Excuse Me While I Veg Out

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.

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.

An Abundance of Nutrients

Plant foods contain thousands of natural chemicals called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. “Phyto” refers to the Greek word for plant. These chemicals help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs and other threats. Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, as do other plant-based foods such as whole grains, nut, beans and tea.

More than 25,000 phytonutrients are found in plant foods. Phytonutrients aren’t essential for keeping us alive, unlike the vitamins and minerals that plant foods contain. But when we eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and keep our body working properly.

Here is a primer in eating healthfully through fresh fruits and vegetables you can find easily at local farms, in markets, or in your own garden:

  • Carotenoids: More than 600 carotenoids provide yellow, orange, and red colors in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids act as antioxidantsin our body, tackling harmful free radicals that damage tissues throughout our body. The types of carotenoids that may have other health benefits include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Bodies convert all of these to vitamin A, which helps keep immune systems working properly, and is needed for eye health. Yellow and orange foods like pumpkins and carrots are good sources of alpha- and beta-carotene. These also contain beta-cryptoxanthin, as do sweet red peppers.
  • Lycopene:This nutrient gives red or pink color to tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer.
  • Luteinand zeaxanthin: These may help protect us from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, two types of eye problems which are common as we age. Good sources of these phytonutrients are greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens.
  • Ellagic Acid: This acid is found in a number of berries and other plant foods, especially strawberries, raspberries and Ellagic acid may help protect against cancerseveral different ways. For example, it may slow the growth of cancer cells and may help our livers neutralize cancer-causing chemicals in our system.
  • Flavonoids: A large number of phytonutrients fall into the flavonoid category, which may help prevent certain types of cancers. They are found in a variety of plant foods. Flavonoids include Catechins, found in green tea; Hesperidin, found in citrus fruits (works as an antioxidant reducing inflammation in the body to help prevent chronic disease); and Quercetin, a flavanol found in apples, berries, kale and onions. These are thought to help reduce risk of asthma, certain types of cancer, and coronary heart disease.
  • Resveratrol: Found in grapes, purple grape juice and red wine, resveratrol acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It’s believed to help in reducing heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Glucosinolates: These chemicals give vegetables their distinctive odor and flavor. They are typically found in cruciferous vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and broccoli. The glucosinolates turn into other chemicals during the cooking process and while we digest these foods. These chemicals may help hold in check the development and growth of cancer.
  • Phytoestrogens: Because of their structure, phytoestrogens can exert estrogen-like effects. They also can block the effects of natural supplies of estrogen. Soy foods contain isoflavones – a type of phytoestrogen – and have been linked to lower risk of endometrial cancer and bone loss in women. Our bodies also convert lignans, another type of phytonutrient, into chemicals with some estrogen-like effects. Two especially good sources of lignans are flaxseeds and Sesame seeds.

Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content. Additionally, buying locally sustains our State’s farmers, supports the economy and helps remind us about the importance of understanding food sources and nutritional value.

 


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!

Apple Cider Vinegar: Healthy or Hype?

It has probably come up at a holiday gathering or dinner party – people start comparing home or natural wellness remedies, and someone, invariably, mentions apple cider vinegar and “the mother.” Intrigued, you probably seek more details, and hear anecdotes about how it’s a life-changer, and that a tablespoon a day eases stomach distress, limits weight gain, controls blood pressure and sugar levels, and keeps the user regular.

While some people swear it’s a magic elixir, the medical jury is still out on the long-term benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar, though apple vinegar is an anti-oxidant, and with “the mother” present, contains probiotics, which aid in digestion. So, what is “the mother,” you might wonder?

Well, in case you were worried, “the mother” is nothing like the worm found south of the border in some bottles of tequila. And to understand its origins and value, let’s start with a chemistry lesson.

Vinegar comes from the French phrase vin aigre, meaning sour wine. The sourness comes from acetic acid. When yeast is added to pulverized or juiced apples, it digests the sugars in the apples and converts, or ferments them into alcohol. A bacteria, acetobacter, then turns the alcohol into acetic acid. The “mother” refers to the combination of yeast and bacteria formed during fermentation. If you look at an apple cider vinegar bottle that hasn’t been pasteurized, you can see strands of the “mother” floating around.

Many people attribute apple cider vinegar’s positive effects to the “mother.” It is a probiotic, similar in nature to what you find in cultured yogurts. Aside from probiotics, apple cider vinegar has a vitamin profile similar to apple juice, just a lot more sour-tasting. It is loaded with B-vitamins and polyphenols (plant-based antioxidants). These probiotics, acetic acid, and the nutrients in in the apple cider vinegar are responsible for its health benefits. But “how healthy” is a question whose answer researchers tend to differ on.

Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Vinegar is used in cooking, baking, salad dressings, and as a preservative. There’s a lot of acid in it, so drinking vinegar straight isn’t good for us. However, while consuming apple cider vinegar straight won’t hurt (as long as we don’t imbibe too much or suffer from kidney disease), it also will not cure cancer, diabetes or control blood pressure, regardless of the myths you may have heard and would love to believe.

