Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year in Health: Our Top Posts of 2010

Getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is one of best things you can do in the new year. It's no wonder that in 2010, posts that involve fruits and veggies top the list of those you found most interesting. You also enjoyed posts about the wild blueberry harvest, how your social network impacts your health, and our tribute to the remarkable career of esteemed colleague, Dr. Jim Joseph. 

To help you celebrate the past and ring in the new, we're presenting our complete list of the top 20 posts of the year 2010.

We at Wild About Health wish you and your family a happy, healthy holiday season.

4.       The Social Network

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wild About Blue: A Conversation with Dorothy Klimis-Zacas

The UMaine researcher talks to Wild About Health about the paradox of treating disease, the role of the wild blueberry, and what message she would most like to pass on to the American consumer

Dorothy Klimis-Zacas was initially drawn to the blueberry because of its powerful antioxidant properties. She was researching the role of manganese in cardiovascular disease, and discovered that the little blue fruit was rich in this mineral. It was the perfect match for someone conducting research in a state that has the distinction of being a major U.S. wild blueberry producer.

"The blueberry is improving the Maine economy by science-evidenced research that benefits the health of the population, and it also increases consumption and thus sales," said Klimis-Zacas about the object of her compelling nutritional research. "It's a win-win situation."

Klimis-Zacas, a researcher and Professor of Clinical Nutrition at the University of Maine, cites studies in animals, as well as a small number of studies with humans and animal models, that have documented the beneficial role of blueberries in obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance. In addition, she has conducted studies in collaboration with the University of Milan, Department of Food Science and Nutrition (DiSTAM), which indicate a positive role of blueberries when it comes to decreasing triglycerides in those with abnormal lipid profiles and improving endothelial function, which is related to blood vessel health. Her recent collaboration, a study published last month in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, was conducted with researchers at the University of Maine, Northwestern University, and the University of Louisville, and it has implications for millions who struggle with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Help for Arterial Health

The study conducted by Klimis-Zacas indicated that a hypertensive rat's 8-week diet, consisting of 8% wild blueberries, resulted in less constriction in blood vessels compared with animals fed a control diet. The diet modified major pathways of vasomotor control and improved the "vascular tone" in the blueberry-fed rats. When the arteries of the animal were challenged with a vasoconstrictor, they decreased vasoconstriction.

Klimis-Zacas told Wild About Health that the findings were significant because they represent a first in documenting wild blueberries as regulators of vascular health. "This may have implications for individuals who are hypertensive or prehypertensive and thus experience endothelial dysfunction," she said.  Because endothelial dysfunction leads to heart disease, a recommendation of one cup of fresh or quick frozen wild blueberries per day, especially for individuals with the above conditions, could positively affect blood vessel health. Also, using actual wild blueberries in the study rather than single compounds was important for useful results. Using the whole berry can translate more realistically to human recommendations and account for interaction with each other and other nutrients.

"I believe that wild blueberries are the best candidates for a non-pharmacologic approach in targeting the metabolic syndrome, hallmarked by obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and insulin resistance," Klimis-Zacas said. Currently, she is researching the role of wild blueberries specifically on metabolic syndrome in both animals and humans, and the role of the fruit on microorganisms in the digestive tract and their effect on the immune system. Hypertension and metabolic syndrome can be added to a robust list of areas of current research into the healthful effect of wild blueberries, including cholesterol reduction, prevention against some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Targeting Disease: A Medical Paradox

That accessible foods can have value for disease prevention would seem to be an endorsement for a widespread Rx that includes wild blueberries for those at risk for high blood pressure, for example. But the message that health can be improved through diet is not typically delivered in the doctor's office.

"Presently, the medical paradigm does not necessarily support non-pharmacological approaches to targeting disease," said Klimis-Zacas. During the past 30 years or more, science-evidenced research on the role of diet in preventing and reversing chronic disease has grown exponentially and it has been published and documented repeatedly in prestigious medical journals, she said. But even in light of mounting data, the mainstream medical profession has not embraced this non-pharmacological approach.  It simply isn’t part of the toolbox for the healthcare provider – yet.

