Monday, March 12, 2012

5 Confusing Food Labels

These days, it seems like almost every packaged good you pick up has a label touting the food's body benefits: heart-healthy! cholesterol-free! But some health claims are more hype than anything else, resulting in labels that are confusing, redundant and just plain silly. To help you spend your grocery money wisely, we had experts puzzle out the promises.

The sell: “Gluten-free” seeds

All seeds are naturally gluten-free, say self contributing experts Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D. Gluten is a portion of a protein found in certain grains like wheat. Some marketers may be trying to capitalize on the popularity of no-gluten diets for weight loss (which don't necessarily work, BTW). Bottom line Don't mistake gluten-free for diet-friendly: The term doesn't mean seeds—or any food—are less fattening.

The sell: “Cholesterol-free” corn oil

Duh alert! Any plant-based food has zero cholesterol. The only place you'll find cholesterol is in animal products, because it comes from the membranes of animal cells. Unless a living creature was involved (as with cheese), the food is cholesterol-free. Bottom line Yes, corn oil is cholesterol-free, but so are olive and peanut oils. And walnut and grapeseed oils. Choose based on your intended use (corn oil for cooking, olive for salad dressing).

The sell: “Real cheese”

Um, as opposed to what? Sadly, there are dairy-free soy imitations that look like true cheese, including the shredded stuff on some pizzas. Foods with the REAL seal must be made with actual dairy, but they can also have unsavory ingredients such as added preservatives and colors (e.g., taxicab yellow). Bottom line You can't count on front-of-the-box labels to avoid processed junk. Look for red flag words like cheese product.

The sell: “Promotes respiratory health”

This tea heralds wellness perks in big type, but the fine print reveals that the FDA hasn't evaluated the claim and the product doesn't treat illness. Companies can legally get away with making health-related pledges by using weaker words (support, promote) versus authoritative ones (prevent, protect). Bottom line No single food is a cure-all for sickness. If you're under the weather, visit your doctor—you may need a real Rx.

The sell: “All-natural” carrots

Natural foods are flying off shelves; it's little wonder the label is everywhere, even on foods that clearly came from the ground. The term, however, is toothless, Clarke and Jarosh say. The FDA hasn't defined natural and doesn't regulate its use, so companies can—and do—use it willy-nilly to up sales. Bottom line Don't let an “I'm natural” pickup line charm you into opening your wallet. Check ingredients to decide on a buy.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Everywhere I turn these days, people are urging me to worry. "Restaurants are swarming with bacteria!" shouts a local news promo. "We'll tell you what to beware of!" From the computer in my lap, a parenting blog warns, "There's plenty to be anxious about." Noting the pallor of my furrowed brow, a neighbor clucks, "I think you should be more concerned about your health."

Friends, there are many areas in which I need encouragement, but worrying is not one of them. I worry the way Renée Fleming sings high Cs: Effortlessly. Loudly. At length. You may be similarly gifted, because worrying comes easily to a certain subpopulation of humans, namely those of us with pulses. We're constantly creating new, worry-based strategies for living.

But worrying is worrisome: It's stressful, and as we all know, stress will kill you. I worry about that a lot. So today I'm striking a tiny blow for sanity with my list of ten things you can officially stop worrying about.

1. What's on Your Plate

"If I can just finish this project," says my ultrabusy friend Nancy, "I can stop worrying." She's said this every time I've ever spoken to her. No matter how much work Nancy finishes, by the time it's done she's fixating on a whole new crop of chores. In our achievement-obsessed society, this is "normal." But I realized just how insane it is when a friend was dying of cancer. On her deathbed she managed to joke with me, "Hey, at least I only have one more thing on my to-do list."

Instead of fretting about getting everything done, why not simply accept that being alive means having things to do? Then drop into full engagement with whatever you're doing, and let the worry go.

"But," you may be thinking, "I can't just cut my anxiety loose! It isn't under my control!" I empathize with this argument. I also know it's bunk. To stop worrying about something, simply direct your attention toward something else. Personally, I like to interrupt my flow of worry by imagining—vividly—what I'd do if an elk walked into the room. See? Distraction works.

