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Category Archives: Health

7 Little Ways to Cut Your Cell Phone Cancer Risk

Any potential links to cancer stem from the low levels of radiation cell phones emit. Lower your exposure to the radiation, and you’ll reduce the potential links to cancer or other health problems:

  1. Use a headset. Sounds obvious, but headsets emit much less radiation than cell phones do, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and they keep your cell phone away from your head. The farther away you are from a source of radiation, the less damage it can do.
  2. Text when you can. Your constantly texting teens are onto something: Cell phones use less energy (and emit less radiation) when you text than when you talk, says the EWG. Texting also keeps the radiation source farther away from your brain.
  3. Use cell phones for FYI-only calls. Don’t use your cell phone for that long overdue, hour-long catch-up with your sister. Keep calls as short as possible —Do you need me to get the dry cleaning, honey? — and switch to a landline if they’re veering off into chitchat territory.
  4. Watch the bars. Can you hear me now? If you’re struggling to maintain a connection, ditch the call and wait until you have better service. When your phone has fewer signal bars, it has to work harder (and, therefore, emit more radiation) to connect.
  5. Keep the phone away from your ear when you can. EMF-Health.comrecommends waiting for the call to connect before you bring the phone to your ear, which minimizes radiation exposure. And when you talk, tilt the phone away from your ear and bring it in close when you’re listening. That’s because the radiation levels are “significantly less when a cell phone is receiving signals than when it is transmitting,” Lin Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University in Houston, told The New York Times.
  6. Don’t make calls in elevators or cars. You already it’s dangerous to talk and drive; EMF-Health.com says that cell phones use more power to establish a connection in enclosed metal spaces like cars and elevators.
  7. Make sure your kids use the landline. It seems like even toddlers are using cell phones today, but experts say kids are the most vulnerable to potential radiation dangers. The EWG says children’s brains absorb twice as much cell phone radiation as adults. According to The New York Times, health authorities in Britain, France, Germany, and Russia all have warnings against letting children use cell phones.

Deaths Up, Care Levels Down at Teaching Hospitals

The dog days of summer are a perfect time for hitting the beach. But a summer visit to your local teaching hospital?

Perhaps not so much, caution researchers who report that such institutions tend to suffer a dip in efficiency and a spike in patient deaths whenever they undergo the massive medical resident turnover that typically ensues every July.

The observation stems from an analysis of 39 studies that looked at a phenomenon commonly known as the “July Effect.” The term refers to the specific time of year when experienced medical residents in training depart their assigned teaching hospital, to be replaced by fresh-faced but less experienced interns.

“Our study is a signal that there is increased risk at this time,” noted study author Dr. John Q. Young, associate program director of the residency training program within the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine. “That’s the bottom line, and it’s something that patients should be aware of.”

“However, at the same time, patients should not delay care because of this concern,” Young stressed. “They should always seek the care they need whenever they need it. But I would say that this concern makes it important that patients try to include a family member or a friend in the process. You should bring them with you to the hospital, so they can advocate for you, and not hesitate to ask to speak to the experienced attending physician that will always be there overseeing the team.”

Young and his colleagues report their findings in the July 12 online edition of theAnnals of Internal Medicine.

At issue, say the authors, is a longstanding concern over the summer season disruption to a teaching hospital’s medical effectiveness that can occur when large groups of well-experienced trainees exit a facility just as “newbie” medical trainees are pouring in. Such changeovers involve about 100,000 medical staff in the United States and 32,000 in Europe each year, Young and his team noted.

Concerns revolve around the new staff’s general unfamiliarity with the intricate workings of a complex hospital environment, as well as their relative lack of experience that may leave them unprepared for the demands of a high-paced clinical setting.

Analyzing the possible consequences to patient health, the study team sifted through the results of 39 English-language studies (mostly American) that were conducted between 1989 and 2010.

The team focused on the July rate of fatalities, medical complications and medical errors at teaching hospitals, as well as overall hospital efficiency variables such as patient hospitalization times, medical costs and operating room time, compared to other months.

The results: Patient fatality rates tended to go up during July staff changeovers, while care efficiency went down. And that, the research team concluded, means that the “July Effect” is real.

