Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness

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Stars to guide you in the grocery aisle

New food guidance system holds promise for simpler labelling
Loblaws is the first Canadian retailer to introduce the new Guiding Stars system of rating the nutritional levels of food.


Pop quiz: Which is better for you, an apple or a high-fibre cereal bar? Fruit yogourt or deli chicken? Instant oatmeal or orange juice? The answers aren’t always easy to figure out, and in many ways, it depends on what you are looking for. But a new movement has food scientists and nutrition experts developing tools that can rank foods according to nutrition value; the hope is to provide consumers with the opportunity to make better choices, without needing a PhD in label reading. Since major retailers are now starting to take notice, let’s take a closer look at one of the newest and most promising programs out there.

Guiding Stars

Launched in September in Canada by Loblaws, Guiding Stars is a refreshingly simple program that ranks foods according to nutritional value. The program is based on an algorithm devised by Kelley Fitzpatrick, a nutrition consultant specializing in regulatory affairs, and Dr. Alison Duncan, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Guelph. Foods are credited (gain points) if they are rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids. Conversely, foods can be debited (lose points) for containing too much saturated or trans fat, added sugar or sodium.

The most nutritious foods — think broccoli, apples, salmon and the like — can receive the highest grade of three stars. Foods that have some nutritional value, but also feature some less-than-healthy elements, such as added sugar (like fruit yogourt), added salt (think deli chicken) or too much saturated fat (cheese would be an example) are debited points and can receive a rating of one or two stars. Nutritional duds — we’re talking the Ho Hos of the world — receive the proverbial bagel, or zero stars.

The good

Unlike other programs, Guiding Stars deserves full marks for evaluating all types of food, including fruits, vegetables and meats. Most other programs currently in use, including Heart and Stroke’s Health Check program, only assess foods with nutrition labels, which allows packaged or processed foods to benefit from the positive impression that comes with a health check, while nutrient-rich produce is left unattended.

Guiding Stars also did itself a service by adjusting its algorithm according to the food category being rated, which means lean meats and fish aren’t unfairly penalized for containing modest amounts of saturated fat, and nuts aren’t faulted for being high in fat and low in fibre. This a particularly refreshing take when, so often in the past, foods such as almonds, olive oil and avocados have been faulted for their fat content, despite the fact a preponderance of research suggests they are important for good health.

Finally, one of the best elements of the Guiding Stars program is that it is in no way influenced by any brand, industry or the price of a given food. It is an objective look at the nutrient density of a food, and is much simpler to understand than a label or ingredient list could ever be.

The not-so-good

If there is a place to criticize the Guiding Stars program, it is for the fact that the data they use to assess certain foods is limited to the core nutrients that are mandatory on Canada’s nutrition facts panel. At this time, any food carrying a nutrition label — we’re talking about the stuff that comes in boxes, bags and packages — must include data on just four vitamins and minerals: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron (a company can add more nutrients, such as vitamin D or folic acid, at their discretion).

While each of these four nutrients are important for some element of our health — vitamin A is used by our bodies for bone and eye health, vitamin C serves as an antioxidant, calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth, and iron is important for building and maintaining a part of our red blood cells, known as hemoglobin — there are many other important nutrients that are not part of this list; for example, foods rich in magnesium and potassium play a role in both bone health and healthy blood pressure control. Since these nutrients appear only rarely in packaged food, some highly nutritious food, such as frozen berries or dried lentils, can be left looking nutritionally mediocre. At the end of the day, however, this is not an issue with the Guiding Stars program, but rather with the current state of nutrition labelling: the people at Loblaws can only do so much with the information available.

The bottom line

We are all free to choose the food we want to eat. A program like Guiding Stars is not intended to tell people what to do, or how much to eat; instead, its purpose is to provide an easy, relatively transparent way for consumers to make healthier choices. And in a world that seems to make nutrition ever more confusing, that is a refreshing change.

– Jennifer Sygo is a dietitian in private practice at Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto.


source: Canada.com


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Environmental group warns Halloween makeup may be hazardous

It’s as Halloween as candy and plastic pumpkins, but the makeup that transforms your little one into a vampire or kitty cat could be hazardous to your child’s health, according to an environmental group in Ann Arbor.

The nonprofit Ecology Center tested 31 types of novelty makeup purchased at big-box stores and at temporary Halloween stores. More than half contained cadmium, the center said.

Cadmium, a naturally occurring metal, is unsafe at different levels, depending on how humans are exposed to it. It has been linked to lung, bone and kidney damage in people.

