Sweet Beginnings Can Lead to Sour Endings

With the holidays rapidly approaching and the specter of delicious desserts already dancing in our heads like sugar plum fairies, it’s important to catch a nutritional breath and contemplate the truly unhealthy relationship we have with the sweet foods and treats we love . . . even though that love is far from unconditional.

Beyond weight control, the most obvious consequence is the diabetes epidemic sweeping our nation. Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older. And it’s not only the dangers to your health and the health of your loved ones to consider — The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world.  Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

Researchers say the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, and Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is a good time to take stock of our diet and exercise routines. Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

To help achieve these goals, and to become more aware of sugar intake, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels.
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Read labels, and be aware of your sugar intake – for example, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
  • As possible, avoid or limit products with high-fructose corn syrup, a commonly added sweetener found in most processed foods.
  • Look for healthy substitutes, such as mustard in place of ketchup, and avoid condiments like barbecue sauce, sweet relish and other flavor enhancers high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
  • Exercise or walk as often as possible – walking or moderate exercise plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life

Other tips include bringing your own “healthier” desserts, entrees or side dishes to parties, eating low-fat, low-sugar yogurt for afternoon snack time, and drinking as much water as possible – at least 64 ounces a day. We don’t have to deprive ourselves, but when we practice moderation and pay attention to what we put in our bodies, our chances of avoiding sugar-related health issues will improve significantly – that’s the best gift we can possibly give ourselves and our families for the holidays!


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 This Pumpkin, Pumpkin!

The fresh autumn harvest offers a bounty of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm this time of year, and represent only a few of the many nutritionally rich seasonal foods that can help us feel better and stay healthier. And if delicious isn’t enough of an incentive, many of these items have properties that help protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette includes deep colors like oranges, reds, and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, these 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 important 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 our risk for many diseases.

As the season changes, the shorter, cooler days make it harder to get physical activity outdoors. And there are the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before you know it, Thanksgiving buffets. So a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds is to keep eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Seasonal Favorites are Loaded with Nutrients

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. 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.

Here’s some guidance on the best choices to make for a healthy, fresh fall diet:

  • Pumpkins: The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it 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. 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 and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.
  • Apples: These red and green gemsare a perennial favorite. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested crop hits the market and farm stands. 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.

  • 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 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, and are a terrific addition to salads, casseroles and simply roasted.
  • Brussels sprouts:Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, Brussel sprouts have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February.
  • Chicories: 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 known for a slightly bitter taste. 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.
  • Seasonal squash: 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 complements many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

The autumn is a wonderful time of year to eat, recreate and prepare our bodies for the colder months that follow. Enjoy its abundance, indoors and out, and have a colorful fall outdoors and in your kitchen!


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 Heart of the Matter

As the summer winds down, kids return to school and the pace of life picks up a beat or two, it’s a good time to think about maintaining an active lifestyle, even as the leaves start turning and the cooler weather finds its way back to New England. And though cold mornings and shorter days can change our workout habits, there are other habits that we can think about every day of the year, specifically what we put in our bodies.

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and a perfect time to eliminate or reduce foods that are high in cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease and strokes.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States.

Cholesterol plays an important and useful role in our bodies, but not all cholesterol is good for us. So-called “bad cholesterol” increases our risk of heart disease, stroke and developing type-2 diabetes. It can be controlled, to an extent, through diet and exercise, but susceptibility to the development of plaque on our arteries also can be naturally occurring, based on genetics.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

Understanding how cholesterol affects us and how to limit intake or mitigate existing damage are important considerations and well within our control.

Getting a Handle on Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found throughout the body. It is critical to the normal function of all cells. The body needs cholesterol for making hormones, digesting dietary fats, building cell walls, and other important processes. Our body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but cholesterol is also in some of the foods we eat.

When there is too much cholesterol in our blood, it can build up on the walls of the arteries. This buildup is called plaque. Over time, it can cause narrowing or hardening of the arteries a condition called atherosclerosis which can cause blockage and keep our heart from getting the blood it needs.

Keeping our cholesterol levels in check is one of the best ways to keep our hearts healthy, and to lower our chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. The American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol, and other traditional risk factors, checked every four to six years. It typically only requires a simple blood test.

Our total cholesterol and HDL or good cholesterol are among numerous factors physicians use to predict our risk for a heart attack or stroke. Other risks include family history, if you are a smoker, diet, the amount we exercise, and if we have high blood pressure.

