Keep Your Skin in the Game

The cold weather often means an increase in chapped lips, dry, itchy skin, rashes and a worsening of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. The main culprit is lack of moisture. During winter, the humidity in the outside air plunges, and thanks to indoor heating, we’re assailed by dry, warm air in our house, office, school or workplace.

During flu and cold season, we’re also washing our hands more often than ever, which saps the natural oils in our skin, leaving them dehydrated until they crack, peel and bleed.

The skin barrier is a mix of proteins, lipids and oils. It protects your skin, and how good a job it does is largely genetic, but also a measure of environmental conditions. If you have a weak barrier, you’re more prone to symptoms of sensitive skin such as itching, inflammation and eczema. Your hands are also more likely to become very dry in winter if they’re constantly exposed to cold air, water, extreme heat or other environmental factors.

One solution is to keep ourselves, and our skin, properly hydrated. But drinking water alone won’t do the trick for your skin; it also requires replenishment. Using moisturizers especially formatted for your skin is an important tool in your hydration arsenal. But putting moisturizers on once a day isn’t enough – you need to apply five or more applications daily to afford day-long protection. Coverage should include hands, fingernails, face, arms and legs and even your feet.

There are many effective hand creams and body lotions available in our local drugstores and supermarkets.  Choosing the one that’s best may require some trial and error, but focus on the two main ingredients that make the greatest difference:  emollients and humectants.

Emollients act as lubricants on the surface of the skin. They fill the crevices between cells that are ready to be shed and help the loose edges of the dead skin cells that are left behind stick together. Emollients help keep the skin soft, smooth, and pliable. Look for ingredients such as lanolin, jojoba oil, isopropyl palmitate, propylene glycol linoleate, squalene, and glycerol stearate.

Humectants draw moisture from the environment to the skin’s surface, increasing the water content of the skin’s outer layer. Scan the ingredients label for common humectants such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sorbitol, propylene glycerol, urea, and lactic acid.

If your hands go from just being dry and rough to having little cracks, or fissures, and are tender or bleeding, it’s time to move on to more therapeutic moisturizers. Petroleum jelly is a reliable standby. Or choose a thick, rich moisturizer in a formula that contains heavier ingredients such as dimethicone, cocoa or shea butter, or beeswax. Applying a generous coating at bedtime, and wearing a pair of cotton gloves will help retain the healing salve until it can be fully absorbed while you sleep.

If you already have sensitive skin, look for a moisturizer that contains soothing ingredients such as chamomile or aloe, and doesn’t contain potential allergens such as fragrances or dyes. Also, avoid products containing acids, which can irritate sensitive skin.

As we age, our skin tends to become drier because our oil-producing glands become less active. To keep skin soft and well hydrated, choose an oil-based moisturizer that contains petrolatum as the base, along with antioxidants or alpha hydroxy acids to combat wrinkles. These ingredients help hold in moisture and prevent flaky, scaly skin.

Hand washing, though critical for your overall health and to prevent the spread of germs, also dries out skin and hands. The best bet is to choose a mild soap, use warm — not hot — water, pat your hands dry and apply a moisturizer right away. If you have severely dry hands or you wash your hands a dozen or more times a day, substitute a hand-sanitizing gel or wipes for some soap-and-water sessions.

Other tricks for limiting dry skin is to sleep with a humidifier at night, take short, warm (not hot) showers, and to wear gloves, a hat and sunscreen when you’re outdoors. A balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits also provides the vitamins and minerals your body needs to help it remain healthy. If redness, peeling and tenderness persist, see a dermatologist. He or she can prescribe a steroid cream to help fight inflammation, and also check on whether your dry hands may be due to a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.

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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!

Bacon-wrapped scallop or a carrot? Why not both?!

As you’re about to dip your lemon square into the chocolate fondue, stop for a moment and contemplate what you’re doing. Yes, it’s going to taste fantastically yummy, and you’ll love every bite. But you’re probably going to feel guilty later, especially if you washed it down with some eggnog and cheesecake. Plus, it’s likely going right to your hips and arteries and, without doubt, will make losing weight come January that much tougher. Guilt is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Well, no, actually it isn’t! In fact, placating our guilt is one of the reasons we overindulge, so finding alternative nutritional options and setting achievable goals are critical.