Despite this paradox, Klimis-Zacas said that the long term potential of research into hypertension and wild blueberries is great. "It can expand to include rigorous and multiple human intervention studies, and perhaps in the near future lead the medical profession to embrace an integrative approach for prevention," she said. And that, she added, will lead to huge savings in health care costs and human suffering.

A Researcher's Message to the American Consumer

It's a trying time for the American consumer. Obesity rates have spiked, preventable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome are affecting more Americans at younger ages than ever. Most of us are not getting our recommended servings of disease-preventing fruits and vegetables. 

We asked Dr. Klimis-Zacas what she'd like to communicate to the American consumer if she could provide her best advice on health and healthy living. First and foremost, she said, we should understand that decreasing obesity is in our hands: obesity is the primary culprit of the metabolic syndrome, and it can be prevented.

Here, in list form, are the primary messages she'd most like us all to take to heart:

Learn how to cook. 
It's one of the most important principles in eating well and in a way that will eliminate obesity and its complications. (Start here.)

Eat most of your meals at home.
Cook where you live and eat your meals with your family. Don't take the shortcut through fattening, processed fast food and restaurants that don't know you and don’t much care about your health.

Decrease consumption of beverages.
That includes sports drinks loaded with added sugars in addition to soft drinks and caloric coffee drinks.

Avoid added sugars.
Since added sugars are pervasive in all foods, consumers should educate themselves, says Klimis-Zacas, and read food labels.

Eat a colorful diet.
That includes green leafy and orange color veggies, fruits and berries and focusing on whole grains, legumes and fish including fatty fish that can reduce body weight and thus prevent disease in the long term. 

Follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet.
Klimis-Zacas, who was born on a Greek island, has been doing so since she was a young child, and she believes it provided the right nutritional basis for disease prevention. She ate primarily fish, lots of whole grain breads, greens, and feta cheese. "Of course everything was cooked in olive oil," she said. "It was a luxury to have red meat or chicken, which was only dedicated to Sundays." As part of integrating the principles of the Mediterranean diet, she recommends using legumes, vegetables and fish as main components of your diet with olive oil as your primary oil. Then, use meats and other sources of saturated fats as condiments.


High Blood Pressure: Know Your Numbers

High blood pressure is the most common cardiovascular disease worldwide. Statistics from the American Heart Association indicate that one in three U.S. adults have high blood pressure. Many don't even know they have it – high blood pressure doesn't come with noticeable symptoms, which is why it's important to know your numbers.

Find out more about high blood pressure and its prevention at the American Heart Association.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Psyched! Healthy Eating is All in Your Head

Dieting and healthy eating can be a mine field of magical thinking. It seems that if we really have a desire to make a poor eating choice, we can rely on the trickery of our mind to allow us to do so guilt-free. A recent study from Northwestern University brought to light some new information about how our mind can tell us what we want to hear about what we eat.

In the study, weight-conscious people perceived that adding a healthy option to an indulgent meal lessened the total calorie count. For example, a celery stick paired with a cheeseburger was perceived as having a lower calorie count than the cheeseburger alone. They also underestimated caloric intake after viewing more caloric foods: after viewing a cheesecake, for example, participants estimated a cheeseburger as having fewer calories than they did if they had just viewed a salad.

The author of the study believes these results aren't just an isolated mind-meld, but indicative of the country's larger obesity epidemic. Misleading food imagery can backfire in many unhealthy ways, and believing that eating healthy foods along with unhealthy ones decreases calorie count can dangerously interfere with meeting weight loss goals. According to the Lempert Report, which reports on trends in consumer marketing, these sorts of misperceptions can be used for good or for evil. Food marketers can rely on this kind of research to sell us more fattening food, or, alternatively, to help us make better, more balanced decisions while shopping.

How to win the battle of wits when it comes to eating? Step one: be active in your own intellectual machinations. To get a "head" start, we're providing are a few of the most common games to be aware of that go on north of our neck and succeed in psyching out the smartest among us  -- and some that can help us fight back.

