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Blog posts tagged with 'research'

Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better Living

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Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better LivingSince the late 1800s the government has set standards which regulate how companies and industries can claim or market what is in their food products, paving the way for modern nutrition labels. Nutrition labels continually go through changes and updates as our knowledge about certain foods, ingredients, and what it means to be healthy evolves. These labels are designed to be a guideline so that you know the true health value of the foods you consume. But in spite of the availability of this information, do people actually read them?

A Study in Purchase Habits

To investigate how often people really look at nutritional labels, researchers at the University of Minnesota took 203 volunteers and gauged what information they looked at when making a food purchase. The test involved a computer-based-shopping program where participants were shown 64 different items—including products such as cereal, soup, crackers, cookies, and ice cream—posing the question of whether or not they would buy the item. Synced with the computer program was an eye-tracking device that monitored what the shopper was viewing, tracking up to 1,000 eye movements per second. Once the buying task portion of the study was done, participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about their usual real-world grocery shoppping and buying habits.

What the Numbers Really Say

What researchers discovered was that there was a big difference between consumers' viewing habits and what they self-purported in the questionnaire. Thirty-three percent of participants stated that they "almost always" look at product's calorie count, 31% said they looked at total fat content, 24% looked at sugar content, and 26% claimed they paid attention to serving size. However, the eye-tracking data showed that only 9% of people looked at calorie count for almost all items—while only 1% of the participants looked at each of the other components, including fat, trans fat, sugar, and serving size.

Authors of the study say that the biggest problem with food labels is their confusing nature and sometimes concealed placement on certain boxes and packaging.

"In the simulated shopping setting, participants could see Nutrition Facts labels without having to turn, rotate, or otherwise manipulate a food package. In contrast, Nutrition Facts labels on food packages tend to be in locations that cannot be seen by consumers looking at the front of a package (e.g., when viewing a shelf of items in a grocery store)," the authors wrote.

Monitoring Serving Size to Avoid Overeating

Many people desire a road map to better health, not realizing that every box, container, or bag of packaged food already provides insight into what you are eating, allowing you to monitor what your body is getting each day and align it with your daily needs. One of the main things people often misunderstand is what serving size means when it comes to individual food items. Serving sizes are determined by the FDA and USDA to provide an average calorie count of certain food items. However, many people don't take into account the serving sizes of snacks or foods such as cereal, crackers, or candy bars, which can lead to the consumption of excess calories.

Recognizing What to Avoid and What to Focus On

Another point to note is the fat content of food. Nutrition labels separate the fat content by total fat, trans fat, and saturated fat. If you are focusing on a heart-healthy diet, watching for foods that are both low in saturated and trans fat content is crucial.

Salt and sugar are other ingredients that warrant attention. Salt is associated with heart health; in particular, blood pressure. Balancing out your salt intake with nutrients such as potassium can help keep your blood pressure levels within healthy ranges. Sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, can be a source of "empty calories", which are calories that provide little or no added nutritional value, so be on the lookout for these, too.

Giving the Label a Look

Nutrition labels are often misunderstood and underused resources for better nutrition. Utilizing the nutritional information that is already available to you can help you develop healthier eating habits day in and day out. Along with following daily exercise recommendations and supplementing your diet when needed, you can start seeing the results you always wanted.

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You and Your Dirty Phone

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You and Your Dirty PhoneAccording to a United Nations report, 6 billion of the estimated 7 billion people in the world use cell phones. With the increasing use of cell phones as a means of staying connected to people and information, more and more individuals are constantly touching their phones throughout the day—and coming into contact with bacteria.

How Your Phone Relates to Health


A recent study sought to look at just what type of bacteria can collect on a typical phone from daily use. Taking samples of 17 people’s smartphone touchscreens as well as their index fingertips and thumbs, researchers discovered more than 7,000 different types of bacteria between all of the samples taken. Unsurprisingly, the individual microbes on each person’s phone closely matched the ones on that individual’s fingers.

“This study confirms that we share more than an emotional connection with our phones—they carry our personal microbiome,” said the study researchers in the June 24 issue of the journal, PeerJ. The term microbiome refers to each person’s unique set of microorganisms that reside in the skin, saliva, and gastrointestinal tract. Over time, your body has adapted to having these bacteria, so there’s no cause for alarm to find such bacteria on personal items such as phones, especially since the average person checks their phone up to 150 times per day.

The close relationship you share with your phone may even make it possible one day to use them as a way to monitor the bacteria you are exposed to in the environment. For example, your phone could be screened before or after entering a medical facility to see if you are bringing dangerous pathogens in or out, according to James Meadow, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oregon.

Protect Your Phone, Protect Your Well-Being

Just as you are capable of picking up microorganisms from the environment, so too can your phone. “Phones may carry bacteria that we pick up from being outside, or from touching surfaces or other people,” said Meadow. Some bacteria don’t integrate into your microbiome and further research is needed to understand how they affect health.