2. Needing Help

I used to be one of those people who spurned assistance—from other people, from God, from chemicals. Not anymore! These days—whether I'm begging for divine intervention, enlisting a fellow coach to help me overcome my aversion to e-mail, or refilling the awesome prescription that helps me sleep no matter how disruptive my schedule—I pretty much walk around hollering, "Help wanted!"

Are my helpers crutches? You betcha. Mama needs crutches, and she doesn't worry one little bit about using them. If you worry about needing what you need—a shoulder to cry on, a standing date with a shrink, whatever the shrink prescribes—come to Mama, and she'll smack you upside the head with her crutches until that worry flies right out of your mind.

3. Your Children

There was a time when I spent many hours worrying about my kids. In fact, I was so worried my firstborn would feel unloved that I "soothed" her constantly, blasting the poor child with a fire hose of anxious energy. It's a wonder she survived.

My second child, who arrived with an extra 21st chromosome, eventually led me to a shocking conclusion: We don't actually have much control over the way our kids turn out. Genes do a lot of the deciding, and the owner of those genes does most of the rest. Some kids let parents have a great deal of influence; others don't. Either way, people blossom when we love them, not when we worry about them. Worry just teaches worry. Let it go. 

4. Your Face (and Hips, and Butt...)

As long as we're on the subject of DNA, let's take on the big kahuna of worries: our appearance. Ten bajillion product ads notwithstanding, your looks are another thing that's basically genetic. Stressing about them only deepens the facial creases that make everyone in your family resemble perturbed bulldog puppies. Key phrase: everyone in your family.

Instead of obsessing over your own appearance, try noticing—and mentioning—beautiful things about everyone else. This will make people adore you, which, last time I checked, is what most of us are hoping to achieve by worrying about our looks in the first place.

5. What You Own

The trick here is learning to reframe your perspective. For example, my friend Kathy always lays a colorful towel over her expensive tablecloth before serving her twin 7-year-old granddaughters a snack. One of the twins recently said, "Grandma, you don't need to worry about us spilling. Spills are just memories." If you'd rather live surrounded by pristine objects than by the traces of happy memories, stay focused on tangible things. Otherwise, stop fixating on stuff you can touch and start caring about stuff that touches you.

6. Everything You're Doing Wrong

I don't know any perfect people, but I know many who worry about being perfect. They exercise religiously and serve their families home-cooked organic free-range Tofurky recipes. They are unbearable.

I love the Buddhist concept of enlightenment as living without anxiety over imperfection. You can strain every fiber of your being trying to be flawless, only to face inevitable failure—or you can stop worrying about perfection, which instantly makes everything feel great. Save time and tofu: Choose option two.

7. The Past

I agree that your divorce settlement was a travesty of justice on par with the sack of Troy, that your last boss was abusive, and that you shouldn't have calmed yourself with so many appletinis prior to testifying before Congress. I do not agree that worrying about it now will do any good.

The word worry comes from the Old English wyrgan, meaning "to strangle." When we fixate on something in the past, we grab our own histories by the throat, cutting off the flow of physical and emotional energy that keeps us fully alive. To start the flow again, look forward. Think how you can apply what you've learned. Let your divorce teach you to negotiate assertively, your horrible boss help you spot and avoid other creeps. Let the debacle at Congress send you to a 12-step meeting. Embracing the lesson always loosens the stranglehold of worry.

8. What People Are Saying About You Right This Very Second

People are always telling me elaborate stories about the elaborate stories other people are supposedly telling about them. "I know people mock my pain," growls one client. "Everyone expects me to be strong," says another. "You think I'm expendable," sobs a wife, while her husband protests, "You think I'm a robot." All of these people are wrong, but they've got company. We all worry what people think about us—until we decide not to waste the energy.

When I first started coaching, I noticed that I never worried what my clients thought of me. Why not? All my attention was focused on understanding them. I watched like a Martian observer, not a vulnerable peer. This took me out of worry mode, and it helped clients feel seen. By not worrying about what they thought of me, I accidentally ensured that they thought well of me.

