Healthy Living

Information, prevention and home remedies

Fight Cholesterol With Healthy Fats

Healthy Starts Made Simple: Healthy Living
Five natural sources of good fats

WWhen it comes to improving your cholesterol numbers, the popular line of thinking goes something like this: “Eat less of this. Don’t eat that. Never, ever even think of looking at those!”

Now what if we told you that not all fats are created equally? In fact, eating more of certain everyday foods may help tip the numbers in your favor.

The Benefits of Good Fats
Health and nutrition experts have be­gun referring to certain good-for-you foods as good fats. They’re still fats, but they count as good because they fall into the category of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Studies have shown that these types of fats (found mainly in cold water fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils) may help lower your odds of developing heart disease and other health conditions.

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Are sugar substitutes really that bad for you?

There has been considerable talk of how dangerous synthetic sugar substitutes may be for our health, but little evidence of harm has actually come forth and their environmental impacts may be more reason for concern.
Photo credit: abbyladybug, courtesy Flickr

Dear EarthTalk: I saw an article on sugar's effects on the environment. Has anyone compared different sweeteners (artificial or natural) for their environmental impacts?
-- Terri Oelrich, via e-mail

The production of sugar has indeed taken a huge environmental toll. "Sugar has arguably had as great an impact on the environment as any other agricultural commodity," reports the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), citing biodiversity loss as a result of the "wholesale conversion of habitat on tropical islands and on coastal areas" to grow sugar. WWF adds that the cultivation of sugar has also resulted in considerable soil erosion and degradation and the use of large amounts of chemicals across the tropics and beyond.

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3 Fun Activities to Stay Healthy This Winter

Keeping active during the season you'd ideally spend hibernating under the bedcovers is a challenge for parents and kids alike. But if the very idea of cold weather makes you shiver, take heart: You don't have to brave bone-chilling temperatures to stay healthy in winter. Many indoor activities can keep your brood fit during those long, chilly months. "The trick is to make activities about having fun, not about health or fitness," says Laura Williams, founder of the website "Kids don't worry about reducing their risk of high blood pressure or diabetes. They identify with playing games and having a great time."

To keep your kids fit and healthy this winter, here are three ideas from our experts to keep things moving all season long.

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10 New Year's Resolutions for Healthier Kids

After the late nights, lax rules and endless eating of the holidays, the start of the new year is the perfect time to make healthy changes to your family routine.

Your first resolution should be to take it slow: Instead of grand promises, tackle 10 little new year's resolutions for healthier kids -- easy-to-stick-with habits that add up, automatically, to help your kids feel strong and happy.

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Are Plastics a Good Idea for Food Preservation?

Freezing foods in plastic containers isn't as worrisome as heating them, but if you're leery of plastic, glass containers designed to withstand large temperature extremes, such as Ball Jars (aka Mason jars), like the one pictured here, or anything made by Pyrex, can be a sensible alternative. Just be sure not to load them to the brim as some foods expand when frozen.
Photo credit: Johnathunder, Wikipedia.

Dear EarthTalk: I love to cook and when I have the time I make soups, stews and pasta meals in large batches and freeze them. I use leftover plastic containers, but I know this is not good. What kinds of containers are safe for freezer food storage?
-- Kathy Roberto, via e-mail

Reusing leftover plastic food containers to store items in the freezer may be noble environmentally, but it might not be wise from the perspective of keeping food safely frozen and tasting its best when later heated up and served. Many such containers are designed for one-time use and then recycling, so it’s not worth risking using them over and over. Likewise, wax paper, bread wrappers and cardboard cartons should not be used to store frozen foods; these types of containers don’t provide enough of a barrier to moisture and odors and also may not keep food fresh when frozen.

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The Secret to Sex After 40

M"y wife and I recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of our first date. We have a solid marriage, but like everyone, we've struggled with the changes that aging brings -- including those that affect our love life. The good news: With simple adjustments, sex after 40, 50, 60 and beyond can be as satisfying as ever, strengthening your relationship rather than becoming a source of conflict and stress.

The trouble is that many people believe that intercourse is sex -- and when intercourse becomes problematic, they think sex must be over. That's a shame. Retiring from being lovers makes a relationship less intimate and ignores the deep human need to experience gentle touch.

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Is Tap Water Better?

photo courtesy joshme17 on flickr

W"hat's in that bottle of water you just bought? Ads suggest it's pure H2O, implying that it's less contaminated by pollutants than what flows from the tap. But recent tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., show that 10 bestselling brands of bottled water contained "a surprising array of chemical levels no different from those found in tap water."

