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Will Activated Charcoal Activate your Health?

February 4th, 2015

activated charcoal pillsTake a look around your local health market shelves or smoothie bar menu and you may notice products containing activated charcoal (also called activated carbon). Before you jump to try this latest fad, take a moment to understand what this product is, its intended uses, and health implications.

Activated charcoal is not found naturally in foods. It is made when coal, wood, or other substances are placed under high heat with a gas or an activating agent to expand the surface area. Activated charcoal has been used by medical professionals to manage poisonings and overdoses.

There are several other activated charcoal health claims that are far less studied include the following:

  • treating cholestasis (a condition of pregnancy affecting normal bile flow)
  • reducing high cholesterol
  • preventing a hangover
  • preventing gas (flatulence)

There is limited scientific evidence to support the use of activated charcoal as treatment for these conditions.

Activated charcoal is often marketed as a way to detox and eliminate harmful toxins from our bodies. Although the use of activated charcoal may be warranted in the case of poisonings or overdoses, general detoxification is done by our bodies naturally with the help of our kidneys and liver. Additionally, activated charcoal can absorb food nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that our bodies need. It is also important to remember that the Federal Drug Administration does not regulate the sale of dietary supplements, including activated charcoal.

Side effects are more likely when activated charcoal is used on a long-term basis; these include black stools, black tongue, vomiting or diarrhea, and constipation. Activated charcoal can also react with certain medications you may be taking. Always talk with your doctor before you begin taking any supplement, including activated charcoal.

The bottom line is that further research needs to be done to determine how effective activated charcoal is for the treatment of various conditions and what doses should be used.

Sources/more information: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/activated-charcoal-uses-risks

http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/wellness/?s=cleanse

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Increase Your Physical Activity Level with Tai Chi

January 26th, 2015

woman tai chi figureTai chi is a martial art developed in ancient China that is now practiced for health improvement. Tai chi combines slow, graceful movements flowing into the next with focused mental concentration.

Tai chi requires very little in terms of equipment or props. This slow and gentle movement of body weight and deep breathing requires nothing more than comfortable clothes and flat, flexible shoes. It is suitable for all ages and can be done indoors or outdoors, alone or with a group. The whole family can learn and practice tai chi together.

People who practice tai chi several times weekly may experience several health benefits such as improved balance (which helps to reduce risk of falling), flexibility, strengthened muscles, stress relief, lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, and improved sense of well-being, to name a few.

Before beginning tai chi, as with any exercise program, consult your physician if you have a chronic health condition.

Sources: www.extension.org/pages/32340/tai-chi:-movment-for-health-benefits/print/ and http://nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm

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What’s For Dinner?

January 19th, 2015

ground beefThe day has somehow gotten away from you—it’s later than you think; the family is hungry and you haven’t begun to fix dinner, let alone think about what to fix. One look in the freezer and you spot a frozen brick of ground beef. What’s the quickest way to turn the brick into a quick and delicious beef meal? Here is what you need: microwave-safe storage bag (gallon size), microwave, four minutes, and these simple steps.

  1. Transfer your frozen ground beef from its packaging to the gallon-size storage bag.
  2. Seal the storage bag, leaving a small opening for steam to escape (about 1/2 inch or size of a pencil).
  3. Heat the bag in the microwave on a microwave-safe plate for one minute on HIGH.
  4. Flip the bag over.
  5. Heat on HIGH for one more minute; wait for one minute.
  6. Remove the beef from the microwave and massage the bag
  7. for 10 seconds.
  8. If needed, heat on HIGH for 30 seconds longer, followed by 30 seconds of rest. The leaner the ground beef, the less time in the microwave. TIP: the beef should not be HOT to the touch; just thaw it enough to form it into a shape.
  9. Immediately cook your beef to 160°F.
  10. Enjoy!

Source: www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/groundbeefthawing.aspx

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New Labeling Requirements for Menus and Vending Machines

January 7th, 2015

women looking at menu boardThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized two rules that will require chain restaurants, vending machines, and similar retail food establishments to inform consumers of calorie information on menus and menu boards.

Rule 1: Menu Labeling

This rule requires:

  • The calories of the menu items be placed on the menu or menu board, and it applies to larger restaurants and similar retail food establishments (e.g., part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering the same menu items).
  • Calorie labeling for certain alcoholic beverages and certain foods sold at entertainment venues such as movie theaters and amusement parks.
  •  Menus and menu boards include the following statement: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”
  • Covered establishments provide, upon customer request, written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein.