Awareness and compromise are factors within our control. American adults on average gain between two and seven pounds every holiday season. It’s easy to see how with wall-to-wall parties, sweet treats, alcohol consumption, and gatherings with friends, family and co-workers. But nobody’s suggesting you have to starve or deny yourself some enjoyment; moderation and common sense can prevail, and you’ll still have a great time!

Setting the simple goal of trying to maintain your current weight is one easy option. Eating healthy foods every chance you get is another. And turning down desserts or fattening beverages, and substituting healthy alternatives like fruit and veggies, yogurt, water and low-fat alternatives will help. Finding time to walk and exercise, especially in the midst of December chaos, is truly beneficial. And ensuring you get enough sleep, eat at regular intervals and carve out some “me time” will help fight stress, mental fatigue and physical exhaustion.

Here are some basic tips for enjoying yourself at the holidays and for not overindulging:

  • Practice awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats at the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try appetizer-sized helpings instead of dishing up a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar and preservatives. And remember, alcohol reduces your will to practice good eating habits.
  • Be realistic. December is not the best time for weight loss. Try to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective — you don’t have to indulge every minute from Thanksgiving until the Super Bowl. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions. One way to keep stress at a minimum is to lower your expectations about holidays. Ask for help to lighten your holiday schedule. Host a potluck holiday meal instead of cooking dinner. Or serve it buffet style instead of having a sit-down meal. Learn to say “no,” in a courteous manner, to activities and food that aren’t in your best interest. And at social events, don’t fill silence with food. Talk and make new friends, and even if you’re sad, try turning to people for comfort instead of food.
  • Plan in advance. Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering — hunger can undo the best intentions. Also, avoid sources of temptation whenever you can. After visiting a buffet, leave the room that’s filled with food. If there are sweets in the office break room, don’t go there. If you’re given unhealthy food as a gift, bring it to the office or to a friend’s house to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
  • Remain physically active. That doesn’t mean running to the store every five minutes — it’s walking on the treadmill, working out at home or at your favorite gym, keeping your yoga appointments, and taking a hike on a mild winter day. Exercise is great for reducing stress and working off some of those extra holiday calories!
  • Make a personal wellness plan. Since January is right around the corner, start thinking now about exercise, nutrition, health and weight goals for the New Year. Make appointments with your physician or a nutritionist. Look for fitness-related classes like spinning, swimming or yoga, or a gym that’s right for you. Write down your goals, post them where you’ll see them every day, and share them with another person.

Most importantly, consider what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest. Our overall goal should be trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle both in and outside of the fall and winter feasting season. Constant weight gains and losses can be harmful to our health and our psyches. Balance, moderation, and flexibility are keys to better health…and celebrations are really about family and friends, not food.

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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!

Excuse me while I snooze

We’ve just changed the clocks. The days are getting darker earlier, and they’re busier than ever with school, autumn sports, and activities going at full blast. With the return to earlier mornings and a fuller schedule, chances are you and your family members are on the go constantly and you’re tired. When we’re behind in our sleep, it affects how we perform, behave, get along with others, and our overall health. And with the holidays right around the corner, the pace is going to quicken even more. So it’s important to think about how much sleep we’re getting now and how best to ensure good sleep hygiene practices.

Sleeping well is as critical to our overall health and productivity as diet and exercise, and is important for everyone, from childhood through adulthood. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness, and can prevent the development of sleep problems and certain disorders.

What is good sleep hygiene?

Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and waking pattern seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too much. This varies by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed. If they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated. Age and other issues also affect how much you should be sleeping.

Good sleep hygiene practices include a variety of elements you can influence. Here are 10 common hints for improving restfulness:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of your cycle as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems — for example, it’s not a good time to snack on spicy or greasy dishes in the evening. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many healthy properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations, activities and TV shows before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, for playtime or for work.
  • Make sure that your sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and your room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.
  • The kids and dog have their own beds…they should use them!
  • Be careful about sleep aids — they can be habit-forming, interfere with the restful (REM) sleep your body needs to rejuvenate itself, and can interact poorly with other medications.

What you should know about Melatonin

Melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. Darkness causes the body to produce more Melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases Melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. Some people who have trouble sleeping have low levels of Melatonin. It is thought that adding Melatonin from supplements might help them sleep.