On the contrary, it can cause serious problems, including stomach distress, heartburn and tooth decay.

Vinegar has been used as a remedy since the days of Hippocrates. The ancient Greek doctor treated wounds with it. The polyphenols it contains are antioxidants, which can curb cell damage that can lead to other diseases, such as cancer. But studies on whether vinegar actually lowers our chances of contracting cancer are mixed.

Overall, apple cider vinegar is safe. If you’re looking to take some for health reasons, most people recommend adding one to two tablespoons to water or tea.  But before you start ingesting it daily, there are negative side effects including:

  • The acid in apple cider vinegar can erode teeth enamel, so drinking some water after you swallow your cider is a good idea.
  • Acidic foods or liquids like vinegar may exacerbate acid reflux and stomach distress.
  • If you have chronic kidney disease, your kidneys may not be able to process the excess acid from drinking apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar may moderately lower blood glucose levels, but it won’t cure or control diabetes or replace medications you may be taking for diabetes, cholesterol or blood pressure.  As with any supplement, medicine or herb you may be considering, the smart bet is to check with your physician before you proceed.


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!

Be a Fifteen Percenter

Okay, it’s March — time to run a quick health and wellness resolution mental checklist: One, I’m getting to the gym every other day, or walking 20 minutes a day when I don’t get to the gym. Two, on the nutrition front, I’m reducing my sugar and sweets intake, limiting anything made with white flour, cutting back on salt, and eating way less yummy fats and fried foods. Three, going easy on the alcohol, soda, caffeine and fruit juices, and drinking lots more water. Four, meditating in the morning to reduce stress before I go to work or school or face the day. Five, based on all of the above, well on my way to my goal of losing 10 to 15 pounds before bathing suit season arrives.

Feel free to add items six through 10 here, whether it’s reducing television and social media distractions, calling friends and family more regularly, putting on a few pounds, kicking your nicotine habit, reading more books, writing that children’s book, spending more time with your own kids . . . it doesn’t really matter. What does matter this March is taking the time to see if you’re doing any of the things you said you’d start doing back in January!

If you’re not, don’t sweat it. Best intentions aside, every personal health and wellness plan needs measurement, adjustment and readjustment. And now, before the weather gets warm and the days get longer, is the perfect time to do just that.

Millions of Americans make “wishful thinking” resolutions around the holidays or at the beginning of the year. Surveys have found that by springtime, 68 percent of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution have broken it. After one year, only 15 percent claim success. Still, more than half of us make resolutions, which is why membership in health and fitness clubs, diet programs and smoking-cessation clinics soar in January.

But don’t despair. The secret to self-improvement is persistence, not perfection. Spring is a great opportunity to renew resolutions, or to make new ones. The chaos of the holidays is past, the weather is starting to improve, days are getting longer, and we know that, before too long, coats will be off and bodies won’t be hidden under bulky clothes anymore.

The first step, of course, is to ensure you have a plan — without a roadmap, you’re going to struggle. The key is to ensure that you’ve set achievable goals and that real action steps are created. That requires commitment, communication, time, measurement, and rewards.

Forget about getting to the gym every day – how about every other day? Sweet tooth hounding you? Look into sugar-free alternatives. Try eating bread and foods made with whole grains instead of white flour. Carry around a water bottle and skip the soda at lunch or dinner, or that cocktail after work.

Tell a friend or associate about your goals, and see if you can get someone to share his or her action plan with you, as well. This way, you create a buddy system – even if you can’t exercise or eat together, you can encourage one another, and then come together to celebrate each small success.

Establish a realistic timeframe. What will you try to accomplish today, and this week, and then this month? Instead of losing 15 pounds, what has to happen to lose one or two pounds in the next several days? Each choice we make matters – it may be skipping the Oreos or ice cream while watching television at night, forcing ourselves to go to the gym before work, even for half an hour, or switching from wine to club soda when you meet your friends tonight.

Consider keeping a journal with your goals and progress. And treating yourself for reaching milestones is a well-earned reward – if you’ve managed to skip the pizza, French fries and chocolate cake throughout the week, a little taste on the weekend isn’t so bad.

Change doesn’t have to be dramatic, it just has to be ongoing and realistic. The trick is to constantly renew and focus on our goals, and to keep at it, modifying our strategy until we achieve them. With a little effort and dedication, you can become part of the 15 percent of people who achieve their health and wellness goals. So, give it a try this week, before we blink and it’s June — what do you have to lose?


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!

Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail

As we race to the end of another calendar year, it’s time to take stock of the health and wellness goals we set for ourselves in early 2018. Whether our intention was to lose weight, get to the gym regularly, run our first 5k, bicycle or hike, stop smoking or do something about stress, the remaining days of this year are short, but there’s hope:  after December 21st, each day is getting longer and we have a clean slate for implementing our healthcare plans for 2019!

