Celebrate Squash Season

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Looking for a delicious and nutritious side dish? Try squash, such as butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, acorn or Hubbard.

Squash provides a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, folate, potassium and vitamin C. Plus, the bright orange or yellow color is your clue that squash is filled with the antioxidant beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that is helpful for protecting vision. 

Did you know squash is technically a fruit? That’s the botanical classification because they have seeds in the middle, but it’s served as a vegetable.

Here’s your cheat sheet for preparing squash:

Peeled and cubed butternut or Hubbard squash can be drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven at 400°F for about 30 to 40 minutes. Use the cubes as a side dish, atop salad, or as the start of a delicious squash soup recipe.

When cooking pumpkin, use the smaller varieties, which have a sweeter flavor compared to the large carving Halloween pumpkins. Boil the flesh for a delicious pumpkin mash. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Spaghetti squash is the most unique variety. After roasting it for about 40 minutes, use a fork to tease out the spaghetti-like strands, and serve similar to pasta, topped with marinara, pesto, or olive oil and garlic. Bonus: It’s just 40 calories per cup versus 235 calories for a cup of pasta.

Try roasted acorn squash with the finest drizzle of pure maple syrup, paired with pecans or walnuts.

Don’t forget to save the seeds. After you clean out your squash, rinse and dry the seeds, then roast in the oven at 350˚F until slightly tanned (timing will vary based on the size of the seeds). 

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How Well Do You Know Your Meds?

National Check Your Meds Day is October 21. This event encourages consumers to review their prescription medicines with local participating pharmacists. It’s a great opportunity for you to get to know your pharmacist and ensure proper use of your medicines.

Request a consultation with your regular pharmacist, who should:

  • Review your prescribed medicines and answer questions about them.
  • Advise you to remove any medicines that have expired or are no longer needed.
  • Give you an updated medication list to take to health care visits.

Prior to meeting with your pharmacist: 

  1. Collect all your prescription meds, over-the-counter meds, vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal products.
  2. List how and when you take each medicine and supplement; bring the list and your medications to review with the pharmacist.
  3. List all your questions about your medicines and supplements, such as possible side effects or interactions with other meds you use.

Best ways to avoid medication errors and misuse: 

  • Take part in your health care decisions.
  • Learn why you need your medicines.
  • Follow instructions for use carefully.
  • Learn about and report possible adverse reactions.

Also, don’t take meds that are not prescribed for you. And make sure all your health care providers know all the meds you are taking.

Try to have all prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. It will track all your meds and alert you or your provider if a new medicine might cause problems. Your pharmacist should be a vital member of your health care team, ready to assist and answer your questions.

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Snoring is Serious Business

Snoring occurs when relaxed tissues in your throat vibrate as you breathe during sleep. It can annoy and keep your partner awake, but snoring can also disrupt your own sleep, causing fatigue and raising the risk of health problems.

Nasal polyps, enlarged tonsils and a stuffy nose can cause snoring. Drinking alcohol before bed and simply growing older, too, can cause tongue and throat muscles to relax, resulting in snoring. But sleep apnea, marked by breathing that stops briefly and repeatedly during sleep, is the most serious condition linked to snoring.

Sleep apnea causes choking noises and snoring during sleep because your airway is narrowed, often from excess weight. Your brain perceives breathing difficulty and wakes you up, often many times an hour. You may not remember the repeated awakenings, but the result can be morning headaches, irritability, forgetfulness, behavior or mood changes, anxiety and depression. 

If you experience sleep apnea symptoms, talk to your health care provider about sleep study testing. Treatment for sleep apnea typically includes lifestyle changes, weight loss and a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine. Untreated, sleep apnea raises the risk of stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart attack and hypertension, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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Stay Connected When You Work from Home

Telecommuting has advantages, including no commute time. But it also has a downside. You can feel isolated from your coworkers and people, in general. And, according to the American Psychological Association, social isolation does more than cause loneliness — it raises the risk of health problems, too.

Telecommuting is not going away.In fact, regularly working from home, full- or part-time, for the non-self-employed has soared more than 100% during the past decade. 