Less clear is its toxicity when applied to human skin, said Rebecca Meuninck, the Ecology Center’s environmental health campaign director.

Until research determines what levels are safe or unsafe, Meuninck said parents should err on the side of caution. The Ecology Center’s project, http://www.healthystuff.org, has recipes for homemade makeup made from ingredients such as corn syrup and cornstarch.

“We don’t want to ruin Halloween, but we do want to get consumers the information so they can make purchasing choices,” Meuninck said.

All of the 31 items the Ecology Center tested had traces of some metal. Some items contained chromium; at certain levels, it is an approved additive in novelty makeup in the U.S.

Marc Beige, owner of Rubie’s Costume in New York, the manufacturer of some of the makeup, challenged the tests. In a statement, he said his companies use independent, accredited labs to ensure products meet all federal and state guidelines, and they “are committed to only sell safe, quality products for their customers.”

source: USA Today

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Self- Fulfilling Prophecies

I’d like to share a secret with you. On many occasions, when I have been faced with a difficult task, I have found myself doubting my ability to achieve it. I can hear this negative thought within me saying “I can’t do it.

It’s funny how powerful your mind can be.

Most of us are way too hard on ourselves. Self esteems are fragile, and rarely do we give ourselves the credit we deserve.

Our self doubts can often be so powerful, they usually shape the outcome of our activity. If we picture ourselves failing, much of the time you can bet we will.

The opposite is true as well. If you imagine yourself succeeding, you are more likely to.

I have learned to combat that negative voice inside me with another voice. This voice is my advocate, my champion, my inner hero. It also uses 3 little words. YES, YOU CAN!

These three words can be VERY powerful. For me, they counter act negativity and self doubt often. I have made it a habit to combat insecurity
with those three words, and it has become effective in helping in countless challenging situations.

This is a great example of how self affirmations can be an excellent way of helping you succeed.

The mind is a very powerful tool … a tool you can utilize to improve your life, help you be more successful more often and achieve our goals. Try being your biggest cheerleader next time you are challenged … encourage and believe in yourself.

~ Pete Szekely

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The walking cure: Five ways regular exercise can prevent disease and improve health

Never mind fitting into skinny jeans: True health means feeling as good as you look. Walking about 150 minutes a week (in other words, just 20 a day) can help you sidestep many common diseases. That’s because regular exercise helps to:

1. Fight cancer

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, a third of all cancers can be prevented by eating nutritious foods, being active and maintaining a healthy weight. Doing moderate to high-intensity exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day cuts your risk of breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute in Maryland; a 2008 meta-study in the British Journal of Cancer found that regular exercisers were 24 percent less likely to get colon cancer. As well, working out helps you manage your weight, which reduces your risk of breast, bladder, esophageal, kidney, liver, pancreatic and uterine cancers.

Even people who already have the disease can benefit: Over the past decade, exercise has gone from being considered dangerous to an activity encouraged by most oncologists (especially walking). Researchers are studying its energy- and strength-boosting effects on people living with cancer. Since 2006, Roanne Segal, a medical oncologist with the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre, has been running a clinical trial where breast-cancer patients perform 30 minutes of aerobic activity and strength training three times a week. The women are becoming enthusiastic, devoted exercisers, Segal says. “They really are showing an improvement in their quality of life.”

2. Quell depression and anxiety

Taking a walk lifts your spirits, but that feeling might go deeper than you thought: Getting active actually helps beat down depression and other mood disorders. “Large epidemiological studies suggest physical activity has a preventive function in mental health problems,” says Guy Faulkner, associate professor at the University of Toronto and editor of Mental Health and Physical Activity. Exercise is recommended by mental-health experts and should be prescribed more often than it is now, says a meta-analysis presented at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America in Baltimore last year. Research even suggests that for some people, working out can be as beneficial as medication and other therapies in treating depression. Lucy Gallson, a former Curves circuit trainer from Corbeil, Ont., has helped many people manage depression with exercise. “A lot of women say it clears their minds, relaxes their bodies and re-energizes them,” says Gallson. She herself began running nearly 30 years ago to help with her own depression, and she now power walks 3 to 5 km every morning. “Without that, I would be in a lot of trouble,” she says.

3. Avoid heart disease

“Regular brisk walking can reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, helping you maintain a healthy weight and reducing inflammation,” says Beth Abramson, a cardiologist based in Toronto and spokesperson for the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Having her third heart surgery at 31 forced Wendy Carr to realize that she needed to exercise to stay alive. “You have to make sure that you push yourself and do things so that you can live a strong and healthy life,” says the 35-year-old from Milton, Ont. She works out every day, taking hour-long walks outside in warmer months and jogging on her treadmill. She also uses Nintendo Wii Fit and workout videos. “I always have my heart monitor on so I stay inside my target heart rate,” she says.

