Getting Fresh Isn’t Such a Bad Thing!

One of the many great joys of summer is the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit available locally. Whether grown in your garden, purchased at the grocery store, or joyfully discovered at a local farm stand or farmer’s market, locally grown produce offers us a shorter “ground to plate” experience, enhanced flavors and seasonal variety.

Eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables keeps us in better balance, nutritionally, and can help protect us from heart disease, bone loss, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers, such as colorectal cancer. And though there are few “down” sides to a diet rich in fresh fruit and veggies, preparation plays an important role in enhancing (or diminishing) the valuable vitamins and benefits they offer.

To cook or not cook our veggies

Cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy. It softens food that our small teeth, weak jaws, and digestive systems aren’t equipped to handle. And while we might hear from raw food advocates that cooking kills vitamins and minerals in food, it turns out raw vegetables are not always healthier.

A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition last year found that a group of 198 subjects who followed a strict raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta-carotene (an antioxidant found in dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables), but low levels of the antioxidant lycopene.

Lycopene is a red pigment found predominantly in tomatoes and other rosy fruits such as watermelon, pink guava, red bell pepper and papaya. Several studies conducted in recent years (at Harvard Medical School, among others) have linked high intake of lycopene with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks, and research indicates it may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C.

Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw,  at least, that is, if they’re boiled or steamed. Boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, though boiling was deemed the best. Always avoid deep frying.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that cooking carrots actually increases their level of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and regulating the immune system.

So, like your mother always said, “eat your vegetables,” and, whenever possible, enjoy a fresh piece of fruit.

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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!

Eat foods that are berry good for your health!

If you enjoy eating wild or domestic berries you’re in berry heaven this time of year. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are plentiful, and whether you cook them, put them in pies, yogurt or fruit salads or eat them right off the plant or bush, you’re getting a boatload of healthy antioxidants to fight disease, and making your entire body smile.

Antioxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. Scientists believe they help prevent and repair the stress that comes from oxidation, a natural process that occurs during normal cell function. A small percentage of cells become damaged during oxidation and turn into free radicals, which can start a chain reaction to harming more cells and possibly unleashing disease. Unchecked free radical activity has been linked to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries rank highest among the fruits researchers have studied. Apples run a close second, and dried fruits ranked highly, as well. Peaches, mangos, and melons, while scoring lower than berries, still contain plenty of antioxidants as well as other nutrients.

Mix it up for best results         

Even though some fruits and vegetables have high antioxidant content, the body does not absorb all of it. Bioavailability has to do with how our body’s absorb, or metabolize food, and how different foods interact in our bodies.

That’s why variety in our diet is important. By eating as many antioxidant-rich foods as possible, we’re likely to reap the most benefits, and since berries are at the top of the antioxidant food chain, the more berries the better our chances of improving our health.

More than 300 studies also cite plentiful antioxidants in red wine, grape juice, grape seed, and grape skin extracts. Red wine is loaded with flavonoids like anthocyanidins and catechins, which, according to studies, slows the process of clogging arteries and heart disease.

Many of the same flavonoids are found in black and green tea as well as dark chocolate, but the bulk of research has been on grape flavonoids. Researchers say that flavonoids may help promote heart health by preventing blood clots (which can trigger a heart attack or stroke), prevent cholesterol from damaging blood vessel walls, improve the health of arteries (making them expand and contract more easily), and stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which may prevent hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). But back to berries.

Doing the antioxidant math

If you can find them, wild blueberries are the best, overall. Just one cup has 13,427 total antioxidants — vitamins A & C, plus flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) like querticin and anthocyanidin. That’s about 10 times the USDA’s daily recommendation, in just one cup. Cultivated blueberries have 9,019 per cup and are equally vitamin-rich.

Cranberries also are antioxidant powerhouses (8,983). Dried cranberries are great in cereal and salads, in pasta, trail mixes and, of course, enjoyed as juice.

