Tag Archives: Disease Prevention

“Date” Yet one more four-letter word.

Tzolkin Calendar - hsc08a

No, not that kind of date!  It can’t be healthy to eat food past the “expire” date, can it?  What about the “sell by” or “use by” dates?  These labels are confusing, and really don’t mean very much.  We might as well use an Aztec Calendar Wheel for the same amount of clarity!

They give us the the date by which the manufacturer has deemed the food to be closest to the taste that the manufacturer decided was best.  “But companies want people to taste their products as best they can at the optimum, because that’s how they maintain their business and their market shares.”  (Institute of Food Technologists)  “There should be a standard date and wording that is used. This is about quality, not safety. You can make your own decision about whether a food still has an edible quality that’s acceptable to you.” (Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic)  All sources say the same thing.  Smell it.  Taste it.  You can tell if a food has gone bad.

This is much different than contamination.  “Bacteria, viruses, or parasites mainly cause foodborne illness. Many foodborne illnesses are a result of bacteria or viruses, which are microorganisms or “germs” that occur either naturally in foods or are spread as a result of poor practices, such as cross contaminating foods or improper handling during food preparation. Bacteria can rapidly multiply under the right conditions.”  (MDH)

Bacteria growth in food 2

Bottom line:  Let your senses (including common sense) guide you, and take basic precautions including hand-washing and sanitary kitchen practices.  (Information on food safety here.)

We Can’t Afford to NOT Eat Healthy

Cost of Eating Healthy

Yes, a double negative to make my point!  Illness is very costly, every which way we look at it, and wellness doesn’t have to be expensive.  Starting on a very small scale, let’s take potatoes.  A pound of potatoes costs $0.69.  A pound of potato chips costs $4.50.  So we can buy four and a half pounds of potatoes for the same price as one pound of chips.  Although it takes about four pounds of raw potatoes to make one pound of potato chips, we are not getting four times the nutrition.  As a matter of fact:

One ounce of potatoes has 28 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 6 grams of carbohydrates.  One ounce is considered mildly inflammatory (-17).  Regarding inflammation, “Sears calls inflammation a silent epidemic that triggers chronic diseases over the years.”

One ounce of potato chips has 153 calories (5.5 times our spud bud), 10 grams of fat, and at 14 grams, more than double the carbohydrates.  They are considered mildly inflammatory (-73).  According to the Nutritional Target Map and Caloric Ratio Pyramid:  Potato chips are less filling, less nutritious, and the caloric ratio has moved from mostly carbohydrates to mostly fats.  But I must ask…  Who eats only one ounce of potato chips?!

When we move to a serving size of 8 ounces of chips (which I feel is generously underrating how much we actually eat), the Inflammation Factor shoots to strongly inflammatory at -594, with a whopping 1,242 calories, 85 grams of fat, and 1192 mg of sodium!  The Inflammation Factor of a large potato (70 grams more than the bag of chips) comes in at moderately inflammatory (-179), 278 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 30 mg of sodium.

The potato is just one example of how healthier whole food is often much less expensive than its processed counterpart.  Remember, nutrient density is so important in not only how we spend our money, but how we spend it wisely on nutrient-rich foods.  In addition, if we are consuming (and over-consuming) the chips and many other convenience foods that are high in fats, sugars, calories, and inflammatory effect, we are greatly increasing our chances of disease.  Diabetes is just one of the lifestyle diseases that is currently plaguing us.  “People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of about $13,700 per year,” and that does not include loss of productivity, income, etc.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford medical bills like that!  Besides, I would much rather spend my money on food, shelter, and doing fun things with my daughter when we can…  “A sane diet alone would save us hundreds of billions of dollars and maybe more.”  –Mark Bittman.

An Internet search for ‘eating healthy on a budget’ will bring up a lot of information.  One comprehensive resource is Eating Well.  Like anything else, it takes some practice to plan ahead and prepare the foods.  We can do it!  If we don’t have time during the week, we can prepare ahead of time and stock the refrigerator and freezer.

