Keeping Extra Pounds off your Holiday List

expanding SantaAlthough by now you’ve hopefully now finished the last of the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, the holiday eating season has just begun. And, as a result, over the next month, the average American will gain one or two pounds. While that might not sound like much, the annual weight gain adds up from year to year and can lead to significant gains as the years goes by.

So, if the seams on your favorite holiday outfit are already bursting ahead of the onslaught of holiday parties, all-you-can-eat buffets, peppermint bark and eggnog, now’s the time to consider strategies to maintain your current weight and still enjoy the season.

At this time of year, most of us are bombarded with food. High calorie treats appear everywhere you look. Tables are filled with home-made cookies, gingerbread, hot apple cider, and irresistible savory appetizers. But resist you must, says Amy Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University.  Here’s her advice to keep you lean this holiday season:

holiday weight cartoonBe picky about your splurges. You can eat crackers and cheese any time, but the holidays are a time to sample special seasonal treats that people have spent a lot of energy preparing. So, if you’re at a holiday buffet, browse before you graze to size up your best options. If that delectable chocolate dessert beckons, enjoy a slice but pass on the brownies or soda. Allow yourself to indulge, just choose where you want to spend your calories.

Be mindful. When there’s a bowl of chips right in front of you, you are more likely to keep munching without really thinking about it. So pay attention to what you’re eating. Slow down and savor every bite, taking the time to appreciate what you’re putting into your mouth. Watch your portion size.

Plan ahead. If you know you are going to a party in the evening, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch. Don’t starve yourself; in fact, consider eating a snack to take the edge off of your hunger. Bring something healthy to potlucks so at least you can count on one healthy option being offered. Seasonal fruit such as pomegranates, clementines and cranberries are terrific holiday dishes because they are pretty, festive and, best of all, guilt free.

Conversation is calorie-free. Once you’ve taken a plate of food at a holiday gathering, step away from the table. Find a comfy space where you can talk to others. Fill up on fellowship, which is calorie-free!

Water is calorie-free, too. So, drink up. Alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic beverage to pace yourself as you celebrate and prevent a next day hang-over. Consider creating a wine spritzer by adding flavored sparkling water to your wine. Instead of drinking lemonade or soda with a meal, choose water. Not only does water fill you up, it’s also good for your digestive system, skin, muscles and kidneys.

Christmas fitness woman wearing santa hatIn addition to watching what you eat and drink, you should offset holiday calories by becoming more active. Saint Louis University associate professor of physical therapy and athletic training, Ethel Frese, DPT, offers the following tips:

Be realistic.  Becoming more active is a great way to mitigate a few extra calories, but it is not license to add massively to your diet. So, suppose you splurged and ate a 350 calorie pastry, on top of your normal daily calories. If you want to burn off all of the excess, you’ll need nearly an hour of intense exercise. While it’s not necessary to count every calorie, it is good to have a rough idea of how your calorie intake corresponds to your exercise, and know that it can take more exercise than you might think to balance out your food intake.

Everything counts. That said, don’t be discouraged. Exercise offers many overall health benefits, and burning off even an extra hundred calories a day makes a significant difference. In some cases, extra activity may be a natural part of your routine this season. Walking from the back of a packed parking lot at the mall and scouring stores for the perfect gift provides good exercise. House cleaning for company can burn calories, as can shoveling snow, playing with children and putting up decorations.

Fight the urge to hibernate. If rainy or snowy days tempt you to stay at home watching movies and reading books, be sure you don’t make a habit of avoiding outings. Bundle up and get out for fresh air and exercise. Run errands, stop by to see friends and neighbors, drop off canned goods at a food pantry, check out an exhibit at a museum or build a snowman!

Be consistent. The secret to success is to add a little bit of exercise each day. The effort really does add up, and you’ll find that daily activity makes you feel healthier, more alert, and happier in general. You’ll enjoy the season more without the sluggish feeling brought on by too many sedentary hours. Even if you don’t burn off all of the extra calories through exercise, you’ll limit the damage and in January, you’ll appreciate having only one pound to lose, instead of five.

Remember that the secret to controlling your weight is balancing the calories you take in (food) with the calories you burn. “Even the healthiest eaters need to exercise and the best exercisers need nutrition,” says Moore. “Nutrition and exercise provides the one-two punch of holiday weight management.”

Holiday DietMake your weight management mantra for the season to maintain not gain.