Blackberries (7,701), raspberries (6,058), strawberries (5,938), black plums (4,873), sweet cherries (4,873), and red grapes (2,016) are also brimming with vitamins A and C and flavonoids like catechin, epicatechin, quercetin, and anthocyanidin.

Apples are also vitamin- and antioxidant-rich. The classic Red Delicious (5,900), Granny Smith (5,381), Gala (3,903), and many other varieties are available nearly year-round. Applesauce, juice, and jellies are convenient apple sources, though prepared foods often have added sugar.

Orange-colored fruits also are good sources of antioxidants. One naval orange has 2,540; the juice has about half that. Mangoes have 1,653. A peach has 1,826, tangerines, 1,361, and pineapple, 1,229.

Finally, dried versions of these fruits are smaller, but they still have plenty of antioxidants. For instance, here’s the antioxidant content in these dried fruits: Prunes (7,291), dates (3,467), figs (2,537), and raisins (2,490). Some people prefer the taste or texture of certain dried fruits over fresh ones. Dried cranberries are a prime example — they tend to be much less tart than the fresh variety.

So however you eat or drink them, seek out and enjoy berries year round, but especially now, when they’re easy to find, reasonably priced, and locally grown.

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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!

Throw another veggie burger on the barbie, mate

If you’re a barbeque and picnic lover, the last thing in the world you want to hear, now that summer’s finally here, is another warning about the perils of charcoal-cooked food.  It’s bad enough you have to listen to news reports about protecting yourself from harmful ultraviolet rays, or the importance of putting on bug spray and keeping yourself hydrated. But messing with your char-broiled ribs, chicken, steaks, burgers and dogs is practically sacrilegious, right? Well, maybe…though there are compromises, healthier alternatives and choices you can make to ensure good summer eating and improved nutritional wellness.

Here’s a brief science lesson. 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 can 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.


Even though it probably goes without saying, we’ll say it again, anyway:  Eat more seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when at picnics, out, or at home. Avoid high-fat appetizers and desserts high in sugar, or processed foods loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives.

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.

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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!

Understanding Our Love Affair with Carbohydrates

It’s spring, the weather’s nice again, and you’re heading outdoors…without several layers of clothes to hide beneath! If you’re thinking you need to shed a few pounds, you should be thinking about carbohydrates. Many of the popular diets recommend cutting back on carbs — and often refer to “good and bad” carbs. But to improve your chances of getting a handle on your weight, you need to understand how carbs work, why we need them, and how to eat the right foods.

Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of foods, including bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and pie, to name just a few. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.

The basic building block of every carbohydrate is a sugar molecule, a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Starches and fibers are essentially chains of sugar molecules, and some contain hundreds of sugars. Carbohydrates were once grouped into two main categories. Simple carbohydrates included sugars such as fruit sugar (fructose), corn or grape sugar (dextrose or glucose), and table sugar (sucrose). Complex carbohydrates included everything made of three or more linked sugars. Complex carbohydrates were thought to be the healthiest to eat, while simple carbohydrates weren’t so great. But, like most things involving our health, it’s more complicated than that.

The digestive system handles all carbohydrates in much the same way – it breaks them down (or tries to break them down) into single sugar molecules, since only these are small enough to cross into the bloodstream. It also converts most digestible carbohydrates into glucose (also known as blood sugar), because cells are designed to use this as a universal energy source.

Sugars and refined grains and starches supply quick energy to the body in the form of glucose. That’s a good thing if your body needs immediate energy, for example if you’re running a race or competing in sports. However, the better carbs for most people are unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods that contain natural sugars, like fructose in fruit or lactose in milk.

Here comes fiber to save the day!

Fiber is an exception. It can’t be broken down into sugar molecules, and so it passes through the body undigested. Fiber comes in two varieties: Soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not. Although neither type nourishes the body, they promote health in many ways. Soluble fiber binds to fatty substances in the intestines and carries them out as a waste, thus lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol). It also helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. Insoluble fiber helps push food through the intestinal tract, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation. Adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day for good health. But most Americans get only about 15 grams a day.

