Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Archive for December, 2006

21 Dec

Clickativity Scene

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites

1) Gosh, thanks, Labelman!

The FDA has created an interactive online tool to help people better understand the Nutrition Facts Label. Visitors to the site learn to “Make Your Calories Count” with the help of Labelman. Yes.

The program helps explain percentages, serving sizes and caloric information.

The Nutrition Facts Label has been criticized virtually since its introduction. The label is perhaps misleading to some because it is based upon a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, which is much more than many people, especially women, need to consume. Additionally, nutritional percentages are somewhat misleading. A candy bar may “only” have 20% of one’s daily recommended saturated fat intake, but that doesn’t make a candy bar healthy. The big problem with this percentage standard is that the actual product may be ridiculously high in fat, sodium or sugar, but appear to be “low” compared to the total daily limit. For example, a soda may contain about one-eighth of the recommended daily sugar for a 2,000-calorie-consumer. But soda is nothing more than sugar water and is therefore one of the worst things you can put in your body.

Cynics in the health industry point out that this “percentage” comparison standard, which does not actually reflect the individual merit of the product, almost encourages unhealthy eating habits.

We’re not sure how helpful a guy named Labelman could be, but we want to know why the standards are what they are, anyway. Who says 160 grams of carbohydrates a day is desirable? Is saturated fat really so terrible if it’s properly balanced with health fatty acids like Omega-3? And how about serving sizes – who really only drinks 8 ounces of something or eats 7 chips? Discuss, Apples.

2) Seven Ways, Same Result

The New England Journal of Medicine released a study today that says newer tests are not appreciably better at predicting heart attacks than standard tests. Now, if you run a Google search for this story, you’ll find that they are all suspiciously alike – even newspapers in India are running the same lines. What that means? A press release or a statement from NEJM, most likely. (Yes, this happens all the time.)

The study of some 3,900 people found that testing for CRP, homocysteine and other substances (considered the new rock stars in heart disease treatment) aren’t much better at predicting heart problems than a good old cholesterol or blood pressure test.

This study reveals some interesting things. Let’s read between the lines. It doesn’t necessarily mean that CRP or homocysteine tests are bad; it simply means that obvious factors are enough to determine risk. Guess what those obvious factors are? Even the conservative NEJM discusses them:

However, the standard risk factors — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, advanced age, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and diabetes — proved to be just as accurate when it came to predicting heart disease.

Testing cholesterol is still a great way to go, not because cholesterol is bad (like mainstream medicine would have you believe) but because it is indicative of inflammation. Many of the other easy-to-see risk factors are entirely preventable through lifestyle choices. In a roundabout way, this long-term study reflects what we already ought to know: an expensive test can show what’s already written all over one’s face.

Here’s the money quote:

“This really supports the value of focusing on risk-factor reduction, not looking for a magic blood test,” said Dr. Richard Stein, director of preventive cardiology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Clickativity!

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21 Dec

Holiday Survival Guide, Part 1

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Oh, the holidays. Before you say “bah, humbug!”, rest assured we’re going to help you stay healthy.

Everyone knows the holidays are a spare tire waiting to happen. Alcohol, rich desserts and indulgent carbs are practically throwing themselves at you, begging to be eaten and taking it personally if you don’t. You know what we’re talking about – food is emotional, and powerfully so. It’s that bizarre twinge of guilt for attempting to say no to foods which, come holiday season, seem to take on actual feelings. It’s almost like you’re insulting the food if you don’t eat it. There’s a reason for this. Rich foods, particularly sugary desserts, have long been combined with emotional events. In the Middle Ages, these items were called subtleties, and they still exist today: in the form of Easter chicks, Easter bunnies, Valentine’s hearts, advent calendars, Christmas cookies, and so on.

That’s really great, you say. But it still doesn’t help me say no to unhealthy foods or avoid gaining ten pounds before the New Year knocks at my door.

Hey, we hear ya. So, here’s a quick-and-easy realistic guide to getting through the holidays, enjoying them, and maintaining your sanity.

