How to Identify Food Marketing Slogans

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Do you read labels when you shop for food? Some people scan the Nutrition Facts, while others look on the front for information. But did you know that while some on-package claims are regulated, others are buzzwords used for marketing? Here’s what you need to know.

The government strictly regulates on-package messaging, including the ingredients list and the Nutrition Facts panel. It also oversees rules for nutrient content claims about the amount of fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals in food. So if you see phrases, such as low in fat, high in fiber or source of vitamin C, you can trust the accuracy of these statements.

The government also allows certain authorized health claims, which state that an ingredient may reduce the risk of a disease or condition. For example, there are authorized claims linking calcium with osteoporosis and soluble fiber with heart disease. 

You can also look for the USDA Organic logo, which verifies that ingredients were grown or raised using specific organic farming methods. Being caught using the logo on products that don’t qualify can result in a fine of up to $11,000 for each violation. 

The government doesn’t define words, such as real, natural and superfood, so any product may bear those words on its food packages. They don’t carry much weight since they are unregulated, so it’s buyer beware. Other unregulated words include:

  • Artisanal
  • Fresh
  • Clean
  • Grass-fed
  • Free-range 
  • Multigrain
  • Natural
  • Pasture-raised

There’s no telling what these terms refer to on food packages, so don’t make food choices based on these words alone.

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5 Exercise Errors to Avoid

The American College of Sports Medicine has labeled exercise the magic pill for improving our physical and mental health. Exercise can help us prevent or reverse several diseases, including depression — provided we stick with it. 

Explore different types and levels of exercise and do what personally appeals to you. You’ll benefit from any increase in physical activity. As you go, here are 5 oversights to watch for: 

1. Ignoring your limits: Starting out, people often exercise too much, risking injury. If you have health problems such as arthritis, excess weight or back trouble, check with your health care provider or work with a qualified trainer to learn the best exercise approach for you.

2. Moving too fast: Don’t expect a quick fix. Give yourself time to identify and develop exercise activities that you can succeed with and enjoy for a lifetime.

3. Doing the same old thing: Repeating the same cardio or muscle workouts for several months, your body becomes efficient and reaches a plateau, using less energy and burning fewer calories. Vary your activities as much as possible — for both pleasure and overall fitness.

4. Failing to support your back: Learn proper form, whether you’re doing tai chi or lifting weights; check with your instructor or trainer. When using exercise machines, avoid slumping and keep your back erect.

5. Thinking cardio is enough: Your body needs more than heart-pumping exercise. Strength training your muscles, such as core and upper body, is also important for preserving health.

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Fish Power

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Dietary guidelines suggest that Americans eat at least two (3.5 oz.) servings of fish each week, and for good reason. Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fats, and contributes vitamins and minerals to the diet, including selenium, vitamin D, iron and zinc. 

Eating enough fish helps protect heart health, lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function, especially when you choose fatty fish such as salmon, trout and sardines. Fish may also help reduce the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The trouble is, most Americans aren’t eating enough fish. About half of all Americans eat fish only occasionally or not at all. 

Why is our fish intake so low? Some people simply don’t like fish, while others don’t know how to prepare it. And others are worried about possible contaminants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Is this fear warranted? Researchers have calculated that if 100,000 people ate farmed salmon twice a week for 70 years, the extra PCB intake could potentially cause 24 extra deaths from cancer — but would prevent at least 7,000 deaths from heart disease. Levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish are very low, similar to levels in meats, dairy products and eggs. 

To avoid excess mercury, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or feeding young children, watch local fish advisories. Steer clear of shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Instead, choose shrimp, canned light tuna or salmon — which happen to be the most popular types of fish for eating in the U.S. anyway.

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Computer Vision Syndrome

May is Healthy Vision Month — a perfect time to focus on computer vision syndrome (CVS). Although not a vision-threatening problem, CVS can cause several symptoms, including eyestrain, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches and neck pain.

Studies show 50% to 90% of people who use a computer for 2 hours or more sometimes experience CVS symptoms. 

But there’s good news. Several simple self-help measures can help relieve and prevent CVS.

