The Main Event: Vegan vs. Vegetarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!


Become an Informed Healthcare Consumer

Purchasing a new or used car normally involves advance research on make, model, performance history, mileage, and resale value. We examine color options and accessories, visit showrooms or car lots, review consumer reports on the vehicle type, and peruse online feedback about the dealer or vehicle we’re considering. By the time we sit down with a salesperson, we’re reasonably well informed, know what we want, have figured out how we’re going to pay for it, and are ready to make a deal and write a check.

Now compare that process to preparing for surgery. Typically, patients listen to their physician’s advice, see the specialists he or she refers them to, complete any required pre-surgical preparation such as drawing blood, fasting or stopping certain medications, and then have their surgery. The more curious among us might do some research online at a variety of websites to learn more about our procedure, options or recovery tips. But most patients still rely primarily on information their doctor gives them, verbally or in print, and get advice from neighbors, family and work associates.

Apparently, we’re a relatively trusting lot when it comes to surgery. But when you consider the potential outcomes, costs, risks and long-term consequences, don’t you wonder why we are so much better informed and prepared to buy a car then to go under the knife?

Approximately 51 million Americans have elective or emergency surgical procedures performed in hospitals, outpatient surgical centers or their physician’s offices annually. That’s everything from cataracts and colonoscopies to angioplasty, caesarean sections, hysterectomies, knee and hip replacement, tissue removal and you name it . . . if you have a part that isn’t working properly, it can likely be removed, subdued, or improved!

But the psychology of obtaining surgery differs greatly from auto purchases, and three primary factors – trust, perceived boundaries and a lack of reliable, useful information – hinder our ability to be informed and properly engaged.

First, trust. We have confidence in our physician and the specialists, hospitals or clinical settings he or she sends us to. Typically that’s been established over years of visits and care, or is limited by cost or type of insurance. If our regular doc sends us to a specialist he or she knows and trusts, that’s good enough for us. And with the labyrinth of insurance issues our provider helps manage prior to a surgical procedure, we’re happy to leave it all in their hands and be compliant.

Second, boundaries. They’re the experts with years of medical school and training, we’re the patients. Many healthcare consumers lack the medical knowledge and chutzpah to ask tough, insightful or truly probing questions. We don’t want to be perceived as troublesome, annoying patients, or risk insulting our physicians with stupid, anxious or paranoid questions. It’s bad enough when an electrician or plumber treats us as though we’re an inconvenience – why risk feeling that way with a physician when your life is going to be in his or her hands?

And finally, there’s the lack of reliable, useful information. When it comes to specifics on doctors and hospitals, there simply isn’t much available data when it comes to quality, outcomes and performance histories. Hospital and medical rating systems managed by private, State and federal agencies exist for measuring provider and hospital performance, but they keep this information close to the vest. The data is used for addressing safety and medical errors, and for determining how the government reimburses hospitals and physicians, but it isn’t public knowledge.

This conspiracy of silence is endemic to the industry, and is driven, in part, by litigation and malpractice fears. There have been efforts to try and capture and publish some related metrics – items such as infection rates, “avoidable” readmissions to hospitals within 30 days, surgical errors – but this information is tightly guarded, and difficult if not impossible to access. Some government healthcare programs, like Medicare, make certain information available on specific procedures, but it’s not easy for the layperson to find or understand. And there aren’t any simple-to-understand, straightforward websites or annual reporting mechanisms available to consumers.

So what can you do to be a better medical consumer? Ask smart, direct questions, and do some research prior to meeting with the physician. Here are some examples of questions to ask before surgery:

  • How many times and how often have you done this procedure? This is important because high-volume practitioners have more experience and may be better able to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies.
  • How experienced is the team you will work with at the hospital or clinic? Chemistry and longevity in the operating room is an important variable, and good communication among surgical team members enhances outcomes.
  • Can the facility you’re considering for surgery handle unexpected complications? For example, if you experience a heart problem during surgery, does the facility have the staff onsite necessary to address this complication? Does the facility have a trauma center for adults or infants, or more comprehensive diagnostic imaging tools?
  • What are the potential side effects or outcomes?
  • What can I do to limit or control potential side effects, or to hasten recovery?
  • What are the exact costs or co-payments for this surgery? It’s important to understand exactly what the insurance provider, if you’re covered, will pay for and what you will be expected to contribute for your care.
  • Where can I get more information on this procedure? Ask the physician for specific web addresses or other sources of information that may be helpful.
  • Can this be done through less-invasive surgery, such as laparoscopy or robotics? Physicians practicing at some smaller hospitals may lack the experience for minimally invasive procedures, or the hospital may not be able to afford certain types of surgical tools and expensive equipment. The difference in recovery time, pain and potential complications can be significant, so it’s worth inquiring about before you proceed.
  • What will I require for post-surgical care? This may include physical rehabilitation, a short-term stay in a step-down unit, a variety of follow-up visits, home care assistance, medications and a comprehensive list of foods or activities to limit or avoid.
  • What forms and releases will I be expected to complete at the hospital or surgical center? Even though your physician will have you complete pre-surgical paperwork, most facilities ask you or your guardian to sign a variety of releases immediately prior to the procedure, often when you’re at your height of pre-surgical anxiety, and distracted. Asking in advance may help you pose intelligent questions and not feel pressured.

If your provider balks at these questions or offers ambiguous or evasive answers, you might consider another physician. Remember, you don’t want to be thinking about these issues as you’re lying on the gurney being rolled into surgery, and hindsight is always 20/20! The better you’re prepared and engaged in your care in advance, the better the experience for you and your medical team. It’s not just about competence – it’s about being an informed consumer, and making sure you know what you’re buying.

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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!

Colds and Allergies are Something to Sneeze At

If you’re afflicted by seasonal allergies, chances are you’re already suffering. With the abnormally warm winter and early spring weather in Connecticut, trees and flowers were quick to bloom and the air is alive with pollen and mold spores. The tell-tale human signs – red eyes, sneezing, runny noses– are as common a sight as daffodils, crimson buds on trees and bright yellow forsythia bushes.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by molds releasing spores into 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, mulch, 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.

If you’re sneezing and sniffling in April and your car is coated with yellow-green pollen, you may be able to point to seasonal allergies, or hay fever, especially if you get these symptoms at about the same time every year. Colds, however, can hit at any time of year — even during spring and summer — although they’re most common when the weather gets chilly.

There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications you can take to help you cope with allergy season. But before you open your medicine cabinet or run to the pharmacy, try to self-diagnose so you know what you’re treating and how best to respond.

How fast your symptoms occur can also determine what’s ailing you. Allergies often start almost immediately after you’re exposed to your trigger. For example, if you have pollen allergies, as soon as that pollen gets into your system, you may have symptoms.

Cold germs typically take one to three days to make you sick. They generally linger for three days to about a week, but symptoms can persist up to two weeks in some people. Starting to feel better after a couple of days is a sign you’re probably on the mend from a cold. If you’re getting worse, your cold may have evolved into a bacterial infection. If symptoms last more than one to two weeks or get worse after about five days, you should see a doctor.

Allergy symptoms will last for as long as you’re exposed to the offending substance. So if you’re allergic to cat dander, once you leave your grandmother’s apartment and her beloved Persian, your sniffles should subside. If your trigger is pollen and you spend most of the spring months outdoors, you could be fighting symptoms for the whole season.

Remedies for what’s ailing you

Antihistamines target histamine, which your body makes when you have an allergic reaction.

You can take antihistamines as pills or nasal sprays. The pills target itching, sneezing, and runny nose. The nasal sprays work on congestion, an itchy or runny nose, and postnasal drip.

Antihistamines can ease symptoms once you have them, but they work best when you take them before you feel allergy symptoms. Taken regularly, antihistamines can build up in your blood to protect against allergens and prevent the release of histamines. Ask your doctor if you should start taking allergy medicine a couple of weeks before you usually have symptoms.