However, differences in the way the 39 studies were conducted made it impossible for the authors to determine the exact causes for such trends, and the degree to which patient care might be compromised. In addition, they could not pinpoint which types of teaching hospitals are the most vulnerable to staff turnover.

“There really needs to be more and better studies of this issue — ones that control for the important variables and factors involved, and that look at things like morbidity, surgical complications, infections, that sort of thing,” Young said.

“But I would say that hospitals themselves already take this problem quite seriously,” Young added, “and many take specific steps to deal with the risks. [These include] testing the competency and clinical skills of new residents when they take up new positions, and making sure that the level of responsibility they are given is appropriate. Many have made an effort to enhance supervision, control the growth of caseloads new residents are assigned, and provide better orientation. So, attention is being paid.”

Experts also suggests preventing resident fatigue and staggering start schedules for trainees, so the most experienced residents don’t all leave at once.

On his part, Dr. David Dunkin, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of pediatric gastroenterology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, concurred that teaching hospitals are aware of the “July Effect” and are taking practical steps to minimize associated risks.

“This is a real issue,” said Dunkin. “But I don’t think that patients should be nervous about this.”

“I say that because there are a lot of layers in an academic situation,” he explained. “Yes, in July experienced trainees go and less experienced trainees come. But the hospital faculty doesn’t turn over. And there are constant senior levels of supervision that remain in place. And that means that the July turnover is counterbalanced by an increased vigilance, in which senior level people are watching the new people very closely.”

That said, Dunkin expanded on Young’s advice as to steps patients can take to improve their hospital experience, regardless of when they might visit a teaching hospital.

“Yes, patients should bring someone with them if they can,” he said. “And also be prepared to bring in with them anything that will make it easier to make sure that there will be no misunderstandings concerning their medical history. A copy of any records, if they have had medical illnesses. Or even a letter from their primary care physician or specialist stating what their medical issues are and what medications they are on. That kind of succinct summary reduces the chance of an error being made year-round.”

How to Help the People of Somalia

In the midst of one of the most brutal civil conflicts the world has ever witnessed, the people of Somalia are starving. The worst drought in 60 years has decimated livestock and crops. More than 70 percent of the population is in crisis. More than 30 percent of the children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Those who can are fleeing the country, often walking hundreds of miles across the parched desert into Kenya and Ethiopia.

“To offer some perspective, the Kenyan refugee camps are located more than 50 miles from the Somalian border,” explains Ella Gudwin, vice president of emergency response for AmeriCares, one of the few relief organizations able to mobilize in the devastated region. “What breaks my heart are the not-uncommon stories of people leaving their dying children and elderly parents behind as they push forward in the crushing heat to save the rest of their families.”

In August, AmeriCares landed its first of several emergency aid air shipments to Mogadishu, the war-torn capital. These desperately needed airlifts are supplying nutritional supplements, basic medicines and medical supplies to the health clinics and mobile medical teams that have scrambled to treat the swelling refugee population in and around the capital. Your donation will help keep the food and medicine flowing to those who need them.

AmeriCares is unique in its ability to aid the Somali relief network. Hampered by ground violence, piracy and diplomatic red tape, the vast majority of non-governmental relief organizations have been limited in their efforts to deliver food and supplies. But thanks to a long-cultivated partnership network of established clinics and medical organizations, AmeriCares has been able to sidestep these obstacles and mobilize effectively.

Indeed, for the past three decades, AmeriCares has donated more than $11.5 million in aid to local partner organizations in Somalia, including more than $3 million in medicines, nutritional supplements and vitamins during the last major drought and food crisis in 2008 and 2009.

Follow-up shipments containing additional nutritional supplements, water purification kits and targeted medicines and supplies is already on track to depart within the next month.

“With tens of thousands of people crowded into squalid, unsanitary conditions, disease can spread like wildfire,” said AmeriCares senior vice president of global programs Christoph Gorder. “By providing antibiotics that fight infections and other basic medicines and supplies, AmeriCares will save countless lives.”

Everyday Health For All is partnering with AmeriCares to provide aid to those who need it in Somalia and around the world.

Dangerous Bacteria Hide Out in Nurses’, Doctors’ Uniforms

The white coats and medical scrubs worn by hospital staff may harbor hazardous bacteria, a new study finds.

