and eco-friendly approach, try natural repellents that rely on herbal ingredients. Herbal repellents work by masking human odors and fooling mosquitoes and other biting insects. Some repellents also use odors that are unpleasant to the bugs and deter them away from the scent. Plants whose essential oils are reputed to repel insects include cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, and peppermint.

• Stay indoors at dawn and dusk as this is when the flying insects are most likely to hit.

• Get rid of standing water in your yard. These are huge breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Clear clogs from gutters, change the water in birdbaths twice weekly and change pets’ outdoor water dishes daily.

• Do not swat or attempt to hit a flying insect. This will only make them mad and attack you more frequently.mosquito biting

• If you’re being swarmed by mosquitoes try holding a branch above your head to deter flying bugs. Some mosquitoes and gnats naturally swarm to the highest part of the body-or to an extension of it.

• Take Vitamin B-1: Studies suggest that taking 25 to 50 milligrams (a safe dosage for adults and children) of thiamin (vitamin B-1) three times a day, starting two weeks before mosquito season reduces your chance of getting bitten. This is due to the fact that vitamin B-1 produces an odor on your skin that wards off mosquitoes; however, the odor is undetectable to humans.

• Cover food when it is outdoors. Insects flock to food and the less chance you give them to get to the food, the greater your chance of avoiding them all together.

• Avoid bright colored clothes when you are outdoors for extended periods of time. Honeybees, wasps, and yellow jackets see in the ultraviolet spectrum and are attracted to bright colors and floral patterns. If possible wear light colors and long sleeve shirts and pants when you know you’ll be in insect territory.

• Try to avoid wearing heavy smelling perfumes outdoors as insects are also attracted to the smells.

Keep these tips in mind before you head outdoors and you won’t be dealing with the wrath of insects biting or stinging you this summer.

Straight From the Headlines…Eating Junk Food An Addiction?

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

i'll eat youAccording to MSNBC, a recent study published in the journal “Nature Neuroscience”, states that a high-calorie diet, including junk food, may be as addictive as drugs like nicotine or cocaine, and could cause compulsive eating and obesity.

The study, conducted on rats, shows that overconsumption of high-calorie foods can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain, thereby turning the rats into compulsive eaters. Decreased levels of a specific dopamine receptor – a brain chemical that allows a feeling of reward – have been found in these overweight rats, as they are found in humans with drug addictions.

For the study researchers with The Scripps Research Institute in Florida headed to the grocery store and bought all of the stuff that people really like but really shouldn’t eat very often, items such as Ding-Dongs, cheesecake, bacon, and sausage. They also bought healthy foods and devised a diet plan for three groups of rats.

One group of rats ate a balanced healthy diet. Another group received healthy food, but had access to high-calorie food for one hour a day. Rats in the third group were fed healthy meals and given unlimited access to high-calorie foods. The rats in the third group developed a preference for the high-calorie food, munched on it all day and quickly became obese.

All of the rats in the experiment were also trained to expect a minor shock when exposed to a light. But when the rats that had unlimited access to high-calorie food were shown the light, they did not respond to the potential danger. Instead, they just continued eating their snacks.

“What we’re seeing in our animals is very similar to what you’d see in humans who overindulge,” researcher, Paul Kenny says. “It seemed that it was okay, from what we could tell, to enjoy snack foods, but if you repeatedly overindulge, that’s where the problem comes in.”

The research was conducted in conjunction with the announcement that obesity-related diseases cost the U.S. and estimated $150 billion each year and an estimated two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are obese or overweight.

Atkins Diet- Revamped

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

low carb dietThe Atkins “carb-cutting” craze has produced controversy since its debut in the 1970s. Yet the popular diet plan is not only still around, but it was also recently revised. The latest version, The New Atkins for a New You, is a more flexible approach to “carb cutting,” according to an article on WebMD.

Under the old plan, dieters could eat as much high-protein food such as red meat and cheese as they wanted, but most carbohydrates were banned. The latest 12-week program is split into four stages. Within each stage the amount of carbs one is allowed to consume is increased. The basic principle, however, remains the same: to train your body to burn more fat by cutting back on sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Dieters count carbs, not calories.