With HDL or good cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL cholesterol puts us at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol. A low LDL or bad cholesterol level is considered good for our heart health.

Certain foods, such as red meats and full-fat dairy products, fried foods, potato chips and cookies tend to be high in cholesterol. Foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Butter and hard margarines
  • Lard and animal fats
  • Fatty red meat and sausages
  • Full-fat cheeses, milk, cream and yogurts
  • Coconut and palm oils, and coconut cream

Why Statins Are Helpful

If your cholesterol levels are off-kilter your physician may recommend dietary changes. He or she also may recommend that you take one of the primary medicines millions of Americans use to help their bodies regulate or offset the negative effects of cholesterola widely prescribed class of drugs called statins.

Statin drugs work by blocking the action of the liver enzyme that is responsible for producing cholesterol. Statins lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. At the same time, they lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are another type of fat, and they’re used to store excess energy from our diet. High levels of triglycerides in the blood, which are associated with atherosclerosis, can be caused by being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (more than 60 percent of total calories).

People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL cholesterol (bad) level and a low HDL cholesterol (good) level. Many people with heart disease or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Statins help stabilize plaques in the arteries. Since their arrival on the market, statins have been among the most prescribed drugs in the United States, with about 17 million users. The statin medications that are approved for use in the U.S. include Lipitor, Livalo, Mevacor (or Altocor), Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol and Crestor. There also are generic versions available.

Statins also carry warnings that memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes are possible side effects. Due to the possibility of side effects that can damage the liver, patients taking statins are required to have periodic blood tests. It’s important to remember that statins may also interact with other medications.

If you experience any unexplained joint or muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness while taking statins, you should call your doctor immediately. Other potential side effects include headaches, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, tenderness or weakness, or abdominal cramping, bloating or constipation. Also, if you take a statin drug, tell your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, herbal supplements, and vitamins you are currently taking or plan on taking. Certain foods such as grapefruits limit the effectiveness of statins and should not be consumed while taking this medication.

Keys to a healthy lifestyle include eating a balanced, heart-healthy diet; regular physical activity; limiting alcohol intake; and avoiding smoking. The winter will be here sooner than we may want, but remaining healthy is a year-round activity we can help control, regardless of our genetics or the temperature outdoors.


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!

Make Mine Shaken, Not Stirred

It’s encouraging to see that milk shakes are making a big comeback across America, especially since overall cow milk consumption – a critical component in maintaining strong bones and a healthy diet – is down, dropping 25 percent from 1975 to 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In part that’s due to milk allergies and lactose intolerance, but also to the proliferation of non-dairy drinks and the wide variety of “milk” products now available.

But just because it says “milk” on the label doesn’t make it milk – and the many substitutes attracting consumers are not necessarily as healthy as the real deal. So, what do we need to know about milk? Is it safe, is it healthy, and what types of milk products are best for us?

The primary types of milk sold in stores include whole milk, reduced-fat milk (2%), low-fat milk (1%), and fat-free milk (containing no more than 0.2% milk fat). The percentages included in the names of the milk indicate how much fat is in the milk by weight. Whole milk is 3.5% milk fat and is the closest to the way it comes from the cow before processing. All of these milks contain the nine essential nutrients found in whole milk but less fat.

The United States government sets minimum standards for fluid milk that is produced and sold. Reduced fat milks have the same nutrients of full-fat milk; no water is added to these types of milk. Additionally, most milk undergoes processing before we buy it. The three primary steps include pasteurization, homogenization and fortification.

Pasteurization heats the milk to destroy harmful microorganisms and prolong shelf life. Normal pasteurization keeps milk safer while maintaining its valuable nutrients. Ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk is pasteurized at a much higher temperature to make it sterile. UHT milk is then packed into special containers that keep it safe without requiring refrigeration.

After pasteurization, milk undergoes homogenization to prevent separation of the milk fat from the fluid milk. Homogenization creates a smooth, uniform texture. Then milk is fortified to increase its nutritional value or to replace nutrients lost during processing. Vitamin D is added to most milk produced in the United States to facilitate the absorption of calcium. Vitamin A is frequently added to reduced-fat, low-fat and fat-free milks. Vitamin A promotes normal vision, particularly helping the eyes to adjust to low-light settings.

All milk must comply with very stringent safety standards and is among the most highly regulated and safest foods available. Organic milk is produced by dairy farmers that use only organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, and their cows are not given supplemental hormones. Dairy farmers and producers also make many specialty forms of milk to meet consumer preferences and needs, such as milk that is lactose-free and ultra-pasteurized.