Researchers in Israel swabbed nurses’ and physicians’ uniforms and found potentially dangerous bacteria on more than 60 percent of the clothing items.

The team, from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, analyzed swab samples collected from three parts — sleeve ends, pockets and abdominal area — of the uniforms of 75 registered nurses and 60 doctors.

Potentially dangerous bacteria were found on 60 percent of the doctors’ uniforms and 65 percent of the nurses’ uniforms. Especially dangerous drug-resistant bacteria were found in 21 of the samples from nurses’ uniforms and six samples from doctors’ uniforms. Eight of the samples had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA), which is becoming tough to fight using conventional antibiotics.

The bacteria on the uniforms may not pose a direct risk of disease transmission, but the findings suggest that many hospital patients are in close proximity to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, the researchers said.

“It is important to put these study results into perspective,” Russell Olmsted, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), said in an association news release. “Any clothing that is worn by humans will become contaminated with microorganisms. The cornerstone of infection prevention remains the use of hand hygiene to prevent the movement of microbes from these surfaces to patients.”

The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of APIC.

Drunk Driving Declines in United States

Despite a 30 percent decline in drunk drivingsince 2006, drunk drivers still account for almost 11,000 traffic deaths — one-third of all traffic-related fatalities — each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drunk driving incidents peaked in 2006, and decreased nearly one-third through 2010, the agency said in a new report.

Still, drunk drivers got behind the wheel about 112 million times in 2010 — which amounts to about 300,000 incidents a day.

“The bottom line here is that by self-report, which is undoubtedly an underestimate, Americans got behind the wheel 112 million times last year and endangered themselves and others,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during a Tuesday news conference.

People need to be more responsible, and communities and governments can do more to protect the public from drunk driving, Freiden added.

The drop in drunk driving might, he said, be due in part to the recession, which could mean more people are drinking at home rather than in bars and restaurants.

“Drunk driving is far too common. This is something that is unacceptable,” Frieden said. “It’s a public health problem with far reaching effects. It puts everyone in danger — even the most responsible drivers and pedestrians.”

Using data from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, CDC researchers found that men make up 81 percent of drunk drivers. In addition, although men 21 to 34 years old are only 11 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 32 percent of all drunk drivers.

Most drinking and driving episodes (85 percent) were reported by people who also said they binge drink, according to the report.

Moreover, 55 percent of drunk driving episodes were among the 4.5 percent of adults who said they engaged in binge drinking at least four times a month. And these episodes were four times higher among people who reported not wearing a seat beltall the time, compared with those who always wear one, the researchers found.

Ways to prevent drunk driving, according to the CDC, include:

  • Sobriety checkpoints where drivers are stopped to see if the driver is drunk. According to the U.S. Transportation Research Board, more of these checkpoints could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives each year.
  • Keeping the minimum drinking age at 21 in all states to help prevent young drivers from drinking and driving.
  • Requiring convicted drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks that keep the car from starting if they have been drinking. These devices reduce re-arrest rates for drunk driving by about two-thirds, the CDC said.

Frieden noted that despite their effectiveness, sobriety checkpoints are prohibited in 12 states. “There is very strong public support for checkpoints, with 75 percent of respondents in a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Transportation endorsing weekly or monthly sobriety checkpoints,” he said.

Ignition interlocks are only used in about 20 percent of drunk driving cases, Frieden said. “We recommend at CDC making interlocks mandatory for all offenders,” he said.

Another effective strategy some states use is the graduated drivers license for young drivers, Frieden said. “We think largely as a result of those policies we are seeing substantial reduction in fatalities among 16- to 18-year-old drivers,” he said.

Other countries have done more to reduce drunk driving than the United States, Frieden said. “Their rates of motor vehicle crashes are half or two-thirds lower than the U.S. rate, and they drink just as much and they drive just as fast,” he said.

“While we have made progress, this is still a huge problem that’s a threat to everyone, particularly because there is so much more we can do,” he said.

A Guide And Tips to Good Personal Hygiene

Mom was right: Good personal hygiene is essential to promoting good health.

Personal hygiene habits such as washing your hands and brushing and flossing your teeth will help keep bacteria, viruses, and illnesses at bay. And there are mental as well as physical benefits. “Practicing good body hygiene helps you feel good about yourself, which is important for your mental health,” notes Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. People who have poor hygiene — disheveled hair and clothes, body odor, bad breath, missing teeth, and the like — often are seen as unhealthy and may face discrimination.

