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Friday
Jan282011

Winter Sun Threat

Just because the beach weather is behind us in most of the country doesn't mean you can forego sunscreen. A research team from San Diego State University analyzed data gathered at 32 high-altitude ski resorts and found that if you're outdoors in the winter, particularly at high altitudes, you need to be concerned about ultraviolet (UV) protection. While average UV levels at the resorts were moderately low, they varied substantially by altitude and increased as hours of daylight lengthened, peaking close to noon. Investigators found that the majority of adults they interviewed weren't focused on appropriate sun protection - lip balm with sunscreen, applying sunscreen a half hour before skiing, wearing gloves and a hat with a brim. As UV levels increased, however, the research team found that the skiers and snowboarders at the resorts were more likely to wear sunscreen, reapply it two hours later and wear sunglasses or goggles. Men were more likely to use sunscreen than women. But overall, the researchers found the ski resort guests were more intent on wearing warm clothing than they were on sun protection. The study was published in the November, 2010, issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

My take? While it is important to protect yourself from UV rays when you are outdoors - winter or summer - it is also important to take advantage of the positive effects sunlight has on health. I've been following the advice of my friend and colleague Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D., an expert on vitamin D and author of The UV Advantage (iBooks, 2003). Dr. Holick recommends spending at least a half-hour every day in the sun before applying sunscreen.

More on how much sun you need.

Thursday
Jan272011

Health Benefits of Wine and Cheese?

One satisfying way to celebrate nourishing the body is with a glass of red wine and some cheese. The health benefits of red wine are plentiful: it has powerful antioxidant properties that are derived from the red pigments in grape skins (members of a family of compounds called proanthocyanidins); it contains tannins that can help reduce the risk of heart attack by hindering the formation of blood clots; and studies have shown that red wine can raise levels of HDL, the protective form of cholesterol.

While I rarely drink red wine myself, I do think it's beneficial for some people. I recommend organic red wine, and limiting your intake to no more than 1-2 servings per day (if you do not drink alcohol, do not start for health reasons).

Cheese, I do enjoy. While I used to eat cheese sparingly (and with some guilt) because of its fat content and effect on cholesterol levels, research on its health benefits has led me to incorporate more cheese into my diet, as it’s a natural source of calcium and protein. Soft French cheeses tend to be higher in fat, so eat them prudently – healthier options include organic, natural cheeses such as Emmental (Swiss), Jarlsberg and true Parmesan. Just a small amount of cheese offers a big taste, so a piece or two should be satisfactory.

Why not enjoy some Eggplant-Walnut Pâté with your wine and cheese?

Wednesday
Jan262011

Many Scented Cleaning Products Contain Toxic Chemicals

Even those products labeled "green" emit hazardous compounds not listed on the labels, report researchers from the University of Washington. They detected 133 chemicals in 25 popular products they analyzed, including laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, shampoos and air fresheners. More than half the products studied were the top sellers in their categories. All the products emitted at least one chemical classified as toxic or hazardous, the investigators noted, and 11 of them emitted at least one chemical considered a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study didn't examine the health consequences of the chemical emissions. However, two earlier studies published by the lead investigator found that 20 percent of the U.S. population reported adverse reactions from air fresheners and about 10 percent complained of negative effects from laundry products. Complaints were about twice as high among asthmatics. Under current law, manufacturers aren't required to disclose the ingredients in cleaning supplies, and the Food and Drug Administration doesn't require labels to list ingredients used in fragrances in personal care products. The study was published online on October 26 in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.

My take? If you're chemically sensitive or have allergies or respiratory sensitivities, you may want to create and use natural cleaning products to avoid exposure with compounds that can trigger your symptoms. But even if you have no sensitivities that might be activated by conventional cleaning products, you might want to rethink your use of those that contain carcinogens or suspected carcinogens. The danger these chemicals pose depends on the extent of your exposure - how often you use the products and how long you're in contact with the fumes.

Learn how to create a healthy home.

Tuesday
Jan252011

Worried About Diabetes? Focus on Diet

Mindfully managing diabetes means more than just monitoring blood sugar levels. It also means making prudent choices in your diet to address the risk factors of common diseases associated with diabetes, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. November is Diabetes Awareness Month, making this a good time to work with your physician and a dietician to create a meal plan that best suits your needs if you are at risk for diabetes. Research has shown that several nutritional elements may be helpful in managing diabetes-related issues:

  1. Eat more magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli, lentils, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
  2. Increase intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially cold-water oily fish such as wild Alaskan salmon. While providing much less omega 3s than fish, vegetarian sources such as walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed are also good choices
  3. Choose foods that are lower on the glycemic index and have a low glycemic load, such as beans, lentils and true whole-grains (that is, grains such as brown rice or bulgur wheat that are intact or in large pieces, not ground into flour).