Eating Trickery, Courtesy of…Your Brain.

* Portion size. All-you-can-eat buffets are hip to this mind trick: providing slightly shrunken plates means less food is required to look like a lot. Big plates mean big portions. If you're programmed to see a bounty of food as the only bona fide meal (aren't we all), think about down-sizing your crockery to eliminate the white space, and increase the size of the one that holds your greens instead.

* Hidden ingredients. Having salad? Great! Dousing it with fatty dressings and adding globs of tuna salad? Not so great. A tablespoon of mayo adds 100 calories, and a cubic inch of feta adds 45. Fit Sugar has their top 10 list of hidden calories that can turn blissful ignorance into mind-game central.

* Snacks. Grabbing half of your kid's pop tart while he's going out the door? Mindlessly noshing on chips while you answer email? More of a mind-numbness than mind game, calories can find their way in your mouth unconsciously. Since duct tape across your mouth is unfashionable, writing down everything you eat can help – it makes you conscious of your eating, and gives you pause before the nosh. If you do snack, you at least have a record of what's going in the pie hole so you don't have to live in mystery.

* Drinks. You think you're not eating because you're not chewing. But that sprinkle-festooned holiday coffee comes in at 700-calories. Not a morning person? Maybe it's cocktail hour that's playing games with your diet.  Health Castle lets the light shine in on drink calories that can have you thinking that you're on track with your food when actually you're getting derailed by your glass.

* Denial. Eating too much salt? Not following fruit and veggie guidelines? Look to that famed Egyptian river. Americans have been accused of being in denial when it comes to taking control of their poor eating habits. All the government regulations in the world won't help us snap out of diet denial unless we nix the food coma and start thinking about what we put in our mouth as being as potent as the medicine we take.

Eating Mind Games That Can Help You Turn the Mental Table

* The kitchen is closed. If after hours snacks get you, set a rule that says the kitchen is closed after 8 PM, and anything crunchy, bagged, salty or sweet is on lockdown.

* Hypnotize yourself. When it's dark out, telling yourself you're *yawn* just too tired to eat can work, as can that powerful mind game of figuring that you can indulge in the morning if you stand firm tonight.

* Wait thirty minutes. A popular mind game for preventing eating when you may not be hungry, the half-hour wait can get you through a hard-hitting craving. Knowing that if it's a serious hunger pang, you can let yourself indulge is part of the incentive. 

* Brush your teeth. No one wants to ruin a freshly flossed mouth. Feeling like snacking? Brush instead, and tell your dentist your great smile is just genetics.

* Drink water. You've heard it before – a desire for food may just be thirst. A glass will fill you up temporarily, but it's not just mental gymnastics – winter is an ideal time to increase your hydration and beat dryness, so give yourself 8 ounces of H2O for mind and body before you indulge. 

* Photo of you in skinny jeans. The photo-on-the-fridge is a mind game classic because it taps into your motivation. Does it work? Some swear by it. Part affirmation and part reminder, the skinny photo, wallet card, or picture of your kids (even a photo of you at your worst that you don't want to return to) can provide the mental poke that snaps you back to reality and reminds you of why you're eating healthy in the first place. 

* A positive attitude. Eating well is not a prison sentence. It's an opportunity to try new foods, eat real, wholesome ingredients, and feel strong and healthy. A positive attitude is a win-win situation that can turn mental manipulation from demoralizing to empowering.

Watch the Lempert Report's video which includes details about the food imagery study.  

Some call it magic. View John Lennon's Mind Games video for inspiration courtesy of Youtube. 

Got one? Share one! What's your favorite mind game when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet? Let us know.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Groceries Online: The Key to Smart, Healthy Shopping

Have a love-hate relationship with your local grocery store?
You're not alone. Shopping is the ultimate onerous errand when it comes to time consumption, and it's riddled with temptations that sabotage our diet and budget. It's nothing for most of us to hop online (we're probably there anyway) to buy, connect, work and be entertained – yet we're still in an analog world when it comes to grocery shopping.

