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!

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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!

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.

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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!

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!

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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!

Pumping Iron Through Your Body

Iron, one of the most abundant metals on Earth, is essential to most life forms and to normal human physiology. Iron is an integral part of many proteins and enzymes that maintain good health. It is an essential component of proteins involved in oxygen transport, and also is essential for the regulation of cell growth. Iron deficiency limits oxygen delivery to cells, resulting in fatigue, poor work performance, and decreased immunity. On the other hand, excess amounts of iron can result in toxicity and even death.

The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world. As many as 80 percent of the world’s population may be iron deficient, while 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency develops gradually and usually begins with a negative iron balance, when iron intake does not meet the daily need for dietary iron. Iron deficiency anemia is an advanced stage of iron depletion. It occurs when storage sites of iron are deficient and blood levels of iron cannot meet daily needs.

Absorption of iron from meat proteins is more efficient than from plant foods such as rice, maize, black beans, soybeans and wheat, though both are valuable. Tannins (found in tea), calcium, polyphenols, and phytates (found in legumes and whole grains) can decrease iron absorption, so it’s important to include foods that enhance iron absorption when daily iron intake is less than recommended.

Iron intake is negatively influenced by low-nutrient-density foods, which are high in calories but low in vitamins and minerals. Sugar-sweetened sodas and most desserts are examples of low-nutrient-density foods, as are snack foods such as potato chips. For many Americans, especially adolescents between the ages of  8 and 18, low-nutrient-density foods contribute almost 30 percent of daily caloric intake, with sweeteners and desserts jointly accounting for almost 25 percent of caloric intake. Those adults and adolescents who consume fewer low-nutrient-density foods are more likely to consume recommended amounts of iron.

Signs of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Decreased work and school performance
  • Slow cognitive and social development during childhood
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • Decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection

Iron deficiency is uncommon among adult men and postmenopausal women. These individuals should only take iron supplements when prescribed by a physician because of their greater risk of iron overload. Iron overload is a condition in which excess iron is found in the blood and in organs such as the liver and heart. Men and women who engage in regular, intense exercise such as jogging, competitive swimming, and cycling and have marginal or inadequate iron status need to pay closer attention to iron retention. Vegetarians also need to remain aware of their iron intake.

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

Pucker up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Tips for Smart Food Preparation, Handling, and Storage

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for barbequing

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

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

Remember that meat is safe to eat only when:

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse me while I chew on this rock

Have you ever experienced one of those obsessive, “I’m not going to be able to sleep, work or play until I satisfy my craving for a Twinkie” kinds of moments? Except instead of a small snack cake, your craving may be for chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, broccoli, bananas, or just about anything?

The need for salty, sweet, and wet isn’t just compulsive longings; it’s often driven by our bodies’ need for essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Many psychologically or pleasure-derived cravings are short-lived. We can always be disciplined, demonstrating restraint until the craving passes, eating small portions of whatever’s calling to us, or substituting healthier options. But the cravings we should heed are those that close a nutritional gap or replace critical chemicals such as electrolytes or salt, which we lose through heavy perspiration and physical activity, or potassium and magnesium, which help regulate metabolism, blood pressure, heart function, anxiety and much more.

An electrolyte is a food item that contains an electrical charge when consumed, making the solution itself electrically conductive. Electrolytes are highly important in our diet; they aid in helping us to maintain hydration, regulate muscle and nerve function, and help improve acid-base balance. It is important to consume foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium.

Sodium is found in most processed foods, snacks and drinks, but too much isn’t good for your heart and blood pressure, so finding a balance is important. You can replace sodium and electrolytes lost to physical activity by drinking sports drinks; too much water “flushes” sodium and can leave you with a deficiency.

We get calcium, which is critical for healthy bone growth and strength, from milk and other dairy products, as well as from fortified cereals, beans, vegetables such as asparagus, and fruits such as figs.

Potassium can be found in many foods, including bananas, kale, tomatoes, oranges, melons and soy products. Milk and yogurt, as well as nuts, red meat, fish and an enormous variety of vegetables (it’s often found in the skin of veggies like sweet potatoes and squash) also are excellent sources of potassium. Fruits that contain significant sources of potassium include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots.

Magnesium is equally critical, though doesn’t get as much attention, typically, in articles and on television. Magnesium helps regulate your metabolic rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and helps keep bones healthy and strong. Magnesium deficiency can be found in many forms. If you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscle spasms, insomnia, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular disease, there could be a magnesium deficiency in your diet.

Foods rich in magnesium include green vegetables, nuts, beans, fish, bananas, avocados, tomato, certain spices, whole grains, and chocolate.

Eating at least three or four of these foods each day will ensure that you are meeting your magnesium requirements and need for other essential nutrients. There also are supplements available at health-food stores, though you should consult with your physician before adding supplements to your diet, especially if you take medication or suffer from chronic diseases.

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

Listen to your body — drink water!

While you may crave a cold soda or beer after mowing the lawn, nothing beats pure, unadulterated water, the healthiest drink on the planet. It quenches your thirst and is essential in helping avoid dehydration in hot weather.

Our blood, muscles, lungs, and brain all contain water. We need water to regulate body temperature and to help nutrients reach our organs and tissues. Water helps transport oxygen to our cells, remove waste, and protect our joints and organs.

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount being taken in. Symptoms of mild dehydration include thirst, pains in joints and muscles, lower back pain, headaches, strong urine odor, and constipation. Dehydration increases the risk of muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke during exercise in warm weather. Dehydration can leave exercisers and workers groggy for hours.

How much water is enough?

At least twenty percent of the water we need comes from the foods we eat. The rest comes from beverages. You can estimate the amount of water you need by dividing your weight (in pounds) in half. That gives you the number of ounces you may want to drink each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you might want to drink at least 75 ounces of water or other fluids per day. Many experts recommend at least eight cups of water a day unless exercising, in which case you should drink more.

Water is the best choice for rehydration because it’s cheap and has no calories or added ingredients. Sweetened soft drinks and sodas have sugar that adds extra calories but no additional nutritional value. Sports drinks often contain sugar, as well, but may contain minerals that can help keep your electrolytes in balance, which is good for recovering after a hard workout. Fruit and vegetable juices can be a good choice because they have vitamins and minerals your body needs (read labels, however — vegetable juices, like many sodas, may be high in sugar and sodium).

The other side of the water bottle

As much as we require water, too much isn’t good for us, either. When we perform any high-intensity activity we lose fluid through perspiration. As a result, we increase our fluid intake and may drink too much water. This can lead to water intoxication (hyponatremia), a rare but dangerous condition involving low blood sodium levels.

As a general rule, drink when you feel thirsty, but don’t force down huge amounts. Use common sense, always carry water with you when you work or recreate outdoors, and remember to drink regularly, no matter what you’re doing.

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