In general, the more refined, or “whiter” the grain-based food, the lower the fiber. To get some fiber into almost every meal takes a little effort. Here are three tips:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Just eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables will get you to about 10 or more grams of fiber, depending on your choices.
  • Include some beans and bean products in your diet. A half-cup of cooked beans will add four to eight grams of fiber to your day.
  • Switch to whole grains every single possible way (buns, rolls, bread, tortillas, pasta, crackers, etc.).

Read the label!

The Nutrition Facts section on food labels can help you sort good carbs from the bad carbs. Here’s what to look for on the Nutrition Facts label.

Total Carbohydrate: For tracking the total amount of carbohydrate in the food, per serving, look for the line that says “Total Carbohydrate.” You’ll find that often the grams of “fiber,” grams of “sugars” and grams of “other carbohydrate” will add up to the grams of “total carbohydrate” on the label.

Dietary Fiber: The line that says Dietary Fiber tells you the total amount of fiber in the food, per serving. Dietary fiber is the amount of carbohydrate that is indigestible and will likely pass through the intestinal tract without being absorbed.

Sugars: “Sugars” tells you the total amount of carbohydrate from sugar in the food, from all sources — natural sources like lactose and fructose as well as added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup. It’s important to distinguish between natural sugars and added sugars. For example, the average 1% low-fat milk label will list 15 grams of “sugar” per cup. Those grams come from the lactose (milk sugars) not from added sweeteners.

To get an idea of how many grams of sugar on the label come from added sugars — such as high fructose corn syrup or white or brown sugar — check the list of ingredients on the label. See if any of those sweeteners are in the top three or four ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so the bulk of most food is made up of the first few ingredients.

“Other” Carbohydrate. The category “other carbohydrate” represents the digestible carbohydrate that is not considered a sugar (natural or otherwise).

Sugar Alcohols. Some product labels also break out “sugar alcohols” under “Total Carbohydrate.” In some people, sugar alcohol carbohydrates can cause intestinal problems such as gas, cramping, or diarrhea. If you look on the ingredient label, the sugar alcohols are listed as lactitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and others. Many “sugar-free” or “reduced-calorie” foods contain some sugar alcohols even when another alternative sweetener like Splenda is in the product.

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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!

Adding Some Culture to Our Diets

Coming out of the winter months we’ve been ducking bacteria left and right, washing our hands as often as possible, properly preparing our food, and taking antibiotics for bacterial infections. However, 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. Probiotics also are being studied for benefits relating to colon cancer, Crohn’s Disease, and skin infections.

In addition to natural substances, probiotics also are available as dietary supplements. 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. Make sure contents and the strain of probiotic in the supplement are clearly marked — not all are beneficial for different conditions.

So, 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, and magnesium.


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!

Keep Eating Veggies and Fruit, whether Fresh, Frozen or Canned

If you live in New England, your thirst for fresh fruit and vegetables during the winter months must be satiated with imports from California, from hot houses or hydroponic food producers, or from other countries, mainly those in South America. However, that doesn’t mean you should cut back on vegetables and fruit until your garden’s ready to be harvested or local farm stands open again. Your supermarket offers a wide variety of fresh, frozen, and canned veggies and fruit, and surprisingly, many offer the same nutritional value found in fresh produce …in some cases, they’re even better than fresh!

Most of the produce we buy in a grocery store was picked at least several days ago, likely not at its peak ripeness — if picked too early, it can spoil en route to the store. Fresh produce also degrades and loses some of its nutritional value after picking and during transport. Once fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested, they undergo higher rates of respiration– a physiologic process in which plant starches and sugars are converted into carbon dioxide, water, and other by-products — leading to moisture loss, reduced quality, and susceptibility to micro-organism spoilage. 

