Keeping It Clean

We are already neck deep in holiday eating, and the extended forecast calls for seasonal gluttony, gluttony and more gluttony. While eating in moderation is advised, we might as well enjoy ourselves, and start thinking about how we’re going to shed a few pounds, exercise more or generally focus on maintaining or improving our personal health in 2018.

One process that gets a lot of attention is detoxification, or using a “cleansing diet” to rid ourselves of unwelcome compounds. Detoxification is performed naturally, 24/7, utilizing important nutrients from our diet. Our bodies transform molecules, or toxins, that need to be removed from the body. They fall into two main categories: toxins made in the body as byproducts of regular metabolism (endotoxins), and those that come from outside the body and are introduced to the system by eating, drinking, breathing or those absorbed through the skin (exotoxins).

Endotoxins include compounds such as lactic acid, urea and waste products from microbes in the gut. Exotoxins include environmental toxins and pollutants, pesticides, mercury in seafood, lead from car exhaust and air pollution, chemicals in tobacco smoke, dioxin in feminine care products, phthalates from plastic and parabens from lotions and cosmetics.

Detoxification also is the process by which medications are metabolized, then excreted. Because toxins are potentially dangerous to human health, they need to be transformed and excreted from the body through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Our ability to detoxify varies and is influenced by environment, diet, lifestyle, health status and genetic factors.

But, like many other bodily systems, too much “in” and not enough “out” can throw off our gastrointestinal balance, exceeding the body’s ability to excrete toxins. When this occurs, the toxins may be stored in fat cells, soft tissue and bone, negatively affecting health.

How to detoxify

Detoxification protocol recommends removing processed foods and foods to which some people are sensitive, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and red meat. Instead, we should try and eat organically grown vegetables, fruit, whole nonglutenous grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein.

Fasting, which seems a normal reactive response, may actually suppress detoxification pathways in the body. Many health practitioners advise against this practice. Detoxification programs can vary widely and may pose a risk for some people (such as people with multiple maladies, those who take multiple medications and pregnant or breast-feeding women). Whatever you choose to do, it is important to work with a credentialed health professional for guidance and support.

Simple, ongoing detoxification doesn’t require a rigorous plan; doing some or all of the following can support healthy detoxification:

  • Maintain adequate hydration by consuming plenty of clean water.
  • Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Consume a significant amount of fiber each day from vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
  • Eat cruciferous vegetables, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, turmeric and milk thistle, and drink green tea. These foods support detoxification.
  • Consume adequate protein, which is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme.
  • Consider taking a multivitamin/multimineral to fill any gaps in a healthy diet, since certain vitamins and minerals enable the body’s detoxification processes to function.
  • Eat naturally fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, eat yogurt with active enzymes, or take a high-quality probiotic to help the body manage toxins from microbes that live in the gut.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a precursor to glutathione, often is recommended to support the body’s natural detoxification activity.
  • Maintain bowel regularity.

Beware of juicing and cleansing products

Many popular “juice cleansing” or all-liquid diets are available in stores, or touted online, but they aren’t necessarily healthy or safe, or the best path to true wellness.

Juice cleanses often require expensive, prepackaged bottles of pulverized produce blends, or they can be homemade in a juicer or blender. Trendy beverages might contain kale, spinach, green apple, cucumber, celery and lettuce, or a red concoction made with apple, carrot, beets, lemon and ginger. While popular (and containing healthy foods), there’s no scientific research that proves these cleansing diets provide short- or long-term benefits, nor are they a healthy or safe approach to weight loss.

One of the most well-known detox diets instructs people to drink lemon juice and water spiked with maple syrup and cayenne pepper — supposedly this helps the body remove toxins and aid in speedy weight loss. Physicians worry that any 10-day liquid diet, regardless of the combination of liquids you imbibe, could pose serious health risks, especially for people who use it for longer periods of time.

During the first few days of a juice cleanse, a person initially burns their glycogen stores for energy. Using glycogen (the stored form of glucose) pulls a lot of water out of the body, which causes weight loss. But the loss of water weight comes at the expense of a loss of muscle, which is a steep price to pay. Weight loss is not always about the numbers on a scale, it’s also about the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

A cleansing diet is low in dietary protein and calories. Having more lean muscle and less body fat means burning more calories and boosting metabolism, in the long run. Additionally, a cleanse could also lead to side effects such as a lack of energy, headaches and shakiness due to low blood sugar. Over time, it may lead to constipation from a lack of fiber, as well as irritability. Physicians also caution against any diet that uses natural or synthetic laxatives.