The International Bottled Water Association countered that the EWG's report contained "false claims and exaggerations" and maintains that bottled water meets federal standards for drinking water quality.

So what's a water drinker to do? Get the facts and then decide for yourself.

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What's the Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

Both yoga and Pilates are wonderful -- but different -- workouts. Yoga, which means "union" in Sanskrit, is an ancient, philosophic system of exercises designed to unite the body, mind and spirit. A series of postures that combine movement with deep breathing and meditation, yoga strengthens and aligns the entire body. Yoga also promotes spine health, blood flow and relaxation.

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Sex After Baby

If you just had a baby, you might both be thinking, "Sex? Never doing THAT again!" Your partner may be a little weirded out by everything that just came out of your body, you're physically recuperating from pushing all that stuff out of your body, and you're both probably exhausted caring for the new little one.

Yeah, you feel like that right now, but trust me, in time you're gonna want to get busy again. That's how it's always worked; if not, we'd all be only children.

Even so, don't worry if you're not interested right off the bat. You probably don't feel so hot, and childbirth hormones are powerful stuff; you might find yourself far more involved in your newborn than your partner. This is common. Within a few weeks, you'll probably start thinking about sex again. The break is a good idea, anyway; your doctor will likely tell you to wait six weeks before intercourse to give yourself a chance to fully heal in there.

Here's the problem: while you may be "closed for repairs," your partner likely isn't.

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Beat Insomnia Now

Sleep can be an elusive thing. Experience a couple nights of tossing and turning in bed, and it's all too tempting to reach for a sleep aid. But before you do, consider that several recent studies conducted at major institutions all over the country show that, despite their ordinary nature, simple behavioral strategies--like going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding afternoon naps--really do work. What's more, over-the-counter sleep medications can leave you feeling sluggish the next day, and "there’s very little evidence that these sleep aids actually result in significant sleep," says Mark Mahowald, M.D., director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis.

What about prescription sleep drugs? For acute, short-term insomnia--such as that brought on by a stressful event, like a death in the family--experts say these medications can help. "In fact, by treating acute short-term insomnia [with prescription sleep aids] when it first occurs, we can actually prevent the development of long-term insomnia," says Dr. Mahowald. But for the occasional sleepless night, consider the following 10 tips. You may find they help you get to sleep just as well as popping a pill!

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Are You Fit or Fat?

It’s hard to resist quick-and-dirty medical tests. After all, they’re fast, easy, cheap and noninvasive. The only problem is that their accuracy is limited. For the past several decades, the standard quick-and-dirty test for obesity has been the Body Mass Index (BMI): Multiply your weight in pounds by 703, and divide the result by the square of your height in inches. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 25; anything over that means you’re overweight. Sure it’s easy -- all you need is a calculator -- but is it accurate?

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Kent Dual Drive Tandem Bike

John and I got one of these this week, and it's the most fun I've had in AGES. There is an in-depth review at Amazon; pay attention to it, because we found his experience echoed ours almost exactly. But with those (easily remedied) problems out of the way, this is a great bike, especially for the price, and riding tandem is a wonderful way for me to get out with John and not feel like I'm either going to get stranded somewhere or hold John back so much he'll get impatient. This way we can go fast and I don't hae to worry about keeping pace with John. Highly recommended.

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Is It a Heart Attack?

Last January, Lisa Morrow's 88-year-old grandmother woke her at 3 a.m. complaining of back and shoulder pain and feeling clammy. The two debated what to do for nearly two hours. "I thought it was the flu," says Morrow, a 38-year-old New Yorker. Finally, Morrow convinced her grandmother to go to the ER. Doctors quickly diagnosed a heart attack and put in four stents to open up a fully clogged artery. The surgery helped, briefly, but the attack had weakened the heart muscle so much that it perforated several hours later. Sadly, Morrow's grandmother did not survive.

"A heart attack was the last thing on my mind," says Morrow. Indeed, a recent study reveals that while 92 percent of adults know the most obvious sign of a heart attack -- chest pain -- only 31 percent know all five major signs, reports lead author of the study, Jing Fang, M.D., epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

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Hand Sanitizers and Safety

Dear EarthTalk: My pediatrician swears by those gel hand sanitizers for lowering the risk of my family getting sick during cold and flu season. But I've also heard that these products can be dangerous to kids if ingested. Are there any safer alternatives that work just as well?
--Jason Blalock, Oakland, CA

A 2005 study by the Children's Hospital in Boston compared illness rates across a study group of 292 families—half of them got hand sanitizers while the other half were given literature advising them of the benefits of frequent hand washing. The findings revealed that those families who used hand sanitizers experienced a 59 percent reduction in gastrointestinal illnesses and that the increased use of sanitizers correlated to a decreased spread of contagions in general.