Refrigeration during transport helps to slow the deterioration, but by the time we eat a fresh vegetable that traveled across continents to reach us, a substantial amount of its nutritional value may be lost. We can help maximize the nutritional value of our fresh produce by choosing locally-grown produce when in season, refrigerating fruits and veggies to help slow down nutrient losses, and steaming rather than boiling them when cooking to minimize loss of water-soluble vitamins.

Produce destined for freezing is picked at its maximal ripeness, quickly frozen to a temperature that retains its maximum nutritional value and flavor, and kept frozen until it gets to the freezer in your local store. While there is some initial nutrient loss with the first steps in the freezing process — washing, peeling, and heat-based blanching (done for vegetables, but usually not fruits) — the low temperature of freezing keeps the produce good for up to a year on average. Once thawed, it has maintained the majority of its original nutritional value. And depending on how you cook or prepare the food, it may taste quite similar to its fresh counterpart.

The process differs for canned produce and fruit, and though still healthy, there may be some loss of nutritional value.  Similar to frozen, the product is picked at its maximal ripeness, blanched (this time for longer duration and with somewhat increased nutrient loss for heat-sensitive compounds compared to frozen), and then canned.  Oftentimes, sugary syrup or juice is added to canned fruit. Salt also is added to many vegetables to help retain flavor and avoid spoilage. These additions can take a very healthy fruit or vegetable and make it much less nutritionally desirable than its fresh or frozen counterpart. 

But without these additions, in general the nutritional value of canned fruits and vegetables is similar to fresh and frozen.  For fruits, look for canned fruit that is “in its own juice.”  For vegetables, check the sodium content on the nutritional label and aim for vegetables with “no added salt” and without added butter, cheese, or cream sauces.  Because the canned produce is maintained in an oxygen-free environment, canned foods can last for years, but be weary of dented or bulging cans.   

So the bottom line is that by the time they are consumed, most fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables seem to be nutritionally similar.  Each has the same fat, carbohydrate, and protein content as the pre-harvest fruit. Ultimately you might find that choosing a mix of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables will help you and your family to more easily, inexpensively, and creatively enjoy many daily servings of fruits and vegetables without sacrificing nutritional value. 

As a final note, mineral, fiber, carbohydrate, protein, and fat levels are similar in fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables, but vitamin values will vary. Here’s a brief guide for maximizing nutritional value of your fresh, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables, based on primary nutritional research:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen.  If fresh produce is stored at the appropriate temperature and consumed in a relatively short period of time, then it is the best source of vitamin C.  However, during prolonged storage, vitamin C degrades rapidly.  It is also lost with blanching (though some fruits with ascorbic acid that undergo freezing may retain more vitamin C than fresh). A large percentage of vitamin C is lost with the initial canning process.

B vitamins:  Most B vitamins are sensitive to heat and light, which leads to significant loss with blanching used in freezing and canning. Thus, fresh tends to be the best source.

Polyphenolic compounds: Water-soluble polyphenolic compounds, found primarily in the skins of peaches, pears and apples, are lower in products that are frozen or canned without the skin compared to fresh.  But, if you keep the skin or if the juice is included, levels are as high or higher in canned versus fresh products.

Fat-soluble vitamin A and carotenoids and vitamin E:  Little fat-soluble vitamins are lost in blanching, so overall, frozen and canned are just as good as fresh.  Nutrient losses depend on the specific fruit or vegetable.  For example, fresh green beans have more beta-carotene than frozen or canned.  However, frozen peas have more beta-carotene than either fresh or canned.  Canned tomatoes have the highest levels of beta-carotene and lycopene, most likely due to heat-induced release of the nutrient with blanching.

Whatever you choose, however, remember that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you fill half your plate at every meal with fruit and vegetables!


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!

Chocolate and wine for improved health? Sounds delicious!

It’s always a thrill when we learn that something we already love to eat and do actually is good for our health! While everyone doesn’t have a taste for chocolate, or may not be interested in drinking red wine, both of these universal favorites contain important sources of chemical elements that have been proven beneficial for our overall health and wellness. And with February being the month of Valentines, that’s particularly good news!

