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Balancing Act

It is all about balance: mind + body= a healthy and happy spirit More »


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Category Archives: Eating Right

Here’s What a Snack REALLY Looks Like

Here’s What a Snack REALLY Looks Like

June 13, 2014 | By

Photo: @DunkinDonuts on Twitter

Photo: @DunkinDonuts on Twitter

You may have heard that Dunkin’ Donuts just added “snacks” to its menu with a bakery sandwich line that includes chicken salad on a croissant, grilled cheese on Texas toast, and fried chicken with bacon and ranch on a bun. The grilled chicken flatbread is 360 calories, but some options clock in at more than 600 calories. Dunkin’s CEO is adamant that these items are snacks, not lunch, which begs the question: Just what is a “snack” anyway?

By definition, a snack is a smaller portion of food eaten between meals, but snack trends have changed. For many people, snacks have become as substantial as breakfast, lunch, and dinner—essentially a fourth daily meal. I’m OK with that when I’m counseling my clients, assuming these three conditions are met. First, the fuel must be needed, so the snack doesn’t result in a surplus of calories that wind up feeding fat cells. Second, the snack should be healthy (for more on why not all calories are created equal, check out my previous post 6 Diet Myths, Busted). And finally, snacking should make sense as part of a daily food “budget.” For example, many of my female clients need about 1,500-1,600 calories a day to get to (and stay at) a healthy weight. If they eat four meals a day that are all equally portioned, that means they have about 375-400 calories to “spend” at snack time, their fourth meal.

In choosing snacks, my top goal is to keep it real, by selecting nutrient-rich foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Here are five clean eating snack options that do just that. Each provides less than 400 calories, from a bit of healthy protein, slow burning carbs, and good-for-you fat, to balance blood sugar, and leave you feeling fueled, energized, and satisfied. Two are sweet, two are savory, one’s a little bit of both, they’re all pretty quick. And I included a fast casual restaurant option you can grab on the go. So snack away—just be smart about it!

Fruity coconut smoothie

Whip one cup of frozen fruit, like berries, cherries, or mango, with either a single-serve container of nonfat organic Greek yogurt, or a protein powder (like pea, hemp, or organic grass fed whey) plus a half cup of water, along with a tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil, and a dash of fresh grated ginger.
About 300 calories

Mock cobbler

Fold a quarter cup of rolled oats into two tablespoons of almond butter. Toss one cup of fresh sliced strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries with a half tablespoon each of fresh squeezed lemon juice and water, and warm on the stovetop until juicy. Top warmed fruit with almond oat crumble.
About 300 calories

Mediterranean munchies

Serve up a quarter cup of hummus with 15 baby carrots and a side of 10 Kalamata olives.
About 300 calories

Chocolate almond popcorn

Place a quarter cup of organic popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag, fold the bag over a few times, and microwave on high for two minutes to pop the popcorn. In a small bowl, add one tablespoon of hot water to two tasting squares of 70% dark chocolate and stir slowly until chocolate is melted (if needed, add more water one teaspoon at a time). Drizzle chocolate over popcorn, then sprinkle with a quarter cup of sliced almonds.
About 400 calories

Chipotle veggie salad

Order a salad at Chipotle Mexican Grill with romaine, no dressing, no rice, black beans, fajita veggies, mild salsa, and guacamole.
370 calories

What are your thoughts on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

4 Unexpected Benefits of Donating Blood

4 Unexpected Benefits of Donating Blood

June 13, 2014 | By Rachel Swalin

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

When’s the last time you stopped to appreciate all the good stuff your blood does for you? Without it, oxygen would never reach your cells and carbon dioxide would be filling your blood vessels as we speak.

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood and more than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day, according to the American Red Cross. So while you may never worry about having enough blood to function, plenty of others aren’t as fortunate. With World Blood Donor Day approaching on Saturday, June 14, that gives you more reason than ever to get out and donate.

While giving blood should be all about helping those in need, there are a few things in it for you. Here are four health perks to becoming a blood donor:

Your blood may flow better

“If blood has a high viscosity, or resistance to flow, it will flow like molasses,” says Phillip DeChristopher, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Loyola University Health System blood bank. Repeated blood donations may help the blood flow in a way that’s less damaging to the lining of the blood vessels and could result in fewer arterial blockages. That may explain why the American Journal of Epidemiology found that blood donors are 88% less likely to suffer a heart attack.