For example, the American Optometric Association advises adjusting your computer screen so it is about 4 to 5 inches below eye level. Position your computer screen to avoid glare, too. If you can’t change the lighting, consider a glare filter for the computer screen.

More eye-relieving tips:

  • Rest your eyes for 15 minutes after 2 hours of computer use.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 Rule: For every 20 minutes of computer viewing, take a 20-second break and refocus your eyes by looking 20 feet away.
  • Blink frequently to keep eyes moist; use moisturizing eye drops. 
  • Make sure your chair is comfortable to avoid neck and shoulder discomfort.
  • Get an eye exam. Uncorrected or under-corrected vision problems contribute to eyestrain. Some people benefit from glasses prescribed specifically for computer use, too.
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Physical Activity for Life

Official exercise guidelines are updated as we’re learning more about how physical fitness and exercise affect our health and longevity. New evidence-based studies show we can fight many of our most common chronic health problems simply by staying physically active.

Key Recommendations:

Ages 3 to 5 (new):Get at least 3 hours per day of active play (light, moderate or vigorous) to enhance growth and development.

Ages 6 to 17 (no change): Get 60 minutes per day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity for healthy heart, muscle and bone development.

Adults (no change): Get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week; add muscle strengthening 2 to 3 days a week.

Just move more and sit less. There is no minimum exercise time requirement now. The new guidelines suggest any amount of physical activity has health benefits, including better sleep, stress relief and improved blood pressure and mental health. Over time, staying physical helps manage many ongoing health conditions including obesity, osteoarthritis, diabetes and dementia.

May is Physical Fitness and Sports Month, a good time to learn more at Move Your Way at health.gov/moveyourway/

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Take the Pressure Off

High blood pressure silently damages blood vessels and leads to serious health problems, including stroke. In fact, it’s the major risk factor for stroke. Reducing high blood pressure can help prevent stroke, a major cause of death and disability.

First, discuss your blood pressure with your health care provider. If it’s too high, or borderline high, work with your health care provider to lower it. 

Taking prescribed medication, if needed, is important. But there’s much you can do to help:

Research has shown the heart-healthy DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan, rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and low in salt, can lower high blood pressure. 

Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure. (Get your provider’s okay if you are new to exercise.)

Control stress. Research shows techniques such as yoga and meditation can effectively soothe stress, lowering blood pressure in many people.

Get serious about weight control. Even losing just 3% to 5% of excess weight can improve blood pressure readings.

If you smoke, get help quitting. Call the National Cancer Institute’s free
Smoking Quitline at 1-877-448-7848.

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Signs You Need Medical Care

By Elizabeth Smoots, MD, FAAFP

Worrisome health symptoms can show up unexpectedly.

When you’re concerned but unsure the problem warrants a health care visit, call your health care provider’s office and ask about it. Many medical offices have staff available to answer these calls.

Generally, we see our primary care providers (PCP) for non-emergency symptoms and preventive care. Your PCP knows you best, including your health history, what has been effective for you in the past, and other health concerns — and can provide continuous care. Examples of non-emergency conditions: persistent symptoms such as urination or bowel changes, unintentional weight loss, emotional changes, joint pain, congestion or coughing.

For urgent problems after office hours, learn the procedure recommended by your provider’s office. You may be able to reach the provider on call. But if you can’t see your provider or don’t have one, here are some general guidelines on when and where to seek medical care:

1. Call 9-1-1: For life-threatening conditions such as severe chest pain or stroke, calling 9-1-1 helps ensure emergency response. And inside the aid car, paramedics can deliver treatment on the way to the hospital. Serious conditions include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • A possible heart attack: chest pain, which may radiate to an arm or jaw, with sweating, vomiting or dizziness.
  • A possible stroke: facial drooping; weakness or numbness on 1 side of the body; sudden trouble with walking, talking or vision; sudden severe headache; or loss of consciousness.
  • An injury that threatens life or limb.