Exercise is another component of a healthy lifestyle.   There are so many free or inexpensive options.  Arnold Schwarzenegger said:  “I’ve never paid for a push-up or a sit-up in my life – and I’ve done millions.”  We can lace up our shoes and go for a nice brisk walk with friends.  How about dancing?  That’s a personal favorite!  The secret is to do what we enjoy, and to make it a habit.  A couple of resources:  100 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Exercise, and Six Ways to Build a Better Body on a Budget.

There are many other components to a healthy lifestyle and improved quality of life, including our mental and emotional states.  Diet and exercise play such a big role that I will leave off now with a reminder:  Balance, moderation, and variety…  In all things.

What’s the deal with Type 2 Diabetes, anyway?

obesity-diabetes Map

How many of us truly want to be overweight, obese, or suffering from diabetes or the myriad of other lifestyle diseases?  I haven’t done the research, but my best guess is few to none.

Diabetes is something we all know about, right?  We always hear about it.  Too much sugar causes problems with insulin (however that works) and often leads to overweight/obesity, they say.  Do we really know what diabetes is and what it does to us?  “Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.”  (ADA)

For the moment, let’s put aside the diminishing quality of life, hardships, and complications that come with this disease.  Even without those tremendous factors, it is a huge financial burden both personally and nationally:

People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of about $13,700 per year, of which about $7,900 is attributed to diabetes.  AND The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 is $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity.(ADA)

By 2050, if our current course as a nation continues, one in three American adults will have diabetes. The cost to this country — in lives, lost productivity and hard dollars — will be an enormous personal and societal burden that could overwhelm our healthcare system and bankrupt our nation.  (ADA)

I was not aware at the breadth and depth of complications associated with diabetes type 2.  Also found on the ADA website is a list of complications.  Some of these include:  Glaucoma, cataracts, blindness, many skin conditions (including bacterial and fungal infections), nerve damage which can be painful or dangerous if it results in lack of feeling, foot disfigurement, foot and leg amputations, high blood pressure, mental health issues leading to depression, hearing loss, gum disease, kidney disease, stroke, and others.

Here’s the kicker:  For most of us:  IT’S ALL PREVENTABLE!

Research as found that it’s not just the sugar:  “Being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes.”  (ADA)

If you have type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.  (ADA)

So, why is it so hard for us to eat right and exercise to simply prevent this, and many other lifestyle diseases?  Consuming a healthy diet and getting our daily exercise can be so elusive it is frustrating to us all.  The answer to this question is more complicated than most of us can imagine.

The importance is to start.  Start where?!  That depends on knowing ourselves and what works for us and what is important to us.  It starts with awareness.  Why do we eat what we do, when we do?  Can we make small changes for ourselves and our families toward greater health?  It isn’t always easy, but the answer is a resounding YES!

This is an Inflammatory Post!

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I avoid television commercials whenever I can.  But I have recently been hearing in the background something like “if you have inflammation, take this drug and you’ll be back to yourself again.”  I get so frustrated by that.  Shouldn’t we care what is causing the inflammation in the first place?  Our bodies are trying to tell us something, but we aren’t listening.  We drug them into submission.  Before I go any further, a little bit about inflammation.  

Like many things that we deem “bad”, our bodies rely on inflammation to protect us.  For instance, when our bodies need to fight an infection, it is an inflammatory process that causes the fever.  The fever’s purpose is to kill the intruder.  (A more detailed description of fevers.)  

Inflammation comes from the Latin word “Inflammatio” which means to set on fire. It is ironic that this protective response to remove harmful stimuli from the body in order to initiate healing is also the main mechanism of diseases caused by microbial, autoimmune, metabolic, and physical factors.  (Hawiger)

Inflammation is good, and healthy.  It is when our bodies are in a constant state of inflammation that we have problems.  

Chronic inflammation can induce the excessive formation of reactive oxygen that attacks healthy tissue, which is called oxidative stress.   Chronic inflammation is mainly triggered by improper nutrition, particularly deficient intakes of nutrients regulating the inflammatory response and excessive calorie intake leading to obesity.  (USDA)

When it comes to preventable conditions and a ‘quick fix,’ heartburn/Acid reflux is my favorite.  There is no reason to deal with unnecessary discomfort.  Eat and do what you want, and just take a little purple pill.  (A little purple pill…  How cute is that?!)  On their website, Nexium does offer lifestyle factors to consider and foods to avoid.  But why give up “what we love” when we can just take that cute little purple pill and continue to enjoy life as we know it?  Why listen to our bodies saying “Please stop it!”?  Also on Nexium’s website, besides the more serious possible side effects, the most common ones are:  headache, diarrhea, nausea, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, dry mouth, and drowsiness.  Wow!  I can eat as much of whatever it is I want and get all that too?!  (Sarcasm intended!)

