Pucker up!

Bet you thought we were writing about the health benefits of kissing, right? Not even close!  We’re talking citrus, and while some citrus fruits, like oranges, are sweet not tart, they’re all tasty, refreshing and loaded with nutrients, fiber and minerals. Regardless of your taste for fruit, you should be able to find something you like in the citrus family, which features a variety of oranges (including mandarin oranges, clementines and tangerines), pineapples, tomatoes, lemons, kumquats, tangerines, and limes.

We love our cold glass of orange juice first thing in the morning, and what beats the natural “puckering up” citrus blast from a grapefruit or lemon? And while we don’t typically think of a tomato as a “fruit,” it is, and it offers many valuable health advantages along with its citrus cousins.

Increasing citrus in your diet offers a multitude of benefits. A few centuries ago, sailors making ocean crossings often became sick with scurvy due to vitamin C deficiencies caused by a lack of citrus fruits. Vitamin C deficiency typically isn’t a problem anymore in the United States, but many people don’t eat enough citrus fruits, even though they’re readily available in grocery stores.

Vitamin C is the first thing most people think of regarding citrus fruits, and for good reason: It’s perhaps the most studied of all vitamins, and has shown promise in shortening the duration of colds, helping wounds heal faster, and protecting the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. It also is essential for healthy gums and skin.

Since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, sufficient quantities must be consumed every day. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C is not stored in the body. That is why eating at least a few servings a day of citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich food is so important. Luckily, getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is not difficult, since a single orange contains 150% of the government’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.

Citrus fruits also are high in fiber content. While we most often think of cereals and grains when we think of fiber, citrus fruits are a good source of dietary fiber, including the all-important soluble fiber. Fiber plays a vital role in digestion, and studies indicate it may help to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood and even reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer.

Another benefit is derived from folate, or folic acid as it is better known. Folates play a vital role in early pregnancy, so all women of child-bearing age are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of this important nutrient. That is because one of the most critical times in a pregnancy takes place before the woman knows she is pregnant. In addition to its importance in preventing many neural tube birth defects, folic acid also aids in the production of mature red blood cells and helps to prevent anemia.

Need more convincing? Oranges are particularly high in potassium, as are non-citrus fruits like bananas. Potassium is vital to maintaining a proper fluid balance in the body, and for transmitting signals between nerve cells. Potassium levels can be affected by excess caffeine consumption and by dehydration, so it is important to consume adequate levels of potassium every day.

With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why citrus fruits are so important to the diet. No matter what your ultimate fitness regimen, a diet rich in citrus fruits will help you achieve your goals and remain healthier. And with the many varieties of citrus fruits to choose from throughout the year, you can add plenty of variety to your healthy-eating plan.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Knowledge is Your Best Vaccination

If you’re in your late fifties or older, you likely remember lining up in elementary school to receive your oral polio vaccine. Before immunizations were readily available well into the mid-20th century, polio crippled thousands of Americans. It was only through aggressive, collaborative eradication efforts that it was eliminated from our soil and from all but a few countries in the world. Those countries have politicized immunizations, leaving their populations and the world at risk. But even here in the United States, where access to medical care and immunizations is available to everyone, some diseases that could be completely controlled still leave us in harm’s way.   

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. While controversy around certain vaccinations—such as the HPV vaccine to prevent Human Papillomavirus—has its roots in religious and moral differences, ignorance, fear and lack of information are the greater culprits in not protecting ourselves and our children from preventable illnesses. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically…in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that pertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. As with pertussis and another common contagious disease, tuberculosis, diphtheria bacteria can be passed from person to person by direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. When people are infected, the diphtheria bacteria produce a toxin in the body that can cause weakness, sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Effects from this toxin can also lead to swelling of the heart muscle and, in some cases, heart failure. In severe cases, the illness can cause coma, paralysis, and even death.

The third leg of that triad involves tetanus (lockjaw), which also can be prevented by the Tdap vaccine. Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in soil. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from tetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease.

You should consider a tetanus shot when you or your child step on a rusty nail or receive a nasty cut, especially if that immunization hasn’t already taken place. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t remember if or when you had it, talk to your doctor.

Additionally, if you plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with your physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly protected, and by air-borne particles.

But even if you aren’t traveling abroad, it’s important to know your medical history and to obtain a copy of your personal immunization record. That’s especially valuable if you can’t remember if you ever had common diseases such as mumps, chicken pox, rubella and measles, all of which still afflict thousands of Americans. In many cases, vaccinations to prevent these diseases may not have existed when you were a child, but they do now.

If your personal record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually since strains of “flu” mutate or change from year to year. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

10 Tips for Smart Food Preparation, Handling, and Storage

It’s summer. We’re barbequing and picnicking, entertaining and enjoying the nice weather and chances to be outdoors. It’s hot, too, and food may sit out on the counter, on a picnic table or in your car longer than it should. Keeping perishables properly refrigerated and stored helps limit opportunities for bacteria to form, but it’s only one of several steps you should be taking regularly to limit exposure, protect your food, and protect yourself, your family and guests from getting sick.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food, and there are at least a thousand reported outbreaks of potentially deadly Salmonella and E. coli infections annually. Overall, the CDC estimates that between 6 million and 33 million are affected by food-borne illnesses each year, resulting in at least 9,000 fatalities. The reason the numbers vary so much is that many cases are never reported as food-borne. Salmonella infections cause more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food, and $365 million in direct medical costs annually. That’s certainly food for thought.