Once we come off a cleansing diet and return to solid foods, it’s easy – and very common — to regain the weight we’ve just lost.  Some people may experience a psychological lift from a cleanse, such as feeling ready or motivated to adopt healthier eating habits, but it doesn’t replace smart, common-sense nutritional practices and healthy lifestyle changes. That includes setting simple goals, taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and figuring out how to measure our success.


 

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!

Pre-diabetes is Predictable, Prevalent, and Preventable

One of the nice things about being an adult is we can eat our dessert before our meal. But even if we give ourselves permission to indulge, we should tune in to the potential damage those desserts or anything we eat loaded with sugar is causing to our long-term health. With the holidays rapidly approaching, we also face the opportunity to heap an abundance of alcohol-based drinks, sweet punches, soda and a multitude of cookies, cakes and treats to our already struggling metabolic systems. But the long-term cost is not worth the short-term pleasure.

We all know someone with diabetes or “sugar issues,” but the real numbers that accompany this malady are staggering:  In addition to the 30 million Americans suffering from either type-1 (insulin dependent) or type-2 diabetes (which can often be controlled by drugs, exercise and careful diet), 86 million American adults – more than one out of three people – have prediabetes. What’s more, 90 percent of them don’t know they’re at risk.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how our body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to our health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up our muscles and tissues. It’s also our brain’s main source of fuel.

Insulin is a hormone that comes from a gland situated behind and below the stomach. Called the pancreas, it secretes insulin into the bloodstream, which circulates, enabling sugar to enter our cells. Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in our bloodstream — as our blood-sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from our pancreas.

If we have diabetes, no matter what type, it means we have too much glucose in our blood, although the causes may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems. In type 2 diabetes, our cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and our pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into our cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in our bloodstream.

Exactly why this happens is uncertain, although it’s believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.

Don’t let the “pre” in prediabetes fool you

Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood-sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Diabetes affects every major organ in the body. People with diabetes often develop major complications such as kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage (nerve damage can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg). Some studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression, and that risk increases as more diabetes-related health problems develop. All can sharply reduce quality of life.

Though people with prediabetes are already at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, they don’t yet have to manage the serious health problems that come with diabetes, which includes daily insulin injections and carefully regulated nutrition. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2; only about 5 percent have type 1, which is caused by an immune reaction that is not preventable. Type 2, however, can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes.

You can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems show up. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes, which include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than three times a week
  • Ever having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby that weighed more than nine pounds

Race and ethnicity are also a factor: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Nutritional tips for a healthier holiday season

Here are some useful tips to help manage our sweet tooth when dessert and other foods high in calories, sugar, fat and salt are served:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure.
  • Eat a healthy snack early to avoid overeating at the party.
  • Bring a nutritious snack or your own healthy dessert such asplain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.
  • Look for side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter and dressing, and other extra fats and sugars such as marshmallows or fried vegetable toppings.
  • If there is someone else at the party who is trying to watch what they eat, buddy up! Avoid tempting sweets and ask your fellow conscious eater to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.
  • Choose low-calorie drinks such as sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet beverages. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount, and have it with food.

Additionally, there are ways to revise dessert recipes so they are healthier and still tasty. Often, we can replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute. We can also try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings.

We can often blame type 1 diabetes on genetics, but type 2 isn’t as easy to pass off – we don’t have to give up all of our holiday favorites if we make healthy choices and limit portion sizes. How we eat, what we eat and our willingness to exercise and control our weight are the key factors to remaining healthy and avoiding the trauma of type 2 diabetes and its nefarious side effects.


 

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 Super Food in Your Fridge

The world around us provides practically all the nutritionally sound foods, supplements and even many of the natural medicines we need to survive . . . if only we take the time to learn about and understand them, respect their value and benefits, and resist the smorgasbord of unhealthy alternatives that tantalize us every minute.

A great example of one of nature’s almost perfect foods – after a little human intervention — is yogurt.  Whether you prefer it smooth and creamy or thick like custard, tangy, plain, sweet or overflowing with fruit and granola, yogurt is packed with nutrients, including vitamins and chemicals that help build strong bones and reduce blood pressure. It also contains friendly bacteria that aid in digestion and benefit our bodies in myriad other ways.