Melatonin is likely safe for most adults when taken by mouth short-term or applied to the skin. But like any medicine or supplement, you should check with your physician before taking it. Melatonin can cause some side effects including headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps and irritability.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use Melatonin. It also might interfere with ovulation, making it more difficult to become pregnant. Melatonin should not be used in most children — because of its effects on other hormones, it may interfere with development during adolescence. Additionally, Melatonin can raise blood pressure in people who are taking certain medications to control blood pressure. Melatonin also might increase blood sugar in people with diabetes, and can make symptoms of depression worse.

While found naturally in the body, Melatonin used as medicine is usually made synthetically in a laboratory. It is most commonly available in pill form, but also available in forms that can be placed in the cheek or under the tongue. This allows the Melatonin to be absorbed directly into the body.

People use Melatonin to adjust the body’s internal clock. It is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-workers), and for helping blind people establish a day and night cycle. It is also used for the inability to fall asleep (insomnia); delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS); insomnia associated with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); insomnia due to certain high-blood pressure medications called beta-blockers; and sleep problems in children with developmental disorders including autism, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. It is also used as a sleep aid after discontinuing the use of benzodiazepine drugs and to reduce the side effects of stopping smoking.

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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!

Wash your hands of flu, colds, and viruses

For all our technology, medical advances and sophisticated health resources, it often seems we’re no closer to taming the common cold, eliminating flu and infections, or reducing many common and costly chronic diseases and illnesses. In part, that’s the insidious nature of human health and the ability of diseases to transform and elude researcher’s best efforts. But often, it’s also the result of misinformation, and our unwillingness — purposely or through lack of accurate direction or failed compliance — to help ourselves through knowledge and prevention.

As the annual flu season descends, we need to protect ourselves. Flu vaccine is plentiful and often effective against specific strains of influenza, but many people still choose to not get themselves or their children vaccinated. That’s a personal decision, but it can mean that you or your kids spread illness and disease to others, including the most vulnerable — the sick, elderly and babies.

Amid heightened global concerns over Ebola, which has now reached American shores, another far more common virus has been making the rounds. This flu-like strain, called Enterovirus (EV) D68, is now afflicting people across the country, and is particularly dangerous to infants, seniors, or anyone with respiratory illnesses, asthma, or chronic, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Strains of the Enterovirus (there are more than 100) are not new — they’ve been formally catalogued since the early 1960s — but this year’s outbreak has been more virulent than in recent years.

Most common in the summer and early fall, mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body and muscle aches. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it presents like the common cold and many other viruses. Severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing. Since Enterovirus causes respiratory illness, the virus can be found in an infected person’s respiratory secretions, such as saliva, nasal mucus, or sputum. EV-D68 spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or contaminates common surfaces or objects through touch.

There is no specific treatment for people with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68, nor a vaccine to prevent it. For mild respiratory illness, you can help relieve symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications for pain and fever (aspirin should not be given to children). Some people with severe respiratory illness may need to be hospitalized — if symptoms worsen, you should see your physician.

We can help protect ourselves from Enterovirus, the flu, other viruses and colds by following these simple steps:

  • The easiest, safest, cheapest and most effective way to prevent the spread of disease or to limit infection is to wash your hands often. That includes when you come home from anywhere, before you eat in a dining hall or restaurant, after you use a restroom, visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or touch an ATM. And when it isn’t easy to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t share toothbrushes, razors or other personal grooming products, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
  • Sneeze into tissues or your arm, not your hands and not into the air — airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections
  • Get a flu shot! Flu vaccines are very safe and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.
  • Stay home when you’re sick; incubation time — or the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly nasty in your system — allow you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious.

Additionally, remember that antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu or a cold, which are not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and bad prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so if you haven’t had your flu shot there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

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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!

Eating with the Season

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

The fall palette 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 your risk for many diseases.

The autumn months can bring additional health and nutritional challenges. 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 this season. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

  • The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well 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 are a perennial favorite. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

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

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

  • Sweet potatoes are 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.
  • Beets are 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.
  • Fall greens that are packed with nutrition include Brussels sprouts. Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, they have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February. Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are famous for a bitter edge. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Finally, seasonal squash like Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy. Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complement many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

The autumn is a wonderful time of year to eat, recreate and prepare your bodies for the colder months that follow. Enjoy its abundance, indoors and out.

