Sunday, 8 July 2007

Are '100 Calorie' packs worth the extra money?

Do you like those little 100 calorie snack packs all conveniently pre-portioned into single servings? They don't do much for me (I always want more than just one!) but lots of people love them -- so many it has become a $20 million dollar plus per year industry.

Food companies make more money off those snack packs than you might as expect -- as much as 20% more than traditional packages. And although they do make portion control a "no brainer" and they save time (both of which are valuable to people these days) what do you think? Is it worth it to you to pay that much extra or are we all getting ripped off?

Water and weight loss go hand-in-hand

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OK, so we all know that water is good for us in a multitude of ways. Debra wrote a great post on some of its major benefits, such as its ability to get rid of headaches, the way it makes your skin look great and how it can help with weight loss. It's this last one that I'm the most curious about. How does drinking the recommended 8, 8-oz glasses of water a day help a person drop pounds?

According to this article, it's all about metabolism. The short and sweet version is (see the article for the detailed explanation) that your metabolism is what helps you burn calories, and water is what gets the metabolic chemical reactions going. If you haven't had enough water, these reactions aren't going to be up to speed. Water helps your kidneys function and when you're not drinking the right amount, your liver -- whose job it is to metabolize fat-- has to help out, meaning that it can't do it's metabolizing fast enough. So instead of getting rid of extra calories, they're being stored as fat on your tummy, bum, thighs, etc.

Sure drinking water alone isn't going to make you lose huge amounts of weight, but it's a pretty great (and simple) aid to a healthy diet and exercise. If you don't want to stop at just drinking lots of water, here is a blog that Maggie wrote about water-rich foods that can help you drop additional pounds. It's all so convincing and so incredibly easy, I think I'll go pour myself a cool glass of H2O right now.

Top 6 tips for choosing health insurance

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Did you know that illness and medical bills are the cause of nearly half of US bankruptcy cases? It's not a great shock, is it? For example, my niece has a serious chronic condition; just within the past year her medical costs (above and beyond what her relatively decent insurance plan covered) totaled more than $5,000. I can only imagine what the costs would have been had she been uninsured.

This article offers 6 tips for choosing the best health insurance:
  1. Location. Certain states have higher or lower insurance costs. Research if there are any lower-cost insurance options sponsored or partially subsidized by your state (income restrictions may apply).
  2. Write out your priorities. Determine the criteria that are important to you -- keeping your same doctors, not requiring referrals from a general practitioner, low co-pays, etc. These criteria will help you narrow down your options.
  3. Use a broker. An insurance broker can weed through the confusing paperwork and help you find the best option. Just make sure the broker is reputable and that they have a "large book" (a large network of insurance agencies that they work with -- otherwise you'll only be given a small range of options).
  4. Ask for a "free look." It's not advertised, but many insurance plans will give you a trial period. If you're unhappy with the insurance plan within a set period of time, the companies may refund the money you've paid so far.
  5. Consider a Health Savings Account. HSAs work together with low-cost, high-deductible plans. The money you save on premiums is deposited into a pre-tax savings account and can be used for any health-related purpose.
  6. Negotiate. Be a savvy consumer and negotiate costs with your doctor (for example, get pre-approval from your insurance agency for any surgical procedures; if the doctors costs are above the "reasonable and customary" costs defined by your insurance plan, ask your doctor to consider lowering his rate).

Get fit with fungi! Mushrooms can help control weight

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I love mushrooms but always figured they were kind of a throwaway food. I know they're low in calories, but I also thought that they don't contain much in the way of nutrients. Plus, many varieties only offer a moderate amount of flavor. So while I enjoy them, I didn't think they had much to offer.

But then I read this article that explains how mushrooms (along with many other fruits and vegetables) are considered low-energy-dense foods. These products contain high amounts of water and/or fiber, and also have a low fat content. OK, so what does THAT mean? Basically it means you can eat loads and loads of these foods and get really full without consuming a huge amount of calories (one of the reasons salads are so darn good for you!).

If you're interested in learning a bit more about low-energy-dense food choices, as well as some ways to substitute mushrooms for other, higher-energy-dense foods (like cheese) into various recipes, take a look here.

Tour de France riders: not just your average Joes

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The Tour de France kicked off this weekend. It may take more than talent and intense training to be a world-class cyclist; one physiologist believes that body structure of elite cyclists is, at least in part, created by nature.

Endurance athletes, like cyclists, require amazing lung capacity. Spain's Miguel Indurain -- a five time Tour winner -- had a lung capacity of eight litres compared to the average six. During exercise, Indurain could consume nearly double the oxygen an untrained adult could consume. Other Tour athletes have had similarly high lung capacity. Elite cyclists also tend to have strong hearts. Lance Armstrong, for example, is estimated to have a heart that's 30% larger than average.