Yogurt contains probiotics, bacteria that are good for our health. They can help reduce inflammation, and improve how our bodies react to insulin, a hormone that manages the amount of sugar in our blood. Eating yogurt regularly is helpful for warding off type-2 diabetes, aids in digestion, and helps keep weight off over time. And the probiotics help regulate bowel movements, fight infections and can restore balance to our digestive systems after a round of antibiotics, reducing the likelihood of developing diarrhea, a common side effect from antibiotics.

Yogurt is made from milk, which contains calcium, an alkaline earth metal. Calcium is good for bone growth and health. Many dairies add vitamin D to their milk as well, another bonus. Eating yogurt, especially when we’re young, can reduce our risk of developing osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, yogurt contains potassium, which helps keep blood pressure in check by flushing salt from our bodies.

Besides lowering blood pressure, yogurt has been linked to lower cholesterol levels. And according to some studies, yogurt consumers appeared to have a better metabolic profile such as lower BMI, waist circumference, levels of triglycerides, fasting glucose and insulin, and lower blood pressure but higher HDL [good] cholesterol.

These studies measured people who ate more yogurt and less processed meat and refined grains. When combined with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and other healthy foods, participants had higher levels of potassium (which helps flush excess salt from our body), vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other micronutrients.

Something for everyone

Shopping at the supermarket for yogurt can be confusing – there are many brands, varieties and styles, and more seem to be added every day. Yogurt, like all milk products, has natural sugar called lactose. Six ounces of plain yogurt has about 12 grams, but sweetened yogurts have considerably more.  Plain yogurt topped with fruit is a healthier alternative, or even mixing a sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt is preferable to reduce the amount of sugar.

Greek yogurt is strained to make it thicker — it has more protein but less calcium. Many brands boost their Greek yogurts with extra calcium, so it’s important to read labels. Also, the label should tell you if the yogurt contains live and active cultures, which are important for digestion. And when it comes to fat, low-fat yogurt is your best option, since whole-milk yogurts have more saturated fat, which isn’t good for our hearts.

Mixing yogurt with nuts like walnuts or almonds, as well as fresh fruit, enhances its benefits.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and contain higher amounts of antioxidants than most other foods. Eating walnuts may improve brain health while also helping to prevent heart disease and cancer.

Like other nuts, most of the energy or calories in walnuts come from fat. This makes them an energy-dense, high-calorie food. However, even though walnuts are rich in fat and calories, studies indicate that they do not increase the risk of obesity when replacing other foods in the diet. They also are richer than most other nuts in polyunsaturated fats.

So, think about adding yogurt to your diet as a breakfast staple, for lunch, or as a healthy snack. And no matter how or when you enjoy it, know that it’s healthy, easy to prepare or mix with other foods, and comes in so many flavors and varieties that you can enjoy it for years to come!


 

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!

Eat Well and Be Safe This Summer

It’s July, and the temperature and your dinner are sizzling! Americans love to barbecue, especially in the summer. It’s the season for burgers, dogs, barbecued chicken, and ribs, corn on the cob and every type of salad and dessert known to man.

If you’re a barbeque and picnic lover, the last thing in the world you want to hear is another warning about the perils of charcoal- or grill-cooked food.  But there’s a reason for these warnings, and there are a variety of safety tips, compromises, healthier alternatives and choices you can make to ensure good summer eating and improved nutritional wellness.

There’s a science to cooking outdoors. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. The formation of HCAs and PAHs is influenced by the type of meat, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs have been shown to cause cancer in animals. Currently, no Federal guidelines address consumption levels of HCAs and PAHs formed in meat. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, reducing the cooking time, and using a microwave oven or standard oven to partially cook meat before exposing it to high temperatures.

HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

We can reduce our exposure to these potentially damaging chemicals through several cooking methods:

  • When possible, avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoid prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures).
  • Use a microwave or standard oven to pre-cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures. This can substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often.
  • Remove charred portions of meat, such as the skin from chicken, and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings, which also contain HCA and PAH.
  • Consider steaming fish and vegetables in foil, rather than grilling over an open flame.

Proper refrigeration and cooling prevents deadly contaminants

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.

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.

Finally, it’s important to keep many kinds of food cool to prevent germs from multiplying. Make sure you keep salads, dips, milk- or dairy-based products, sandwiches, and cooked meats cool. 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 and happier eating.

Summer is a blast, and summer eating doesn’t have to be harmful if you eat everything in moderation and try to avoid those foods and preparation processes that are less healthy. Eat more seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when at picnics, out, or at home. Avoid high-fat desserts high in sugar, or processed foods loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives. You can eat healthfully AND enjoy delicious food in the summer . . . it just takes some compromise and planning.