Start with a glass-half-full approach: whatever we did do in 2018 counts and is better than nothing. There’s no point in lamenting about all the well-intentioned health and wellness options we never fulfilled, how badly we ate at the holidays or missing our weight-loss goal. Rather, now is a great time to make a firm and achievable personal wellness plan designed to improve physical, emotional and spiritual health in 2019 and beyond.

But first, we have to get through the holidays – so take it easy and enjoy the season. That may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but we all know what the coming weeks bring. It’s a stressful time of year without putting additional pressure on ourselves. Eat and drink consciously and in moderation, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about your personal goals.

Be it eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits you, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice. Making resolutions is as old as the hills, but setting simple goals includes taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and how we will measure our success. This isn’t difficult and may be the best gift we can give ourself as we approach the new year.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, “simple, achievable and realistic” are our keywords. Here are some tips to help guide your steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is one of your goals, set a realistic number and timetable, so you can achieve your goal safely. Avoid “fad diets,” and take the time to learn about potential problems, such as vitamin deficiencies or other health risks that accompany weight loss. Read about sugar, fat, carbs, and the chemistry of food.
  • Adopt an effective strategy. Focus on relatively short-term goals, like eating vegetables four times a day, cutting back on carbs and sugar, eating healthy snacks, and doing at least 20 minutes of cardio a day. Keep track of your efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for your weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Seek professional assistance: If, for example, losing weight is an important health goal, speak with your physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you achieve your mission. If you’re planning on losing or gaining weight, or considering supplements or aggressive options, seek professional input to ensure healthy results. And if you want to stop smoking, there are a variety of smoking-cessation programs and medications to assist you.
  • Review and adjust your commitment. To be successful you have to set goals, measure your progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if you find, for example, that walking every day is impossible, walk four days a week, or longer on the weekends. Sign up for a yoga or fitness class. And when you give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair . . . tomorrow is a new day. You know yourself better than anyone — make adjustments that will work for you if you fall off the wagon or fail to achieve your weekly goals.
  • Use the “buddy system.” Tell a friend about your goals and see if you can work out, walk, or practice your new diet together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when you miss a goal, and celebrate your individual and mutual successes.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started and to not give up, even when you miss a day or have a bad week. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is yours to keep.


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!

Healthier Ways to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

There’s an easy resolution for each of us to adopt this December. This year, let’s change the expression, “eat, drink and be merry” to “eat healthfully, drink moderately and be happier!” Adopting an effective strategy for controlling excess, and setting reasonable expectations for ourselves are the smartest options for ensuring a happy and healthy holiday season.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. It isn’t just overeating, though, that challenges us. Often, exercise becomes collateral damage, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (at least 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

The trick is to focus on short-term goals, such as walking or exercising a few times a week. And when it comes to food, eating vegetables and fruit at parties and avoid taking second helpings. Have one cookie and stop. If you imbibe, realize that alcohol and holiday beverages contain a lot of sugar and calories; alcohol also interferes with your sleep and judgment, and may leave you with an additional price to pay the next day.

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say, it’s important to practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan in advance.

The first critical step is to practice awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each choice, 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.

Experts agree this is a good season to be realistic, rather than the best time for weight loss. They recommend trying to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective. You don’t have to indulge every minute from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.

Avoid Short-term Fixes

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating and under-exercising during this season of gluttony? It begins with understanding: many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family, enjoying food and drink. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases, raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don’t want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have created great treats. And the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Lack of advance planning. 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 to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. There’s much to do and accomplish in a short period, it’s an expensive time of year, and the extra tasks add to stress, and the stress can lead to overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Holiday marketing of food and consumerism contributes to the excess as well, and even people who have been trying to eat healthy throughout the year may give in. Comfort and nostalgia play roles, as well.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips. The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity. And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

The best advice is to go easy on yourself:  drink, eat and celebrate in moderation, allow yourself some excess as expected, but say “no” when you can, keep away from the foods that hurt you the most, and don’t neglect regular exercise or routines that help you keep stress at bay.

Remember, the goal is long-term change and healthy behaviors, not short-term fixes. Surviving the holidays is like plodding through a snowstorm that lasts a full month. You put your head down, walk into the wind, and keep moving forward toward your goals, a step (or bite) at a time.

 


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!

Sweet Beginnings Can Lead to Sour Endings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Eat This Pumpkin, Pumpkin!

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

The fall palette includes deep colors like oranges, reds, and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, these colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower our risk for many diseases.

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

Seasonal Favorites are Loaded with Nutrients

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

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

  • Pumpkins: The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.
  • Apples: These red and green gemsare a perennial favorite. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested crop hits the market and farm stands. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

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

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

  • Sweet potatoesare a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beetsare another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues, and are a terrific addition to salads, casseroles and simply roasted.
  • Brussels sprouts:Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, Brussel sprouts have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February.
  • Chicories: Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are known for a slightly bitter taste. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Seasonal squash: Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy.Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complements many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

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


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

The Heart of the Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting a Handle on Cholesterol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Statins Are Helpful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Make Mine Shaken, Not Stirred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consuming Dairy Milk Alternatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Go Nuts!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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