Consuming Dairy Milk Alternatives

While milk consumption per capita has been on a steady decrease, the mainstreaming of plant-based dairy alternatives like soy, almond and rice milk has averaged annual U.S. sales growth of 10.9 percent since 1999, resulting in more than $1 billion in annual retail sales.

The non-dairy milk product category was created to accommodate people who are lactose intolerant or have vegan dietary restrictions – not because they are nutritionally equivalent or better. Alternatives like soy milk and almond milk generally are much lower in calcium and vitamin D, but many of these products make up for it by adding the nutrients later.

Conventional milk is an excellent source of protein and bone-strengthening calcium, as well as vitamins D and K. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that people aged 19 to 50 should digest 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, or drink around one to two glasses per day, but it’s still unclear how much calcium we should be consuming. Researchers also warn that too much milk could mean an excess of saturated fat and retinol (vitamin A), which can sometimes end up weakening bones.

Soy milk is a protein-rich alternative to cow’s milk but lacks in calcium. Soy often is used for babies who have trouble digesting whole milk. It is richer in vitamin B and has 10 percent of our recommended daily intake of folic acid, a B-complex vitamin. Soy has proven effective in lowering cholesterol, but to obtain that benefit requires that you consume about four to five soy products daily. Also, because processing of soy results in a bitter flavor, soy milk products have added sweeteners and flavor enhancers, and these extra carbs can be harder to digest, making people gassy.

Almond milk sales have climbed over the past few years; it has been touted as a healthier alternative to milk and soy milk, and does not contain lactose. Its benefits include fewer calories than soy (90 calories in 8 ounces), no saturated fat or cholesterol, about 25 percent of our daily vitamin D, and almost half of our vitamin E requirement. Though almond milk has also been recognized for preventing heart disease, it lacks the same nutritional value as conventional milk, containing very little protein.

Rice milk is processed, milled rice, blended with water until it transforms into a liquid. During the process, carbohydrates become sugar, giving it a natural sweetened taste. The sugary alternative is very low in nutrient value unless vitamins and calcium are added to it. It’s the least likely to trigger allergies, but contains almost no protein.

Goat milk is popular around the world, though not as common in the United States. People perceive that it’s healthier than cow’s milk, and easier to digest, but that isn’t the case. It has more saturated fat than cow’s milk, similar levels of cholesterol and is higher in calories and total fat. And goat’s milk, like cow’s milk, contains lactose.

Hemp milk is less well known among American consumers, but worth considering. A glass of hemp milk contains the same number of calories as soy milk, one-third to one-half of the protein, but 50 percent more fat (five to six grams per serving). However, most of the fats in hemp milk are omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, key for nervous system function and healthy skin and hair. Certain omega-3 and omega-6 fats also appear to reduce inflammation and lower blood lipid levels.

Whichever milk you choose, some type of milk is important for good nutrition. If you cannot digest cow’s milk, alternatives are useful, but you may need to take calcium or other vitamin supplements for nutritional balance. Check with your physician or a nutrition specialist to see what’s best for you, and bottoms up!


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!

Go Nuts!

 

When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, you’d be hard pressed to find a better food than nuts.

One of nature’s wonderful nutritional gifts, nuts are plentiful, come in many varieties, are readily available and should be a part of every diet.

Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients, and are a great snack food. They are simple to store, and easy to pack when we’re on the go. They’re also high in protein and fiber which delays absorption and decreases hunger, so frequent nut eaters are less likely to gain weight.

Nuts are energy-dense foods rich in bioactive macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. They contain monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, protein, and fiber, and are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals.

The unique composition of nuts is critical for their health effects. Patients who eat a “Mediterranean-style” diet rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil — as well as vegetables and wine — have fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular disease than those who eat a diet that simply lowers their intake of dietary fat.

Nuts, seeds, and pulses have been a regular part of mankind’s diet since pre-agricultural times. In Western countries, nuts are consumed as snacks, desserts or part of a meal, and are eaten whole (fresh or roasted), in spreads (peanut butter, almond paste), as oils or hidden in commercial products, mixed dishes, sauces, pastries, ice creams and baked goods.

The type of nut we eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Almost every type of nut has a lot of nutrition relative to its size. People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Eating nuts may reduce our risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of our arteries.

As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why we should eat nuts in moderation and use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week.