Part 1: It Ain’t Just the Sugar

A lot of holiday health guides point to the obvious no-no: sugar. Of course you want to stay away from sugar, but that’s probably not realistic, no matter how disciplined you are. We suggest you instead focus on limiting portions. A lot of times, we simply expect too much from ourselves. “No sugar, period. I will be healthy and eat only bean casserole, being careful to remove the crispy fried onions.” This works fine for about five minutes, until peer pressure, Aunt Louise and mulled wine conspire to destroy your best-laid plans. Before you know it, you’ve eaten three cookies, two slices of pie and eighty-three truffles. You feel guilty, bloated and sick, you give yourself a pep talk, and at the next party…you do it all over again.

Step 1: No ridiculous standards. Do not set a goal for yourself that you know you probably won’t reach (from past experience or awareness of your weak points). This just makes you feel bad, and no one is putting that pressure on you, so be nice to yourself. Who needs the added stress? Find a middle ground. If you normally end up indulging through the holidays, try giving yourself a “one freebie” rule: one treat at every party or event.

Step 2: Portion control. The amount of indulgence is more important than anything else. If you love carrot cake, eat a big bite or two, and stop. It won’t taste any better if you eat the entire thing, and you’ll have accomplished two great things: some enjoyment and some discipline. One bite of sugary cake isn’t great, but it’s not going to be cause for regret. You can try out a few of your favorite treats this way without doing any serious damage to your health or waistline – but limit yourself to just a few things at each party or event.

Step 3: Stress! Do you ever wonder why people get sick during the holiday season? It’s not just because we’re indoors and sharing the same old air. It’s not just because of all the sugar in everything. It’s also because of the stress. The holidays are the most depressing, dangerous, stressful time of year. That’s a fact with no sugar coating. Yet it’s supposed to be the happiest time of year. And therein lies the problem: pressure. Combine lack of activity from being indoors with excess amounts of sugary foods with the pressure of gift-giving, travel and entertaining, and it’s no wonder people have a hard time when Santa comes to town. Give yourself a break. The best thing you can do – possibly even better than obsessing or feeling guilty about food – is to get as much exercise, rest, and “me time” as possible. Part 2 of our Holiday Survival Guide will tell you just how to do that.

Cheers!

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21 Dec

Magic Mushrooms & the Boy Who Felt No Pain

The world of drug development is complicated, fascinating and sometimes, just plain wacky. Here are two new potential drugs-in-the-making which may have some excellent therapeutic benefits (hey, not all drugs are bad):

Ok, Which Frog-Licker Figured This Out?

Call it accidental scientific discovery, but I suspect at least one of these researchers has a rebellious teen in the family.

Genetic Pain Defect May Help Make Surgical Procedures Painless

A boy who felt no pain may help scientists develop better analgesics.

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21 Dec

The Sisson Spoof

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20 Dec

Wednesday’s Mix: Tastier Than Mesclun

WORKER BEES’ DAILY BITES

Almost Deserves a Sherlock Award…

The New England Journal of Medicine has announced that Vitamin D is so good for you, it might even help prevent multiple sclerosis, a tragic and degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects about 350,000 people. Actually, the study is really worth checking out, although we’re a little annoyed (hey, we’re bees). Science has long shown Vitamin D to be a crucial nutrient for all sorts of health issues, from nerves, tissues and teeth to eyes and bones. In fact, a lot of people don’t realize Vitamin D is just as necessary for bones as calcium. But we bet you know that.

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Gut Bugs – Yum!

The news that digestive germs play a role in making you fat is already causing a big hot mess in the health world. One doctor in the article is quite the contrarian, saying flatly, “I think it’s totally wrong.” The article didn’t go on to explain if he had reasons for his belief, but we’re going to recommend you read it for yourself and also be sure to see Mark’s related gut-bug post. Hmm…gut bugs. What a term! Suddenly, we’re just not hungry…

Check out the germ clickativity.

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