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Earth-Friendly Chocolate

Dear EarthTalk: I heard a reference to “Earth-friendly chocolate” and was wondering about what goes into chocolate that would raise environmental concerns.
--Ben Moran, Providence, RI

Like coffee beans, the cacao seeds from which we derive chocolate can only be grown successfully in equatorial regions--right where the world's few remaining tropical rainforests thrive. As worldwide demand for chocolate grows, so does the temptation among growers to clear more and more rainforest to accommodate high-yield monocultural (single-crop) cacao tree plantations. What are left are open, sunny fields with dramatically lower levels of plant and animal diversity. Adding environmental insult to injury, most cacao plantations use copious amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides that further degrade the land that once teemed with a wide variety of rare birds, mammals and plants.

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How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

There's no need to just hope for the best when you can plan for the worst. Don't wait until disaster strikes to figure out how to respond. Here's how to prep today so your family will be ready for tomorrow.

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Keeping Your Kitchen Safe

They're smart kids. Each year, more than 67,000 children are injured in the kitchen -- 43,000 of them four years old and under. "The only way to truly prevent kitchen accidents is to closely supervise your child and enforce rules, like no sitting on the counters," says Andy Spooner, M.D., director of general pediatrics at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. "Gizmos sold to improve kitchen safety are nice, but they can't take the place of adult supervision." What else can you do to prevent accidents? Here are Dr. Spooner's top recommendations

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Are Plastic Bottles Dangerous to Your Health?

Some health advocates recommend not re-using bottles made from plastic #1 (polyethylene terephthalate), including most disposable water, soda and juice bottles. Studies indicate they may leach DEHP - a probable human carcinogen - when they are in less than perfect condition. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: Are the rumors true that refilling and reusing some types of plastic bottles can cause health problems?
--Regina Fujan, Lincoln, NE

Most types of plastic bottles are safe to reuse at least a few times if properly washed with hot soapy water. But recent revelations about chemicals in Lexan (plastic #7) bottles are enough to scare even the most committed environmentalists from reusing them (or buying them in the first place). Studies have indicated that food and drinks stored in such containers—including those ubiquitous clear Nalgene water bottles hanging from just about every hiker’s backpack—can contain trace amount of Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that interferes with the body’s natural hormonal messaging system.

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Get Your Kids Moving!

What do your kids do for fun? If you answer "watch TV" or "play video games," your kids may be facing a serious health challenge, especially later in life. Obesity and inactivity are sharply up among today's children, and while schools are trying to reverse the trends, the real battle is on the home front. You have to get them moving, and you can't depend on your child's school to do it for you.

You don't need to force pushups and squats on your children, or march them through an adult workout routine. Kids love to play. You just need to encourage them to channel all that energy into active play.

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Relief for Common Pregnancy Discomforts

Pregnancy ain't easy. Oh sure, there's your friend--we all have one--who sails through the nine months smiling, bouncy and glowing and can't wait to do it again. She's never felt better in her life. But most of us are not that woman.

Most of us are more like me. When I was pregnant, my first sign was that my sense of smell went berserk. I could tell what everyone was having for dinner in a five mile radius, and just how good their personal hygiene was. (Bus rides were torture on that last point.) And then came the hip problems, the back problems, blah blah blah.

From the first spells of nausea before you even realize that you are pregnant to the swollen ankles of the third trimester, there are plenty of uncomfortable symptoms that go along with pregnancy. You can't get rid of them, but here are a few tricks to making these pregnancy discomforts easier to manage.

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Natural Depression Treatments

It's like a black hole that occasionally swallows me up, from out of nowhere. I can't work, I can't sleep--and yet I can't stay awake--I can't take care of myself, and all the color and hope drains from the world.

"It" is depression, and for me it's a chronic condition that cost me jobs and relationships before I finally found effective help. For me that help was pharmaceutical, but I use several natural methods as well to keep the black hole at bay.