When possible, choose raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil. A serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do our hearts any good. And when possible, avoid salted nuts.

Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it’s been shown they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy. Keep in mind, though, we cancel out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar, or salt.

Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:

  • Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help our heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower our cholesterol. Fiber makes us feel full, so we eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing diabetes.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in our arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in our arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower our cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
  • L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of our artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.

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!

 

A Whole Lot of Hoopla

Anyone who thinks vigorous exercise can’t be good for you and fun hasn’t spent time at New England Residential Services in Middletown. There, an enthusiastic employee team, lead by a supportive executive director, has demonstrated that having fun while you improve your health is easy when you put your hips, arms, legs, necks and bodies into it.

Ironically, the answer to combining work, play and wellness came to the company’s Human Resource Manager, Kim Fritsch, because she didn’t like to exercise. Fritsch walked, but found she wasn’t losing enough weight from walking alone. Talking with co-workers over lunch one day, they started reminiscing about games from their childhood, and Fritsch mentioned that she’d loved hula hooping as a kid, and had won a school hula-hooping competition, continuously hooping for eight hours. Hooping, she said, was fun and good exercise, and the more she thought about it, the more excited she became about trying it again.

Fritsch, who’s been with the company for 19 years, did some research and discovered that a workout with a weighted hula hoop could help burn 400 to 600 calories per session. Sold, she ordered a weighted hula hoop for the office. She and a few associates started working with it at the end of the day; they enjoyed making fun of each other and admiring one another’s hooping style. They even have a “professional” hula-hooper on their staff, she adds, who makes customized hoops for staff and for residents of the company’s group homes.

hoola hoop wellness program

As they became more proficient, word spread, and other staff became interested. Soon they had a regular following, and set up an exercise area at the end of a hallway between office areas. Workers were encouraged to take hoop breaks at lunch or whenever they were able, and for those who struggled with the dynamics of hooping, jump ropes were purchased. Fritsch shared her story with CBIA, and was put into a raffle to win a $500 Amazon gift card, which they won!

The prize money, she said, was used to purchase other exercise equipment, including a stepping machine, exercise ball, weighted resistance ropes, a wireless speaker for listening to music while people work out, and a special stool made for accommodating hooping while seated. Everyone in the office, she says, is encouraged to participate, and support from their management makes it easier to get people involved.

“A good wellness program starts with a leader who strongly believes that any exercise that gets your heart going is good for you, even if it’s in the workplace,” Fritsch explains. “We’re lucky to work in an environment with a supportive manager who sets the tone for our agency.  He says his mission is to be more like Google, and is striving to build a great work environment so people are happier, healthier and more productive.”

New England Residential Services operates group homes and apartments, providing residential support for people with intellectual disabilities. They have 130 employees, most working at their field locations, with a support staff of 10 at their home office in Middletown.

Their executive director, Chet Fischer, reimburses office employees who join a gym or take yoga, and always encourages breaks from work to walk or work out, Fritsch says. Some employees bring their dogs to work, she adds, and others plank and do alternative fitness activities during and after work.

The hula hooping, Fritsch explains, has become a great source of laughter, stress reduction and team building. She says everyone from their executive director to their maintenance person has tried it, and visitors are encouraged to give it a whirl, as well. She adds that when employees started completing the CBIA health assessment, they realized they needed to do more fitness-related activities, and started using their reward cards for fitness clothes and materials – and for more hoops.

“It’s inspiring to see someone increase the time that they can keep the hoop up, and seeing their progress and personal styles,” Fritsch explains. “The original goal, simply, was to get people active. Now employees are tracking their own time, checking out hoop-related exercise videos and working out when it suits them. We’re even planning to make our own video in the spring, and when all the new hoops come in we will have hoop breaks. It’s fun, it makes you feel great, and increases camaraderie among the staff.”


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!

There’s Nothing Fishy about Eating Fish

Whatever you may think about fish – that they’re beautiful, scary, slimy, gross, tasty or mysterious – there’s more to loving fish than visiting an aquarium, gliding across a lake early in the morning, standing in waders up to your chest in icy water, or drinking beers and trying not to throw up as a small boat gets tossed around the ocean. Beyond the allure of catching your own dinner, most fish are incredibly healthy sources of nutrients and vitamins, and should be a steady part of everyone’s diet.

Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish also is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids.  These little wonders benefit the heart of healthy people and those at high risk of – or who have – cardiovascular disease.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure. Eating fish once or twice a week may also reduce the risk of stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic conditions.