2. Go to the hospital emergency room: For serious medical problems that may require rapid or advanced treatments in a hospital, emergency rooms are usually open 24/7. Following are some reasons to use an ER. Have someone drive you or call 9-1-1 if you have:

  • Heart attack or stroke signs (noted above).
  • Sudden confusion or a change in mental status.
  • Serious burns or a fever with rash.
  • A head injury or concussion; an eye injury.
  • Fainting or seizures.
  • Severe cuts that may need sutures; facial lacerations.
  • Fractures or dislocated joints.
  • Severe cold or flu symptoms.
  • Bleeding during pregnancy.
  • Severe abdominal pain with or without vomiting.

3. Consider an urgent care center: Nearly 8,000 urgent care centers in the U.S. offer services after hours and beyond a typical primary care office. They may stay open evenings and weekends and are generally less expensive than emergency rooms. Learn the location and hours of the clinic nearest you in advance of needing it. (Check your health care plan for benefit details.)

Illnesses or injuries that are not life threatening, but can’t wait until the next day, can be treated at an urgent care center. When to go? Examples include fever without a rash; severe or persistent abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, trouble breathing, flu symptoms, strains and sprains, or small cuts that may need stitches.

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Kidney Stones 101

Anyone can get a kidney stone, but some people are more likely than others to have them. Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. There are several kinds of kidney stones, with many causes, that can affect your urinary tract from kidneys to bladder.

Factors that may produce kidney stones include:

  • Dehydration; abnormal urinary chemical levels; and urinary tract infections.
  • Medical conditions (e.g., obesity, hyperparathyroidism, and when the kidneys fail to properly acidify the urine).
  • A buildup of calcium oxalate due to diet, metabolic disorders, excess vitamin D or intestinal bypass surgery.
  • A diet high in protein, sugar and/or sodium.

Passing a kidney stone often causes pain in the lower abdomen and groin as it moves through your urinary tract. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience severe pain with fever or bloody urine. Treatment often involves medication and staying hydrated. Surgery is sometimes required if stones become lodged in the urinary tract.

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Warm Mushroom Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup peeled fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 4 cups chopped fresh mushrooms (use a variety, such as shiitake, oyster, cremini, button)
  • 6 cups mixed salad greens

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium. Once hot, add ginger sticks. Stir-fry for 6 minutes or until crunchy. Remove, drain on paper towel and set aside for garnishing. Pour remaining warm oil into small bowl and allow oil to cool. Add vinegar, salt and pepper to make vinaigrette. Add 1 tbsp of vinaigrette to a large skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and minced ginger and sauté 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about 7 minutes; remove mixture from heat and allow to cool slightly (very hot mushrooms will wilt the greens). Put greens on a platter and top with warm mushrooms. Add remaining vinaigrette and garnish with crunchy ginger sticks.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 173 calories | 3g protein | 14g total fat | 2g saturated fat | 10g mono fat | 2g poly fat | 12g carbohydrate | 2g sugar | 3g fiber | 160mg sodium

 

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Eating Plan for Life

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Before you try another fad diet that’s likely to fail, consider a better option: The best approach for improved health and weight control is to develop a personal plan — one you can stick with and enjoy. Diets that are too restrictive, unaffordable or boring won’t work for you long term.

The right eating plan for you should match your taste buds, daily schedule, finances and health needs. That’s a lot to think about. Consider these 5 factors to help you find the best plan for you:

  1. Does it include foods you love? Restricting your favorite foods may leave you unhappy and is not sustainable for long. Make sure you love what you eat.
  2. Does it allow you to socialize? Some diet plans are so limited that it’s difficult to travel or dine with friends and family. If your diet is keeping you isolated, you need to rethink it.
  3. Is it simple and affordable? A sign of failure is spending too much time sourcing ingredients and too much money on them. The plan needs to fit your lifestyle.
  4. Does it support physical activity? Eating well is only part of the equation. Regular exercise is important for reducing disease risk, maintaining a healthy weight and improving your mood.
  5. Does it provide the nutrition that your body needs? It’s important that the food you choose is both enjoyable and nourishing. Restricting food can lead to nutrient deficiencies. See a dietitian to ensure your nutrient needs are being met.
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