Being good parents on the sidelines

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Yesterday I signed my son up for soccer. I inwardly cringed when he said he wanted to join a soccer team because, while I love the sport and I know he'll have a great time, heaven forbid I become one of those over-bearing, far-too-involved soccer moms. My adult nephews participated in travel soccer leagues (they were both really, really good) and my dear sisters, the boys' mothers, were both examples of the quintessential "soccer mom" and all the negative connotations the tongue-in-cheek phrase implies. One sister was thoroughly convinced that every referee was against her son's team and all the other teams cheated. My other sister swore there was a conspiracy to have one player on her son's team get more play time than her son. The funny thing was my nephews were both great players, had lots of fun, and never once complained about bad refs, cheating teams, or equal play time. They just loved to play soccer.

I can imagine that, this fall, as I watch my son from the sidelines I'm going to want him to have completely fair treatment. I'm going to be his biggest cheerleader and it would probably be very easy to get a bit over-zealous. But, as this article cautions, meddling parents can take some of the fun away from youth activities. It's important that those of us on the sidelines are good sports, too.

A recent study shows that most coaches feel that parents play a critical role in their child's athletic development but they also feel that 36% of the parents they deal with have a negative impact on their children. It's important for parents to encourage participation in athletics (team sports or other activities), applaud their child's efforts (even if the result wasn't so good), and reduce the focus on winning. While a little competition isn't a bad thing for kids, maintaining a balance is important for promoting a life-long interest in physical activity.
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Mayo Clinic picks the 10 healthiest foods

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Even for people who read label's religiously, it's not always easy to figure out the best and worst foods to consume (or not consume). Everybody out there is obviously interested in finding out as is evidenced by Adams' incredibly popular post on the top 10 terrible foods to always avoid. But what about the good stuff?

A dietician from the Mayo Clinic has made a list of what he feels are the top 10 best foods to eat based on a number of factors including:

  • Whether the food is a good source of fibre, vitamens and minerals
  • Whether the food can reduce the risk of heart disease and other conditions
  • Whether the food is high in vitamens A and E, as well as beta carotene
  • Whether the food is readily available and,
  • Whether the food is high in calorie denstity (ie. larger portions with less calories)

To be eligible for the list, the products had to meet three or more of the points on the list. So what came out on top? Fruits and veggies like apples, broccoli. blueberries, spinach and sweet potatoes. Salmon also made the list as did almonds and red beans. To see the rest of the top 10 and find out why all of these foods are so fabulous, take a look here.

Online weight loss advice is usually right!

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If you spend time online seeking out weight loss advice (and the chances of that are pretty good considering you're reading this blog) there's good news: it turns out information on dieting and weight loss found online is correct more often than not. Weight loss and obesity are some of the most researched topics on the internet, and getting valuable info from your computer at home or work is a priceless convenience for many. Experts advise, however, that the larger online forums (more than 1000 messages per month) are generally more reliable and that specific questions about dieting medications should be directed to your doctor.

What does weather have to do with MS?

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Multiple Sclerosis is one of those scary diseases that doesn't have a cure and that no one knows the cause of. I admit that I'm a bit of a hypochondriac so any condition for which there are no known preventive measures worries me quite a bit. I never really knew much about MS until someone I know was diagnosed with the disease and filled me in on some of it's idiosyncrasies.

First of all, as information on this site states, there seems to be some weird link between MS and the weather. There is a much higher instance of the disease among those who grew up in cold climates and no one really knows why. Similarly, symptoms of the disease seem to worsen for some when they spend too much time in a hot climate. At the same time though, I've heard about people with the disease who find that their symptoms are much better when they visit warm and humid climates. Go figure. It's definitely a mysterious disease.

While it's frustrating to known that you can't really take any steps to prevent MS, I also learned that, depending on the severity of the disease, for many the symptoms can be controlled by lifestyle. The person I know with MS says that she feels pretty much normal as long as she sticks to a healthy diet with lots of exercise and little drinking. Alternative therapies like acupuncture and herbal medicine also seem to help. So while being diagnosed with the condition is pretty scary, it's important to keep in mind that there are a variety of ways to treat, deal with and live with the disease.

Can't sleep? You may be depressed

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If you have trouble falling and staying asleep, otherwise known as chronic insomnia, did you know that you may be suffering from depression or anxiety disorders?

A new study out of Norway concluded that having trouble sleeping for most days out of a month may need to be screened for depression or a possible anxiety disorder. In other words, don't just pop sleeping pills and leave it at that.

The Norwegian study observed 25,000 adults and the participants who reported chronic insomnia were found to have certain anxiety disorders and possible depression in a follow-up survey taken 11 years after the initial survey.

Inside organic labels on meats

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So what does it mean when you buy organic or free range meats? You might envision happy cows, chickens and pigs frolicking through open pastures and meadows, stopping occasionally for a snack of fresh grass or a drink of pure, clean spring water.

Ok, maybe unlike me you're a bit more realistic. And rightly so -- 'Organic' means only that the animal in question had access to a pasture, and as we wary consumers would expect, some corporations are exploiting this loophole, according to Self Magazine. And they advise this: 'Until new guidelines are enforced, look for products labeled certified humane and USDA certified organic to ensure your food comes from animals that were given space and shelter, plus a diet free of antibiotics or hormones.'