Restaurants and similar retail establishments that are covered will have one year from the date of publication of the menu labeling final rule to comply with the requirements. Foods purchased in grocery stores or other retail stores intended for more than one person and requiring additional preparation before consuming are not covered by this rule.

Rule 2: Vending Machines

This rule requires that vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines disclose calorie information for food sold from vending machines, subject to certain exceptions. Vending machine operators that are covered will have two years from the date of publication of the vending machine labeling final rule to comply with the requirements.

For more information about these new rules please visit www.fda.gov/Food/NewsEvents/ConstituentUpdates/ucm423987.htm.

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Activity Trackers—Are They for You?

December 31st, 2014

activity fitness trackerExercising can be hard, but tracking your progress doesn’t have to be. A fitness tracker counts your steps and provides motivation to exercise more throughout your day without drastic lifestyle changes or fad diets. By simplifying the process of monitoring with a fitness device, you will increase the likelihood of reaching a healthier weight and improving your overall health.

Fitness trackers are lightweight and wearable, and they can track steps, distance, heart rate, and calories used. Some even monitor sleep. The best activity trackers monitor your activity and display information about your daily routine on your smartphone or on the screen of the device itself.

Look for ones that will calculate your total minutes of activity, steps taken, heart rate, and goals for you. Some may even remind you to get up and move when you have been sitting for too long. Choose one that works with your lifestyle and habits. PC magazine has a good review of features and costs for some of the more popular wearable activity trackers.

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Making Sense of the Dates

December 24th, 2014

man reading food label grocery storeAre you confused by the dates that appear on food labels? If so you are not alone! Product dating is not required by federal regulations with the exception of infant formula. Most companies do put a date or a code on the package, but unfortunately there is no universally accepted method used so it can get confusing.

Here are some terms that will help you determine if the food item is still safe.

  • “Sell by” means the store should sell the product by the date printed, but it can still safely be eaten after that date. Egg cartons have a “sell by” date.
  • “Best if used by” means the consumer should use the product by the date listed for best quality and flavor (not for safety reasons). Most canned goods have a “best if used by” date.
  • “Use by” or “Expires” means the product should be used by or frozen by the date listed. There will likely be a marked deterioration in product quality and safety after this date. Meats are an example of a food with a “use by” date.
  • “Packing code” is required on all cans. This enables the company to track when and where the food was manufactured. This code is not a “use by” date. Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to extreme temperatures (freezing or temperatures above 90°F). Any cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen should be discarded. You will find that high-acid foods (tomatoes, fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months and low-acid canned foods (meats, vegetables) for 2 to 5 years.

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Prebiotics–Probiotics—What Is the Difference?

December 10th, 2014

strawberry yogurt dairyPrebiotics and probiotics are considered “nutrition boosters”that are naturally present in everyday foods. Although there are prebiotic and probiotic supplements available, those found naturally in food are more readily digested and absorbed.

Prebiotics are natural, nondigestible food components linked to promoting the growth of “good” bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics help good bacteria grow in your gut and might also help your body better absorb calcium.

Probiotics are actual live cultures of “good” bacteria that are naturally found in your gut. These help balance or grow the bacteria you need in your gut. Probiotics may help enhance immunity and overall health, especially intestinal health. Probiotics have been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, to lower lactose intolerance symptoms, and to prevent some allergy symptoms; however, the benefits vary person-to-person.

food sourcesTry to include both prebiotics and probiotics in meals and snacks since they work together to restore and improve gut health. For example, enjoy a cup of yogurt with a banana at breakfast or top sautéed asparagus with melted aged cheese for dinner.

For a more extensive review of prebiotics and probiotics, register to view the 2010 Current Issues in Nutrition webinar, “The Good Gut Bugs: Prebiotics and Probiotics.”

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The Safety of CrossFit

November 26th, 2014

fitness workout class stretch gymHigh-intensity workouts such as CrossFit are popular workouts, but are they for everyone? CrossFit combines gymnastics, endurance exercises, speed training, and strength training into one intense and short workout called workout of the day. These exercises are done with very short breaks in between. There is limited research about the safety of CrossFit in comparison to other types of exercise.