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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!

Pick your ears and berries, squash and tomatoes

When it comes to fresh vegetables and fruit, there’s little thrill in hunting down perfect squash, eggplant, blueberries, cucumbers and native tomatoes in our local grocery store aisle. Sure, it’s easier and convenient, but visiting local farms, picking your own and frequenting farmer’s markets and roadside stands connects us with our food far more intimately than does opening a can or reaching into the freezer and popping frozen peas or corn into the microwave.

Don’t misunderstand: Frozen veggies and fruit are good, too, and often very healthy. But there is nothing quite like fruits and vegetables plucked fresh from the bush or vine, or recently pulled out of the ground or off the stalk. Connecticut is abundant in fresh produce – especially in the summer – and seeking out this unprocessed bounty rich in nutrients and often lower in pesticides or genetic mutations is healthy nutritionally and emotionally.

Connecticut features vegetable and dairy farms and fruit orchards throughout the state. The growing season is long and the climate is perfect for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Beans, squash, broccoli and cabbages start to come in around May and are available through October. Strawberries ripen in June, and in July the farms explode with produce, especially raspberries, blueberries, peaches and sweet corn. In August, the pepper and tomato crops are ready, and as summer comes to a close in September, pumpkins and seasonal squash are ready in plenty of time to welcome the autumn.

Fruits and vegetables ripen at different times over the course of the summer. Farms and farmers’ markets are not grocery stores, so not everything is available every week. Even when a crop is in season, there can be shortages due to weather and growing conditions or just high demand. Buying in large quantities is tempting, but unless you’re prepared to freeze or can the fresh fruits and vegetables, what is not immediately consumed will spoil, and spoil quickly. Proper preparation is a must, and if planning to store fresh fruits and vegetables you should do your research and stock up on the appropriate supplies (jars, lids, pectin, freezer bags, etc.).

Beyond the psychological value of searching out and eating locally grown food, there are practical and healthy reasons to celebrate foods that are in season. That’s when you get the most flavor and nutritional value. It’s also the time when it is the most affordable. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the greatest freshness when you look for foods that are both locally grown and are in season.

All of the world’s healthiest foods are seasonal. For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth’s resources and its life forms. But today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat. Modern food processing, high-tech storage and worldwide distribution networks make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July. And with the growth of supermarkets and an ever-widening smorgasbord of imported food, the link between what we eat and when it’s in season has almost disappeared.

Consequently, nutritionists and environmentalists are increasingly concerned that what we gain in choice and convenience we lose in health benefits, leading to a call for a movement back towards seasonal eating. Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but may contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content.

Buying locally sustains our State’s farmers, supports the economy and helps remind us about the importance of understanding food sources and nutritional value. Besides, a trip to the farm or a produce stand is fun, and many children have never enjoyed the experience of picking their own berries or vegetables right off the plants, bushes or trees. It’s eye-opening, healthy and a good catalyst for discussing nutrition with the entire family.

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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!

If you’re going to sweat it, wet it!

Paying careful attention to proper hydration, especially in the warmer months, is critical to our health. When it’s warm, our bodies perspire more to help cool us down, draining fluids important to the flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we also lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Thirst alone shouldn’t be our barometer for measuring fluid loss. The rule of thumb is if you’re thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated. Drink plenty of liquids before, during and after each activity. A good guideline to use when preparing for an outdoor workout is to drink about two cups of fluid two hours before the activity. That helps make sure we are well-hydrated before we even go outdoors. Then, during the activity, we should drink four to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes to keep our muscles well-hydrated. If planning an hour-long walk or gym workout, take a water bottle with about 16 ounces (two cups). Then, after exercise, drink again.

Fluids are vital to help our muscles function throughout our activity, but so is our blood sugar. Eat a light meal or snack of at least 100 calories about an hour or so before an activity. The nutrients from the snack will help keep hunger from interfering. The best snacks combine healthy carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are all good examples.

Water or sports drinks?

For most outdoor activities, regular tap or bottled water does the trick. If activity lasts an hour or more, either fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy, plus minerals to replace electrolytes lost from sweating.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport can provide a needed energy boost during activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in our blood. However, read the label to determine which sports drinks are most effective. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce serving. The drink’s carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose, rather than from processed sugar or corn syrup. These are more easily and quickly absorbed. It shouldn’t be carbonated, as the bubbles can lead to an upset stomach.