It’s not clear if there are lasting health benefits associated with better blood flow. (These kinds of studies can’t prove cause and effect—for example, blood donors might lead healthier lifestyles than the general population.)
“What is clear is that blood donors seem to not be hospitalized so often and if they are, they have shorter lengths of stay,” Dr. DeChristopher says. “And they’re less likely to get heart attacks, strokes, and cancers.”

You’ll get a mini check-up

Before you give blood, you’ll first have to complete a quick physical that measures your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and hemoglobin levels. After your blood is collected, it’s sent off to a lab where it will undergo 13 different tests for infectious diseases, like HIV and West Nile virus. If anything comes back positive, you’ll be notified immediately.

“If year after year your tests come back negative, then you’ll know for sure there’s nothing you’ve been exposed to,” Dr. DeChristopher says. The physical and blood tests are no reason to skip your annual doctor visit, but they’re good for peace of mind. But you should never donate blood if you suspect you might actually be sick or have been exposed to HIV or another virus.

Your iron levels will stay balanced

Healthy adults usually have about 5 grams of iron in their bodies, mostly in red blood cells but also in bone marrow. When you donate a unit of blood, you lose about a quarter of a gram of iron, which gets replenished from the food you eat in the weeks after donation, Dr. DeChristopher says. This regulation of iron levels is a good thing, because having too much iron could be bad news for your blood vessels.

“The statistics appear to show that decreasing the amount of iron in otherwise healthy people over the long run is beneficial to their blood vessels, and diseases related to abnormalities in blood vessels, such as heart attack and stroke,” he says.

Still, data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nearly 10% of women in the U.S. suffer from anemia, a condition where your body lacks red blood cells or hemoglobin (most commonly due to an iron deficiency). In that case, it’s best not to give blood until the anemia is resolved, he says.

Women who haven’t hit menopause yet may find it hard to donate blood, too. “Pre-menopausal females can be somewhat iron depleted with blood counts just under the lower limit,” Dr. DeChristopher says. If you have low iron and you still want to be a donor, taking an oral iron supplement may help you re-qualify, he says.

You could live longer

Doing good for others is one way to live a longer life. A study in Health Psychology found that people who volunteered for altruistic reasons had a significantly reduced risk of mortality four years later than those who volunteered for themselves alone. While the health benefits of donating blood are nice, don’t forget who you’re really helping: A single donation can save the lives of up to three people, according to the Red Cross. “The need for blood is always there,” Dr. DeChristopher says. “It’s important to recognize how important willing donors are.”

15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency
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Less Smoking, Sex and Fighting Among U.S. High School Kids: CDC

By E.J. Mundell and Steve Reinberg
HealthDay Reporters

THURSDAY, June 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) — There’s good news for parents from a new government report on teen behaviors: The rates of smoking, sex and physical fights among high school students are dropping.

The 2013 survey found that the smoking rate for this age group has now declined to just 15.7 percent — reaching the U.S. government’s “Healthy People 2020″ goal of 16 percent or lower seven years early.

According to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are also waiting longer now to have sex than in years past. The number who said they had engaged in sexual intercourse during the past three years fell from 38 percent in 1991 to 34 percent by 2013, the CDC found.

Teens also appear to be less violent now than in the past. The survey of more than 13,000 U.S. high school students from 42 states found that 25 percent of teens had been in a physical fight at least once over the past year, compared to a rate of 42 percent when kids were surveyed in 1991.

“We are encouraged to see that high school students are making better choices in some areas like smoking and fighting,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a Thursday news briefing.

“I am also encouraged to see the reduction in the proportion of high school kids who are currently sexually active,” he added. “We still think it’s too high, but the trend is going in the right direction.”

Teens might even be watching their diets a bit more, the CDC found. The agency found a “significant decrease” in the number of high school students who drank soda one or more times per day. While 34 percent of teens surveyed in 2007 said they consumed the calorie-packed drinks daily, that number had fallen to 27 percent by 2013.

But the news wasn’t all good. According to the survey, while rates of smoking tobacco cigarettes were down, there was no change at all in the rate of chew, snuff and other smokeless tobacco since 1999, and the rate of cigar use among male high school seniors is now at 23 percent. And the CDC notes that other surveys have charted a rise in the number of teens using hookahs or e-cigarettes.

“Although this report doesn’t have data on e-cigarette use among high school students, we know that e-cigarette use is skyrocketing, and we are concerned about that,” Frieden said. “We are particularly concerned with e-cigarettes ‘re-glamorizing’ smoking traditional cigarettes.”