According to John Porcari, PhD, head of the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse Clinical Exercise Physiology program, CrossFit is safe for an active person but may not be safe for a 45-year-old with heart disease risks. Dr. Porcari adds, “We’ve seen with a lot of these workouts people go flat-out as fast as they can, but then their form falls apart. You really need to be technically correct with a lot of these exercises or else you’re going to get hurt.”

Take these steps to make sure you stay injury free:

1. Consult a health care professional before starting a workout routine if you are not physically active.

2. Find a certified personal trainer who can teach you proper techniques. Ask about their credentials and references, and look for a trainer that is concerned about form and safety. Certifications to look for include NSCA, ACE, ACSM, and NASM.

3. Don’t overexert yourself, watch your form, and gradually increase the intensity of your workout.

http://www.acefitness.org/prosourcearticle/3542/crossfit-sup-tm-sup-new-research-puts-popular

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What’s in Your Kitchen

November 19th, 2014

in the kitchen homeA 2013 study identified the six germiest items in the kitchen. These items were found to have pathogens (disease-causing agents) on them that can cause someone, especially children, pregnant women, and older adults, to become ill. Risk of illness can be lowered by using the cleaning tips below.

 

Kitchen Item Pathogen Found How to Decrease Pathogens
Can opener salmonella, E. coli, yeast, and mold Handheld: Wash in hot soapy water, rinse, and air dry after each use.
Electric: Using a clean cloth, wash the cutter, feed gear, and magnet with hot soapy water. Rinse with a wet, clean cloth.
Vegetable drawer of refrigerator salmonella, listeria, yeast, and mold Wash in hot soapy water, rinse and air dry after each use.
Blender salmonella, E. coli, yeast, and mold Dishwasher Safe: Wash blender in the dishwasher.
Not Dishwasher Safe: Wash in hot soapy water, rinse, and dry before reassembling.
Rubber spatula E. coli, yeast, and mold Wash in hot soapy water, paying special attention to the area where the handle joins the spatula.
Refrigerator meat compartment salmonella, E. coli, yeast, and mold Use a clean cloth and wash the bin with a mild detergent mixed with warm water. Thoroughly rinse with warm, clean water and dry.
Food storage container with rubber seal salmonella, yeast, and mold Wash in hot soapy water, paying special attention to any grooves where the cover attaches to the container. Then rinse and dry.
General Safe Food Practices:
• Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 10–15 seconds.
• Avoid cross-contamination by storing ready-to-eat foods on top of uncooked foods, such as meat, to avoid raw juices dripping on other foods.

http://www.nsf.org/newsroom_pdf/2013_germ_study_FOR-WEB-ONLY.pdf

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Recycling Food Waste? Waste Not, Want Not?

November 5th, 2014

woman helping man at  food pantrySupermarkets throw out $47 billion worth of food each year. Much of this food is still safe to eat. The idea is to offer food to people at low prices and reduce the amount of food wasted. This has led to new businesses opening around the United States that provide groceries at a discounted price. These food items are safe to eat,but one of the following applies:

  • They are past their sell-by date (end of store “shelf life” but still safe to eat).
  • They are close to their use-by date (found on shelf-stable products; indicatesabsolute best quality when unopened).
  • They have minor imperfections (e.g., slightly bruised produce, slightlydented cans).
  • They are from overstocks.

Why is repurposing of these foods gaining popularity? Foods that are past their sell-by date or close to their use-by date can still be safe to eat and therefore can be used to combat hunger. Currently, 1 in 8 or 11.9% of Iowans are foodinsecure, meaning that at some time during the year they lacked access to safe and nutritious food. This leads to lower intakes of nutrient-rich foods, more health problems, and loss of independence. People who are food insecure do not receivethe nutrients needed to remain healthy and active. Not having access to safe and nutritious foods in midlife and older adulthood can make completing daily tasks (e.g., cleaning, bathing, etc.) more challenging. In addition, getting a foodborne illness can have long term health consequences. In children, a lack of propernutrition is associated with increased behavior problems, school absenteeism, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.

The Iowa organization Table to Table is working to reduce food waste and foodinsecurity. Table to Tablecollects edible food fromdonors and distributes thesefood items to those in needthrough agencies that serve the hungry, homeless, and at-risk populations. Since 1996,Table to Table has rescuedabout 12 million pounds offood from grocery stores,restaurants, schools, andother food operations. To learnmore about Table to Table, visit www.table2table.org/.

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