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Reducing your stroke risk…because I care

stroke-1-in-6-graphics_170x304With all the upcoming excitement about Halloween, you may have overlooked the fact that yesterday was World Stroke Day.

This year, the global campaign to tackle stroke was highlighted with the slogan “Because I care…”.

The phrase showcases the role of caregivers in supporting people who have suffered a stroke and aims to correct misinformation about the disease, such as the misconception that stroke only happens later in life.

Every other second, stroke attacks a person, regardless of age or gender. Of the 15 million people who experience a stroke each year, six million do not survive. Worldwide about 30 million people have had a stroke and most have residual disabilities.

Overall approximately 55 000 more women have strokes than men each year, mainly because stroke occurs more frequently at older ages and women generally live longer than men. Of note, women are twice as likely to die from a stroke than breast cancer each year.

And recent data published in the Lancet, shows a striking 25% worldwide increase in the number of stroke cases in people aged between 20 and 64. This younger age group now accounts for a shocking 31% of strokes.

But, with greater awareness, these figures don’t have to continue their alarming trend.  Stroke can be prevented, treated and managed in the long term. The campaign theme “Because I care” emphasizes these areas.

The slogan was chosen as it can easily be adapted to all cultures and in any setting. It attempts to address prevailing misinformation about the disease, e.g., stroke only happens later in life. The campaign also celebrates the important contributions of caregivers and the role they play as conduits between the stroke community and the general public in correcting misinformation.

Because I care…

    • Stroke 02.11.13I want you to know the facts about stroke
    • I will work to break down the myths surrounding stroke
    • I want you to learn how to minimize your risk of stroke
    • I want you to have access to the best possible treatment
    • I will ensure that you receive quality treatment, care and support
    • I will be with you every step of the way towards your full recovery

Research presented at the recent European Society of Cardiology [ESC] Congress  showed that there are plenty of steps young obese women can take to reduce their risk of stroke. In young women without metabolic disorders such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar  or abnormal glucose metabolism being overweight did not increase the chance of having a stroke compared to normal weight women without metabolic disorders. However, the risk of stroke increased by 3.5 times in women who were overweight and had metabolic disorders.

Study author, Dr Michelle Schmiegelow said: “Obesity puts young women at a major risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, which dramatically increases their likelihood of having a stroke. Young women who are overweight or obese probably have a window of opportunity to lose weight and keep a healthy lifestyle so that they reduce their risk of getting high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. In this way they can protect themselves from having a stroke or heart attack.”

Awareness of important risk factors, such as atrial fibrillation  and hypertension, is crucial.

OBESE-BLACK-WOMENProfessor Joep Perk, MD, a Swedish Cardiologist and spokesperson for the ESC says: “Women are at the same risk of stroke as men, and the level of risk is completely steered by the underlying risk factor pattern they have. The majority of people who have a stroke are disabled for the rest of their lives and may be paralyzed or lose their ability to speak. The devastating consequences of this disease for patients and their loved ones make prevention even more important.”

He adds: “Prevention for all cardiovascular disease follows the same pattern, be it stroke, heart attack, or peripheral arterial disease. Step one for women is absolutely to stop smoking – that beats everything. The second most important thing is to know your blood pressure to see if you are at risk. And finally, adopt healthy behaviors like eating heart healthy food and keeping the amount of salt you eat under control.”

stroke FASTThe global campaign against stroke asks people to commit to six stroke challenges:
•    Know your personal risk factors: high blood pressure, diabetes, and high blood cholesterol
•    Be physically active and exercise regularly
•    Maintain a healthy diet high in fruit and vegetable and low in salt and keep blood pressure low
•    Limit alcohol consumption
•    Avoid cigarette smoke. If you smoke, seek help to stop now
•    Learn to recognize the warning signs of a stroke and how to take action.

Check, check, check, check, check and check!  I’m feeling up to the stroke challenge.  Are you?

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A Call to End Religious Nutrition

lowcarbQ: “How can you tell if a friend is on a gluten-free diet?”

A: “They’ll tell you.”

Again and again and again… Same joke goes for paleo, low-carbvegan and pretty much any organized dietary strategy that has a defining name and movement behind it.

Along with politics, gun rights, religion and abortion, is one of those areas where people feel comfortable not only sharing their views but do so with incredible conviction, passion and certainty. And yet, nutrition is anything but certain.  Sure, we know there are patterns of eating that help in minimizing the risk of various chronic diseases, but those patterns are far broader and less drilled down than most nutrition gurus and zealots believe.