And when it comes to sexual activity, the survey found that the rate of unprotected, condom-free sex has actually risen over time. In 2003, 63 percent of sexually active teens said they used condoms, compared to 59 percent in 2013.

The rise of computer and wireless technologies may also be taking a toll on the health and safety of young people. The CDC survey found a dramatic rise in the number of teen drivers who text or email while on the road: In 2013, 41 percent of teen drivers said they had done so at least once over the past month.

“Texting while driving continues to be a concern,” Dr. Stephanie Zaza, director of CDC’s division of adolescent and school health, said during the news conference. “Teen drivers have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes,” she noted.

“Parents can play an active role in keeping their teen drivers safe by close monitoring, frequent discussion, parent-teen driving agreements and acting as a role model of good driving habits,” Zaza said.

And while fewer kids are now watching three or more hours of TV per day than in the past, computer time may have taken its place. According to the CDC survey, the percentage of teens who say they spend three or more hours each day on their computers (for non-schoolwork-related purposes) jumped from 22 percent in 2003 to 41 percent 10 years later.

“We know that excessive screen time — such as TV, computer or video game use — is associated with chronic diseases and factors such as obesity,” Zaza noted.

The exact reasons for the trends noted in the new report aren’t clear, she added. The survey “tells us what kids do, but not why,” Zaza said.

Frieden said more must be done to make sure the nation’s children grow up healthy.

“It’s not too much to ask that every kid born in this country reaches adulthood without an infection that they will have to deal with for the rest of their life, without nicotine addiction and at a healthy weight,” he said.

More information

There’s help for teens looking to quit smoking at

Parents’ Sleep May Affect Child’s Risk of Obesity: Study

WEDNESDAY, June 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) — The amount of sleep parents get may affect whether their children get enough sleep to protect them from becoming overweight or obese, according to a new study.

“We viewed how long parents slept and how long children slept as part of a household routine and found that they really did go together,” study author Barbara Fiese, director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana, said in an university news release.

Researchers assessed the weight of 337 preschool children and their parents, as well as factors that could protect against overweight and obesity.

The protective factors assessed in parents included adequate sleep (more than seven hours a night) and family mealtime routine. The factors assessed in children included adequate sleep (10 or more hours a night), family mealtime routine, not having a television in the bedroom, and limiting screen time to less than two hours a day.

Getting adequate sleep was the only individual protective factor against overweight and obesity in children. Those who didn’t get enough sleep were more likely to be overweight/obese than those who followed at least three of the other protective routines on a regular basis.

The researchers also found that the number of hours a parent sleeps per night affects their children’s amount of sleep. This means that parents’ sleep habits could affect their children’s risk of being overweight/obese.

“Parents should make being well-rested a family value and a priority. Sleep routines in a family affect all the members of the household, not just children; we know that parents won’t get a good night’s sleep unless and until their preschool children are sleeping,” Fiese said.

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Although this study found an association between sleep and children’s weight, it wasn’t designed to prove that a lack of sleep by either parent or child is the cause of excess weight in children. However, Fiese noted that getting enough sleep may help regulate metabolism.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for keeping children at a healthy weight.

U.S. Diabetes Cases Jump to 29 Million: CDC

TUESDAY, June 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) — The number of Americans with diabetes rose from 26 million in 2010 to 29 million — 9 percent of the population — in 2012, a new federal government study finds.

One in every four people with diabetes does not even realize it, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another 86 million American adults — more than one-third of adults — have what doctors call “prediabetes. ” This means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes, the CDC said.

Rates of prediabetes are similar for blacks (39 percent), Hispanics (38 percent) and whites (35 percent).

“These new numbers are alarming, and underscore the need for an increased focus on reducing the burden of diabetes in our country,” Ann Albright, director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, said in an agency news release.

Diabetes falls into two main categories: type 1, an autoimmune illness which is often inherited and involves a dysfunction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas; and type 2, which develops over time and is tied closely to obesity. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of diabetes cases are of the type 2 variety, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Without taking measures such as weight loss and increased exercise, 15 percent to 30 percent of people with prediabetes typically go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five years, the CDC report said.

“Diabetes is costly in both human and economic terms. It’s urgent that we take swift action to effectively treat and prevent this serious disease,” Albright said.