Research has shown that the intake of dark chocolate has demonstrated positive results in reducing blood clotting, improving the flow of blood to brain and heart and lowering of blood pressure. Cocoa, from which dark chocolate is prepared, is derived from cocoa beans. Cocoa beans contain a rich source of antioxidants also called flavonoids and polyphenols. The pungent taste of cocoa is attributed to these flavonoids. These help remove unhealthy free radicals — which can contribute to increased cholesterol — and increase the oxidation level in the blood cells.

Furthermore, a survey at Oxford University has proven that proportionate amounts of dark chocolate intake produces positive results in improving and maintaining cognitive abilities, thereby reducing the probability of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Dark chocolate contains four times more antioxidants as that in tea, and dark chocolate, like red wine, contains phenols, which protect us against heart diseases. The phenols check fat-like substances in the blood from oxidizing and blocking arteries. Dark chocolate has the highest amount of antioxidants, whereas milk chocolates contain the least amount. The more cocoa present in your chocolate the better your chocolate becomes for your health.

Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and antioxidants found in red wine may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and protecting against artery damage. Antioxidants such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, a polyphenol (like those found in dark chocolate) that helps protect the lining of blood vessels in our heart, has heart-healthy benefits and can actually help boost HDL and prevent blood clots.

While the news about red wine might sound great if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol. That’s because too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body. Don’t exceed one drink a day for women; one to two drinks for men — and talk to your doctor first. Alcohol may cause problems for people taking aspirin and other medications, and too much alcohol actually hurts the heart.


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!

Building Your Personal Wellness Plan

As the new year rapidly approaches, you’re probably looking at your holiday party calendar, deciding to cast caution to the winds for a few more weeks, and promising yourself that, come January, you’ll settle down and focus more on your health and wellness. Rationalizing and procrastinating are normal human reactions, and while a little guilt may accompany your reverie, don’t feel too bad if, in fact, you’ll keep that commitment to yourself to set a healthier course in 2013.

An important step in achieving that goal is to develop a personal wellness plan — and keep it where it’s always handy. Developing your wellness plan will require that you honestly assess your current health status, meaning that you become more conscious of your daily choices and the impact they have on your overall health. Next, you visualize what you’d like to change, improve or keep the same, over the short term and over the longer term. You should set action items that reflect your goals, and then adopt measurements for seeing how you’re doing.

Your personal wellness plan should take into consideration your health goal, your daily activities, your diet, and your own reward choices. Having a plan to follow helps you remain focused on your goals, and will allow you to more accurately track your progress.  Good intentions can be quickly forgotten if they are not well researched, planned out and then written down.

Long-term wellness plans are personal plans that will focus on your daily health for six months or more. These plans will only change as your health changes or they may change based on new medical research or the results of your lab tests and annual checkups.  A short-term wellness plan would be one that targets a specific medical problem or issue. For example, a short-term plan would be used to lower cholesterol and then a long-term plan would be created to maintain your cholesterol once you have lowered it. Short-term and long-term wellness plans should be used together for overall personal health care planning.

Setting goals and executing your plan

Developing a health goal is critical. Are you at risk for cancer or other chronic illnesses based on family history or your own behavior? Are you thinking of trying to start a family in the near future? Do you tend to get sick a lot or suffer from stress, asthma or other conditions? Do you want to lose weight, stop smoking, cut back on caffeine, salt or alcohol, or generally improve your diet? If you have seasonal allergies, for example, you could develop a plan to help your body fight the allergies. A short-term wellness plan may even have a goal of dropping 10 pounds before a wedding that is four months away. But a longer-term plan will set milestones for losing a certain amount of weight, and for keeping it off.