Today, pretend you're a Martian gathering data on humans. As you notice what they do and say without focusing on your fear of their opinions, you'll feel less self-conscious, and they'll feel the nonjudgmental attention they've always wanted from you. Win-win.

9. Your Account Balance

I have nothing against the globally sacred rite of worrying about money. Except this: People, it has no payoff.

I stopped worrying about money when I was unemployed, living on credit card debt. It wasn't that my ship came in. It was just that I'd decided to try writing for a living, yet I was too worried to write. So I proactively pushed aside worry as I worked. Did I make money that day? No. Did I make money sooner because I stopped worrying? I think so. Did I enjoy my life more from that moment on, regardless of how much I had in the bank? Abso-freaking-lutely. Go about your business, whatever it is, with full energy. And drop the worry. Watch how much stronger your moneymaking skills become when you're not dragging around a hefty load of anxiety.

10. Worrying

If your Spanx are now totally knotted from trying to stop worrying, it's time to take a nice, cleansing breath. Aaahhhh. Remember point number six: We're not after perfection here. If you've felt even a tiny release from worry while reading this list, you're succeeding. That slight lessening of anxiety is all you need.

Wiggle your worries a little each day, and they'll gradually lose their hold on you. Trust that you're already counteracting the barrage of messages that tell us, every day, to worry, worry, and worry some more. Enjoy the liberating sense of bucking the cultural tide. And speaking of bucks, if you have further questions, please feel free to direct them to my elk. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Curb Your Sweet Tooth

Stopping the Domino Effect

Here comes the hard-to-swallow truth: The only way to curb a sugar habit is to cut back drastically. It will be rough in the beginning, but your body will crave sugar less as it regains its insulin sensitivity. In order to extract your sweet tooth, you first need to know how much sugar you're actually eating. There are plenty of hidden sources of sugar and, as Connie Bennett reports in her book, Sugar Shock!, more than 100 names for sweeteners. Take note of sugar's pseudonyms and look for red-flag ingredients like dextrose rice syrup, and cane juice. Read labels for a week and jot down how much sugar you're taking in--you'll probably find that it far exceeds the approximately 10 percent of your daily caloric intake the federal dietary guidelines recommend (that's about 20 grams, or five teaspoons, per 1,000 calories consumed).

You'll also realize that many products touted as healthy are still high in sugar. There are no laws regulating the use of the words "all natural" on food packaging, so manufacturers can label their products with abandon. "'All natural' is a really misleading term, and it does not necessarily imply that a product is low in sugar," Bennett says. Even if sweeteners do come from all-natural ingredients, they can be highly concentrated, as they are in dried fruit. One ounce of dried pineapple has about 21 grams of sugar, compared with 2.6 grams for the same amount of fresh pineapple. So watch your portions of trail mix.

Once you know how much sugar you're really eating, you can control your intake.
Here are the pros' tips for cracking down on the most seductive tabletop substance known to man:

Eat breakfast 
"Ninety percent of sugar addicts skip breakfast," says Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., author of Potatoes Not Prozac. "They wait and get a big hit of sugar at 10 a.m." When you eat breakfast, you prevent the drop in blood sugar that makes you crave sugar later.

Pick fruit Satisfy your sweet tooth with apples, bananas, and berries, which temper natural sugar with fiber and loads of antioxidants, says Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the author of Feed Your Family Right! Dried fruit and 100 percent fruit juices will also do in a pinch, but they don't have nearly as much fiber and are more concentrated sources of calories, Zied says, so limit yourself to a quarter cup or less of dried fruit or one cup of 100 percent juice a day.

Think 100 When you simply must have a cupcake or a candy bar, stick to 100- to 150-calorie portions and 16 grams of sugar or less. Check out theBest Supermarket Foods for Women, to keep your fitness goals.
Indulge right after dinner Late-night ice cream fixes give you a pure, unadulterated sugar rush. Have a small scoop soon after dinner instead and you'll reduce (though not counter) the insulin-­spiking effect, DesMaisons says.