So, we were very interested in fellow blogger –Yoni Freedhoff’s – recent blog in which he calls for an end of nutrition as religion.  More so, because Yoni is not just another disillusioned dieter. No siree!  He is the Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa.  Dr. Freedhoff has also been called Canada’s most outspoken obesity expert and his award winning blog, Weighty Matters, has at times been ranked the world’s top health blog by blog ranking service Technorati.

So what does Dr Freedhoff have to say?

First, he suggests that practitioners of dietary religion risk alienating friends through strict adherence to their religious commandments.  Second, he states that diet adherents tend to use their online platform to frown upon any and all dietary strategies beyond their house of worship. To question their program or guru’s plans is akin to questioning their religious beliefs; and yet, unlike actual religious questioning (which would almost certainly lead to a thoughtful discussion), question dietary dogma online, and you can bet it will lead to a highly heated debate where anger and indignation can easily descend into name calling and personal attacks.

jesus toastAnd even if you religiously avoid all cyber nutrition nuts, you may still be at risk. According to Freedhoff, although you may not have a stranger’s zealous scrutiny to watch out for, you’ve still got yourself. Dietary dogma, almost by definition, dictates blind faith and absolute loyalty, where breaking a dietary commandment is akin to committing a sin. And with sin, comes guilt. And if you feel guilt often enough, you might well decide to abandon your entire healthier-living, guilt-inducing effort.

Nutrition as religion demands perfection, yet perfection is an impossible goal. Remember, food is not simply fuel. Since the dawn of humankind, food has been used for comfort and celebration, and if your newly found dietary religion forbids foods you enjoy, my bet is you’re not long for that diet.

diet tapemeasureSo what’s the solution?  Freedhoff advises : the easiest question to evaluate any dietary plan or religion is simply, “Could I happily live like this for the rest of my life?” where the most important word in that question is “happily.” If the answer’s “No,” you’ve either got to get comfortable with adding in some sinning, or find another way to go.

Add in some sinning in the form of thoughtful, “worth-it,” dietary imperfections, and suddenly new lifestyles may transform from the merely tolerable to the actually enjoyable. Enjoy your lifestyle, albeit imperfectly, and maybe you’ll even stick with it.

Nutrition isn’t religion. Eat the healthiest diet that you can enjoy, because if you’re not enjoying it, it isn’t going to last, and tolerable isn’t good enough.

Go on, sin a little, on us. The good doctor will forgive you enough to forgive yourself.

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Fighting Flab with Flying Insects

cicada 1If, like us, you live in the East Coast of the US, you’ve probably stated to see some of the billions of bug-eyed cicadas that have returned after a 17 year absence.   Cicada sightings are trending on Facebook and other social media sites, almost as frequently as reports of the devastation in Oklahoma and the outcome of the Jodi Arias trial.

I saw my first red eyed cicada on Sunday night…not while out walking my dogs or mowing my yard but in the Emergency Department of my local hospital!  While I’m not certain if it was there as a patient or a visitor, it caused one of my EMS colleagues to run screaming from the room.

This got me thinking about what will you do when ‘swarmageddon’ hits?

cicadapocolypse-537x357-1Will you be locking yourself inside out of terror and to avoid the potential ear trauma resulting from the insects’ loud mating noises, or, will you be embracing the winged critters as a diet delicacy?

That’s right!  Cicadas are an excellent source of nutrients and apparently one of the most versatile ingredients around. They can be deep fried, stir fried, skewered, blanched and even made into ice cream.

But you’ll need to be quick.  Just like another delicacy – truffles – the season will be short. By the end of June, the 2013 cicada invasion will come to a close, and it will be another 17 years before we see them again.

Cicadas are the shrimp of the land,” says entomologist Isa Betancourt .  She explains: “They are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton. We regularly eat the arthropods of the sea … shrimp, lobster, and crabs.”

Better still, cicadas are high in protein and low in fat.  Apparently they have a delicate nutty flavor and buttery texture and are best when they first emerge from the ground in the morning, still soft after shedding their skin.

insect_plate_lAnd even though the thought of eating cicadas might give you the creeps, a U.N. report published this week, unrelated to cicadas, says consuming insects can help fight obesity.