 

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!

Sleep – Who Needs It?!

Think about young children out at a restaurant with their family way after their normal bedtime.  Maybe they’re on vacation or have been going all day, had to wait in line and, your luck, got the booth next to yours. They may be short tempered, ill-mannered, and obstinate – not the best dinner companions. But here’s the thing:  It’s probably not their fault. If they haven’t gotten enough sleep, they are tired and cranky. Lack of sleep throws off our chemical balance and deprives us of much-needed rest that allows us to cope, concentrate, solve problems, and function more effectively in interactive situations–like while playing, in school, and at work.

In March, we turn the clocks ahead an hour and look forward to enjoying the lengthening days and milder temperatures. If you have a dog or cat, you know they’re not happy about the time change – they expect breakfast and dinner on the schedule they’re used to. But besides upsetting our animals, the time change and loss of an hour adds to any sleep deprivation we may already be suffering and wreaks havoc with our internal clocks.

When we’re tired, we become irritable. Productivity, service, creativity, and quality of work often suffer. Being fatigued tests the patience of everyone around us, increases chances of accidents or mistakes, and aggravates chronic health conditions. It also reduces our natural immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm that controls our eating and sleeping patterns, internal bodily functions and the timing of hormone secretions. We might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning if our internal clock gets out of sync with the external day-night cycle. This happens with multi-time-zone travel and is the basis for jet lag. With the daylight savings time shift, the external time has shifted while the internal clock has not, and even though it’s been weeks, there’s still a lag.

The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm, the better our sleep. This cycle also may be altered by the timing of various factors including naps, bedtime, exercise, diet, and especially exposure to light.

Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40, our sleep patterns change and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, functioning like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Chronic illness, changes of medications, and injuries also affect restlessness. But whatever the causes, the more times we awake at night, the more likely we will not feel refreshed and restored in the morning.

Additionally, psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, arguments, and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to “turn off” all the noise from the day. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, are watching television, or are on your phone or laptop, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep.

Steps for sleeping more peacefully

Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue caused by poor sleep habits. And while chemical imbalances and chronic conditions such as sleep apnea—where the body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep—can be affecting you, there are many simple solutions you can try before turning to medications or speaking with your doctor about a sleep study.

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It’s also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed—not too little, or too much. This may vary by individual. For example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, but if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to consider:

  • Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of your sleep cycle as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep; but avoid exercise close to bedtime.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep. Stay away from large meals, spicy foods which increase metabolism, sweets, or unhealthy snacking. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, though try to avoid too much light exposure in the evening if you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit stimulating activities, electronic games, social networking, and TV shows before trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t dwell on or bring your problems to bed, and try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations when it’s time to relax.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or work.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

It’s easy to put off sleep, figuring we can catch up when there’s more time. But like taking our medications, eating nutritional meals and exercising regularly, getting the rest we need is important for our overall health and wellness and should be treated as a necessity, not a commodity.

Yogurt Alert: Be Active

The message on overuse of antibiotics is finally getting plenty of press and for good reason.   The more we prescribe or use antibiotics, the faster nature adapts and evolves to find other paths for bacterial self-preservation. But there’s a flip side to the bacteria story that doesn’t get as much attention. There are “good” bacteria, as well as “bad” bacteria, and one of those “good” types of bacteria aids digestion and promotes a healthier digestive system.

Probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning “for life”) are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in our intestines. Normally, the human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote healthy digestion. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance.

Only certain types of bacteria or yeast (called strains) have been shown to work in the digestive tract. Probiotics mimic our natural digestive system, and have been used for hundreds of years in fermented foods and cultured milk products. Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria including yogurt. Additionally, probiotic-laced beverages are popular in Japan. While their positive health benefits have been established, researchers continue studying the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.

Many people use probiotics to prevent or limit diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness, and a decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria. Since the mid-1990s, clinical studies have established that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ailments, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.

They’re also recommended to help prevent infections in the digestive tract, and to help control immune responses or inflammations such as irritable bowel disease or syndrome.  Additionally, probiotics are being studied for benefits relating to colon cancer, Crohn’s Disease, and skin infections.

Eating yogurt is a healthy practice. But to get the amount of probiotics available in traditional supplements, you’d have to eat at least five containers of yogurt daily. However, as with any dietary supplement, you should discuss its benefits with your physician or a licensed nutritionist as supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs, and may not be suitable for people with specific illnesses, conditions, or medical histories. The same precaution is extended to women who are pregnant or considering getting pregnant.