To help limit the amount of bacteria that may spread between you and your phone, practice the same hygiene habits with your phone as you would your own hands. For example, don’t let your phone come into contact with uncooked food or other unclean surfaces. Wipe it down regularly with an alcohol-free disinfectant wipe because alcohol rubs away the grease-repelling coating on touchscreens. Then dry it with an extra-soft cloth. Use a microfiber cloth—such as the kind used to clean sunglasses—to remove fingerprints and grease from your smartphone’s screen, and use a compressed air can to clear away crumbs and other debris that may get stuck behind buttons. This minimizes the transfer of bacteria to your face, which can cause irritation to your cheek and jawline, or even illness.

In addition to keeping your phone clean, remember to keep your hands clean as well through frequent handwashing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends washing your hands under running water with soap for at least 20 seconds to kill germs effectively.

Make Hygiene a Habit

Everyone’s immune system reacts differently to certain environments, and Meadows advises that bacteria on smartphones and the body are not necessarily something to worry about. But good hygiene is something to be practiced for good health, especially if you feel ill often or have a low immune system. Just because you can’t see germs and bacteria on cell phones, door hands, or keyboards it doesn’t mean that they’re not there. By practicing good hygiene, daily immune system support can be easily integrated into your healthy lifestyle every day.

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Science Reveals Instant Mood-Boosting Techniques

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Science Reveals Instant Mood-Boosting TechniquesSeeing the brighter side of life doesn't always come easy to everyone. But what if you could trick your brain into thinking positive thoughts? According to a recent study there are several ways of accomplishing this to help support a positive mind and mood that can influence an overall healthier lifestyle.

Neutral, Duchenne and Chopsticks

Because of the close connection that the mind and body share, researchers wanted to investigate what extent physical signals from the body could influence the mind. Their study centered on smiling. It's already known that feeling good can make you react with a smile, but can forcing a smile, in-turn, make you feel good? To test this hypothesis, researcher Tara Kraft from the University of Kansas gathered 169 participants and trained the volunteers to maintain three separate facial expressions: a neutral expression, a standard smile, and a more empathetic smile called the Duchenne smile, achieved by holding chopsticks in their mouths. While only half the participants were told to smile, researchers explained that having chopsticks in their mouths forced the volunteers to smile without being aware that they were doing so. All of the subjects then participated in stress-inducing tasks such as submerging their hands in ice-cold water and tracing a star with their non-dominant hand while looking at a reflection of the shape in a mirror.

A Smile for Science

Results showed that those who were instructed to smile, (in particular, those who had the Duchenne smiles) had lower heart rates when performing the tasks than those who had neutral expressions. Even those who were unknowingly forced into smiling with the chopsticks in their mouths had a slightly lower heart rate than those who wore neutral expressions. The results, soon to be published in the journal, Psychological Science, give validity to the theory that even a forced smile positively influences the mind into a better mood and can improve other important areas such as stress and heart health. Kraft's research partner, Sarah Pressman, even suggested an everyday application to this theory. "The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment," she said.

A Pose for Positive Moods

While a smile may be the easiest way to spontaneously support a good mood there are other poses that have been shown to help support a positive frame of mind. For instance, one study showed that opening up one's body to occupy more space in what's called a "high-power pose" can have positive mental effects and alter hormone levels, too. Those who held high-power poses were more willing to gamble or take risks, pointing to a higher level of confidence and more positive frame of mind. While meditation has long been linked to promoting a sound mind and mood, a 2008 study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, sought to investigate the benefits that yoga poses have on mental well-being. The study showed that breathing mechanisms and relaxed body posture can also help clear the mind and support lower stress levels.

Taking Control of Your Moods

Maintaining a healthy mood shouldn't be thought of as some insurmountable challenge. Everyone has their ups and downs, and understanding the little things you can do throughout your day can help to provide an instant mood boost. Now that you know how powerful your smile can be, use it wisely and often!

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National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month – Learning the Important Factors

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National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month – Learning the Important FactorsIt's May which means it's the start of National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month. Blood pressure is something you should endeavor to support every day—not just when you think something might be amiss—because your heart works hard for you daily. That's why you should work to stomp out bad habits and take on healthy tips to take care of your heart function and other connected areas of health.

Blood pressure is the force of your blood as your heart pumps it through your arteries and throughout your body. The two readings that indicate the pressure of your blood flow are systolic (the top number), which measures your blood pressure when your heart beats, and diastolic (the bottom number), which measures your blood pressure when the heart is at rest. The target range for healthy blood pressure is anything at, or lower than, 120/80.

Family History

There are many factors, both controllable and uncontrollable, that you need to be aware of when focusing on maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, and in turn, a healthy heart. Some factors that are beyond your control can include race, family history, and age. For example, studies have shown that African Americans tend to be more susceptible to blood pressure concerns when compared to other races due to genetic factors. However, even if you have a family history of blood pressure concerns, there are still a number of ways you can positively influence healthy levels.

