Assessing Health and Wellness Activity

Three months into the new year, it’s easy for well-intentioned health commitments made in December to go south. It’s harder getting to the gym in the winter, comfort food may be beckoning during these cold, shorter days, and outdoor activities like running, bicycling, and hiking are far more difficult to complete.

Now is a good time to assess how effectively you and your team are using health and wellness tools. That includes those available to you through your health insurance provider and CBIA, and a variety of options you and your employees can embrace at your discretion.

Completing CBIA’s online healthcare assessment tool is an easy first step. Employers also can conduct their own health and wellness survey through a variety of media, including a written survey, using an online survey tool, or through small group or individual meetings. Discussions can focus on preferred health and wellness activities underway personally or through the workplace, or measure attitudes about the use of fitness facilities, tobacco-cessation plans, healthy vending machine options, nutrition, healthcare coaching and a variety of other subjects.

For example, when assessing topic areas, some possibilities might include the following areas of inquiry:

Health status:

  • Self-perceived general health status (i.e., poor to excellent)
  • Number of days per month impaired by poor physical/mental health
  • Specific questions about diseases or health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, stress)

Use of preventive health services:

  • Doctor visits (including an annual checkup)
  • Dental visits
  • Use of flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccines
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol checks
  • Colonoscopies, mammograms, and PAP smears

Health behaviors:

  • Tobacco use: Current smokers or other tobacco use, tobacco cessation goals
  • Diet and physical activity: Weight and height (to calculate Body Mass Index); self-perceptions of weight; fruit/vegetable consumption; activity level at work; recent moderate/vigorous activity outside of the job
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinks per week; drinks per sitting
  • Safety: Seatbelt and bicycle helmet use, ear and eye protection, etc.

Assessing current health status and health behaviors may point to opportunities for specific health-education programs. And completing a benchmark survey allows you to compare progress when you conduct follow-up surveys at set intervals. These can be conducted through the workplace, or online through a variety of employee healthcare information tools.

And when it comes to implementing health and wellness activities, some companies have gone the extra mile, inviting nutrition and fitness coaches to the office or workplace, holding onsite yoga, fitness and meditation classes, and encouraging employee participation through incentives and competitions.

Many employers form employee committees to oversee health and wellness programs, encourage participation and set and measure goals. When this outreach is peer driven, it tends to gather more steam and taps employee goodwill, enthusiasm and interest.

In the winter, team activities can include ice skating, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and outdoor walks or hikes. Also, with spring right around the corner, so is the return of charity runs, walks and rides, and competitive team athletic activities like volleyball, softball and basketball. Encouraging and supporting team activities such as walks and sports builds morale, strengthens employee bonds and improves productivity. Employers can help their employees build personal health and wellness plans, check in to measure progress, or simply ensure that opportunities for staff wellness learning and exploration exist on a regular basis.


 

If you’re not enjoying 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!

How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

The role of protein in our bodies is both well understood and completely misunderstood. We’ve been told we should eat protein for building up our bodies, and high-protein, low-carb diets are the rage. Body builders and athletes drink protein drinks to supplement their muscle development, and protein powders get sprinkled liberally in everything from yogurt and granola to smoothies. But do we really know how much protein is good for us, and how best to obtain it?

Simply put, proteins are the building blocks of life. Every cell in the human body contains protein, and the basic structure of protein is a chain of amino acids. We need protein in our diet to help our body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is important for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein, and our bodies use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein also is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.

Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning we need relatively large amounts of it. Vitamins and minerals, which are needed in only small quantities, are called “micronutrients.” But unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply.

How Protein Works in our Bodies

Protein foods are broken down into amino acids during digestion. We need amino acids in large enough amounts to maintain good health. They are found in animal sources such as meats, milk, fish, and eggs. They are also found in plant sources such as soy, beans, legumes, nut butters, and some grains (such as wheat germ and quinoa). You do not need to eat animal products to get all the protein you need in your diet. And contrary to the myth that extra protein builds more muscle, the only way to build muscle is through exercise — extra protein doesn’t give you extra strength.

There are three types of amino acids: Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be supplied by food. They do not need to be eaten at one meal–the balance over the whole day is more important. Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. Conditional amino acids are needed in times of illness and stress.

When people eat lots of protein but few carbohydrates, their metabolisms change into a state called ketosis, which means the body converts from burning carbs for fuel to burning its own fat. When fat is broken down, small bits of carbon called ketones are released into the bloodstream as energy sources. Ketosis, which also occurs in diabetes, tends to suppress appetite, causing people to eat less, and it also increases the body’s elimination of fluids through urine, resulting in a loss of water weight.

The amount of protein we need depends on our overall calorie needs. The daily recommended intake of protein for healthy adults is 10 percent to 35 percent of our total calorie needs. For example, a person on a 2,000-calorie diet could eat 100 grams of protein, which would supply 20 percent of their total daily calories.