While much also remains to be learned about probiotics and the immune system, studies suggest that certain probiotic strains offer a variety of additional benefits:

  • Probiotics may help with inflammatory bowel disease by changing the intestinal microflora and lessening the immune system response that can worsen the disease.
  • Studies indicate that probiotics may enhance resistance to and recovery from infection. In research on elderly people, researchers found that the duration of all illnesses was significantly lower in a group that consumed a certain probiotic found in fermented milk. They also reported a possible 20% reduction in the length of winter infections (including gastrointestinal and respiratory infections).
  • Yogurt containing two probiotics, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, was found to improve the success of drug therapy (using four specific medications) for people suffering from persistent  pyloriinfections. H. pylori is a bacterium that can cause infection in the stomach and upper part of the small intestine. It can lead to ulcers and can increase the risk of developing stomach cancer as well.
  • Certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease and the recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery to treat ulcerative colitis).
  • Probiotics also may be of use in maintaining urogenital health. Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a finely balanced ecosystem that can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth-control pills. Probiotic treatment that restores the balance of microflora may be helpful for such common female urogenital problems as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and urinary tract infection.

Make sure contents and the strain of probiotic in the supplement are clearly marked as not all are beneficial for different conditions. And note that the number of active agents in a supplement can vary widely from one to the next. Again, seek guidance from your physician or a nutritionist to help ensure the best results.

And while it’s great right out of the container, yogurt works as a substitute ingredient in many recipes. Plain yogurt can take the place of sour cream (over baked potatoes or when garnishing enchiladas). You can also substitute a complementary flavor of yogurt for some of the oil or butter called for in a muffin, brownie, or cake recipe. It can replace all of the fat called for in cake mixes, too.

The best and easiest advice is to get in the habit of eating yogurt that includes live and active cultures, particularly those brands and labels that are not loaded with sugar. Remember, yogurt comes from milk, so in addition to the active cultures, yogurt eaters benefit from several other nutrients found in dairy foods like calcium, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, potassium, vitamin D and magnesium. Happy eating, and remember – a little culture never hurt anyone!

What You Eat – or Don’t Eat – Can Hurt You

Colon cancer awareness is more important than ever as increases in this insidious and deadly disease are on the rise, especially among younger people, a population that traditionally wasn’t at risk except in cases where there was a family history.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States, with more than 100,000 new cases of colon (colorectal) cancer occurring annually. Colon cancer is most prevalent in Westernized societies, where diets are higher in animal products and processed foods and lower in unrefined plant foods.

Overall, the number of new colorectal cancer cases and the number of deaths from colorectal cancer are both decreasing a little bit each year. However, in adults younger than 50 years, the number of new colorectal cancer cases has slowly increased since 1998. Colorectal cancers and deaths from colorectal cancer are higher in African Americans than in other races.

Studies suggest that diet is a key contributor to colon cancer risk. The cells lining the intestinal tract come into direct contact with what we choose to eat – the substances contained in our food can have profound effects on these cells and tissues. The protective value of fruits and vegetables has been established by several studies following subjects for years, keeping track of dietary patterns and colon cancer diagnoses. So what you choose to eat can help prevent colon cancer, especially if your diet includes more vegetables and fruits and less refined and processed foods.

Screening and awareness increase prevention

March is colorectal cancer awareness month and the perfect time to become familiar with risk factors and prevention. Risk factors include:

  • Age 50 or older
  • A family history of cancer of the colon or rectum
  • A personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium, or breast
  • History of polyps in the colon
  • A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn’s disease
  • Eating a diet high in fat (especially from red meat)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Lack of exercise and physical activity

The prognosis and chance of recovery following a colon cancer diagnosis depends on several items, including the stage of the cancer when discovered, damage it may have already caused, blood chemistry, and a patient’s general health. If you experience any stomach discomfort, bleeding in your stool, or sudden weight loss, contact your physician immediately.

Beginning at age 50 (age 45 for African Americans), both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should receive a screening test. These tests are designed to find both early cancer and polyps. There are simple blood and stool tests, and surgical testing such as colonoscopies can be done as outpatient surgical procedures, and virtually (using diagnostic imagery). Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.

How to protect yourself

People once thought that there was little that they could do to protect themselves against cancer. But we’ve learned more about how the disease develops and what biological and environmental factors increase cancer risk. We now have better weapons for fighting the disease including more options for diagnosis and treatment, improved therapies, and new technologies for early detection.