If you work from home now or in the future, use these 5 tips to stay connected:

Check in with your coworkers daily. Share brief chats and texts, being mindful of colleagues’ time.

Teleconference. Talking virtually in real time when discussing a project can be more productive than email — and help you feel part of a team, too.

Take breaks outside. Go for a walk, speak to people and enjoy your flexibility.

Schedule face-to-face time during the week. Meet both non-work friends and colleagues for occasional lunch or coffee. If you work in the same city as your home office, visit in person occasionally and attend company events when possible.

Join a group that shares your profession or interests. Attend meetings, activities and network.

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Health at the End of the Rainbow

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruit at every meal is a great way to ensure you get enough of these wholesome foods each day. But which vegetables and fruits are the healthiest? They are all good. 

Your best bet is to choose a variety of options from all colors of the rainbow. Each hue comes with a unique set of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients (health-friendly plant compounds), so variety is important. The vibrant colors in vegetables and fruits are more than just pretty — they are functional, too. The pigments that make carrots orange, tomatoes red and spinach green work collectively to help protect whole body health.

The exact type and amount we need of each vegetable and fruit is not fully understood, so the best advice is to capture the rainbow during your daily meals and snacks. Include these beauties for:

Lycopene: In tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. It’s linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers, especially breast and prostate.

Anthocyanins: In blueberries, blackberries and purple cabbage. They’re linked to heart health, brain health and better cognitive function. 

Carotenoids: In carrots, leafy greens, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Carotenoids may help prevent cataracts and other age-related eye diseases.

Flavonoids: In cherries, berries and red grapes. These pigments have shown anti-inflammatory effects, and may also protect heart and brain health.

Sulforaphane: In broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage. This plant compound has been shown to reduce cancer cell growth in lab and animal studies. 

Remember,there isn’t 1 superfood in the produce section that will fully protect your health on its own, but a variety of colorful vegetables and fruit are part of a balanced diet that has proven health benefits. 

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Better HDL, Better Health

Your blood cholesterol levels are key to a strong heart and basic good health. Cholesterol is essential to our bodies on a cellular level. This waxy fat-like substance is in every cell attached to proteins called lipoproteins. We have 2 major types of cholesterol:

The bad: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol collects on the walls of your blood vessels, causing clotting that can lead to stroke or heart attack. 

The good: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol helps remove some of the bad cholesterol in your blood, returning it to your liver where it’s broken down and passed from your body.  

Control with medication? If your LDL level runs high, your health care provider may prescribe lowering it with medication. Reducing LDL and triglyceride levels can sometimes also improve HDL. But drugs designed specifically to raise HDL have generally not reduced heart attack risk. 

Lifestyle factors? Unhealthy, low HDL levels often occur in people who smoke or have obesity, high blood pressure or high blood sugar levels — conditions that can be controlled with better health habits. Simple daily choices can lead to healthier levels of both HDL and LDL. 

Talk to your provider about your cholesterol numbers and everyday ways to improve them. Primary goals: 

Lose excess weight with regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet.

Stop smoking. This can improve HDL and help your heart significantly.

Replace fast food and processed foods with home cooking and lots of vegetables.

Skip sugar-rich foods and those containing trans fats.

Do it for your heart and your long-term health.

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Q: Causes of sudden, persistent weight gain?

By Elizabeth Smoots, MD, FAAFP

A: Fluid retention is the most common cause of sudden weight gain. It usually comes as quickly as it goes. Persistent fluid retention can signal heart, liver or kidney disease.

Other conditions that may quickly pile on the pounds: Diabetes and low thyroid function are often associated with weight gain, usually along with muscle weakness and fatigue. People with Cushing’s syndrome make too much cortisol, resulting in fatty deposits in the face, neck, trunk and abdomen. Pregnancy may be a possibility in premenopausal women.

Medications linked to added weight: Certain hormone treatments, birth control pills or corticosteroids have weight gain as a side effect. The same for beta blockers taken for high blood pressure, or tamoxifen used for breast cancer. Other drugs associated with weight gain include antidepressants, antipsychotics, seizure drugs, and insulin or sulfonylureas for diabetes. See your health care provider if weight gain persists, no matter if it’s sudden or gradual.