More than 1,900 species of insects are eaten around the world, mainly in Africa and Asia. However, “in the West we have a cultural bias, and think that because insects come from developing countries, they cannot be good,” says  Arnold van Huis, one of the authors of the report, from Wageningen University in the Netherlands,

As well as helping in the costly battle against obesity, which the World Health Organization estimates has nearly doubled since 1980 and affects around 500 million people, the report said insect farming was likely to be less land-dependent than traditional livestock and produce fewer greenhouse gases.

It would also provide business and export opportunities for poor people in developing countries, especially women, who are often responsible for collecting insects in rural communities.

Mexican grasshoppers fried in chilis … could you?Van Huis said barriers to enjoying dishes such as bee larvae yogurt were psychological – in a blind test carried out by his team, nine out of 10 people preferred meatballs made from roughly half meat and half mealworms to those made from meat!

Share your cicada, and other insect, recipes and experiences with us.

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Does Belly Fat cause tumors to go Belly Up?

belly_fat6People store fat in two ways – one you can see and one you can’t. The fat you can see is just under the skin in the thighs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen. That’s called subcutaneous fat. The fat you can’t see is deeper inside, around the vital organs – heart, lungs, digestive tract, liver as well as in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. That’s called visceral fat.

Many people are self-conscious about the fat they can see. But actually, it’s the hidden visceral fat that may be a bigger problem, even for thin people.  Having too much of it is linked to a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers.

According to a new study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, visceral fat is directly linked to an increased risk for colon cancer.

There has been some skepticism as to whether obesity per se is a bona fide cancer risk factor, rather than the habits that fuel it, including a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle,” said Derek M. Huffman, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. “Although those other lifestyle choices play a role, this study unequivocally demonstrates that visceral adiposity is causally linked to intestinal cancer.

Prior research has shown that obesity markedly increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with, and dying from, many cancers. In this animal study, Huffman and his colleagues wanted to see if removing visceral fat in mice genetically prone to developing colon cancer might prevent or lessen the development of these tumors.

To do this they randomly assigned the mice to one of three groups. Mice in the first group underwent a sham surgery and were allowed to eat an unrestricted “buffet style” diet, which resulted in them becoming obese. Those in the second group were also provided an unrestricted diet and became obese, but they had their visceral fat surgically removed at the outset of the study. Mice in the third group underwent a sham surgery, but were then put on a calorie restricted diet causing them to lose visceral fat.

obese mouseOur sham-operated obese mice had the most visceral fat, developed the greatest number of intestinal tumors, and had the worst overall survival,” Huffman said. “However, mice that had less visceral fat, either by surgical removal or a calorie-restricted diet, had a reduction in the number of intestinal tumors. This was particularly remarkable in the case of our group where visceral fat was surgically removed, because these mice were still obese, they just had very little abdominal fat.”

The researchers then subdivided the groups by gender. In female mice, the removal of visceral fat was significantly related to a reduction in intestinal tumors, but calorie restriction was not. In male mice, calorie restriction had a significant effect on intestinal tumors, but removal of visceral fat did not.

abdominalobesityThese finding suggest what most women have known for years i.e., that there are important gender differences when it comes to weight. But it also provided an explanation for how belly fat, diet and cancer risk are linked.  In addition, the study emphasizes the need to promote strategies that reduce abdominal fat in obese individuals.

So how can you get rid of this dangerous deep belly fat?  According to experts, there are four: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.

Exercise: Vigorous exercise trims fat, including visceral fat. It can also slow down the build-up of visceral fat that tends to happen over the years. But forget spot-reducing. There aren’t any moves you can do that specifically target visceral fat. Half an hour of vigorous aerobic exercise, done four times a week is ideal.  Jog, if you’re already fit, or walk briskly at an incline on a treadmill if you’re not yet ready for jogging. Vigorous workouts on stationary bikes and elliptical or rowing machines are also effective.

Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first.  A fiber-rich diet may help. Research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day, without any other diet changes, build up less visceral fat over time than others. That’s as easy as eating two small apples or a cup of green slimpeas.

Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut eye helps. In one study, people who got six to seven hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept five or fewer hours per night or eight or more hours per night.

Stress: It’s unavoidable, but what you do with your stress matters. When you’re stressed you  tend not to make the best food choices when they’re stressed. Getting social support from friends and family, meditating, and exercising can all help to tame stress.

Short on time? If you could only afford the time to do one of these things, exercise probably has the most immediate benefits, because it tackles both obesity and stress.