You may have found yourself with a scrap-paper list and a squeaky grocery cart wheel and thought, Why don't I get my groceries online?  

Ditching the Cart

Some of us do. While online grocery stores such as the well-known home grocery shopping and delivery site Peapod took off in urban areas several years ago (and remains in business), the model proved impractical for less populated regions. But if you think online grocery shopping and delivery is so "year 2000", consider this: according to MyWebGrocer, online grocery orders actually increased 24% during the week leading up to Thanksgiving this year. Convenience may be the draw, especially during the holidays, but some small studies even suggest shopping for groceries online can have health benefits.

Ami DeRienzo would agree. This past summer, she started MaineGroceryDelivery.com here in Maine in response to a need she identified in her delivery regions, which include Westbook, South Portland, Old Orchard Beach and surrounding areas. She views her business model as a natural outgrowth of a major trend toward online shopping – one not limited by age group or locale, and one that could help us all turn into smarter, healthier, more efficient shoppers. 

"Oftentimes we eat unhealthily due to improper meal planning, or from grabbing that box of Twinkies on display at the grocery store because it catches our eye," said DeRienzo. "With online shopping, customers take the time to think about what they will need and shop accordingly, allowing them to plan healthy meals for their week." DeRienzo worked in management for a grocery store for approximately 18 years prior to opening her business, and she estimates that approximately 25% of the purchases made in a traditional grocery store are “impulse buys". Eliminating these budget- and diet-devastating impulse buys – encouraged by stores stocking staples near the back and creating a maze of occasional racks – is one the biggest advantages of online grocery shopping and delivery.

But as MyWebGrocer points out, the grocer-consumer relationship is based on trust. Our retailer is a vital component in the quest for good health and nutrition. Can the consumer warm up to their online retailer the same way?

Just the Right Grapefruit

"Though one might think that ordering groceries online would be an impersonal experience, online shopping with MaineGroceryDelivery.com is actually a more personal experience than one would typically find in a grocery store," said DeRienzo. As a small, independently owned company, her business is based exclusively upon developing relationships with customers.  She says she knows them all, and equates her deliveries with the role that used to be played by the milk man, who in decades past would value-add his dairy drop with a cheerful morning greeting. "We provide that same type of personal experience and service," she said. 

Even though shopping at MaineGroceryDelivery.com occurs online, owner Ami DeRienzo knows all of her customers personally. She equates the service her company provides to the role of the now obsolete milk man. 
Contrary to limiting product selection, often online grocery stores offer an enhanced selection, since they have access to products across different retailers and sources. These days, price shopping from store to store can be the best way to maximize a household food budget, but it's simply unrealistic.

"The average consumer does not shop multiple locations on a weekly basis in order to capitalize on the best deals," said DeRienzo, "but we do." Her customers receive a regular weekly flyer that includes sale items from various stores in the area and additional sales available exclusively on the MaineGroceryDelivery.com site. By offering Maine products along with nationwide brands together, shoppers have a one-stop shopping experience that might not be possible from brick and mortar stores.

DeRienzo also said the majority of her customers seek local and organic foods in addition to standard household items, and she offers products from local food producers, including lobster from Cozy Harbor Seafood, meats from nearby Wolfe's Neck Farm, and a section devoted specifically to organic products.

In fact, online shopping might have the advantage when it comes to opportunities to have fresh and local food. For MaineGroceryDelivery.com, delivering orders to customers in the summer months typically includes shopping for fresh produce at local farms. If eyeing the best veggie and feeling the fruit first hand is a must for you, DeRienzo capitulates. She said she'll go the extra mile to provide quality just as a shopper might do in person. Shopping daily for fresh products that meet their standards of quality for her customers means scouring multiple locations, if that's what it takes. "At times this has led to a two hour quest to find the right grapefruit," she said.  

