Thursday, October 3, 2019

I Would Gladly Pay You Tuesday... .

I don't pay much attention to the fast food market, but friends who recently became vegetarian are all over the new kids on the block, the Impossible Burger and its ilk. First, some disclosure: I am an omnivore, but I don't hold vegetarianism or veganism against anyone. Having raised kids in this day and age, I have become accustomed to asking about dietary restrictions before making anyone any food. I understand the avoidance of certain foods due to allergies, religious convictions, and  health considerations. I'm all for sustainability and for watching my environmental footprint not only in food matters, but other ways. What I can't get my head around is, if you have given up meat by choice, i.e. no allergies, religious bias, or health consideration, why would you consider yourself healthier and a better person because you eat what is basically Frankenmeat? Yes, I know, these knew products taste and bleed just like the real thing, but have you sat down and read the label? Although they are made from proteins such as soy or pea, the first ingredient is water, and the long list after the protein generally includes oils, sweeteners, and binders, all of which need to undergo some kind of processing to make them usable by the human body. Even those soy beans and peas have been processed to isolate the protein, and whatever vitamins were in there have to be added back in because the processing stripped them away.

Raising meat of any kind takes energy. You need a food supply and water for the animals. You need to properly dispose of the waste stream. And you need to process, package, and distribute the meat, all of which uses energy. Raising vegetables and fruits also requires food in the way of fertilization and water. You need to properly dispose of the waste stream, and you need to process, package, and distribute the produce. Beyond Meat had the University of Michigan conduct a "cradle to consumption" analysis comparing the Beyond Burger to a beef burger. According to their research, Beyond was more environmentally friendly overall when compared to the generalized beef industry. What they did not look into, nor were they charged to do, is what impact eating highly-processed food has on humans. That, we actually know already, hence the obesity epidemic in our country.

The NIH has a very simple formula for a healthy diet. If you don't want to eat meat, eggs, or dairy, you then need to find substitutes for the nutrients our body needs that may come from these foods. Protein can be found in beans and nuts, calcium in dark leafy greens, good fats come from things like olives or seeds. Rather than swapping out a highly processed beef frank for a highly processed meatless frank, we need to go back to doing more of the processing ourselves and purchasing what we eat as locally as possible. It's good for the environment, good for our body, and good for the soul. We are much like Wimpy (from Popeye cartoons, for those too young to know), wanting to pay down the road for that burger today. What happens when Tuesday comes? Do we pay with our health, our planet, or do we find a middle road? Food for thought, indeed.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Good Grief!

In an earlier time, I was a Librarian at a college for Funeral Directors, and yes, there are a number of these programs scattered throughout the country. Aside from the technical aspect and the business management stuff, the library had a lot of books on bereavement. Books can help you understand the process and give you some insight into what you're feeling, but no amount of reading prepares you for when that phone call comes. I recently lost my sister, complications from surgery, and even though I know any surgery is risky, I still could not grab on to those words: "We lost her."

One thing I was grateful for was the surgeon getting on the phone, explaining what had happened. Some doctors are very clinical about delivering bad news, but I could feel the genuine grief in this doctor's voice. I knew all had been done and that she did not suffer.

My sister had wanted to donate her body to a medical school so she could be a part of the learning experience. Unfortunately, this could not be arranged, but as I provide information to three hospitals, I chose notifying the family as the current topic, providing articles for the staff. In this way, she still inspired learning in others.

For an individual, MedlinePlus' Bereavement page is a wonderful place to start, with links to information both broad and specific. For those who still like the feel of a book in their hands, New York Magazine recently published a list of the 16 Best Books about Dealing with Grief According to Psychologists. Grieving is an individual thing and no one can tell you how to go about it. Just remember to reach out when you need help; you do other people a favor by allowing them to be there when you are in need. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself; the grief doesn't last forever, but the memories do.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Vampires Beware!

I readily admit that I am not the world's greatest gardener. But one thing I can grow well enough is garlic. Come October or so, you'll see me planting those little cloves and covering them with leaves for the winter. Springtime is announced by those bright green shoots coming out of the ground. If I'm lucky, early summer will bring a crop of scapes, the flower stalk of hardneck garlic that is delicious pickled or pestoed. And now, I'm happily digging those little gems out of the ground. The taste makes me happy and knowing they're healthy makes me even happier.