I'm not alone. Depression affects millions of people worldwide and can range from being fairly mild to completely devastating. It's estimated that a quarter of all American women will suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lives, and that women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men. Only 30 percent of depressed people get any form of treatment at all, which is a big mistake. Without treatment, the frequency and severity of symptoms tend to increase over the years--just like other diseases. Take depression seriously. It can be just as deadly as cancer, especially in the elderly.

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Organic Baby Food

Giving babies nutritious food is not only good for their health, but it will also help establish positive eating habits, unlike our spokesbaby here. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: I want to give my baby fresh, organic food but I don't have the time to make her special meals. What options are out there?
--Marie L., via e-mail

Babies deserve the best possible start in life, so giving them nutritious food is a must, not only for good health but also to establish positive eating habits as early as possible.

According to Consumers Union (CU), publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, commercial baby foods, many of which are made up of condensed fruits and vegetables, can contain high concentrations of pesticide residues. “A lot of these pesticides are toxic to the brain,” says Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Citing studies that have linked smaller head circumference and reduced intelligence in babies to in utero exposure to pesticides consumed by their mothers, Landrigan says it is best not to gamble when it comes to baby food.

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The Dirt on Anti-Bacterial Soaps

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that anti-bacterial soaps are no better at preventing infections than plain soaps and that they are actually harmful to the environment?
--Avery Bicks, New York, NY

University of Michigan researchers reviewed numerous studies conducted between 1980 and 2006 and concluded that antibacterial soaps that contain triclosan as the main active ingredient are no better at preventing infections than plain soaps. Further, the team argued that these antibacterial soaps could actually pose a health risk, because they may kill beneficial bacteria and also reduce the effectiveness of some common antibiotics, such as amoxicillin.

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Early Signs of Diabetes

Diabetes, known formally as diabetes mellitus, affects 20 million Americans, with many more at risk. Adult onset, or type II, diabetes continues to rise. People with diabetes cannot either make or use insulin, which is a hormone produced by the body that assists in the breakdown of sugars in our food for fuel. When the body can't do this, the blood stream and the urine become full of sugar molecules, called glucose.

Type II dabetes usually comes on gradually. In fact, it's possible to stave off the disease for a long time, if you watch for early signs that you may have a problem. It's not inevitable, even if it runs in your family, and can be controlled through diet and exercise.

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Intuitive Eating

Still trying to lose post-baby weight? The first step may be to stop worrying about it. It's no secret to most of us that dieting doesn't work in the long run. In fact, a recently published Brigham Young University study showed that women who ate whatever and whenever they wanted -- called intuitive eating -- had lower body mass indexes and better cholesterol levels than women who watched what they ate.

Here's why: Dieting can actually lead to cravings for "bad" foods and bingeing, the body's physical and psychological kick-back to being deprived. The result is a helpless cycle of failure and guilt. But a woman who doesn't follow eating rules is more likely to see food as necessary and satisfying, and to eat in a healthy way.

If you're a chronic dieter, here are some first steps to a healthier relationship with food, from Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating (St. Martin's Griffin).

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Herbal Skin Care

Herbal skin care is effective, and you can make your own products easilyTime was, herbs were the only way we had to take care of our skin. As synthetic products came on the market, we gradually forgot the plant wisdom of our grandmothers.

Now, herbs are all the rage in skin care products, but the commercial versions have drawbacks. Often, they're not really herbal at all, but just add scents or a little splash of essential oil to make them appear herbal. The "real" herbal ones are often only available in specialty stores. And both can be prohibitively expensive.

So why not make your own? Here are some easy home recipes and ideas for my favorite herbal skin care products that you can make up quickly, easily--and cheaply!

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Top Five Natural Health Books You Should Have on Your Shelf

Some good reference books can ease your mind during illnessesEvery family has a reference shelf. On ours you'll find the phone book, the almanacs for 1997 and 2001 (the years the girls were born--a family tradition on John's side), a thesaurus, a dictionary, some foreign language dictionaries, two different versions of the Bible (I need to look up the odd reference now and again), an atlas, and the AA Big Book.

It's also where we keep our family health references. Here are five books that every home should have on its reference shelf, plus one that should be in the kitchen.

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American College of Emergency Physicians First Aid Manual

This first aid manual stands head and shoulders above the rest for one reason: It's really, realy well illustrated. And when it comes to first aid, pictures make the difference. If you are familiar with DK books, this is yet another gem from them.

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The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook

Comprehensive but not confusing, James Green's book teaches you the use of herbs as medicine, and how to preserve and prepare them. No family seriously interested in natural medicine should be without it.

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