Decongestants cut down on the fluid in the lining of your nose. That relieves swollen nasal passages and congestion. You can take decongestants by mouth in pills or liquids, or by nasal spray. Common decongestants include pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine.

Some medications combine antihistamines and decongestants. For example, Allegra-D, Claritin-D, and Zyrtec-D combine an antihistamine with the decongestant pseudoephedrine. Some antihistamines and decongestants need a prescription. Others don’t. You could first try a nonprescription medicine and if you don’t get relief, check with your doctor to see if you need a prescription.

Steroids, known medically as corticosteroids, can reduce inflammation associated with allergies. They prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, sneezing, and itchy, runny nose due to seasonal or year-round allergies. They can also decrease inflammation and swelling from other types of allergic reactions.

Steroids are available in various forms: As pills or liquids for serious allergies or asthma, locally acting inhalers for asthma, locally acting nasal sprays for seasonal or year-round allergies, topical creams for skin allergies, or topical eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis. In addition to steroid medications, your physician may decide to prescribe additional types of medications to help combat your allergic symptoms.

Even if you take something that doesn’t require a prescription, you should let your doctor know what you’re taking. He or she can check that you’ve got the right medication for your symptoms, and check on side effects.

Older antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) can make you drowsy. The newer antihistamine Zyrtec (cetirizine) may also cause drowsiness. Antihistamines such as Allegra (fexofenadine) and Claritin (loratadine) do not usually make you drowsy.

Decongestants can cause nervousness, sleeplessness, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure. Don’t use decongestant nasal sprays for more than three days in a row as they may worsen your nasal congestion and swelling, and can be habit forming. Always check the drug label for more information about side effects and how a drug may interact with other medications you may already be using.

Whether or not you take medication for hay fever, you can still take steps to reduce the severity of your symptoms. Here are 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 late morning through late afternoon
  • Be aware of local pollen counts in your area
  • 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).

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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!

Saying “Thanks” is Healthy for Giver and Receiver

Think about your own life, work, and accomplishments. It feels good when we do a good job. But while that satisfaction itself can be very rewarding, acknowledgement from our bosses, peers, family members, and friends is equally important. Telling someone he or she has done a good job isn’t just the right thing to do, but also is a mechanism for improving emotional and physical health, productivity, teamwork, and service.

When someone feels taken for granted, unrecognized or under-appreciated, it has a direct impact on their emotional health and stress levels. Lack of recognition, especially in the workplace, often is mentioned as a contributing factor to overall employee dissatisfaction. And the more unhappy employees are at work, the more productivity, teamwork and customer relations may suffer.  Quality suffers, as well, and increased stress is a known factor in promoting irritability, increasing conflict, interfering with sleep and diet, boosting absenteeism and increasing “presenteeism,” a loss of workplace productivity resulting from employee health problems and/or personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned in 2012 by the John Templeton Foundation. The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States, capturing perspectives from different ages, ethnic groups, income levels, religions and more.

Gratitude was enormously important to respondents, who also admitted they think about, feel, and espouse gratitude more readily than expressing it to others. This might be why respondents also felt that gratitude in America is declining.

  • More than 90 percent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.
  • More than 95 percent said that it is anywhere from “somewhat” to “very” important for mothers and fathers to teach gratitude.
  • People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else. Seventy-four percent never or rarely express gratitude to their boss. But people are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them. Seventy percent would feel better about themselves if their boss was more grateful, and 81 percent would work harder.
  • 93 percent of those polled agreed that grateful bosses were more likely to be successful, and only 18 percent thought that grateful bosses would be seen as “weak.”

The bottom line is that we’re better at noticing and tallying what we personally do than what other people do.  According to the data, most of the people surveyed appreciate being appreciated, but lack in their tendency to say “thanks”– despite knowing that expressing gratitude can bring more happiness, meaning, professional success, and interpersonal connection into their lives.

Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one, or in front of peers at staff meetings, gratitude is an important employee relations, productivity and stress-reduction tool. And while bonuses, pay raises, gift cards, and compensatory time off are terrific recognition tools, employees want to feel like it is more than simply “doing their jobs and meeting expectations” that matters.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!