Daily Servings - At Your Door

In some ways a conduit to a healthy bounty of fresh food, online grocery shopping and delivery can be a digital extension of the co-op model, depending on your location. When fruits and veggies are delivered directly to your door, you've seriously upped the ante on healthy eating. Spud,  for instance, delivers organic food to the door to its clients in Canada. Door to Door Organics delivers fresh organic produce and groceries throughout Colorado, Kansas City, Michigan, and the Chicago area, changing selection weekly, based on the farms. Digitally merging the healthy eating movement with family grocery staples could prove invaluable in breathing needed new life into meal plans for American consumers, and saving the time it takes to do it.

The bottom line is we can trace our sustenance, our holiday cheer, our nutrition, and our disease prevention back to our grocery store. So any shopping experience that meets our needs is the best shopping experience. Every consumer's goal is to be a smarter, more efficient shopper, and here, online grocery shopping shines.

10 Reasons to Shop for Groceries Online 

1. It's a personalized experience.
Online shoppers can revisit recurring orders, create multiple lists, and easily access deals and promotions that fit personal buying habits. You might even get the best grapefruit in the area, just as if you shopped for it yourself. 

2. It can help you save.
While there are shipping charges or delivery charges to consider (MaineGroceryDelivery.com charges $10), in some cases, savings can cover convenience costs. Online grocery sites incentivize shoppers with site sales and "deals of the day" in addition to local store promotions. Weekly sales from MaineGroceryDelivery.com combine the best of what the two major local grocery chains offer individually. And, no impulse buys mean you can stick to your budget and your meal planning. 

3. Selection, selection, selection. 
Because online shopping sites offer brands across stores and producers, it means one-stop shopping but with the variety of multiple stores. For the best variety and options, find retail sites that offer local producers and organics are available side-by-side with popular brands. (You'll be supporting local businesses.) 

4. It's healthy.
Eliminating impulse buying may be online grocery shopping's biggest advantages. It can also help eliminate the desire to buy fattening foods because it means less browsing, and it can give you regular access to fresh produce.   

5. You can shop when you want.
You can buy anytime online—day or night. And, logging on at holiday crunch time means no leaving work early to beat the rush. Sites like NetGrocer.com, for instance, an online grocery site that delivers via FedEx, is integrated with today's social marketing – if you're on Facebook or Twitter, shopping is just a click away.  

6. You'll beat the crowds.
At holiday time, it can be a challenge just to get from one end of the aisle to the other. Ordering online means no scuffles over the last pound of unsalted butter. It eliminates travel time and winter weather woes, and bulk buying doesn't mean dragging large packages of toilet paper all around the store. 

7. It's great for vacationers.
The first day of vacation is always spent at the store. Having groceries arrive ahead means more time to enjoy the trip. That's particularly desirable in Maine, when summer vacationers flock to rental homes with empty refrigerators.  

8. It provides help for the housebound.
Says DeRienzo:  "I have a customer who lives in Massachusetts who shops for groceries online for her mom in Biddeford." For those experiencing illness, or for the elderly who find it hard to get out of the house, the service can be a lifeline – especially in the winter.

9. You'll conquer the "list".
Forget the scraps of paper – your list is now online. If you think of something during the day, add it, and create access for all family members. 

10. It means relief for Mom.
DeRienzo says her customers with children have told her they enjoy some residual benefits from her service.  "In order to occupy the kids while shopping they easily spend an extra $10 -$20 on 'stuff' to keep the kids entertained," she says.  

More on Online Grocery Shopping

Read about the Top Websites for Online Grocery Shopping at Suite101.

Consumer Reports offers tips for the most productive online grocery shopping for the holiday season.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Heart Data "Scary & Disturbing"

Not meeting heart health criteria? Unfortunately, the chances are pretty good that you aren't. Recent findings from the American Heart Association characterize the extent to which we are taking care of our hearts in pretty ugly terms. Following the presentation of the latest data at an annual meeting of the American Heart Association, an AHA spokesperson called the country's success at meeting goals for heart health – goals that will save our lives – both scary and disturbing.

The AHA outlines seven steps to heart health (here from WebMD), and following most of these steps – the benchmark is six or seven – has shown in studies to decrease the risk of dying by 56%. These guidelines break it down into steps that help you get to know your digits – things like BMI, blood sugar and cholesterol – and get them into alignment for your heart's sake. If you think you might be a grim statistic, now is not the time to be ashamed. Be motivated. Take a moment to get heavy on Life's Simple Steps toward increasing your chances of living a longer, healthier life.