According to the dailymail.co.uk, the rules advise dieters to get the fat intake right, exercise, eat until they are full and include protein in every meal. For the first two weeks, dieters eat only 20g of net carbohydrates (carbohydrates minus protein) made up of foods such as seeds and berries.

In the period called ‘ongoing weight loss’, this allowance rises to between 30g and 60g and includes carbs such as oatmeal, brown rice, wholegrain pasta and whole wheat bread. Those who want to eat more carbohydrates just balance the increased intake with exercise.

When thin enough, it’s time for the ‘life maintenance phase’, in which white bread, sandwiches and desserts can be introduced with about 120g of carbs a day.

While the old Atkins diet did include vegetables, the new version encourages even more greens. Dieters, though, are warned to stay away from the starchy ones, such as corn. In addition, dieters are now advised to subtract the amount of fiber, which doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, from the total number of carbs in a food. This focus on “net carbs” allows more vegetables to be eaten.

Take a look at a sample plan on your new Atkins diet revamped:

Breakfast:
2 eggs
Sausages
Steamed spinach

Snack:

String cheese
Half an avocado

Lunch:
Roast beef on 4 cups mixed salad
½ cup mung bean sprouts
5 black olives
Onions
2 tablespoons vinaigrette

Snack:
10 green olives
1 slice cheddar cheese

Dinner:
Salmon with 2 tablespoons garlic mayonnaise
6 asparagus spears2 cups arugula
5 cherry tomatoes
½ cup sliced cucumbers
2 tablespoons Italian dressing

The new version of Atkins does not come unjustified. In fact, more than 50 research papers verify the safety of low-carbohydrate diets. However, it seems likely that the latest plan will come in for similar criticism to its predecessor. In 2005, an Oxford University study found the diet could damage the heart. And demand further dropped after founder Dr Robert Atkins died in a fall in 2003, at 72. A report showed he had heart disease and was clinically obese.

In the new version of the Atkins Diet, besides sticking to the diet in each of its phases, the new plan also recommends that you take a daily multivitamin and mineral with an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

For more information on the new Atkins diet, please visit www.atkins.com.

Workout Trend Alert! Spinning 101

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

indoor-cyclingBeen to a gym lately that offers spinning/cycling classes and wonder what it’s all about? Spinning classes are rising in popularity as they provide an excellent alternative to the “same old” exercise routines.

According to Aboutaerobics.com, indoor cycling began in 1989 and has endured as a popular exercise routine. Classes are usually held in the aerobics section of gyms and last between 30 and 60 minutes. Spinning can burn 500 calories or more in a short amount of time and, believe it or not, is actually a low impact activity for all ages.

Many assume that the class is just like riding a bike – without actually going anywhere. But spinning actually involves jumps, hills, jogs, runs and other moves that are performed on the bike by either moving your body position and/or adjusting the resistance – or tension – of the bike.

Spinning does take some getting used to. Experts and instructors will warn you that, as beginners, you will encounter soreness in various places on your body. Many serious spinners purchase padded seats and special shoes to eliminate any discomfort that might come from the bike.

Take it easy at first – try a beginner’s class or incorporate it once or twice a week into your workout routine. Mix in other forms of exercise such as yoga, weight training and swimming with your spinning routine.

According to health.msn.com any type of exercise from stretching to long-distance running can result in injuries if stress is placed on joints, or if joints are misaligned while performing a move. However, there are a number of methods that you can implement to help reduce the risk of injury when spinning.

Sit Tall- First, raise your handlebars. The higher they are, and the closer the bars are to your body, the less you have to reach and bend to support yourself. Different brands of spinning bikes have different heights. The newest models are designed to be more ergonomically correct with adjustable bars that go higher than the original models. Aim for a hip-to-shoulders lean that forms a diagonal-to-vertical line, not a flat, horizontal line that’s parallel to the floor.

Keep Your Low Back Arched, Not Rounded- Be aware of how you hold your spine. Even when your bars are raised, you can still slump and put pressure on your lumbar discs. The key is to maintain a neutral curve in your lower back—this is the natural arch where you spine dips inwards a little bit. Spines are strongest when this curve is preserved. Try raising your rib cage high and away from your pelvis while seated. This will lengthen your spine and preserve that neutral, slightly arched position. Lean from this lengthened position.