Type 2 diabetes is easily prevented for most of us by proper diet and exercise, yet for many reasons we don’t know this, don’t believe it, don’t have the tools to act on it, don’t believe it is as bad as it is, or we don’t think it will happen to us.  There are others who truly don’t have a choice, but that’s a post for another time.  

I knew I had to write this post when I recently saw a lawyers’ commercial on behalf of people with diabetes who took medication (Byetta, Jnuvia, Bydureon, Victoza, Janumet…) for their diabetes because it can cause pancreatic cancer.  I knew a woman, a wonderful woman and mother of five, who left them all behind because of pancreatic cancer.  “About 95 percent of people with pancreatic cancer die from it, experts say.”  (CNN)  As of right now, “it does appear that there may be an increased risk of these drugs having adverse effects, but further safety studies are needed to confirm this.”  (NHS)  

The point of this post is not to tell you to stop taking drugs you may need, but to present the case for awareness and promotion of prevention:  When these lifestyle diseases are so preventable, why do we continue on a course of inevitable self destruction (or at least self harm?)  The reasons are as numerous and complicated as the number of people affected.  (No, I have no scientific research to back that up, I’m just making a point.)  This is not an easy battle.  Together we can overcome the barriers. 

healthy dietary intakes with the reduction in fat intake (especially trans and saturated fat) and the increase in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain* consumption seem to be associated with the improvement in subclinical inflammatory condition.  (PubMed)

Disclaimer:  I recommend whole foods, not food products.  We don’t usually eat wheat berries the way we eat oats, quinoa, rice, etc.  Eat potatoes with the skin, whole grains whole… etc.

Babysteps.  Toward health…  

To Use, or Not To Use Hand Sanitizer? That is the question!

HumanOrBacteria - TedTalksPhoto Credit:  Bonnie Bassler (see below)

We all know that washing or sanitizing our hands is imperative to prevent the spread of disease.  The centers [Centers for Disease Control/CDC] say handwashing is “the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection from bacteria, pathogens and viruses causing diseases and food-borne illnesses.”  (CDC)

Among the many diseases that are passed on by direct contact are:  the common cold, influenza, strep throat, ear infections, gastrointestinal disorders, salmonella, E. coli, as well as diseases such as hepatitis A.

If your hands are dirty, use soap and water,  but do it properly if you want to kill the germs.*  Some things to keep in mind when it comes to hand sanitizer (and as I always say…  Moderation!):

  1. Hand sanitizer needs to be at least 60% alcohol to effectively kill germs
  2. Alcohol doesn’t cut through grime well, so dirt, blood, feces or other body fluids or soil must be wiped or washed away first, if the alcohol in the sanitizer is to be effective. In such cases, hand washing with soap and water is advised.”  (NY Times)
  3. Sanitizer does not kill all types of germs
  4. Sanitizer kills the ‘good’ bacteria that help our immune system and repair wounds too (USCD)

Bonnie Bassler (photo credit) explains that we are only 1% human and 99% bacteria if we compare the amount of DNA we are carrying, or at best 10% human and 90% bacteria going by the number of human vs. bacterial cells in our bodies!  We definitely have a symbiotic relationship with many different types of bacteria.  We don’t want to eliminate them all.

*Proper handwashing technique (CDC):  Apply soap to wet hands, scrub all surfaces of hands (and under nails) for 20+ seconds (“Happy Birthday hummed twice), rinse well, and dry with clean towel or air.
Or if soap and water are not available, enough 60+% alcohol sanitizer rubbed vigorously until hands are dry (should be at least

Photo Credit: Bonnie Bassler from Ted Talks, a great video on how bacteria “talk”!  http://www.ted.com/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html