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Teaching your child the ABC’s of Heart Health

blood pressure heartHeart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it is the largest cause of death among adults in the United States. In fact, someone in America dies every 37 seconds from some form of cardiovascular disease.

Certain factors that play an important role in a person’s chances of developing heart disease. Some of these life-style risk factors can be changed, treated, or modified, and some, such as congenital heart disease cannot.

Zachary Stone M.D, a primary care physician at the University of Alabama, agrees that it’s possible to build a future free from cardiovascular disease by starting heart-healthy habits at a young age. Most of the risk factors that affect children can be controlled early in life.

The process of atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries and is known to cause heart attacks, strokes and sudden death, has been shown to begin in early childhood,” says Stone. “It’s important to concentrate on healthy lifestyles in children to prevent adult cardiovascular disease.”

kids-heart-healthThe three main areas to watch are diet, activity levels and smoke exposure.

Diet: Good nutrition can help to decrease cardiovascular disease. It can help prevent hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. 1 out of every 3 American adults is obese and obesity is linked to more than 110,000 deaths in the United States each year. Childhood obesity in the United States is also on the rise. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16% and 33% of children and teenagers are obese. Because obese children are more likely to be obese adults, preventing or treating obesity in childhood may reduce the risk of adult obesity.  A young person’s diet should be low in saturated fats and primarily consist of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Healthy HeartActivity: One easy way to increase physical activity in children is to limit their sedentary activities.  Parents should limit television and multimedia to 1-2 hours per day and ensure that their kids participate in at least one hour of moderate activity daily.

Smoke exposure:  Exposure to smoke is dangerous to the health of a child for many reasons, including that it can increase the risk of developing heart disease as an adult. According to the CDC, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students smoke cigarettes, and nearly 4,000 kids under age 18 try their first cigarette every day.  More than 90,000 people die each year from heart diseases caused by smoking. Among young people who would otherwise have a very low risk of heart disease, cigarette smoking may cause as many as 75% of the cases of heart disease. And, the longer a person smokes, the higher the risk of heart disease. Parents should talk openly to their kids about both the dangers and bad effects of smoking, such as yellow teeth, bad breath, smelly clothes, shortness of breath and lung damage.  Parents also need to act as a role model for their children, by not smoking or allowing others around them to smoke, thereby reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke.

Baby_with_HeartKeeping kids heart healthy is an investment in their future and yours, and may be the best gift you can ever give.

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Rethinking Resolutions

Tablet PC computer with 2013 New Year counterNew Year’s resolutions. In previous years SRxA’s Word on Health has provided some great tips to help our readers improve their health. This year’s no different…except we’re telling you not to make resolutions.

Yes! We are officially letting you off the hook.  Why? Because according to new research, thinking of health and fitness goals as “New Year’s resolutions” can actually harm your health and have nasty emotional side effects.   For starters two-thirds of people end up ditching their New Year’s goals within weeks of starting them, less than 20% of people will stay with their resolutions for more than six months and less than 10% will keep them all year. This inability to stay on track, can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy. Experiencing setbacks such as cheating on your diet or skipping a day at the gym can amplify those feelings, resulting in a downward spiral that can lead you back into old habits faster than if you hadn’t made resolutions in the first place.

New Year Fresh startAlthough cutting back on certain foods can be good for your health, completely depriving yourself of them can be a problem. While most New Year’s resolutions revolve around the idea of deprivation: eliminate fat or carbs or salt…these all have a place, in moderation, in your diet. The only time quitting a habit completely is really good for you is if it is dangerous to your health, like smoking or binge drinking. Even then, quitting cold turkey can be hard; it can take months to wean yourself from bad habits. The key is moderation, not deprivation.

Another problem with resolutions is that diet and fitness targets are often totally unrealistic. Setting over-ambitious goals for yourself can lead to perceived failure which means you’ll be more likely to give up and slip right back into old habits.  The key to improving your health habits is to gradually implement change and incorporate them as a part of your lifestyle.

new-year-resolutio_2384285bFinally, remember that feeding and fueling your body mentally, physically and spiritually should be fun. You should never feel like taking care of yourself is work. New Year’s resolutions often take all of the enjoyment out of the process of change. Improving yourself is not just about the end goal, it’s about overcoming obstacles in between and becoming more confident and aware of who you are. Yes, the destination matters, but so does the journey.

So this year, you have our permission to ditch the resolutions, and forego the guilt.  Instead, why not focus on the present…and each day think of one thing you can do right now, towards your goal?

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