Most importantly, we can take steps to protect ourselves against cancer.  Everyone can lower their overall cancer risk by being active and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. 

Nutritious foods are very rich in fiber, and disease-causing foods are generally fiber-deficient. Several food components that may modulate colon cancer risk have been identified: fiber, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and certain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals all play a partial role. Red meat and processed meats are the most cancer causing, but all meats and dairy products do not contain any fiber, and are also lacking in anti-oxidants and phytochemicals.

Foods made from refined grains (such as white bread, white rice, and pasta) are also not only fiber deficient but void of micronutrients and phytochemicals as well – these foods are also associated with colon and rectal cancers.

The role of choice in our diet continues to be a huge factor in improving our short- and long-term health. Research suggests that up to 35% of cancers are related to poor diet. Choosing a diet rich in nutrient-dense plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds is a simple step we can take to protect ourselves against colon cancer. And by remaining active and exercising regularly, we can reduce our risk of cancer and other health problems.

Orange You Glad You Ate That Pumpkin?!

The rich array of bright autumn colors aren’t limited to trees, ivy and shrubs – a quick visit to a local farm or the produce aisle at your favorite grocery store will yield a delightful bounty of fall fruits and vegetables bound to please your eyes and your taste buds. And eating foods that grow within the season isn’t just practical – it offers a cornucopia of nutrients, vitamins and disease-fighting elements that will protect you while pleasing even the more discerning foodies.

October offers a multitude of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli, turnips and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm, and represent only a few of the many nutrition-rich seasonal foods that can help you feel better, stay healthier and may protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette whets our appetites with bright oranges, reds and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be helpful in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower your risk for many diseases.

With the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before we know it, Thanksgiving buffets, making a conscious decision to fill our plates with seasonal fruits and vegetable is a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds.

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy this season. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

Eating with the Season

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta-carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well, is good for our skin and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging.

The natural sweetness of pumpkin makes it a great addition to baked treats and soups or a perfect side dish. Every serving of pumpkin contains about a fifth of the fiber we need each day, along with potassium and vitamin B. And pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.

Apples are a perennial favorite and healthy, as long as you don’t eat them deep-fried in fritters! Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

Here are some other seasonal favorites to add to your shopping cart and pantry:

  • Sweet potatoesare a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beetsare another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through the end of October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues.
  • Fall greens that are packed with nutrition include Brussels sprouts.Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, they have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February. Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are famous for a bitter edge. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Finally, seasonal squash like Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy.Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complement many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

By eating local fruits and vegetables in the autumn, we build up our immunity and help prepare our bodies for the colder months that follow.  So don’t just put pumpkins on your porches and in your windows . . . cook them and enjoy the health benefits all year round!


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!

Is organic natural, or natural organic?

The wide variety of mouth-watering fresh fruit and vegetables this time of year is astounding.  The produce sections in grocery stores are overflowing with colorful, ripe options that are attractive to our eyes and palettes, and farm stands and markets surround us, typically offering just-picked alternatives and luscious offerings that remind us why we love living in New England. But whether you purchase your fresh zucchini, peaches, corn or lettuce off the back of a pickup truck or at your local supermarket, it’s easy to get befuddled by signs and labels proclaiming “natural,” “organic,” “non-GMO” and related labels, constant reminders that we’re very trusting when it comes to our food sources and what we put into our bodies.

Natural and organic are not interchangeable.  Other truthful claims, such as free-range, hormone-free, and locally grown can still appear on food labels.  However, don’t confuse these terms with “organic.”  Only food labeled “organic” has been certified as meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA ) organic standards.

The label “all natural” or “100 percent natural” can be found on diverse food products ranging from peanut butter and cereal to “all-natural” sodas.  However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responsible for regulating and supervising food production, does not define or regulate use of the label “natural” on food products. Instead, the FDA official policy is that “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances,” an ambiguous policy that leaves interpretation of “natural” largely up to the food industry.

In contrast to the FDA, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does regulate use of the word “natural” when applied to meat, poultry, and eggs, stating that a “natural” food is “a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.”  Although consumers purchasing “natural” meat, poultry, and eggs can be confident that there are no artificial ingredients or colors added, it’s important to note that “natural” does not necessarily mean hormone-free or antibiotic-free; these are separate labels, also regulated by the USDA.