How does garlic affect your health? First, there's the compound that gives garlic that smell we love to hate: allicin. Allicin is a sulfur compound (hence, the odor) and as such, can help boost immunity to the point that it can kill some cancer cells. Garlic is good for your blood pressure, possibly by helping expand the blood vessels so you don't have to pump so hard. Some folks use it's antifungal properties to treat athlete's foot, soaking their feet in a garlic bath or rubbing raw garlic on the feet. Using garlic on your food can kill or reduce bacteria that make us sick. And there are many other uses, dating back to the ancient Greeks.

 These benefits come from eating fresh garlic, not taking capsules, but with something so easy to cook with, there's no reason not to spice up your life with some garlic. Can't get past the smell? You can mellow out the taste and odor by roasting the cloves or cutting larger pieces because the more you chop or crush it, the more allicin is released. Cooking will diminish the health effects, but some garlic is better than none. And, of course, you can have too much of a good thing, particularly if taking garlic supplements. People on blood thinners should limit the amount of garlic as it can make it even more difficult for their blood to clot, and excess supplements can cause a number of side effects including headaches and dizziness. So enjoy that garlic, in moderation, of course, and you'll have the added benefit of warding off evil spirits, particularly the ones with bad pick-up lines.

Friday, June 28, 2019

It's About Time


I was listening to the radio, and they highlighted a report about the best time to drink coffee. For some folks, I’m sure their mental answer was “anytime,” and for others “first thing in the morning or don’t talk to me.” Well, seems like those that wait for that morning coffee break are doing it right. When we wake up, the body is producing more cortisol than it does later in the day. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone and adding early-morning caffeine to the mix can make for a jittery start to the day, followed by a crash. Reading this made me wonder if there were other things that had an optimum time of day? 

For athletes, there is a whole science behind eating. They want to have plenty of energy and build up the muscles they need. But the rest of us can still learn from what nutritionists have worked out, even if we’re not looking for a body-builder’s form. The adage: “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen, dinner like a pauper” is good for most lifestyles. Basically, have a hearty, healthy breakfast, make lunch your dinner, and take it easy at dinner time. The Italian side of my family always had the big meal mid-afternoon on the weekends, when nobody worried about work. The other part of the formula is what type of foods do you eat when. That’s where looking at proteins, carbs, and fats comes in. This is important not just to those who, say, want to build muscle mass, but to those who would like a healthier digestive system. Things like “don’t eat fatty foods like French fries with pulled pork at night” begin to make sense when your stomach starts to scream “Fat Overload!” And it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep if you’re battling indigestion.

Some medications also have an optimum time of day. It’s always good to talk to the pharmacist, whether it’s an over-the-counter or a prescription medication to see if there is a “best” time to take your pill, and also if there are foods you should avoid during a particular time period. AARP has some basic timing suggestions for common drugs, but your pharmacist is the best source of that information. And before you start changing you eating routine, it doesn’t hurt to check with a dietician or your physician, especially if you have an existing medical condition. Happy eating!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

You Are My Sunshine.

Ever feel caught between a rock and a hard place? That's what I'm feeling after reading the JAMA report on sunscreens. First some disclosure: my father died from skin cancer complications and I am your typical fair-skinned, blue-eyed, auburn-haired walking sunburn magnet. Slathering on the sunscreen is second nature to me. Then last year Hawaii became the first to ban certain sunscreens that have been shown harmful to coral reefs. Even though I live inland, there's plenty of waterways around, and who knows what other environments it may affect, so I switched to a mineral-based sunscreen and tried to cover up more. That switch helped to avoid the culprits in the current JAMA report: avobenzone, ecamsule, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. Granted, the JAMA findings are from a trial study by the FDA, a trial used to establish if more research is needed (which it is). There are studies dating back to 1997 that talk about how the active ingredients are absorbed into the blood stream, but the companies producing these products never quite got around to conducting the safety studies. Hopefully, the FDA trial study will get the show on the road.