One the AHA's seven steps toward protecting our heart is meeting requirements of a healthy diet. This important heart healthy step is broken down into these five components to make "healthy diet" a little less vague and more achievable:
  • Eat more than 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Have oily fish such as salmon, trout, and herring at least twice a week.
  • Eat sweets sparingly.
  • Have three or more servings of whole grains a day.
  • Eat fewer than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.
 The AHA recommendations include meeting four of five of these keys to fulfill healthy diet requirements.

Simple principles for some pretty serious stuff. But we know simple isn't always easy. If you feel like you've got to start from scratch when it comes to your heart, seven steps can seem like a lot. But remember, there is no reason not to start with one: the AHA reminds us that for every step we take, we've decreased our risk of dying by 18%.   

Canadians Count to Ten for Health

Canadian food guidelines have been published, and Canada isn't off the hook when it comes to getting their fruits and veggies. Recommendations for the amount of fruits and vegetables that Canadians should consume come in at 7-10 for adults. It's in alignment with American guidelines, which represents a departure from the previous 5-A-Day campaigns of the past.

Winter is the perfect time to keep fruit and vegetable servings in mind – even with great opportunities in frozen, it's the time of year that presents the most challenges when it comes to recommended servings. It seems that when the ground is frozen, the produce that comes from it just isn't on our mind like it is in the summer. But it's a mind set that's easy to change; winter presents plenty of options. As the Canadian recommendations remind us, a single serving is one half cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit or vegetables, or one half cup of 100% juice. A cup of raw leafy vegetables or salad counts as a single serving, as does a single piece of fruit.

If you're from the States, you can take a lesson from those just slightly North, offered up by Canadian Red Seal chef Gordon Desormeaux – that's Chef Dez to you.

Chef Dez has some helpful advice about how to achieve the recommended servings. Here's a great one: Get it in your cart. He suggests buying the recommended serving amounts for each member of your family for the number of days you are shopping for. For example, a family of four will need 84 servings of fruit and vegetables combined, for the next three days, based on an average of seven servings each. He suggests buying them before proceeding to the other departments and aisles, and building meals based on those initial selections. Keep items like bulk frozen fruits (think wild blueberries) on your shopping list that can be used whenever you need them.

Here's a sampling of some other F&V tips we love from the Great White North to slip in your back pocket. Thanks Chef Dez.

  • Serve every piece of chicken or fish on a bed of sautéed spinach leaves. 
  • Have fresh lettuce, tomato, and onions on hand at all times to give an instant Mediterranean flair to your sandwiches. 
  • Buy something completely new to your family at least once per month.

Take Off!  You can consult the Canada Food Guide for more information, no matter where you hang your hat.

Shake Baby Shake – For Your Heart!

So you've decided the risk of dying from heart disease is not one you are willing to take. You've decided to attack these seven steps from the AHA with a vengeance. You know your blood pressure numbers, you've quit smoking, you're getting your exercise, and now you're focused on maintaining a healthy diet.

Start by getting your servings. There are loads of ways to integrate the F and the V into your life. Here's one we just heard about especially for the tech savvy that can curb your instinct for grabbing a "bad" snack when a better one will do – just shake it! JuggleFit is an app for iPhone and iPad created to help people beat holiday weight gain and start eating better by focusing on the array of possible snacks your can enjoy when cravings hit.

Here are the basics: shake your phone, and it turns into a virtual slot machine which eventually lands on one of 200 snacks or "mini-meals" that use three basic ingredients. All focus on the simple and the mostly healthy, whether you choose something sweet or something savory. Shake it up to find Greek yogurt, wheat germ and blueberries, or maybe avocado, lemon and garlic (recipes and calorie counts are included). It's worth a try – JuggleFit is free now through December 12, and surrounding yourself with options that motivate you can start the snowball rolling toward reducing your chances of dying from heart disease. Simple as that.