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Four ways to lead a healthier life

Healthy behaviors are linked to living longer, and the CDC suggests how to adopt these behaviors for a healthier life.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published a new study reporting four lifestyle factors that are linked to a healthier and longer life. The CDC suggests that people keep or adopt the following lifestyle behaviors: Don’t smoke, limit daily consumption of alcohol, exercise regularly, and make healthier eating choices. Read more about how these lifestyle factors can lead to a healthier life.

Understanding the risk of metabolic syndrome

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
High blood pressure, extra fat around your waist, high cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes are separate health risk factors, but collectively these conditions will increase your risk for metabolic syndrome and increase your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Read what you can do to help decrease your risk.

Most people understand what it means to have high blood pressure, excess fat around the middle, a high cholesterol level, and the importance of addressing these health problems. What some may not realize is how serious the situation becomes when a person has been diagnosed with three or more such conditions in conjunction with other health issues.

This occurrence is called metabolic syndrome.

People who suffer from this combination of conditions (a reported one in four—50 million in the United States alone) have a dramatically increased risk for developing heart disease, type-2 diabetes, or a stroke. Individually, these symptoms pose a health risk, but identified together they raise the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that include excess fat in the abdominal area (as measured by waist circumference), borderline or high blood pressure, high cholesterol that fosters plaque buildup in arteries, insulin resistance or glucose intolerance indicating the body can’t properly use insulin, raising blood sugar levels, and the presence of a protein in the blood, which can cause inflammation.

People with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following risk factors:

  • Excessive body fat around the waist
  • Low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides (a type of blood fat)
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated glucose (blood sugar) levels after fasting

The complications of metabolic syndrome are serious and, if not addressed, can cause major health problems. If you are overweight and don't yet have these problems, keep in mind that the older you get, the more likely you are to develop them. Older adults can develop metabolic syndrome without being overweight, so it is important to get annual physical exams.

What can be done to prevent metabolic syndrome? If you are fall into the categories above or are overweight, one way to reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome is to incorporate healthy habits such as starting an exercise regimen. (But be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have not been active for a while.)

Diet is also key to reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome. By making small changes in your diet—such as decreasing the number of calories you take in per day; eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and low-fat meals, and avoiding fast/fried/fatty/oily foods—you can reduce your chances of developing metabolic syndrome.

If you would like to know more about metabolic syndrome, we recommend the following resources:

Metabolic Syndrome – PubMed Health

Metabolic Syndrome – American Heart Association

FDA seeks to remove Lazy Cakes from shelves

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Lazy Cakes, the melatonin-laced brownies that have caused some controversy in the past several months, have been deemed unsafe by the Food and Drug Administration.

According to an Associated Press article from August 2, 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned the manufacturer of the melatonin-laced brownies known as "Lazy Cakes" that the government considers them unsafe and could seize them from store shelves. The brownies were originally sold under the name Lazy Cakes, but the manufacturer of the product has changed the product name to Lazy Larry.

The FDA said that melatonin has not been found to be safe for use in conventional foods. “On the contrary, reports in the scientific literature have raised safety concerns about the use of melatonin,” said the letter, sent last Thursday by the agency’s acting director for the Office of Compliance. Melatonin is not approved for use in any food, the FDA said.

HBB, LCC, the Memphis-based company that makes Lazy Cakes/Lazy Larry, was given 15 days to respond to the FDA with details on specific steps it would take to correct its violation of the ban against melatonin use in food.

It should be noted that the HPRC has been covering Lazy Cakes since they first became available.

Restaurants offering healthier kids’ meals

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships, Nutrition
Restaurants are starting to offer healthier menu items for children, limiting unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium.

With the rise of obesity among children, restaurants are stepping up to help combat the issue by offering healthier menu items for children. Focusing more on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy items, the new initiative “Kids LiveWell” is working with restaurants to offer meals that are lower in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium. Read more about this initiative at Kids LiveWell.

Changes in diet and lifestyle can prevent long-term weight gain

Obesity has become a national crisis, and as developing countries adopt our western culture they too seem to face the growing problem of obesity. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) looked at how changes in diet and lifestyle affect long-term weight gain in the U.S.

In a recent Healthy Tip, we briefly described a notable article in the June 2011 New England Journal of Medicine about long-term weight gain. The 20-year study involved more than 120,000 healthy men and woman of normal weight. All were examined at four-year intervals and were found to have gained an average of almost a pound a year. That doesn’t seem like much—unless you consider that if you’re a fit 160 pounds at age 30, you’ll have put on 20 pounds by age 50. At that point your extra weight may be compounded by diabetes, bad joints, heart disease, and perhaps even cancer—all of which are associated with obesity. So now you’re forced to find ways to lose weight.

Wouldn’t it have been better to maintain a healthy weight all along? Some of the study’s observations regarding food choices and exercise might prove helpful in maintaining your weight as you age.

The study found that some foods were significantly associated with weight gain: potato products such as potato chips and French fries, sugary beverages (sodas, for example), red meat, processed meat products, and refined grains. On the other hand, foods associated with no weight gain were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt.

Other factors found to be associated with weight were physical activity (increase = no gain in weight); alcohol consumption (increase = weight gain); sleep habits (less than six or more than eight hours per night = weight gain); and TV habits (more TV = weight gain), a correlation that seemed partly due to more snacking (Superbowl, anyone?) and less activity.