What do you think?

How Sting keeps his great physique

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Sting has always been in great shape, but it's not easy and he really works at it -- even to the point of hauling exercise machinery around with him when he tours. He's a big fan of Pilates, and besides traveling with his own equipment he often enlists the help of local professionals and learns new techniques. Too many people, when they get experienced in a certain type of workout, have fairly set ideas of what they want to do and how they want to do it -- but maybe more people should take a lesson from Sting. When his temporary Seattle instructor asked him what he wanted to work on he told her "whatever your intuition tells you," and ended up learning (and liking) Yamuna Body Rolling.

It sounds like a really interesting workout method and it just goes to show that no matter if you're a beginner or a seasoned athlete there's always room for learning new ways to do things.

Living with cancer of unknown primary origin (CUP)

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Cancer of unknown primary origin is so rare that unless you know someone who has been affected by it, you've probably never even heard of it. Also known as carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP), the disease is so named because doctors are unable to determine the cancer's site of origin, making it much more difficult to treat. I think it is one of the scariest forms of the disease because, if you can't figure out where it began, how can you ever really eradicate it?

CUP accounts for a mere 2 to 4 percent of all cancer cases, making it pretty rare. The only reason I've heard of it is because a friend of my mother's was diagnosed with the disease over 5 years ago. Sadly, she passed away last week after a long and courageous battle. While five years sounds like a drop in the bucket, it's important for anyone who has recently been diagnosed to know that, according to the information provided here, diagnostic tests for the disease continue to improve and now, four out of five of those diagnosed with CUP will eventually find out the actual origin of their cancer.

It is also good to remember that it is up to you to take charge of your care if you don't feel that everything possible is being done. My mother's friend was told by her first doctor that she had a mere 6 months to live. She refused to believe this and demanded to see another doctor. This physician laughed at her original diagnosis and told her that there were loads of treatments and that while she may have some tough times ahead, she also had a lot more than 6 months left. While she did have some bad days, she spent the next five years traveling, enjoying the company of friends and living life to the fullest.

146 countries globally now smoke-free

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It was amazing to see this pas week that a total of 146 countries around the world are now "smoke-free." That is one amazing number, and it solidifies the thought that people and governments across the globe know that smoking is not healthy for anyone -- smokers or not.

I regularly receive comments from readers stating that some agenda against smoking is responsible for all the new bans, and that there is "overwhelming" evidence that second-hand smoke is not dangerous at all. Of course, no verifiable proof of these claims from a scientific source ever follows. Hey, we ca all have opinions, but that does not mean it is fact, right?

Anyway, the fact is that more nations are now banning smoking from public places as a way to ensure non-smokers non-exposure to toxic tobacco fumes. If you're a smoker, that is your choice and I for one respect it However, those days of public smoking are becoming harder and harder to come by.

Maybe you don't have the body of a supermodel. But you can fake it!

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I firmly believe that how others perceive you -- and your body -- has a lot to do with your confidence. And so while you may not have the body of a supermodel (and let's face it, not many do), you can still feel like a supermodel by treating yourself like one. Here are some tips for primping like a model, from Fitness Magazine:
  • Cover imperfections by using a bronzer. And splurge on the bronzer, so you don't end up looking orange and splotchy
  • Create cleavage. Say hello to your old friend, the push-up bra.
  • Use cellulite creams. Whether or not they work on cellulite, they can help boost confidence.
  • Moisturize. I like Coconut Body Butter from the Body Shop. It gives skin a healthy shimmer. It also smells and feels great.
  • Exfoliate and take steps to prevent body blemishes (like the dreaded back zit)
Great posture is also a sign of confidence, so sand tall and flaunt those assets! What do you do to feel great about your body?

The 1500-Calorie diet: Mix and match your meals

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No matter what anyone says, the key to weight loss is quite simple: Don't consume any more calories than you can or will burn off. Most experts recommend that an average-sized person consume around 1500 calories a day. Much less than that is dangerous, and consuming much more than that will lead to weight gain.

Fitness Magazine has put together an eating plan that allows you to consume 1500-calories a day -- Breakfast is 350 calories, Lunch is 400 calories, dinner is 450 calories and two 100-calorie snacks round off the day at an even 1500 calories. It doesn't really matter what you eat for what meal, as long as it doesn't exceed the amount of calories you're allotted. Though they've provided a list of recipes and meal ideas for you to follow with ease.

The only hard part is the math -- counting calories can be confusing at times. Don't you agree?

Depressed? You have to treat the whole package

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It seems that all too often these days treating depression is a one-stop-shop for medications. Even the most well-meaning of psychiatrists and general physicians can lose sight of the real issues and think of mood problems as simply a brain chemistry problem and not a whole mind-body-spirit problem. Medications can certainly help, but they're one of many tools that should be used together for successful and lasting treatment. This article on WebMD has some interesting ideas on the components that go into treating depression and anxiety disorders using a combination of Eastern and Western ideas. What's your philosophy?