Being organic

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Farmers who grow organic produce don’t use conventional methods to fertilize and control weeds. Examples of organic farming practices include using natural fertilizers to feed soil and plants, and using crop rotation or mulch to manage weeds.

Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

The USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.  Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.

Along with the national organic standards, the USDA has developed strict labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy.  The “USDA Organic” seal tells us that a product is at least 95 percent organic.

The “USDA Organic” seal also means that any animals involved in producing your food were treated according to USDA organic livestock living-condition standards. Organic dairy cows, for example, don’t live in crowded, unsanitary feed lots, and they spend at least 120 days per year grazing on pasture.

Look for the word “organic” and a small sticker version of the USDA Organic seal on vegetables or pieces of fruit.  Or they may appear on the sign above the organic produce display. The word “organic” and the seal may also appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods.

However, even when it comes to organic labels, not everything is as clear as it seems. For example:

  • Products labeled “100% Organic”contain 100% organic ingredients.
  • Products labeled “Organic”contain a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients, and the remaining 5 percent are produced using no GMOs, sewage sludge or irradiation.
  • Products labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients”contain a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients, and the remaining 30 percent are produced using no GMOs, sewage sludge or irradiation.
  • Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredientsmay list organic ingredients on the package’s side panel, but may not make any organic claim on the front of the package.

Many factors influence the decision to choose organic food. Some people choose organic food because they prefer the taste. Yet others opt for organic because of concerns such as:

  • Conventional growers use synthetic pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Organic farmers use insect traps, careful crop selection (disease-resistant varieties), predator insects or beneficial microorganisms instead to control crop-damaging pests. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. Organic produce typically carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than do conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don’t exceed government safety thresholds.
  • Food additives.Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
  • Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.

So what is natural, anyway?

When you buy food labeled “natural,” it’s actually harder to know exactly what we’re getting because even when it appears on a U.S. food label, the word “natural” has no regulated definition.

“Natural” can mean any number of different things, depending on where in the country you are, who the food manufacturer is and what store is carrying the product. “Organic,” on the other hands, tells us we’re buying food made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, sewage sludge or irradiation.

The only exception to this rule, as stated earlier, is when “natural” is used to describe meat or poultry. According to the USDA, “natural” meat and poultry contain no artificial ingredients or added color and are only minimally processed.

To add to our confusion, foods containing natural flavors, sweeteners, or other plant-derived substances can be labeled natural. In addition, foods containing highly processed high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can also be labeled “natural,” since the synthetic materials used to generate HFCS are not incorporated into the final product.  And foods containing genetically engineered or modified ingredients can be labeled “natural.”

Ultimately, consumers make their buying decisions based on their personal convictions, price, quality and accessibility. For many people, the fewer artificial ingredients and pesticides used, the better.  But whatever we choose, taking the time to understand the differences and knowing how to interpret the confusing array of regulations and labeling is a starting point for improved nutrition and better health.

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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 Main Event: Vegan vs. Vegetarian

In this corner, at five feet, four inches, weighing 130 pounds and eating only fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, and grains we have our challenger, Veggie Betty. In the opposite corner, at five feet five inches, eating only grains, fruit and vegetables and tipping the scales at 125 is our current champion, the queen of clean, Vegan Vicky. We’re looking for an apples-to-apples fight over the advantages and benefits of not ingesting meat and fish, and the differences between these two philosophies. Now, at the bell, come out arguing, and may the healthiest eater win!

Eating healthfully is a battle, no doubt. But both of these contestants are winners – people following vegetarian and vegan diets tend to live longer, have fewer health issues and generate less negative impact on the environment. The real battle is about staying healthy, but the debate over established and faddy diets and the advantages of veganism over vegetarianism rages on.

The term vegetarian generally means a person who does not consume animal products; this includes land and sea animals. Most vegetarians generally do consume eggs and dairy products (milk products). Vegetarian diets are considered excellent dietary methods for controlling weight, are heart-healthy, and excellent for controlling and preventing diabetes.

On the other hand, vegans eliminate all animal and dairy products (including eggs and honey) from their diet, as well as anything made with gelatin, which comes from animal bones and hooves. Vegans load up on fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Research has found a low-carb vegan diet reduces cholesterol levels, plus risk for developing heart disease.

But since animal products are the most convenient sources of protein and iron, vegans have a harder time getting an equal fix and have to work harder at balancing their diet through protein-packed alternatives such as lentils, black beans and soy products, and by increasing iron absorption by pairing foods rich in iron with foods rich in vitamin C, such as leafy vegetables and citrus. As a warning, vegans often suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiencies, so should consult their physician or nutritionist to ensure a healthy balance and determine if supplements are needed.