4. Tackle joint pain

Although many people with arthritis are worried exercising will hurt their knees, they shouldn’t be: The American College of Sports Medicine recently released a review of studies that found exercise has more benefits for knee health than drawbacks. In fact, numerous studies show exercise helps reduce stress on weight-bearing joints by making cartilage healthier and stronger, says Kam Shojania, head of rheumatology at the University of British Columbia. When his patients — mostly women in their 40s — step into his Vancouver office with arthritis pain, he tells them to start working out. In addition to strengthening your joints, exercise can help you lose weight, which reduces the load on your knees. It also boosts bone health, helping to fend off osteoarthritis. While combatting a predisposition to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be tough, regular exercise is half the battle, Shojania says. His wife goes to the gym four times a week to help her avoid getting the arthritis her mother has. “She’s fighting her genetics and she’s doing well, because she’s avoiding obesity and keeping fit.”

5. Dodge diabetes

Clip on your pedometer: Walking 10,000 steps every day combined with modest weight loss reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes — even if you’re pre-diabetic. A 2011 Australian study found that people who went from 3,000 to 10,000 daily steps five days a week improved their sensitivity to insulin threefold, significantly cutting their risk of type 2 diabetes. And if you have diabetes, vigorous walking is an excellent blood-sugar buster, lowering levels for many hours after a workout, says Jon McGavock, exercise physiologist and University of Manitoba assistant professor, who works with kids with diabetes. He says exercise can even help them need less medicine. “The benefits are really long-lasting.” Stacey Mortenson knows that firsthand; the 36-year-old Saskatoon music teacher has always been fit, but after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 33, she knew it was more important than ever to work out. “As a single parent, I was running, and I felt guilty sometimes for the time I was putting into it,” she says. “As soon as I got diabetes, the guilt disappeared, because by working out, I’m going to be around longer for my daughter.”

source: Chatelaine

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B.C. device could revolutionize skin-cancer detection


VANCOUVER Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 4:00PM EST

If you find a suspicious-looking mole, chances are a biopsy and a scar are in your future – after a wait to see a dermatologist.

But a new device developed at the B.C. Cancer Agency could change all that.

Using a skin-cancer detector called the Verisante Aura, general practitioners may soon be able to catch melanoma – the type of skin cancer that has the highest risk of becoming lethal – at the earliest stage by shining a ray of light.

The technology uses fibre optics to gather wavelengths emitted by various molecules in response to laser light, says David McLean, who invented the device with doctors Harvey Lui and Haishan Zeng. Cancer molecules show up as abnormalities on a computer screen, Dr. McLean says.

“We found that certain skin lesions, certain skin diseases, had certain signatures … that would appear to be unique.”

The device has been tested on 1,000 skin lesions at the Skin Care Centre in Vancouver. According to preliminary results, the Verisante Aura picked up every case of melanoma in 274 lesions flagged for biopsy.

Early data suggests the device has a high detection rate for two other forms of skin cancer – basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas – and may identify precancerous lesions, says Dr. McLean, a professor of dermatology at the University of B.C. “The results are very encouraging.”

Verisante Aura is being engineered for mass production by T-Ray Science Inc., a Vancouver-based medical device company. Chief executive officer Thomas Braun expects that the $30,000 skin cancer detector will receive Health Canada approval later this year.

Cancer agencies and dermatologists are target markets, he says, adding that general practitioners may purchase the equipment to expand their menu of privately funded services.

According to Mr. Braun, wide adoption of the device could reduce wait times for patients with enlarged, misshapen or discoloured moles, all of which are signs of skin cancer. Skin lesions are usually examined by dermatologists with the naked eye or a magnifying device called a dermascope. But a technician using the Verisante Aura can scan every mole on a patient’s body in 10 to 15 minutes, Mr. Braun says.

“It’s a device that would make the average health-care practitioner as good as a dermatologist at identifying skin cancer.”

According to Dr. McLean, the Verisante Aura is easier to use than laser-hair-removal equipment, with no capacity for damaging the skin. Nurses could be trained to use it, he says. “It should be very cost-effective.”

Patients diagnosed with early-stage melanoma have a five-year survival rate of 98 per cent, compared with 15 per cent for those diagnosed at a late stage, according to the American Cancer Society.

Although moles flagged by the Verisante Aura still require excision, the device would reduce the number of biopsies performed on skin lesions that turn out to be benign, says Dr. McLean. More importantly, he adds, fewer early-stage skin cancers would go unnoticed.