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Indulge in Time for YOU

If life-work balance seems elusive, maybe you’re trying too hard. 

Tightly scheduling your work week can produce stress — but making room for unplanned leisure helps relieve stress.

Give yourself time to recharge and even improve mental health. You’ll likely boost creativity, too, according to INSEAD business school professor Manfred Kets de Vries.

Five me-time tips:

  1. Indulge in what rejuvenates. Whether it’s a hot bath, meditation or riding a bike, don’t feel guilty when you aren’t busy.
  2. Go for a walk. Walking is great exercise, but just taking a leisurely stroll can boost your mood, according to American Psychological Association research.
  3. Relax about family time. Be spontaneous and in the moment instead of always relying on formal plans for family activities. Cook a meal, visit a local park or play a game together. 
  4. Connect with nature. Take time to watch clouds, stars and birds in flight. Connecting with sights and sounds of nature increases the sense of well-being, according to University of California research. 
  5. Spend time with your pet. Relaxing with your pet can lower stress hormone levels. Pennsylvania State psychologists found simply being around a dog dampens stress responses. 
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Growing Teens into Healthy Adults

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Convincing teens to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep is not always easy, especially when parents are competing with junk food advertising and binge-worthy shows that keep kids on the sofa for hours. And there’s still peer pressure to deal with. 

Here are 5 tips to help you positively influence your teen’s lifestyle choices as they navigate puberty and growth spurts:

1. Trust them to know their appetite. They should eat when they are hungry and stop when full. Don’t berate them for wanting seconds, or for eating more 1 day than the next — that’s normal as they grow. 

2. Be a role model. Your teens learn by example. They will mirror your food choices and your commentary on your own body. Eat well and be positive about what you love about yourself. Don’t make negative comments about your shape — or theirs.

3. Teach moderation. Teens are independent and make many of their own food choices. That often means fast food, sugary beverages, salty snacks and candy. That’s okay sometimes. Explain it in terms they can understand, such as the 80/20 idea: Eat well 80% of the time, and enjoy treats 20% of the time.

4. Sleep matters. How tall your child will be is mostly determined by genetics, but factors such as eating well, getting enough sleep and being active also matter. Human growth hormone is mostly released while a child is asleep, so encourage a normal bedtime. 

5. Make healthy choices easy. Keep nutritious grab-and-go snacks on hand for busy teens. Include nuts, fruit, hummus, yogurt, whole-grain crackers, cheese and ready-to-eat vegetables. 

Remember: If teens learn healthy habits at home, they will know how to care for themselves as they blossom into young adults. 

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It’s Quitting Time for SITTING

The human body is designed to move. Yet, many Americans spend at least half their waking time sitting — in cars, on sofas and in front of phones, TVs and computers. Sitting too much is now a recognized health hazard. 

What’s too much? Sitting for 6 or more hours a day increases your risk of premature death by 19%, compared with people who sit fewer than 3 hours, according to research by the American Cancer Society last year. The 21-year study followed more than 127,000 people who had no major chronic diseases when they joined the group; during the study (1993-2014) nearly 49,000 died.

Those reporting the most leisure time sitting had higher risks of death from numerous medical conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes; kidney, lung, liver and digestive diseases; Parkinson’s disease; Alzheimer’s disease; nervous disorders; and musculoskeletal disorders. 

The hunched position we assume while sitting at a desk or driving for long periods constricts the muscles, causing tension, fatigue and pain. To decrease the daily discomfort and long-term health risks of inactivity, loosen up: Take frequent, short movement breaks throughout your day.

Make a habit of standing up as often as possible — as you read, watch TV or talk or text on your phone, or to walk around. Learn to fit in simple core stretches at your desk. Here’s an example from ACE Fitness:

  1. Stand upright, fingers clasped behind your head; relax your neck.
  2. Turn your head toward your left elbow.
  3. Lean your upper body to the right; no bending forward or backward.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. 
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