Most sports beverages are well-diluted and contain relatively few calories. If the flavor of a sports drink helps you maintain hydration, diluting it with water or pouring it into a thermos packed with ice will cut down even more on excess calories. “Fitness waters” such as Propel are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

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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!

Putting nature’s ‘super foods’ to work

When you think of comfort foods, mashed potatoes, meatloaf and your grandmother’s fruit pies may come to mind. While all three may satisfy your nostalgic cravings, the pies don’t just taste good; many of them are really good for you, too! That’s because when they’re filled with berries — especially seasonal and locally grown varieties such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries — they’re loaded in healthy antioxidants that fight disease, reduce stress and help keep you well.

Berries and other fruit are nature’s “super foods.” Whether you enjoy eating wild or domestic berries, 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, 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.

Variety is the key

Even though many fruits and some vegetables have high antioxidant content, the body does not absorb all of it. Bioavailability has to do with how our bodies 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. With berries 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).

Counting on antioxidants

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 antioxidants). Dried cranberries are great in cereal and salads, in pasta, and trail mixes. 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, which isn’t good for you.

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!

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the sneeziest of them all?

Sneezy, Sleepy, and Grumpy may have been three of the seven dwarves of Disney fame, but Itchy, Runny, and Miserable could be their springtime cousins. The flowering trees in New England are a colorful and welcome break from the bleak winter landscape. However breathtaking, though, they can take our breath away… literally. For all its beauty, this is a difficult time of year for millions of Americans, and the severity of allergy season can vary according to where you live, the weather, indoor contaminants and many other elements.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by mold spores in the air or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing their pollens. Outdoor molds are very common, especially after a spring thaw. They are found in soil, some mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood. Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some people develop allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

Asthma and allergic diseases, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), food allergy, and atopic dermatitis (eczema), are common for all age groups in the United States. For example, asthma affects more than 17 million adults and more than 7 million children. It’s estimated that one-fifth of all Americans are allergic to something, whether seasonal, airborne or food related. Nasal allergy triggers can be found both indoors and outdoors, and can be year-round or seasonal. It’s important to be aware of the times of day, seasons, places, and situations where your nasal allergy symptoms begin or worsen. If you can identify your triggers, and create a plan for avoiding them when possible, you may be able to minimize symptoms. Here are a few points to remember:

  • You may be reacting to more than one type of allergen. For example, having nasal allergies to both trees and grass can make your symptoms worse during the spring and summer, when both of these pollens are high.
  • Molds grow in dark, wet places and can disperse spores into the air if you rake or disturb the area where they’ve settled.
  • People with indoor nasal allergies can be bothered by outdoor nasal allergies as well. You may need ongoing treatment to help relieve indoor nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance doesn’t work, allergies can often be controlled with medications. The first choice is an antihistamine, which counters the effects of histamine. Steroid nasal sprays can reduce mucus secretion and nasal swelling. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that the combination of antihistamines and nasal steroids is very effective in those with moderate or severe symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, always consult with your physician before taking even over-the-counter medicines for allergies, as they may conflict with other medications or aggravate symptoms of other illnesses or chronic conditions.

Another potential solution is cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that inhibits the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. But you must start taking it several days before an allergic reaction begins, which is not always practical, and its use can be habit forming. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is an option if the exact cause of your allergies can be pinpointed. Immunotherapy involves a long series of injections, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and medication needs.

Your physician can help pinpoint what you are allergic to, and tell you the best way to treat your nasal allergy symptoms. Provide detailed information about your lifestyle and habits to your healthcare providers. It will help them to help you with an appropriate treatment plan for relieving your symptoms.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has some useful tips for those who suffer from seasonal allergies:

  • Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.
  • Always bathe and wash hair before bedtime (pollen can collect on skin and hair throughout the day).
  • Do not hang clothes outside to dry where they can trap pollens.
  • Wear a filter mask when mowing or working outdoors. Also, if you can, avoid peak times for pollen exposure (hot, dry, windy days, usually between 10 am and 4 pm). Although pollens are usually emitted in early morning, peak times for dissemination are between around 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Be aware of local pollen counts in your area (visit the National Allergy Bureau Website).
  • Keep house, office and car windows closed; use air conditioning if possible rather than opening windows.
  • Perform a thorough spring cleaning of your home, including replacing heating and A/C filters and cleaning ducts and vents.
  • Check bathrooms and other damp areas in your home frequently for mold and mildew, and remove visible mold with nontoxic cleaners.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of furniture, since they may carry pollen if they have been outdoors (or exacerbate your allergies if, for example, you’re allergic to cat dander).