Cut out "overt" sugars Tackle the worst offenders first: sucrose-laden treats like candy, frappuccinos, ice cream, and soft drinks. If you drink a soda every day, try having one every other day, then once a week, then not at all.

Enter sugar rehab Like any addict, you need to detox before you can fully recover. According to DesMaisons, it takes five days to fully overcome your cravings for sugar, and you'll feel awful for three of them. Prepare to be edgy and irritable starting on day two; by day five, you'll feel like a whole new person. After you've recovered, you'll find that a little sugar goes a much longer way.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What It Means to Have “No Compromise” Quality

Quality Assurance
Isagenix stands out in its commitment to manufacturing and quality assurance
Ever wonder if a dietary supplement really offers the right kind of ingredient, amount of an ingredient, or the level of potency of an ingredient that it claims to? If there’s one thing people should know before ever making a dietary supplement purchase, it’s that good manufacturing practices are a crucial component when it comes to the efficacy. There should be no mistake when it comes to getting the right quality for your health: Isagenix.
The company understands that good manufacturing can mean the difference between absolutely no effect and fantastic results. Isagenix makes quality and your optimal health highest priority. We pride ourselves on the commitment to what we like to call “No Compromise” quality.
The Isagenix “No Compromise” Quality Policy is extensive and thorough—set up to ensure that all of our products are made in accordance with the highest standards of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements. The company strives to meet and exceed the very GMPs that the Food and Drug Administration requires under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. These guidelines cover authenticity, quarantine/release procedures, potency and purity testing of raw materials and finished products, cleanliness of the facility, employee training, documentation, and other areas. We also adhere to detailed written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure consistency and safety in each phase of our manufacturing process.
Independent Testing of all Raw Materials
To start with, Isagenix has an SOP that requires every raw material that arrives in our manufacturing facilities to be immediately quarantined, thoroughly inspected and tested for identity and authenticity. Any raw material that does not meet the standards or specifications of the Isagenix Raw Material Review Board is rejected or destroyed. Isagenix requires industry-standard evaluation methods to determine potency, strength, and composition of each ingredient.
The company actively seeks to source raw materials only from suppliers with a proven track record of sustainability and high quality. In addition, the company uses certified organic raw materials whenever possible if they meet standards of purity, safety, and potency.
Independent Testing for Possible Contamination
All raw materials are also independently tested for safety. The safety of raw materials is the highest priority for Isagenix. Rigorous independent testing is performed for:
  • Microbial activity – total aerobic bacterial, yeast and mold, salmonella and E. coli strains, and other bacterial strains
  • Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides
  • Heavy Metals – all botanicals are tested for the presence of lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic
  • PCBs and dioxins (fish oil) – each batch of fish oil is third-party tested to confirm undetectable levels of heavy metals, PCBs, and dioxins.
Finished Product Verification
Only after full testing of ingredients does Isagenix allow their products to be manufactured. Then, aside from initial inspection, Isagenix is one of the few companies in the world to have a surveillance program that inspects and re-analyzes finished products. It involves sending our products for independent laboratory testing for all its claims to ensure that our products fully meet (100 percent) the label claim and support our published expiration date. It is our Finished Product Verification and Stability Testing Process.
Isagenix Worldwide
The Finished Product Verification and Stability Testing Process and overall “No Compromise” Quality Policy is what enables Isagenix to distribute these products in places across the globe. Isagenix products are now available in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, and Mexico. These areas and countries often have strict regulations that surpass those of the United States. Isagenix meets the regulations for both these global regions and for the benefit of U.S. customers.
There are few other dietary supplement companies that can boast the same level of quality assurance commitment. Unlike others, Isagenix doesn’t cut any corners in making nutritional products and spends millions each year on independent analysis of ingredients and auditing by third-party qualified organizations. By putting this much care into nutritional products, Isagenix knows it’s doing right by its customers and their health.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fructose Is Not “Toxic” and Can Help Control Blood Sugar