Personal Hygiene: Healthy Habits Include Good Grooming

If you want to minimize your risk of infection and also enhance your overall health, follow these basic personal hygiene habits:

  • Bathe regularly. Wash your body and your hair often. “I’m not saying that you need to shower or bathe every day,” remarks Dr. Novey. “But you should clean your body and shampoo your hair at regular intervals that work for you.” Your body is constantly shedding skin. Novey explains, “That skin needs to come off. Otherwise, it will cake up and can cause illnesses.”
  • Trim your nails. Keeping your finger and toenails trimmed and in good shape will prevent problems such as hang nails and infected nail beds. Feet that are clean and dry are less likely to contract athlete’s foot, Novey says.
  • Brush and floss. Ideally, you should brush your teeth after every meal. At the very least, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brushing minimizes the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease, Novey says. Flossing, too, helps maintain strong, healthy gums. “The bacteria that builds up and causes gum diseasecan go straight to the heart and cause very serious valve problems,” Novey explains. Unhealthy gums also can cause your teeth to loosen, which makes it difficult to chew and to eat properly, he adds. To maintain a healthy smile, visit the dentist at six-month intervals for checkups and cleanings.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands before preparing or eating food, after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after handling garbage, goes a long way toward preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. Keep a hygiene product, like an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, handy for when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Sleep tight. Get plenty of rest — 8 to 10 hours a night — so that you are refreshed and are ready to take on the day every morning. Lack of sleepcan leave you feeling run down and can compromise your body’s natural defenses, your immune system, Novey says.

Personal Hygiene: Poor Hygiene Hints at Other Issues

If someone you know hasn’t bathed or appears unkempt, it could be a sign that he or she is depressed. “When people are sad or depressed, they neglect themselves,” Novey says. Talking about the importance of proper personal hygiene for preventing illnesses and providing personal hygiene items may help some people. Be candid but sensitive and understanding in your discussions, Novey says. Despite your best efforts, your friend or loved one may need professional help. You should encourage them to see a counselor or doctor if their personal hygiene doesn’t improve.

Personal Hygiene: Good Habits Help Keep You Healthy

For most people, good hygiene is so much a part of their daily routines that they think little about it. They bathe, they brush their teeth, visit the dentist and doctor for regular checkups, and wash their hands when preparing or eating food and handling unsanitary items. To keep those you care about healthy and safe, help them learn, and be sure that they are practicing, good personal hygiene.

Multivitamins: Should You Take One?

Our bodies need many different vitamins and minerals to function properly.

Vitamins and minerals also offer us protection against a host of ailments, includingheart disease and some cancers, such as colon and cervical cancer.

The good news is that we can get most of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need daily by choosing the right foods and eating a wide variety of them.

Still, many people take a multivitamin daily as an insurance policy — just to be sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals that their bodies require.

“A multivitamin is a good idea for the trace elements,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill.

“You want a multivitamin for all those little things at the bottom of the ingredients list. The ones at the top of the list are familiar and the ones we can’t avoid if we’re eating enriched foods. It’s the trace elements at the bottom that are the ones often missing.”

Trace elements include chromium, folic acid, potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc.

Daily Vitamin: Our Needs Change With Age

Vitamin supplements can be particularly important during certain stages of our lives, Dr. Novey says. For example, women in their childbearing years can benefit from folic acid, which decreases the risk of some birth defects. A pregnant woman needs a multivitamin, starting in the first trimester, to ensure that the baby receives proper nutrition. Active and older women can benefit from increased calcium, which can help prevent bone loss and fractures. Vegetarians also can benefit from taking extra calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D.

Does it matter what time of day you take a multivitamin? Not really, says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. However, he says, some people find it helpful to take vitamins at the same time every day. If it becomes part of their routine, they are less likely to forget. Also, he says, some people feel that if they take their vitamin with food, it is less likely to cause stomach upset. “I often recommend that people take a chewable vitamin,” Dr. Bickston says, “because they seem to be well tolerated, even in people who have serious digestive conditions, which is what I deal with in my practice.”