Follow these tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning at home:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and dry them before handling food and after handling raw foods (meat, fish, eggs and vegetables), after touching the garbage pail, going to the toilet, blowing your nose, or touching animals (including pets).
  2. Wash worktops before and after preparing food, particularly after they’ve been touched by raw meat, including poultry, raw eggs, fish and vegetables. You don’t have to use anti-bacterial sprays. Hot soapy water is fine.
  3. Wash dishcloths and dish or hand towels regularly and let them dry before you use them again. Dirty, damp cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed.
  4. Use separate chopping boards for raw food and for ready-to-eat food. Raw foods can contain harmful bacteria that can spread very easily to anything they touch, including other foods, worktops, chopping boards and knives. Less porous materials, like glass, are less likely to become contaminated than wood or plastic.
  5. It’s especially important to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as salad, fruit and bread. This is because these foods won’t be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get on to the foods won’t be killed.
  6. Always cover raw meat and store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it can’t touch other foods or drip on to them.
  7. Cook food thoroughly and check that it’s piping hot all the way through. Make sure poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs are cooked until steaming hot, with no pink meat inside. Learn to use a meat thermometer to verify cooking temperature.
  8. Keep your fridge temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), and your freezer temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably closer to zero. By keeping food cold, you stop germs that cause food poisoning from growing.
  9. If you have cooked food that you’re not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and store it in the fridge or freezer. Use any leftovers from the fridge within two days.

10.  Don’t eat food that’s past its “use by” date label. These are based on scientific tests that show how quickly harmful germs can develop in packaged food.

Tips for barbequing

When you’re cooking any kind of meat on a barbecue, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), pork, steak, burgers or sausages, make sure:

  • The coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means that they’re hot enough to ensure proper cooking.
  • Frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it.
  • You turn the meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to cook it evenly.

Remember that meat is safe to eat only when:

  • It is piping hot in the center.
  • There is no pink meat visible.
  • Any juices are clear.

Finally, it’s important to keep many kinds of food cool to prevent germs from multiplying. Make sure you keep the following cool:

  • Salads
  • Dips
  • Milk, cream, yogurt or other dairy products
  • Desserts and cream-based cakes
  • Sandwiches (especially when packed for travel, work or school)
  • Ham, turkey and other cooked meats
  • Cooked rice, pasta and soups

Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun. Food poisoning and contamination are serious threats to your health all-year round, but simple attention to these details can help ensure healthier eating and a happier summer.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Bringing the Family to Work

“It’s a Family Affair,” sang Sly and the Family Stone, and indeed it is.  An effective workplace functions like an extended family, and acknowledging and accommodating employees’ “real” families contributes significantly to employee satisfaction, quality, improved productivity, and enhanced customer service.

When employees take time off, whether planned or unplanned, to tend to sick family members or to pursue family oriented activities away from work, it can be inconvenient and disruptive, especially when you have a small staff. How companies handle those “normal” requests can make a world of difference in employee attitudes toward their employer.

There are two sides to this coin. As understanding as employers may appear regarding work/family balance, when we have an angry customer, deadline, or rush job on the line, we don’t want to work around personnel shortages. Planned absences are more easily managed, but unplanned time, such as when an employee gets sick or has to take care of someone else who is sick, can be a real pain.

For their part, employees typically understand that being away from work or the office may put pressure on others to fill gaps. We don’t want to leave our teammates in the lurch, and being away can make preparing for the time off or the return more challenging. But life calls, and taking breaks from work, whether planned or not, is healthy and important, especially since it helps strengthen families and reduces stress, which makes the employee more appreciative of workplace accommodation and support.

Employers can help employees reduce unplanned time off through proactive wellness efforts that address healthy nutrition and diet, by encouraging and supporting exercise and fitness, by supporting smoking-cessation and general health improvement, and through a positive, accommodating attitude toward employees’ lives away from the office.

By providing health and wellness information and educational resources that encourage family awareness and participation, you can help your employees and their families set and achieve personal wellness goals. Employers also can sponsor activities outside of the workplace, such as wellness walks and runs, bicycling events, outings and other healthy activities that promote teamwork and include families.

Being actively aware of employees’ personal needs goes a long way toward improved morale, loyalty and productivity. For example, if your workplace can accommodate scheduling flexibility—such as letting an employee start a little later or leave a little earlier, or take time off during the day for medical appointments, workouts or other needs—it helps employees better manage their lives and meet their families’ needs. When employees can’t achieve balance in their lives or satisfy family obligations, it causes stress and resentment and can contribute to absenteeism or “presenteeism,” the word coined to reflect when employees come to work but aren’t able to pay attention or work effectively.

Additionally, establishing and communicating clear boundaries and expectations about time off is crucial. Productivity, safety and quality always will remain critical requirements, but they’re not just the company’s goals—every employee and his or her family can embrace them as well.

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To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!