For allergy information from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, visit For prevention strategies from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, visit

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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!

Big Eyes, Big Plates, Big Bellies

Come spring, there are two feared words certain to cause emotional distress and anxiety, trigger subconscious rumblings, and often motivate us to the equivalent of fight or flight action. Ready? Here they come:  Bathing suits!

If you’re on top of your game physically and nutritionally, you may not have to crack a sweat worrying about your body shape, weight, physical image, and related health factors like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, increased blood pressure, and raised cholesterol levels. But if you’re like many of us, you’re likely coming off the winter months weighing more than you’d like and beyond the healthy weight and body mass index your doctor recommends.

The well-tested and reliable combination of healthy eating and exercise always is a major factor in fighting the battle of bulges. But cutting carbs, salt and sugars, reducing processed foods, increasing proteins and adding fiber is only part of the battle. Understanding what you’re eating – and how much is appropriate – is the other side of the nutritional coin.

Eliminating “portion distortion”

According to the National Institutes of Health, a portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or in your own kitchen. A “serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts.

Sometimes the portion size and serving size match; sometimes they do not. Over the past years, portions have grown significantly in fast-food and sit-down restaurants, as has the frequency of Americans eating out. Subsequently, waistlines across the United States have grown right along with this trend.  

Big portion sizes can mean you’re getting more food than your body can stomach to maintain a healthy weight. It’s important to learn how much to put on your plate to help control how much you eat. Consider these statistics from the American Heart Association study, “A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States:”

  • Adults today consume an average of 300 more calories per day than they did in 1985.
  • Americans eat out much more than they used to.
  • Portion sizes for foods and beverages have grown dramatically over the last 40 years, up to five times more than their original size
  • Portions for many of these foods now exceed federal recommended standards by as much as eight times.

Tracking your calories helps you monitor your weight. It helps to know what the appropriate serving size is so you can correctly estimate the calories in your portions, especially if you dine out a lot. Portion sizes that are typically offered in restaurants are often double or triple the standard recommended serving sizes of most foods. Using a food diary can help you pay closer attention to what you’re eating, how much and how often.

You may see that the portions you’re consuming are often more than what you need to eat to keep your body at a healthy weight. It’s critical to establish a total eating pattern which balances calories consumed versus calories expended in one day.

Eating with the season

Seasonally related nutrition requires a quick lesson in anthropology. Winter, unlike the warm-weather growing season, was not a time of caloric abundance. Centuries and millennia ago, food was markedly scarcer in the winter.

Nature made up for this annual caloric shortfall with the final ripening, at the end of the growing season, of carbohydrate-rich produce such as squash, pumpkins, beans and potatoes. Notice that as the growing season draws to a close each fall we enjoy acorn squash, pumpkin pie, zucchini bread and stews made sweet with root vegetables.

All of these are foods designed by nature to provide one more chance to increase the likelihood of our surviving through the winter. Then, when spring finally arrived, we began to restore our nutritional reserves with the first crops to appear:  Small green shoots, like asparagus, and then leaves low in calories but rich in nutrients.

Today we enjoy eating in abundance straight through the winter, and arrive at spring with our winter insulation intact.

But nature, again, has provided a perfect solution. Spring is a great time of the year to eat seasonal, local produce. Greens, parsley, asparagus and rhubarb are coming up. There’s thyme, and rosemary and sage, too, to sprinkle on salads. Eat plenty of greens all year round, but especially in the spring.

And while you’re thinking about healthy eating, here’s an important note on carbs. While some people will embark on low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss in the short run, these are not sustainable. Completely restricting carbohydrates in our diets is often not a realistic or even healthy approach for a long-term weight management plan or a healthy lifestyle. Carbs are what give us energy, so we have to make smart choices when it comes to selecting the best ones for us.


 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!