Don’t Suck in Your Gut- Avoid the big ab-tightening mistake that many cyclists make. Cycle instructors may encourage you to work your core or contract your abs. But many people pull their gut in so tight that they collapse their lower back and push their spine out so that the lower spine rounds, erasing that natural, strong arch. Stop this slumping pose by lengthening your spine as you lean forward and engaging the abs only slightly. Think of creating a wall of muscle, not a sucked-in six-pack.

Tilt the Front of Your Saddle Down- A 1999 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that seat alignment can help a cyclist maintain the proper spinal curve. Angling the front of the saddle slightly down causes a weight shift that keeps the spine in its strongest position, with a natural curve at the lower back. Alternatively, avoid the opposite position: tilting the nose up higher than the back part of the seat. This drops your butt and can create the same low-back collapse as bending over too low or sucking in the abs too much.

Lean from Your Hip, Not Waist- As you lean and form a diagonal line, keep your torso somewhat rigid and lean from the bend where your hips and upper thighs meet, rather than bending over at your waist and lower back.

Remember, the first few classes may be different, exhausting or uncomfortable, but the benefits of this unique exercise are worth the adjustment!

With Spring Comes Hay Fever: What Plants to Avoid

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

spring allergiesSpring is finally here! After a long and cold winter, just about everyone is enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. However, along with the blooming season is the dreaded seasonal nightmare, hay fever.

According to MSNBC.com an estimated 35 million American suffer the unwanted return of the burning eyes, sniffles, chapped nostrils and stifled lunch of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. Allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever, is the body’s immune system overreacting when it comes into contact with certain allergens such as pollen or mold. When people with allergies inhale these substances, an allergic antibody dubbed IgE treats them like dangerous invaders and gloms onto them. This triggers the release of histamines and other chemicals, which cause the trademark allergic response of sneezing, dripping nose, congestion and itchiness.

One of the best plans of action for fighting spring allergies is to avoid the things that make your sneezing, itching and watering eyes worse. Warren V. Filley, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, recently told Health.com which plants you should avoid.

• Mountain cedar –This tree is commonly found in mountainous regions and, according to Dr. Filley, causes some of the “most severe allergy symptoms I have ever seen.”

• Ryegrass – This grass is common in dry lawns, meadows and pastures. This, along with other grasses, is often very problematic for allergy sufferers, Dr. Filley says.

• Maple – These trees are found along streams and in woods all through the eastern United States and Canada. The maple produces potent allergens.

• Elm – Common in the wetlands, these trees will most likely aggravate your allergies.

• Mulberry – This pretty tree can be very deceiving. Found in woods and river valleys, it is often associated with contributing to hay fever.Ragweed

• Ragweed – It is common along riverbanks and in rural areas. Dr. Filley says that almost 75 percent of people with allergies are sensitive to ragweed.

• Pecan – Although it makes many good desserts, the pollen from pecan – found in woods and orchards – is second only to ragweed as the most severe source of allergens.

• Oak – It may have less potent pollen, but it produces very large quantities of it, Dr. Filley says. Avoid the woods just for this one.

• Pigweed/Tumbleweed – This common weed is found in lawns and along roadsides, but be aware that it will not do your sinuses any good.

• Arizona cypress – Found specifically in warm climates and well-drained soil areas, this tree can contribute to pollen problems almost all year round, according to the article.

• Mold – Allergies acting up in the spring could be because of mold levels rising with wetter, warmer air. Dr. Filley contributes various types of molds to producing significant allergy symptoms throughout the United States.

In addition to avoiding certain plants, here is a list provided by MSNBC.com of other ways to avoid an allergy attack this spring.

The best way to cope with spring allergies is to avoid pollens. That usually means staying inside during the peak pollen periods — the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Shut the windows and crank up the air conditioner in both your house and car. That will help prevent pollens from drifting into your home.

Apply the same reasoning to your laundry: best to use the dryer so any allergens can be filtered out instead of hanging it on the line, where it becomes the filter.