According to the new report, 1.7 million people aged 20 and older were diagnosed with diabetes in 2012. The epidemic seems to be hitting minorities hardest: Blacks, Hispanics and American Indian/Alaska Native adults are about twice as likely to have diagnosed diabetes as white adults, the CDC found.

Diabetes is striking more people at a younger age as well. Among Americans younger than age 20, 208,000 have already been diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, according to the report, which is based on health data from 2012.

At the same time, total medical costs and lost work and wages associated with diabetes and its complications rose from $174 billion in 2007 to $245 billion in 2012.

One expert said the new numbers were discouraging but not unexpected.

“The increasing number of people with diabetes in the United States and worldwide is not surprising to the caregivers at the front lines of the epidemic,” said Dr Ronald Tamler, clinical director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

However, he stressed that, “while a third of the country is at risk for developing diabetes, it can be prevented with lifestyle changes. Patients with diabetes can live full, active lives, but need to seek out comprehensive medical care to avoid the complications of their condition.”

Left untreated, diabetes boosts the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney failure, limb amputation and premature death. Diabetes can be managed through physical activity, diet and the use of insulin and medications to lower blood sugar levels.

It’s also important for diabetes patients to take steps to reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, the CDC said.

Another diabetes care expert questions whether the resources are there to care for all these patients.

“With more people identified, we need more resources and providers to care and educate them,” said Dr. Loren Wissner Greene, Clinical Associate Professor at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

“Unless diabetes can be prevented or well treated and blood sugar controlled, we face an escalating and devastating future of human and financial cost,” she said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about diabetes.

10 ‘Powerhouse’ Vegetables to Add to Your Cart

10 ‘Powerhouse’ Vegetables to Add to Your Cart

June 9, 2014 | By Health Editor


Photo: Getty Images

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Watercress, Chinese cabbage, chard and beet greens are among the most nutrient-dense “powerhouse” vegetables, packing a huge dose of vitamins and minerals into every calorie, a new study reports.

At the same time, don’t expect to receive huge amounts of nutrition from raspberries, tangerines, garlic or onions, the findings suggest.

National nutrition guidelines emphasize consumption of powerhouse fruits and vegetables, which are strongly associated with reduced risk of chronic disease.

But until now, the study author noted, nutritional value of veggies hasn’t been ranked in a way that would show which best qualify as nutrient-dense powerhouse foods.

For the report, Jennifer Di Noia, an associate professor of sociology at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., crafted a list based on the nutritional density of fruits and vegetables, using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Higher-ranking foods provide more nutrients per calories,” Di Noia said. “The scores may help focus consumers on their daily energy needs, and how best to get the most nutrients from their foods. The rankings provide clarity on the nutrient quality of the different foods and may aid in the selection of more nutrient-dense items within the powerhouse group.”

Di Noia calculated the nutrition contained in 47 fruits and veggies, finding that all but six met the criteria as a powerhouse food.

Cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables dominate the top 10. They are, in order, watercress, Chinese cabbage, chard and beet greens, followed by spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, parsley, romaine lettuce and collard greens.

All the top vegetables contain high levels of B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, riboflavin, niacin and folate — nutrients that help protect people against cancer and heart disease, the researcher noted.

These leafy vegetables taking the top powerhouse spots “makes sense,” said Lauri Wright, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“They have a lot of the B-vitamins and a lot of fiber in the leaves,” said Wright. “If you think about plants, that’s where they store their nutrients. Those green leafy vegetables have a lot of minerals and vitamins and fiber in those leaves, and very few calories.”

People who chop off the leafy part of vegetables such as celery, carrots or beets are “actually cutting away some very good nutrients,” said Wright, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health in Tampa.

The six fruits and vegetables that didn’t make the list as powerhouse foods are raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, onions and blueberries. While all contain vitamins and minerals, they are not densely packed with important nutrients, the study said.

The full list is published June 5 in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Folks will get good nutrition from the powerhouse veggies whether they eat them raw or cook them, as long as they don’t boil them, Wright said.

“Fresh, you have 100 percent of the vitamins and minerals,” she said. “When you cook it, you might lose a small percentage, but it’s not significant.”

Boiling, however, can drain veggies of B-vitamins, vitamin C and other nutrients, Di Noia and Wright said.

Cooks who choose to boil spinach or collard greens should save the nutrient-rich water, either including a little with each serving or re-using the water in sauces or soups, Di Noia said.

Wright agreed. “We encourage you to use the liquid. If you have a bowl of green beans, have some of the liquid with your serving of beans,” she said.

More information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more about good nutrition.