In addition to healthful long-chain omega-3 fats, fish also are rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat. There is strong evidence that eating fish or taking fish oil is good for the heart and blood vessels. An analysis of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week, particularly salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies or sardines, reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.

Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Americans heeds that advice. About one-third of Americans eat seafood once a week, while nearly half eat fish only occasionally or not at all. Although some people may simply not like fish, the generally low consumption is likely caused by other factors including cost, access to stores that sell fish, and uncertainty about how to buy, prepare or cook fish. Still others may avoid seafood because they worry that they — or their children — will be harmed by mercury, pesticide residues, or other possible toxins that are in some types of fish.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids which have demonstrated benefits at reducing heart disease. But there’s a downside to eating certain types of fish: Some may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Levels of these substances are generally highest in older, larger predatory fish and marine mammals, but it’s important to know the facts and to avoid those that are more dangerous.

The benefits and risks of eating fish vary depending on a person’s stage of life:

  • Children and pregnant women are advised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to avoid eating those fish with the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish); and to eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (for example, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish).
  • For middle-aged and older men and postmenopausal women, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risks when the amount of fish that are eaten is within the recommendations established by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to environmental pollutants.

Nutritional experts recommend eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. Each serving should be approximately 3.5 ounces cooked, or about three-quarters of a cup of flaked fish.  Enjoy fish baked or grilled, not fried.  Choose low-sodium, low-fat seasonings such as spices, herbs, lemon juice and other flavorings in cooking and at the table.

For many people, tuna is a lunchtime staple. The FDA and EPA continue to recommend that no more than six ounces of fish per week (of your 8 to 12 ounces weekly) should be white (albacore) tuna. Canned light tuna is lower in mercury, albacore tuna higher.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.   Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king Mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Also, be careful when buying canned seafood, as cans often are lined with a BPA-plastic coating. Look for seafood packed in shelf-stable, flexible pouches, as this is the environmentally preferable packaging.

Regardless of your age or gender, check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If advice isn’t available, you should eat six ounces or less of these locally caught fish per week, and children should eat no more than one to three ounces per week. Then avoid eating other fish for the rest of the week. Potential exposure to some contaminants can be reduced by removing the skin and surface fat from these fish before cooking.

Another important consideration when you consume fish should be about environmental sustainability. Some varieties of seafood have been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life. Here are some basic rules to make smart seafood shopping choices that are good for your health and the health of our oceans:

  • Eat fish that are lower on the food chain – typically, smaller fish are more plentiful and contain less mercury.
  • Know how sustainable your seafood choices are. This link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide provides valuable information on which fisheries provide the most sustainable seafood choices, based on health and a variety of other measurements.
  • Buy American. The United States has stricter fishing and farming standards than do other parts of the world, and is less likely to use antibiotics or risk exposure to pesticides and fertilizers that run off into the water.
  • Know how it’s caught. Hook and line is a low-impact method of fishing that does not damage the seafloor and let’s fisherman use intelligently designed traps and throw back unwanted species.
  • Eat Local. You’re usually better off eating the local variety of a particular type of fish instead of its counterpart from across the country or another part of the world, unless that species has been depleted in local waters. Even out of season, the local fish that has been frozen is preferable, since fresh fish must be transported by air, the most energy-intensive method of shipping.
  • Look for the label. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies seafood that is caught or raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Items that meet its criteria are marked with a MSC-certified label.

If you want the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids but aren’t crazy about fish, you also can eat tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils. These foods contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid. Large-scale epidemiologic studies suggest that people at risk for coronary heart disease benefit from consuming omega-3 fatty acids from marine and from plant sources.


 

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!

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!

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!

Who Would Take Home Gold at an Olympic Tea Party?

In the spirit of the Winter Olympics and healthy competition, here’s a fun category that you won’t find in South Korea: Competitive tea drinking. And an unexpected country takes the gold: Turkey; silver goes to Ireland; and bronze is bestowed, not surprisingly, upon the United Kingdom. Russia comes in a distant fourth, and as for the United States, we totter in at 35th.

Famous for their tea imbibing, the English consume 165 million cups of tea every day. The Irish average 4.8 pounds of tea per person per year, far less than the Turks, at 6.9 pounds annually. The U.S., in comparison, averages half a pound per person annually. But beyond the cultural comparison, we Americans are missing out on the benefits the rest of the world seems to be enjoying.