Daily Vitamin: Tips for Shopping for the Right Multivitamin

Do you need to buy brand name vitamins? Novey says vitamins are like any other consumer product: “You get what you pay for.” He suggests shopping for vitamins in health food or natural food stores. Read the label and make sure its expiration date is at least a few months away. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advice on how much to take — or the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) — is often written as “% DV” for percentage of daily value on the label. However, be careful because the DVs on the label may not take into consideration the different requirements for age and gender as RDAs do.

Multivitamins can be beneficial, but doctors warn not to be suckered by “mega” vitamins. The amount of vitamins in a standard multi is generally what you need for health benefits. Rarely do people need more than the RDA of any vitamin. When it comes to vitamins, the too-much-of-a-good-thing rule can apply, Bickston says.

Daily Vitamin: Ensuring Good Health

Clearly, eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats and poultry, and low-fat dairy products is the best way to get your daily dose of vitamins and nutrients to keep your body functioning properly and to ward off illnesses. But taking a multivitamin daily is a good backup plan, and an easy way to fill in any gaps in your diet.

6 Ways to Boost Women’s Health

To look and feel your best at every age, it’s important to make smart lifestyle and health choices. Here are six simple things that women can do every day (or with regularity) to ensure good health:

Health Tip #1: Eat a healthy diet. “You want to eat as close to a natural foods diet as you can,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. That means a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Eat whole grains and high-fiber foods and choose leaner cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Include low-fat dairy products in your diet as well — depending on your age, you need between 800 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily to help avoid osteoporosis, Dr. Novey says. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.

Healthy eating will help you maintain a proper weight for your height, which is important because being overweight can lead to a number of illnesses. Looking for a healthy snack? Try some raw vegetables, such as celery, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, or zucchini with dip made from low-fat yogurt.

If you’re not getting enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet, you might want to take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement to make sure you’re maintaining good health.

Health Tip #2: Exercise. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in America, but plenty of exercise can help keep your heart healthy. You want to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, if not every day. Aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, dancing) are good for women’s health in general and especially for your heart, says Sabrena Merrill, MS, of Lawrence, Kan., a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor and a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

Health Tip #3: Avoid risky habits. Stay away from cigarettes and people who smoke. Don’t use drugs. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Most women’s health studies show that women can safely consume one drink a day. A drink is considered to be about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol, which is equal to 12 ounces of beer (4.5 percent alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (12.9 percent alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey, 80-proof).

Health Tip #4: Manage stress. No matter what stage of her life — daughter, mother, grandmother — a woman often wears many hats and deals with a lot of pressure and stress. “Take a few minutes every day just to relax and get your perspective back again,” Novey says. “It doesn’t take long, and mental health is important to your physical well-being.” You also can manage stress with exercise, relaxation techniques, or meditation.

Health Tip #5: Sun safely. Excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can cause skincancer, which can be deadly. To protect against skin cancer, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 if you are going to be outdoors for more than a few minutes. Even if you wear sunscreen faithfully, you should check regularly for signs of skin cancer. Warning signs include any changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of birthmarks, moles, or freckles, or new, enlarging, pigmented, or red skin areas. If you spot any changes or you find you have sores that are not healing, consult your doctor.

Health Tip #6: Check for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society no longer recommends monthly breast self-exams for women. However, it still suggests them as “an option” for women, starting in their 20s. You should be on the lookout for any changes in your breasts and report any concerns to your doctor. All women 40 and older should get a yearly mammogram as a mammogram is the most effective way of detecting cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable.

A woman’s health needs change as she ages, but the basics of women’s health remain the same. If you follow these six simple healthy living tips, you will improve your quality of life for years to come.

Drinking Alcohol: Health Boost or Health Risk?

 A large number of studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. Moderate drinking means one drink per day for women and one to two for men, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “The difference in amounts is because of how men and women metabolize alcohol,” Dr. Novey explains.

“When you say one drink, the size of that drink matters,” Novey adds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture one drink is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of beer or
  • 5 ounces of wine or
  • 1½ ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey, 80-proof)

The Dangers of Drinking Too Much

Unfortunately, some people can’t stop at just one or two drinks. Too much alcohol can result in serious health consequences. Heavy alcohol intake can damage the liver, causing cirrhosis, a fatal disease. Excessive drinking also can raise blood pressure and damage the heart, and is linked to many different cancers, including mouth, esophagus, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. The health risks are even greater for those who not only drink but smoke as well.