One ounce (30 grams) of most protein-rich foods contains 7 grams of protein. An ounce (30 grams) equals an ounce of meat, fish or poultry; one large egg; half a cup of cooked beans or lentils; a tablespoon of peanut butter; or a quarter cup of tofu. Low-fat dairy is also a good source of protein, and whole grains contain more protein than refined or “white” products. Other good sources of protein include:

• Turkey or chicken with the skin removed, or bison (also called buffalo meat)
• Lean cuts of beef or pork, such as round, top sirloin, or tenderloin (trim away any visible fat)
• Fish or shellfish
• Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans
• Nuts and seeds, including almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, or walnuts (Nuts are high in fat so be mindful of portion sizes. Eating calories in excess of your needs may lead to weight gain.)
• Tofu, tempeh, and other soy protein products
• Low-fat dairy products

Additionally, the type of protein we eat plays a role in successful weight loss and in our overall health. Consumption of large quantities of processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats have been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

There are other potential risks: The body produces ammonia when it breaks down protein. No one knows the long-term risks of higher levels of ammonia in the body. Also, there is evidence that people who eat high-protein diets typically excrete excess calcium in their urine. Researchers believe that is to counteract an increase in acids caused by protein consumption (calcium buffers, or neutralizes, acids). Too much calcium loss could lead to osteoporosis down the road.

Carbohydrate foods are important, including fruits and vegetables, which are the best sources for vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants — nutrients that help prevent disease. By contrast, animal foods that are high in protein are usually also high in saturated fats, which increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several types of cancer.

So as is usually the case with diets and our health, understanding how the things we put into our bodies affect our overall health makes good sense. Eating the proper amount of protein is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can become a problem.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Breaking Your Stones

Kidney stones are aren’t exactly small rocks, but despite the coarse comparison to a certain part of a male’s anatomy, they’re no laughing matter: If you have or have had kidney stones, you already know it can range from bearable discomfort to intense pain.

Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. They form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances—such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid—than the fluid in your urine can dilute. At the same time, your urine may lack substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.

Kidney stones have many causes and can affect any part of your urinary tract—from your kidneys to your bladder. Often, stones form when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together. While painful, passing kidney stones usually cause no permanent damage as long as they are dealt with appropriately. You may need to only take pain medication and drink lots of water to pass a kidney stone. In other instances—for example, if stones become lodged in the urinary tract, are associated with a urinary infection or cause complications—surgery may be needed.

What Causes Kidney Stones?

Most kidney stones are calcium stones, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance found in food and is also made daily by our liver. Some fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and chocolate, have high oxalate content. Dietary factors, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and several metabolic disorders can increase the concentration of calcium or oxalate in urine.

Calcium stones may also occur in the form of calcium phosphate. This type of stone may also be associated with certain migraine headaches or with taking certain seizure medications, such as topiramate (Topamax).

Struvite stones form in response to an infection, such as a urinary tract infection. These stones can grow quickly and become quite large, sometimes with few symptoms or little warning. Uric acid stones can form in people who don’t drink enough fluids or who lose too much fluid, those who eat a high-protein diet, and those who have gout. Certain genetic factors also may increase your risk of uric acid stones. And cystine stones form in people with a hereditary disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete too much of certain amino acids (cystinuria).

People prone to kidney stones should make some changes to their diet to help prevent recurrences. This may include drinking more water, reducing salt intake and eating less meat. There are certain foods you can have, and other foods you should avoid, to reduce the chance that kidney stones will return. If you had kidney stones before, you are more likely to get them again. But by following the eating plan your doctor or dietitian suggests, you may prevent new kidney stones.

How to Prevent Kidney Stones

Here are some tips to help lower your chance of getting kidney stones:

• Drink more fluids, especially water. Try to drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day. If you don’t already drink that much, slowly increase how much you drink over a week or two. This slow increase will give your body time to adjust to the extra fluids. You are drinking enough water when your urine is clear or light yellow. If it is dark yellow, you are not drinking enough fluids.
• Eat less salt and salty foods. One way to do this is to avoid processed foods and limit how often you eat at restaurants, as well as to avoid adding salt to your meals and when you cook.
• Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how much calcium you need every day. Try to get your calcium from food, rather than from supplements. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are all good sources of calcium.
• If you had an oxalate kidney stone, your doctor may ask you to limit certain foods that have a lot of oxalate, such as dark green vegetables, nuts, and chocolate. You don’t have to give up these foods, just eat or drink less of them.
• Eat a balanced diet that is not too high in animal protein. This includes beef, chicken, pork, fish, and eggs. These foods contain a lot of protein, and too much protein may lead to kidney stones. You don’t have to give up these foods. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how much protein you need and the best way to get it.
• Increase how much fiber you eat. Fiber includes oat bran, beans, whole wheat breads, wheat cereals, cabbage, and carrots.
• Avoid grapefruit juice.
• Drink lemonade made from real lemons (not lemon flavoring). It is high in citrate, which may help prevent kidney stones.