Drinking tea is good for us, in many ways. In addition to a multitude of flavors and varieties, there’s compelling evidence that tea reduces the risk of heart disease, and possibly even helps prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Considered by many a super food—whether it’s black, green, white, oolong or herbal—tea gets the job done, health wise.

All those tea types, with the exception of herbal teas, come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. They are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that detoxify cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Tea also has about eight to 10 times the polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables. For black tea, a process called oxidation turns the leaves from green to a dark brownish-black color. Green tea comes from the same plant, but is not oxidized.

Oolong tea is made from leaves of the same plant that green and black teas come from. The difference lies in how long the leaves ferment. Green tea leaves are unfermented, while leaves for black tea are fully fermented. Oolong comes from leaves that are partially fermented.

Research suggests that regular tea drinkers — people who consume two cups or more a day — have less heart disease and stroke, lower total and LDL cholesterol, and recover from heart attacks faster. There’s also evidence that tea may help fight ovarian and breast cancers.

Tea also helps soothe stress and keep us relaxed. One British study found that people who drank black tea were able to relax faster than those who drank a fake tea substitute. The tea drinkers had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Why Is Tea Good for Us?

Catechins, a type of disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant, are the key to tea’s health benefits. The longer you steep the tea, the more flavonoids you get. For the best tea benefit, some studies suggest drinking three cups each day to cut heart disease risk. If caffeine consumption is a problem, you can drink decaffeinated tea or herbal teas.

The fermentation process used to make green tea boosts the levels of antioxidants. Black and red teas have them, too, but in lesser. Antioxidants latch on to and neutralize chemicals called oxidants, which cells make as they go about their normal business. Elevated levels of oxidants can cause harm—for example, by attacking artery walls and contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Green, black, white and oolong teas contain caffeine and a stimulating substance called theophylline. These can speed up the heart rate and make us feel more alert. In fact, black tea extract is sold as a supplement, largely for this purpose.

Some scientists think that specific antioxidants in tea, including polyphenols and catechins, may help prevent some types of cancer. For example, some research shows that women who regularly drink black tea have a much lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who do not. More research is needed to confirm this. There also is some evidence that the antioxidants in black tea may reduce atherosclerosis or clogged arteries and help lower the risk of heart attack.

Regularly drinking black tea may reduce stroke risk and also lower our risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney stones and Parkinson’s disease, though more scientific research has to be conducted to formally prove these claimed benefits. Green tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries, and has been used as a remedy for headaches and depression.

How Much Caffeine Is in Tea?

Most tea has between 15 and 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup, compared to between 80 and 123 mg per cup of regular coffee.

All true teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine, which is a naturally-occurring stimulant found in several plants. Caffeine is water soluble, and is extracted into the brewed cup when preparing tea, coffee, or other caffeinated beverages.

Tea can be made from different parts of the tea plant, and these parts contain different quantities of caffeine. Leaf buds (tips) and younger leaves are higher in caffeine than older, mature leaves. In the tea plant, caffeine acts as a natural insecticide, serving to protect the plant against being eaten by insects. Since the tips and tender young leaves are most vulnerable to insects, these parts of the plant are highest in caffeine; the older leaves are tougher and lower in caffeine.

Despite tea’s many health benefits, heavy caffeine use can have a negative impact on our health, including anxiety, insomnia and stomach irritation from acid. While the amount of caffeine in tea tends to be low, and brewing time effects caffeine levels, drinking large quantities of tea isn’t a great idea for people sensitive to caffeine for medical reasons.

In addition to caffeine, tea also contains L-theanine; theanine can interact with caffeine, allowing a smaller dose of caffeine to have a stronger effect in terms of boosting concentration and alertness.

The blending of tea with caffeine-free ingredients to produce flavored teas can result in a lower total caffeine content so long as less total tea leaf is used in the blend. It’s important to avoid sweetened teas, as the sugar isn’t good for our health.

Herbal teas are beverages made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, fruits or other plant materials in hot water. They do not usually contain caffeine, unlike the true teas or decaffeinated tea, which are prepared from cured leaves. In addition to exploring herbal teas, people desiring caffeine-free tea-like drinks might want to try South African rooibos and honeybush, two plants which are often described as being similar to tea in flavor, health benefits, and manner of production.

Who knows, maybe by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, American tea drinkers will be contending for consumption medals while improving overall wellness.


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!