So, what's the problem with absorbing these ingredients? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a wonderful chart on the most common active ingredients and any studies about side effects. Effects tend to be either in the hormone disruption area or in skin allergies. Some inactive ingredients can also cause skin reactions, and these are mentioned in a separate paragraph. Pushing for better absorption studies will give us all a better idea of how much our body is absorbing and if that amount is over the maximum FDA recommendations.

We know that sunscreens help in the fight to prevent skin cancer, so aside from switching sunscreens, what else can you do? Many outdoor companies are taking the clothing route, coming out with their own lines of UPF (ultraviolet protective factor) clothing. Like sunscreen, the protection does not last indefinitely. In the case of clothing, there is a recommended number of washings before the protection is negligible. Even regular clothing provides some protection, so anything that covers your skin will help. Sticking to shady spots whenever possible, along with avoiding the peak sun-exposure hours of 10am to 4pm also cuts down on your risk. Looks like I'll be enjoying my gimlets under the shade of a nice, big umbrella from now on. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Don't Worry, Be Happy


According to Virgil, “Mens agitat molem,” or mind moves matter. Today we would say mind over matter, and that is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The theory is positive thoughts bring about positive results. CBT is one form of psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy.” It is administered by trained professionals and can be one-on-one or in a group. Those suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a number of other disorders, often benefit from CBT. There is even some evidence CBT can help with insomnia

Although often associated with mental health, CBT can also be used as an adjunct to a physical problem. For example, if someone is experiencing pain, such as backache, CBT can help you change the way your body reacts to pain by changing your thoughts about pain. Many women who have undergone childbirth using the Lamaze Method are familiar with a type of cognitive behavior training, using breath and focal points to help cope with the pain of contractions. (And if you’ve seen any episodes of Call the Midwife, you know what I’m talking about.) An offshoot of CBT, called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), is also proving useful for those suffering from chronic pain, as well as those with addictive disorders. 

We started out with Virgil and we’ll end with Epictitus: ”Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” Make sure the view of yourself is a positive one and if not, learn how you can make it so.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Our Best Friend

I have a friend who suffers from anxiety and depression. One of the things that helps him deal with things is his dog. With a cross-country move coming up, his therapist, knowing the important role the dog plays in my friend's life, designated him an emotional support animal (ESA). This way, with script in hand, he was able to have his dog fly in the cabin with him. But what's the difference between an ESA and a service dog?

Most people think of Seeing Eye dogs when they hear service animal. In the Central NY area, Guiding Eyes for the Blind has a large number of puppy raisers to help socialize the pups before they go for their service training. A service animal does not have to be a dog, but they do have to perform a service or services for the owner. This ADA FAQ explains the ins and outs of service animals. Of particular interest, there is no official certification organization and a service animal can be trained by anyone, so caveat emptor if you or a loved one is in need of a service animal. A good place to start is with a group like Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, where you can ask questions of people who are experienced with owning a service animal. Things can also get muddy as state regulations vary, so be sure to research your state regulations to see what is and is not allowed.

So back to my friend's dog. Why is it an ESA rather than a service animal? Your pet can be designated a psychiatric service animal if, according to the ADA, it is trained to, say, sense an anxiety attack and do something to lessen or prevent it. An ESA helps a person function better, but does not have specialized training to perform a service. Both of these types of animals are, for the most part, exempt from "no pets" policies, with service animals getting pretty much automatic exemptions while ESAs will need permission in certain situations. To make things murkier, we have companion or therapy animals. In terms of pet policies, these animals are legally given little slack. As the name implies, they provide companionship, which in some cases is all the person needs. Organizations like PAWS of CNY go out into the community to help with life's stresses, for example airports during peak travel times or colleges during final exams. The animals offer a calming presence by just being there to be stroked and maybe talked to. Clear Path for Veterans offers a training course for any Veteran who owns or wants to own a canine companion, while other organizations offer no-cost pets or have some financial assistance for veterinary bills.

Whatever your need, there is an animal out there to help you. As Indian author Ruchi Prabhu says: “Pets understand humans better than humans do,” and we all need a little understanding sometimes.