Knowing the Basic Do's and Don'ts

Some factors that are within your control include cutting back on certain foods. For example, a number of studies have proven that cutting back on sodium can have a profound positive influence on blood pressure and can help lower the risk of cardiovascular challenges by 25%–30%. The American Heart Association (AHA) currently recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. This can easily be accomplished by eating less processed foods, canned foods, and lunch meats, which are the main culprits behind high dietary sodium. Additionally, alcohol consumption can affect blood pressure. But it's also something within your power to control. The AHA says to limit your drink intake to no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink per day for women (1 drink serving is defined as one 12-ounce beer or 4-ounce glass of wine). Besides watching what you eat and drink, you can cut back on stress and maintain a healthy weight. Although there is no evidence to suggest that stress directly causes high blood pressure, blood pressure levels can still spike during periods of tension. Try reducing stress by going for walk, doing an activity that relaxes you, or sharing a laugh with friends. Additionally, added body mass puts extra strain on your heart, forcing it to work harder. Even losing an excess 10 lbs can make a significant difference to your blood pressure health.

Nutritional Factors of Note

When dialing back on things such as sodium and alcohol, you should also remember to increase your intake of nutritious foods. To positively influence your blood pressure it is recommended that you eat at least 8 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. In particular, foods high in potassium have been shown in studies to support healthy blood pressure. Leafy green vegetables—such as kale, collards, swiss chard, and spinach—and whole grains are also rich in B vitamins that support cardio health. Choose healthier cooking options such as baking, roasting, and steaming as opposed to frying; and cut out foods containing trans fats and saturated fat. Throughout the centuries, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have catalogued hundreds of beneficial herbs and their various uses. Several of these herbs can be used to support healthy blood pressure. Chrysanthemum, for example, helps expand blood vessels to ease circulation. Senna also contains compounds that help reduce arterial plaque buildup, while Apocynum venetum has alkaloids that help promote healthy blood flow. Since you wouldn't normally find these herbs on your supermarket shelf, nutritional supplements may be the best source. Your heart works hard for you everyday, so it makes sense to kick those bad habits and positively influence your blood pressure levels. Simple tasks, such as cutting back on sodium and alcohol; reducing stress; and increasing your intake of nutritious foods and herbal supplements; are things everyone can do — starting in National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month. Find your healthy motivation today!


HyperBalance
 

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With a Good Diet in Mind, Are You Using Calorie Counts on Menus?

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With a Good Diet in Mind, Are You Using Calorie Counts on Menus?Maybe you've seen those little number charts next to your favorite fast foods, maybe you haven’t, or maybe you've seen them, but you didn't use them to guide your decision for a less calorific meal. Most major fast food chains have them: calorie labels displayed next to meals and drinks to tell you how many calories you are getting per serving so that you can make better decisions for your diet, specifically when it comes to healthy weight management. As of 2010 it was made a law that all fast food chains or restaurants with 20 or more locations must post calorie labels on their menus. But according to a recent study, some people still don’t notice them, and many more people tend to ignore them.

The Philadelphia Experiment

In a survey conducted by Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of population health and health policy at the NYU School of Medicine, 2000 fast-food customers in Philadelphia ages 18–64 were polled on whether they noticed and then used the calorie labels on display in restaurants.

Elbel and his team collected receipts from customers frequenting two major fast food chains and asked them a series of questions, including if they noticed the calorie labels and if the labels affected their decision making when it came to meals. Simultaneously, phone surveys were also carried out throughout Philadelphia asking residents the same questions.

Missing the Markers

The results of the study show that many people are still not aware of the calorie labels in restaurants and how they can use these charts to positively influence their daily diet. Of the 2000 people polled  40% said they noticed the calorie labels while only 10% claimed that they used the labels to purchase meals with fewer calories. While the displaying of calorie labels did appear to have some impact on people’s food choices, researchers suggest that other strategies are needed to help guide people towards making wiser, healthier food choices. “Providing calorie information is not enough,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. “If we want people to use the information, we need to raise awareness about its availability and most importantly, educate about its use.”

Awareness and Choices

To effectively influence further change it is important to recognize and use the healthy tools that are available to you. Monitoring how much you eat can start with understanding your limit for daily caloric intake, obtaining the required nutrients you need from food and supplements, and getting enough daily physical activity. The average diet should consist of around 2000 calories a day (this can be higher or lower depending on gender, age, and dietary goals). How you get these calories is another matter. Calorie labels can be one of many helpful tools that are at your disposal to influence healthier eating habits, so the next time you’re dining out pay closer attention to what you’re eating because the information is there for your benefit. 

References:
https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20131115/many-people-ignore-miss-calorie-counts-on-fast-food-menus-survey?ecd=wnl_day_111913&ctr=wnl-day-111913_hdln_5&mb=
https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/average-calorie-intake-human-per-day-versus-recommendation-1867.html

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