Next you create wellness steps that will help you reach your goal. This part of your plan can be developed with your doctor, fitness expert, or nutritionist especially if you have a medical condition. Some things that it should include are:

  • Recipes for meals and snacks that will help you reach your goal
  • Exercise regimens and recreation and fitness ideas
  • Herbs, supplements or medicines for your symptoms, or for prevention
  • Stress-reduction techniques
  • An emotional health component through friendships, charitable giving, volunteerism, “you time” or other actions that make you feel good
  • Rewards that you will give yourself for staying on the plan

It is easier to maintain a health program if you build in rewards. This is especially important if you have had difficulty staying on a diet or exercise program in the past. The rewards should be smaller and more frequent in the beginning with a continuous buildup toward a big reward once major goals are reached.  A special vacation might be an ultimate reward.  New clothes, jewelry or other luxury items might be intermediate rewards. But you don’t get a reward unless you complete the plan and reach the goals you set for yourself. Of course, that would be its own reward, but it’s your health and wellness — work steady and hard, and then enjoy yourself!

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

Add some healthy spice to our lives

We love the smells of autumn. Seasoned wood burning in fireplaces, hot mulled cider, pine- and harvest-scented candles, apple and pumpkin pies cooling on window sills…it’s a preface for the great sensory explosion awaiting us as Thanksgiving and the holidays approach. But beyond priming our salivary glands and triggering nostalgic memories of years past, scents — and specifically the spices that complement our cooking and fill the air in our kitchens and dining rooms — have valuable health and healing properties.

Nutritionists and researchers are constantly exploring the healthy properties of spices and herbs. Benefits include protection against a range of illnesses like heart disease and cancer, reducing inflammation, support in our weight-loss efforts and much more. Spices and herbs are botanically classified as fruits and vegetables. Since they are often used when dried and no longer contain the water that makes up a significant part of fresh produce, spices and herbs offer an even higher level of antioxidants.

We’re not talking exotic spices, either. For example, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon has the equivalent level of antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries and one cup of pomegranate juice. We put cinnamon on cereal, cakes and cookies, and it’s found in many other common recipes. Cinnamon also is rich in natural compounds called polyphenols. Research suggests that these compounds may act like insulin in our body to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Using more herbs and spices is also an easy way to boost the nutrition of our diet because with the added flavor, we can cut the salt, fat, and added sugar in our recipes. Here is more data to flavor our thinking:

Many common spices, in addition to cinnamon, contain antioxidants. Antioxidants can protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium and vitamins A, C, and E.

Spices contain anti-inflammatory properties. Certain herbs and spices contain unique protective properties that help reduce inflammation, which is a precursor to many chronic diseases such as heart disease, allergies, and Alzheimer’s. Spices and herbs can be included in an anti-inflammatory diet to add flavor and also to assist in healing.

Spices help contribute to weight loss. Spices can boost metabolism, promote satiety, aid weight management and enhance the overall quality of a diet. For example, the capsaicin in peppers is believed to have metabolic-boosting properties. In addition, if the food we eat is flavorful and satisfying, there is a good chance we will eat less and consume fewer calories.

Many spices and herbs appear to have some beneficial effects, whether used fresh or dried. Researchers are exploring which are enhanced or diminished through the process of heating and cooking, but here are some prime examples featuring the greatest health-enhancing potential:

  • Oregano is among the highest in antioxidants of the dried herbs, and is used in many familiar, everyday foods, including sauces, stews, salads and sandwiches.
  • Rosemary includes compounds which appear to help reduce inflammation in the body, which is a trigger and indirect risk factor for many chronic diseases. Rosemary is also being studied for its role in heart health.
  • Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly found in curry powder. Researchers are examining the role of turmeric in brain health and for protecting against cognitive decline associated with aging. In addition, curry is a heart-healthy condiment often found in egg, chicken and tuna salads, dips and dressings, cooked vegetables and poultry dishes.
  • Thyme offers antioxidant advantages, and may play a role in improved respiratory function. It can be added to salad dressing and creamy dips, used on vegetables and fish, and included in sautéed or stir-fried dishes.
  • Ginger is found in a variety of sweet and savory glazes, sauces and Asian-style dishes, and is often used on fish and vegetables. One teaspoon of ground ginger has similar antioxidant levels as one cup of spinach, and the compounds in ginger are thought to have a positive effect on reducing pain and nausea, as well as addressing other digestive issues.
  • Dried red peppers are believed to enhance metabolism, increase satiety and stimulate fat burning, making it a dietary friend to anyone watching his or her weight. Spices derived from red peppers include cayenne, crushed red pepper and paprika.