Talk to your doctor if you take vitamins or supplements. He or she may want you to limit how much fish liver oil or calcium supplements you take. Also, do not take more than the recommended daily dose of vitamins C and D.

Treating Kidney Stones

Kidney stones that can’t be treated with conservative measures — either because they’re too large to pass on their own or because they cause bleeding, kidney damage or ongoing urinary tract infections — may require more-extensive treatment. Procedures may include:

Using sound waves to break up stones. For certain kidney stones — depending on size and location — your doctor may recommend a procedure called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).

ESWL uses sound waves to create strong vibrations (shock waves) that break the stones into tiny pieces that can be passed in your urine. The procedure lasts about 45 to 60 minutes and can cause moderate pain, so you may be under sedation or light anesthesia to make you comfortable.

Surgery to remove very large stones in the kidney. A traditional procedure involves surgically removing a kidney stone using small scopes and instruments inserted through a small incision in your back. You will receive general anesthesia during the surgery and be in the hospital for one to two days while you recover. Your doctor may recommend this surgery if ESWL was unsuccessful.

Using a scope to remove stones. To remove a smaller stone in your ureter or kidney, your doctor may pass a thin lighted tube (ureteroscope) equipped with a camera through your urethra and bladder to your ureter. Once the stone is located, special tools can snare the stone or break it into pieces that will pass in your urine. Your doctor may then place a small tube (stent) in the ureter to relieve swelling and promote healing. You may need general or local anesthesia during this procedure.

Remember, the best way to reduce your risk of kidney stones is to drink a lot of water. It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can help you develop an eating plan that reduces your risk of kidney stones.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Secrets in the Soup

Who hasn’t dipped their grilled cheese into a piping hot mug of tomato soup, happily torpedoed their clam chowder with oyster crackers, or savored the thick gooey cheese stretched over a bowl of French onion soup? Whether it’s chicken noodle, split pea or some concoction loaded with vegetables, pasta, and grains, we love our soups. There’s little more satisfying on a bitterly cold day then warming your fingers while sipping from a mugful of your favorite broth.

Even when the weather warms, soups work. But delicious, nostalgic, and pleasing don’t automatically translate into healthy and nutritious–you should be aware of the dangers of excess salt, preservatives, and additives, especially when preparing canned soups or eating out of the home.

Since March is National Nutrition Month, it bears taking a closer look at this popular and diverse staple. And while it’s difficult to imagine that soup isn’t good for us, there’s typically one prime ingredient hiding in soup that is a major contributor to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke: salt. More than 75 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed foods. We often don’t even know we’re eating it.

Sodium is a major flavor additive and preservative in canned soups, and in homemade or restaurant soups that use canned or pre-packaged chicken, beef or vegetable stocks as a base. With so much salt in our food, it’s no wonder the average American gets more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. That’s more than double the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams.

Manufacturers use salt to preserve foods and modify flavor, and it’s included in additives that affect the texture or color of foods. Sodium is an essential nutrient, but very little is needed in the diet – it’s estimated that the body needs less than 500 mg of sodium a day to perform its functions, an amount much lower than what the average American consumes.

In an ideal world we’d all handpick fresh ingredients and cook them at home, ensuring a limited sodium, fat and preservative intake. In the real world, however, we don’t always have time to cook. So how can we ensure that we’re consuming soup and other “healthy” products that are truly good for us? The answer lies in knowledge and smart shopping.

Nutritious and Delicious

Food additives help process or prepare soups and foods, keep the product fresh, or make it more appealing. This includes emulsifiers that prevent liquid products from separating, stabilizers and thickeners that provide an even texture, and anticaking agents that allow substances to flow freely. They also prevent fruits and vegetables from turning brown when they are exposed to air. Finally, they provide color, and enhance the taste.

In the supermarket, your best ally is the Nutrition Facts Label on product packages, which lists how much sodium is in each serving, and other content. As a guideline, to include a “sodium free or salt free” claim on the label, a product cannot exceed 5 milligrams of sodium per serving. A product with a “low sodium” claim must not exceed 140 mg per serving. A “no salt added or unsalted” claim on the label does not mean the food is “sodium free.” Compare food labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium.

Also, look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark to find foods that can be part of a heart-healthy diet. This red and white icon on the package means the food meets specific nutrition requirements for certification. You can learn more about the Heart-Check Food Certification Program and find foods that are currently certified by visiting heartcheckmark.org.

It’s important to learn about the different products we’re putting in our bodies, and to make smart choices that help us achieve a balance between convenience, cost and content. Making soup and other foods from scratch or knowing how it’s prepared by others is your best option. Ask questions when you’re purchasing meals from restaurants and take-out merchants, and read the food labels on prepared products you purchase at the grocery store. That allows you to make a more informed choice and consider product alternatives. Nobody says you can’t have your soup – it’s just healthier to know what’s in it, and how to find healthy compromises.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!