Vegetarians eliminate most animal products from their diet, too, but typically eat dairy and eggs. Like vegans, vegetarians consume a lot of fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. But unlike vegans, According to the American Heart Association, there is no single vegetarian eating pattern.

For example, a lactovegetarian eats plant-based foods, cheese, and dairy, while a lacto-ovovegetarian (lacto-ovo) eats all of the above and eggs. There are also semi-vegetarians, or people who don’t eat red meat but eat chicken and fish with their plant-based foods, dairy, and eggs. Most vegetarians are lacto-ovo.

Vegetarians have long been hailed as the healthiest eaters. A study published by the American Heart Association found people who mostly adhere to a pro-vegetarian diet (70 percent of food intake is derived from plants) were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. And research  associates this particular diet with reduced risk for certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, and early death.

And again, like vegans, maintaining a mostly plant-based diet is beneficial to the environment. One cow’s annual output of the greenhouse gas methane is equivalent to the emissions generated by a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline. And the amount of feed necessary to raise beef, chicken and pork requires an enormous amount of energy and resources, including fossil fuels, medicine and water.

Until recently, the benefits of vegetarianism and veganism were more anecdotal than clinically proven. However, over the past couple of decades numerous studies have indicated that a person who adopts a vegan or vegetarian diet will:

  • Have a lower body weightOne study found that those who continue eating meat will put on more weight over a five year period, compared to those who switched over to vegetarianism. The same study found that vegans put on even less weight as they get older, compared to vegetarians and meat eaters. The study looked at 22,000 meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.
  • Have better cholesterol levels– Scientists have demonstrated that a vegetarian diet made up of specific plant foods can lower cholesterol as effectively as a drug treatment. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared a diet of known cholesterol-lowering, vegetarian foods to a standard cholesterol-reducing drug called lovastatin.
    The diet reduced levels of LDL the ‘bad’ cholesterol known to cause clogging in coronary arteries — in participants by almost 29 percent, compared to a 30.9 percent decrease in the lovastatin participants. The diet consisted of a combination of nuts (almonds), soy proteins, viscous fiber (high-fiber) foods such as oats and barley and a special margarine with plant sterols (found in leafy green vegetables and vegetable oils).
  • Live longer– Several studies have shown that vegans and vegetarians have a much lower risk of becoming obese, developing diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. All these conditions and diseases reduce one´s life expectancy.
  • Have a lower risk of developing cancer– Several studies have shown a reduced risk of developing many different types of cancer among vegans and vegetarians, compared to meat eaters. The study also found, however, that vegetarians have a higher risk of developing cancer of the colon.
  • Have a lower risk of developing several diseases– A 2012 article published in Food Technology documented that plant-based diets either reduce or completely eliminate people’s genetic propensity to developing long-term diseases including diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Additionally, plant-based diets have shown to be effective in treating diseases like Multiple Sclerosis.

Vegetarian food is generally lower in fat, especially saturated fats, and much higher in fiber, than animal based foods. However, a vegetarian, like a meat eater, has to watch his or her intake of calories, snack foods, refined carbohydrates, whole milk dairy products, and non-meat junk foods.

So whichever path you are contemplating, a gradual change into vegetarianism or veganism works better as a general lifestyle change and longer-term strategy. Some people find that sudden changes to their eating patterns may have unpleasant consequences for their digestive systems, such as irritable bowel and other GI-related maladies. A healthful, gradual change includes increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, lentils), and whole grains, while cutting down on your intake of meats and fish.

Additionally, the American Dietetic Association offers these tips for people who want to convert to vegetarianism or veganism:

  • Select whole-grain products, including whole wheat bread, wild/brown rice, and whole-grain cereals
  • Make sure your diet is varied
  • Choose low- or non-fat dairy products (if you wish to continue consuming dairy)
  • Do not eat more than three or four egg yolks per week
  • Plan ahead when you go shopping
  • Read the food labels carefully when you are out shopping
  • Find out where specialty stores that cater to healthy eating are located, and try shopping there.

Fortunately, there is much information available on these diets. And anyone contemplating a significant dietary change should touch base with their physician and get their baseline numbers to help chart progress. Ultimately, though, everyone who participates is a winner!

For more information on plant-based diets, visit Ornish Lifestyle Medicine and Dr. McDougall’s Health & Medical Center.

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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!