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

Separating the chaff from the grain: Gluten-free diets

Have you noticed that when you walk into one of the large chain supermarkets, it seems there’s an aisle for almost everything: Seasonal items, international foods, pharmacy, pet food, organic sections and, now, gluten-free products?

Thanks to the wonders of the internet and daytime television, stomach sufferers have more to worry about these days than ever before. Between the mysteries of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and new advances in identifying and treating ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, salivary stones, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s Disease, and heart burn, our stomachs are in knots…understandably.

For many of us, it’s often just about eating too much; eating at the wrong times; or enjoying too much of the wrong thing. As the holidays approach, we’ll be facing tables laden with tempting pastries, cakes and cookies, pasta and breads of every sort. For people who have or suspect they may have issues related to grains, eating healthfully poses a problem. But what exactly is “grain sensitivity” such as gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, and how can you determine if you have it?

Understanding Celiac Disease and glutens

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease in which a person can’t tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten shows up in bread and pasta, but may also hide in many other foods such as cold cuts, salad dressings, beer, and even candy and sweetened drinks.

If a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the lining of their small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. That hampers the absorption of nutrients and can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. Celiac patients also struggle with symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach upset, abdominal pain, and bloating.

Celiac Disease affects approximately one percent of Americans. It may take years to diagnose because people don’t seek medical help, and because doctors often mistake it for IBS or other stomach disorders. It’s often a waiting game, and a process of testing and running through a list of possible culprits. For long-term sufferers, years of poor calcium absorption, a related side effect, can lead to joint and tooth problems and, for women, delayed menstruation. Besides gastrointestinal symptoms, gluten-sensitive people often complain of fatigue and headaches, as well.

The “good news,” at least for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities, is that a strict, gluten-free diet can typically allow the intestines to restore themselves to health and alleviate your suffering. While only one percent of Americans have Celiac Disease, as many as 10 percent may be gluten sensitive, which often causes similar symptoms, but doesn’t appear to damage the patients’ intestines.

Celiac Disease is on the rise, with rates doubling about every 20 years in Western countries.  Ironically, researchers suspect that hygiene may play a role in that expansion. Due to far cleaner environments and hygiene, children today aren’t exposed to as many antigens in the environment while their immune systems are developing. This, it’s theorized, may result in our immune systems responding intolerantly toward glutens.

Though Celiac Disease can be diagnosed through a blood test and an intestinal biopsy, there’s no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. Diagnosis requires a historical perspective (it often runs in families) and discussion and tracking of symptoms. In fact, patients are typically asked to eat glutens so the body produces antibodies for the blood test to detect Celiac disease. If a person simply stops ingesting gluten, a Celiac disease diagnosis can be missed or delayed.

Hardly a “fad diet,” gluten-free eating is life-changing for many, but not if you don’t have gluten sensitivities or Celiac Disease. In these cases, going “gluten free” is not good for your health. Contrary to common belief, a gluten-free diet won’t aid weight loss, and can cause deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, fiber, and other nutrients that we typically gain through bread, cereals and other grains that are fortified. Additionally, gluten-free products on store shelves are typically higher in carbohydrates, fat and sodium, and lower in fiber.

With proper direction, people can bake healthier breads at home, varieties that are higher in fiber and protein and made with gluten-free grains that have been certified to be uncontaminated and gluten-free, such as quinoa, amaranth, or millet. Either way, if you suspect you may be gluten sensitive, talk with your physician – there is hope, and  many tasty alternatives!


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