A single change in diet or lifestyle had less effect than several together. It makes sense that if you exercise less and eat more foods associated with weight gain, you’ll gain weight more easily than if you exercise less but still eat well.

Why some foods seem to contribute to weight gain more than others is still not fully understood, but it probably has a lot to do with what makes us feel satisfied when we eat. High-calorie food and drink that go down fast and easy and quickly enter our bloodstream may not make us feel full when we consume them, so we tend to eat more of them. High-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables fill us up and are low in calories. Even high-fiber nuts, which tend to have a lot of calories, are associated with no weight gain, perhaps because they satisfy us and keep us from eating candy and cake that do cause weight gain. Yogurt is an interesting case, since there has been a lot of interest lately in probiotics (bacteria felt to contribute positively to our health). Perhaps yogurt changes the bacterial flora in a way that contributes to weight stability and loss.

The reason we discuss this study in more depth is twofold. First, it highlights the fact that Americans have a tendency to gain weight as they get older. Knowing that, we can be vigilant of what we eat and how active we are in order to help prevent this weight gain. Second, it warns us of the most common food offenders to avoid—and those to embrace—and underscores the concept that weight is a balance between the calories we consume (foods and beverages we eat) and the calories we expend (physical activity). Make sure you find the proper balance when you’re young, so you won’t be overweight—and perhaps sick—when you’re older.

How families can benefit from the USDA’s switch to MyPlate

The USDA’s new MyPlate program is designed to make learning about and practicing healthy eating habits more appealing and more fun for all members of the family.

The USDA announced on June 2, 2011, that its classic food guide Pyramid is being replaced with the easy-to-understand and interactive MyPlate. Using a “familiar mealtime visual,” MyPlate is intended to remind Americans about balancing meals with the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, notable changes to the new guide are the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables, less grains, and the re-categorization of oils as providing “essential nutrients” but not appearing on the plate.

The result is a simple visual graphic of a balanced meal that families can use as a tool to make sure the portions of the major food groups are covered in meals. The simplicity of the graphic helps ALL family members, especially children, become more engaged in what and how much they should be eating. An interactive plate on the MyPlate website allows users to click on each section of the plate, which then displays a page for the selected food group with description, key message, and a list with pictures of single-serving sizes of some common foods in that group. These changes allow families to easily identify what a healthy, balanced meal looks like. Also featured is an Interactive Tools section that enables users to develop personalized plans and learn about specific healthy food choices. When all family members know the basics of healthy eating, mealtime can truly be a shared event.

MyPlate can also encourage family discussions about healthy foods, which can help develop good eating habits by all members of a family. For example, you can find out if there are any particular foods that family members like or dislike, and then find and offer alternatives in the specific food group of a disliked item. This will help eliminate the likelihood that someone will skip the essential healthy components of a meal. Get everyone excited and involved during mealtime! Fun meals shared as a family can promote healthy eating habits for children that they can carry into adulthood and can reinforce family bonding.

Keep in mind that MyPlate isn’t designed as strict rule to be followed—it’s perfectly fine to have dairy products directly on the plate instead of in a cup. Desserts, which are currently placed in the “Empty Calories” section, are okay when consumed in moderation in appropriate portions. You may still have to seek out other sources for how to prepare foods in healthy ways and to determine for the nutrition content of many food items. The information on MyPlate should be used as a tool to build a foundation of knowledge about food choices and help set healthy eating goals for your family. Families should take this change as an opportunity to get the entire family involved in healthy eating.

Fruits & Vegetables are important

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Add these resources to your arsenal of healthy-eating tools to help you get more fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Fruits & Veggies — More Matters™ is a health initiative led by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), to increase daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. Visit the CDC and PBH websites for helpful tips, recipes, and interactive tools to help you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

Zinc: Some Facts

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Your body needs zinc for a number of essential functions, so make sure your diet includes foods that provide this nutrient.

Zinc, an essential trace element, is found in cells throughout the body and helps the immune system by fighting off bacteria and viruses. It is also involved in making proteins and DNA and helps wounds heal, among other functions. Oysters are the richest source of zinc, and other good sources include red meat, poultry, crab, lobsters, and fortified cereals. For more information, including the average daily recommended amounts, see the Office of Dietary Supplements’ Fact Sheet.

What is vitamin B12?

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Make sure you get enough vitamin B12 every day. It’s an essential nutrient that must be obtained from food; your body can’t make it.

Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins and is water-soluble. Our bodies do not store vitamin B12 so we must consume it daily. It is an important nutrient that helps make DNA, the genetic material in cells, and is essential for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Good food choices for vitamin B12 are beef liver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and other dairy products. Read the Office of Dietary Supplement’s Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for additional information.

Before taking your vitamins, do your research

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Dietary supplements may appear to be a healthier alternative to other medications, but they have their own risks and can interact with medications and one another. Proceed with caution.

The marketing and selling of dietary supplement products has become a 20-billion-plus industry. Consumers are bombarded with ads, and some people turn to them as “healthier” choices to prescription and over-the-counter medications. Consumers should seek products that have been properly manufactured and should be aware of potential interactions with medications. For other important tips, read the article “Prepared Patient: Vitamins & Supplements, Before You Dive In”.

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