Also, think about taking a vacation to a more pollen-free area, such as the beach or sea. And don’t mow lawns or be around freshly cut grass; mowing stirs up pollens and molds.

Looking for a Tasty Treat? Consider Frozen Yogurt

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

frozen yogurtIf the summertime heat has your body begging for a quick cool down, then why not pass on the ice cream every once in awhile and opt for another frozen treat? Give frozen yogurt a whirl instead.

According to MSNBC.com, like all dairy products, frozen yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium, and choosing nonfat or at least low-fat yogurt provides all the benefits without the artery-clogging animal fat. Just 1 cup has about 1/3 of the daily calcium requirement and roughly 10 grams of protein (15-20 percent of daily requirements). And many people who are lactose intolerant can eat some yogurt because much of the milk sugar is gone in yogurt and converted to lactic acid. In addition, besides being generally low in fat and calories, frozen yogurt is also chock full of probiotics, which promote better digestion. This probiotic content also has been known to reduce urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome and may reduce the occurrence of bladder cancer.

Check out the information below to learn about the health benefits of frozen yogurt:

Weight loss
There is a high amount of protein in yogurt with fewer calories. It’s about 100 calories for 6 ounces and 22 grams of protein. Protein is biologically very satisfying, and helps curb appetite on less food.

Irritable bowel and constipation
The extra probiotics (good bacteria) added to yogurts enhance the action of the good bacteria already in the yogurt. It’s another strain of the bacteria, so you have more benefit, with more good bacteria per serving. This can affect transit time in gut which is good for regularity.

Immune function
The probiotics (healthy bacteria) in yogurts have been shown to boost immune function, like increase white blood cell count, one of the cells that help fight infection. Other studies show some effect on antibodies in the gut. Though these are not definitive, it certainly can’t hurt.

Dessert
To tame a sweet tooth, yogurt can help — but read the label to check for calories and fat. Cool packaging is eye-catching, but “fun” yogurts are not all the same. Avoid “fruit” yogurts — add your own fresh or frozen (no sugar added) berries — and save calories and extra sugar, and get a little fiber as well.

So, the next time you are looking for an ice cream alternative, get yourself a frozen yogurt and you’re body will thank you for it!

Spring Picnics and Gatherings Don’t Have to Mean Packing on the Pounds

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

picnic imageAs the weather gets warmer and spring turns into summer, the season of picnics, barbecues, and outdoor parties is almost upon us. But that doesn’t mean that just because you aren’t choosing all of your meals, that you have to pack on the pounds this summer.

Traditional picnic fare often consists of starch-laden fatty foods such as potato or pasta salads. According to MSNBC.com just a half cup of either of these salads is packed with 180 to 260 calories and 7 to 16 grams of fat. A substantial portion of just one of these salads can easily end up with almost a meal’s worth of fat and calories.

By keeping these simple tips in mind when you attend or host your next picnic, party or barbecue, and your diet won’t go down the tubes this summer:

• Choose lean ground meat when making burgers. You should also try low-fat hot dogs, sausages and bratwurst and other grilled favorites. The intense heat of grilling can produce carcinogens in animal proteins, so keep your portion to the size of a deck of cards. To reduce this risk, lower the temperature, flip the meat frequently, and avoid burning or charring.

• If you can’t resist bringing your famous pasta salad use whole grain pasta instead of the traditional refined versions. You can also limit fat content by using reduced-fat dressing or mayonnaise, or changing the proportions of oil and vinegar in a homemade dressing.

• Seafood and chicken are great grilled foods and are both still healthy picnic options.

• Bring whole grain buns or rolls instead of the white, refined version.

• Put a new twist on potato or pasta salad by substituting chopped veggies for high-calorie potatoes or pasta.

• Bring trays of fruits and veggies to brighten up an overly starchy picnic spread. Remember your veggies as they are also great on the grill and in side dishes, especially summer time veggies like squash and zucchini.

• Instead of chocolate desserts, think fruity desserts instead, and take advantage of a season when fruits are plenty.

• If you prefer chocolate desserts such as brownies try cutting a pan of brownies into two-inch square portions and let those who want more take two. Smaller portions will help picnickers who are watching their calories avoid the challenge of trying to stop halfway through a brownie that is too large.