The consequences of excessive drinking can be serious not only for the alcoholic, but also for their friends, family, and even innocent bystanders. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents that involve drunken drivers. Other data indicates that one in three violent crimes involves the use of alcohol and as many as three out of four violent incidents against a spouse involve alcohol. “Alcohol is a depressant. It makes people sad over time, not happy,” Novey says. When depressed, people can do some rather unfortunate things to themselves and their loved ones.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

How can you tell if you or someone you know might have a drinking problem? Physicians often use the CAGE test, which involves four simple questions, Novey says:

  • Cutting down. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Annoyance by criticism. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Guilty feeling. Have you ever felt guilty about drinking alcohol?
  • Eye-openers. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (an “eye-opener”)?

If the answer to just one of these questions is yes, a drinking problem is likely and professional help is needed, Novey says.

Other signs of a drinking problem:

  • You find you can’t stop drinking once you start.
  • You’re having problems at work or at school.
  • Other people notice your drinking and comment on it.
  • You can’t remember what you did when you were drinking alcohol.

Moderation Rules

Consuming no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks for men is safe, and perhaps even heart healthy. On the other hand, excessive drinking can have serious consequences. If you think you may have a drinking problem or suspect that someone you love does, seek professional help. Contact your family physician or a support group for substance abuse before irreparable damage is done.

How to Eat a Healthy Diet

 If you are what you eat, it follows that you want to stick to a healthy diet that’s well balanced. “You want to eat a variety of foods,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. “You don’t want to be overly restrictive of any one food group or eat too much of another.”

Healthy Diet: The Building Blocks

The best source of meal planning for most Americans is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Pyramid. The pyramid, updated in 2005, suggests that for a healthy diet each day you should eat:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains. These include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and at least 3 servings should be from whole grains. A serving of bread is one slice while a serving of cereal is 1/2 (cooked) to 1 cup (ready-to-eat). A serving of rice or pasta is 1/2 cup cooked (1 ounce dry). Save fat-laden baked goods such as croissants, muffins, and donuts for an occasional treat.
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, making them a great addition to your healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables also provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for your body’s systems to function at peak performance. Fruits and vegetables also will add flavor to a healthy diet. It’s best to serve them fresh, steamed, or cut up in salads. Be sure to skip the calorie-laden toppings, butter, and mayonnaise, except on occasion. A serving of raw or cooked vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens); a serving of a fruit is 1/2 cup or a fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball.
  • 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose dairy products wisely. Go for fat-free or reduced-fat milk or cheeses. Substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes and no one will notice the difference. A serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese.
  • 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. For a healthy diet, the best ways to prepare beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish is to bake or broil them. Look for the words “loin” or “round” in cuts of meats because they’re the leanest. Remove all visible fat or skin before cooking, and season with herbs, spices, and fat-free marinades. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 2 to 3 ounces. Some crossover foods such as dried beans, lentils, and peanut butter can provide protein without the animal fat and cholesterol you get from meats. A ¼ cup cooked beans or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is equal to 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. No diet should totally eliminate any one food group, even fats, oils, and sweets. It’s fine to include them in your diet as long as it’s on occasion and in moderation, Bickston says.

Healthy Diet: Eat Right and the Right Amount

How many calories you need in a day depends on your sex, age, body type, and how active you are. Generally, active children ages 2 to 8 need between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. Active teenage girls and women can consume about 2,200 calories a day without gaining weight. Teenage boys and men who are very active should consume about 3,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. If you’re not active, you calorie needs drop by 400 to 600 calories a day.

The best way to know how much to eat is to listen to your body, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “Pull away from the table when you’re comfortable but not yet full. Wait about 20 minutes,” he says. “Usually your body says, ‘That’s good.’ If you’re still hungry after that, you might want to eat a little more.”

Healthy Diet: Exercise Is Part of the Plan

At the bottom of the new USDA food pyramid is a space for exercise. Exercise is an important component of a well-balanced diet and good nutrition. You can reap “fabulous rewards,” says Dr Novey, just by exercising and eating “a healthy diet of foods that nature provides.”