He notes that older patients have so many brown spots that “it can be bewildering to a practitioner as to which is which.”

Duane Lichtenwald, a Saskatoon-based dermatologist and spokesman for the Canadian Dermatology Association, says the device is based on solid science and has the potential to become a useful screening tool. But “it’s still a test, it still takes some interpretation,” he says, adding, “it’s going to take years to prove that this would replace the clinical acumen of a dermatologist.”

A trial is underway to screen for lung cancer using Verisante technology. Since the fibre-optics component can fit down standard scopes, the software and hardware can be adapted to detect cervical, bladder and colorectal cancers as well, says Dr. McLean. In fact, there’s potential for use “anywhere that light can get to,” he says.

Source: Globe & Mail

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Canadians living longer than ever, Statscan finds

Canadians are living longer than ever, and the life expectancy gap between men and women continues to shrink.

Life expectancy at birth reached a new high of 80.9 years during the period from 2006 to 2008, up 0.2 years from 2005 to 2007, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

Life expectancy is highest in British Columbia, where it now stands at 81.4 years. Ontario and Quebec were also above the national average, at 81.3 years and 81 years, respectively. The three territories combined have the lowest life expectancy at birth, at 75.2 years.

The report also noted that while women continue to live longer than men, the gap between them is closing. Life expectancy is increasing for both men and women, but men are making more gains.

Men’s life expectancy at birth bumped up to 78.5 years over the period from 2006 to 2008, up 0.2 years from 2005 to 2007. Life expectancy for women, meanwhile, increased 0.1 years to 83.1 years.

“While men generally have a lower life expectancy than women, the gains made in the previous 10 years have narrowed the gap,” according to Statistics Canada. “During the 1996 to 1998 period, the gap in life expectancy at birth between men and women was 5.6 years, whereas in 2006-2008 it was 4.6 years.”

Life expectancy for seniors is also increasing, according to the report. Life expectancy at 65 reached 20 years in the period from 2006 to 2008, up 0.2 years over the three years prior.

source: The Globe and Mail

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Fizzy Drinks Linked To Teen Violence

Article Date: 25 Oct 2011

More blows to the fizzy, sugary drink industry with research suggesting that teens who drink a can a day of soft drink or around five cans per week are more likely to become aggressive, even carrying weapons and being physically violent with friends, fellow students and family members.

The research published in Injury Prevention would make some criminal defense lawyers happy. The famous “Twinkie Defense” harks back to the assasination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk, popularized in the movie “Milk” with Sean Penn, where Dan White claimed diminished capacity as a result of junk food. A Twinkie is a prepackaged cake with creamy filling.

1878 teens from 22 public schools in Boston, Massachusetts were studied as part of Boston Youth Survey, a biennial survey of 9th to 12th graders (14 to 18 year olds).

The survey included questions such as how many non-diet soft drinks they consumed in the past week, measuring consumption in 355ml / 12oz cans. Responses were categorized according to quantity and then divided into two groups :

– 70% Low Consumption : Those drinking upto 4 cans per week – 30% High Consumption : Those drinking five or more cans per week

The researchers then looked at potential links to violent behaviour in this group, by asking if they had been violent towards their peers, a sibling, or a partner, and if they had carried a gun or knife over the past year.

Responses were assessed according to factors that might have influenced results, including :

  • Age
  • GenderAlcohol Consumption
  • Average Amount of Sleep on a School Night

Those who drank more than 5 cans per week showed some alarming trends and were significantly more likely to use :

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Carry a GunCarry a Knife
  • Exhibit Physical Violence Towards Peers, Family Members and Partners

Dividing the findings into four categories of consumption, showed a clear “dose-response relationship” across all four measures :

Carried a Gun / Knife :
23% – one or no cans of soft drink a week
43% – 14 or more cans Perpetrating violence towards a partner :
15% – One or no cans a week 27% – 14 or more

Violence towards peers
35% – One or no cans a week
58% – 14 or more

Violence towards siblings rose
25% – One or no cans a week
43% – 14 or more

In conclusion teens who were heavy consumers of non-diet carbonated soft drinks, the probability of aggressive behavior was 9 to 15 percent higher. This is the same magnitude as the impact of alcohol or tobacco – the findings showed.

The authors concluded :

“There may be a direct cause-and-effect-relationship, perhaps due to the sugar or caffeine content of soft drinks, or there may be other factors, unaccounted for in our analyses, that cause both high soft drink consumption and aggression.”

Written by Rupert Shepherd