More detail on managing diabetes through diet.

Monday
Jan242011

Secondhand Smoke and Your Hearing

Here's another reason to stay away from secondhand smoke: even if you never smoked or quit smoking years ago, just being around someone who does can increase your risk of hearing loss. A study conducted by a hearing aid company using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected from 1999 to 2004 showed that secondhand smoke could boost the risk of hearing loss in the low to mid frequencies for both former smokers and people who never smoked. Earlier studies have shown that hearing loss is a risk for active smokers, but this is the first one to look at the effects of secondhand smoke on hearing. The prevalence of hearing loss among former smokers was 14 percent for low to middle frequencies and 46.6 percent for high frequencies. Losses seen among those who never smoked were 8.6 percent for low to middle frequencies and 26.6 percent for high frequencies. More studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Antioxidants to counter secondhand smoke.

Sunday
Jan232011

4 Healthy Beverages

Yesterday we discussed four unhealthy drinks that you should minimize or avoid. Today we cover four healthy beverages - experiment to find the best ways to incorporate them into your daily routine:

  1. Green tea. My beverage of choice, green tea is a potent source of catechins - healthy antioxidants which can inhibit cancer cell activity and help boost immunity. Replace your morning coffee with a cup of tea for a healthier wake-up.
  2. Cranberry juice. Cranberries are a rich source of vitamin C and contain a substance that hinders the attachment of bacteria to bladder walls, which can help prevent urinary tract infections. Instead of cranberry juice cocktail, opt for unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate and dilute with water or sparkling water.
  3. Red wine. The antioxidant activity of red wine has been linked to heart health benefits, reduced stress, and even preserving memory. If you enjoy an occasional drink, limit your intake to 1-2 glasses a day. If you don't drink, don't start - there are other ways to get antioxidants in your diet, including fresh, whole fruits and vegetables.
  4. Pure, filtered water. Staying well hydrated is essential to optimal health and overall functioning. Drink as much as you want throughout the day, and in the warmer months, be sure to drink water when exercising to avoid dehydration.
Saturday
Jan222011

4 Unhealthy Beverages

Whether you are watching your weight or just want to eat healthier, taking a look at what you drink is key. Empty calories can lurk in all types of beverages - especially these: 

  1. Coffee drinks with full-fat dairy, artificial flavorings, and extras such as chocolate sprinkles. These can pack as many calories as a meal. A better option is a plain coffee with soy milk or, better yet, antioxidant-rich green tea.
  2. Sugary cocktails. Whether it’s a margarita or a pina colada, these drinks pack a double dose of calories due to alcohol and sugar - some can top 800 calories in one drink.  Better options are a glass of red wine (60-100 calories) or a light beer (about 100 calories).
  3. Non-juice "juice drinks." Before buying juice, read the label and make sure it is 100 percent juice (not just “made with” real juice) and check for sweeteners and calories. Many of these products are no better than drinking sugar water. Even 100 percent juice can spike blood sugar and promote weight gain, so mix it with plain or sparkling water, or green tea, to lower the glycemic load.
  4. Soda. There just isn’t anything nutritious about soda, whether it’s diet or regular. If you’re a soda addict, break the habit by eliminating soda as a treat, and stop reaching for it automatically with a meal or as a thirst quencher.

Tomorrow’s post covers four drinks that you should be reaching for!

Friday
Jan212011

Barley and Vegetable Soup

Barley has been cultivated since the Stone Age and was fermented to make beer soon after. Folk medicine prescribed the use of barley water as a tonic during convalescence. "Pearl" barley is the name of the grain when it's been polished, after the husk and bran have been removed. It's the form most commonly used in soups. Enjoy this healthful, old-fashioned hearty soup!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup pearl barley
11 cups vegetable stock (see recipe for Roasted Vegetable Soup)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
Salt to taste
1/2 bunch parsley

Instructions:

1. In a saucepan, combine the barley and 3 cups of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, or until the liquid is absorbed. 

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onion, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Cover and cook the vegetables for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. 

3. Add the remaining vegetable stock and simmer 30 minutes, covered. 

4. Add the barley and simmer 5 minutes more. Add salt to taste and ladle into bowls. Serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

Food as Medicine: Barley is high in healthy carbs, has a moderate amount of protein, and contains calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins. With its emphasis on vegetables and absence of meat, this soup is a natural fit for those who want to promote heart health.

More warming soup recipes from my Healthy Kitchen.