Fructose is found naturally in fruits
Fructose is healthy at levels found in fruits, new research confirms.
Fructose, found naturally in fruits and vegetables, has been unfairly singled out as a scapegoat for the obesity epidemic, Canadian researchers say.
The sugar is not “toxic,” does not cause weight gain any different than any other source of carbohydrate when consumed in excess, does not affect blood pressure any differently, and can even help manage blood sugar when consumed in amounts normally obtained from fruit. These were the findings of three extensive systematic reviews that analyzed well-designed randomized controlled feeding trials to evaluate the effects of fructose as compared to other sources of carbohydrates.
These meta-analyses revealed the following:
  • Fructose had no significant effect on body weight in an analysis of 31 calorie-controlled trials. Excess calories coming from any source of carbohydrates contributed to weight gain regardless of type.
  • Fructose demonstrated no adverse effect on blood pressure when compared to other carbohydrate sources in an analysis of 15 trials, contrary to previously raised concerns.
  • Some fructose, up to and around 10 grams per meal, could improve glycemic control (blood sugar control), according to analysis of six trials.

The authors caution that fructose at high doses such as found in many sugar-sweetened sodas (often 25 grams or higher) can increase body weight. However, the weight gain would be attributed to the extra calories consumed and not because of any unique property of fructose.
John L. Sievenpiper, M.D., Ph.D., Russel J. de Souza, ScD, RD, and David Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, along with their research team published their findings in the February issues of Annals of Internal Medicine, the British Journal of Nutrition, and Hypertension
Funding for their research came primarily from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Fructose is often singled out in the popular press because of the prominence of high-fructose corn syrup, which is about 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose, in a variety of processed foods. Notably, in these reviews, the researchers concentrated on fructose only and excluded studies on high-fructose corn syrup.
The research is presented in the face of controversy because of a previously published commentary in Nature authored by Robert Lustig, M.D., and colleagues, in which they described the sugar as “toxic.” In response to Lustig’s paper, Sievenpiper, de Souza, and Jenkins wrote to the publication saying:
Robert Lustig and colleagues argue that sugar is “toxic,” focusing on the “deadly effect” of the fructose moiety of sucrose. But they are directing attention away from the problem of general overconsumption.
Guidelines on healthy eating encourage fruit consumption, and fruit and fruit products are the third-largest source of fructose in the US diet.
Our meta-analyses of controlled feeding trials indicate a net metabolic benefit, with no harmful effects, from fructose at a level of intake obtainable from fruit.
Their criticism was published as “Correspondence” in the 23 February issue ofNature  accompanied by comments of other scientists. The other comments called the “opinion paper” of Lustig and colleagues “extreme,” “ludicrous,” and “sensationalism.” They also made the point that the paper contained oversimplifications that sought to demonize sugar rather than address the complex factors (such as overeating and sedentary lifestyle) associated with obesity in a way that would serve public health.
In their comment, clinical nutritionists Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, Ph.D., and Viren Ranawana, Ph.D., of the Singapore Institute, wrote that “contribution of sugar towards chronic diseases is more relevant to developed countries than the developing world,” and that it’s more likely that overconsumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates are what mainly contribute to obesity and diabetes.

Fructose, unlike other sugars, is low glycemic because it's metabolized differently.
Fructose, metabolized differently than glucose and other sugars, doesn’t stimulate insulin and is characteristicallylow glycemic. For these reasons, it’s often used in low-glycemic food applications (and mainly in amounts similar to what’s in fruit). It’s also higher in stability and perceived sweetness compared to other sugars, which leads to less use of sugar overall.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Since the day the late Gene Siskel asked me, "What do you know for sure?" and I got all flustered and started stuttering and couldn't come up with an answer, I've never stopped asking myself that question. And every month I must find yet another answer. Some months I feel I hardly know a thing, and I'm always pressed to make the deadline for this column. This time around, I looked back and came up with my all-time top 20:

1. What you put out comes back all the time, no matter what. (This is my creed.)

2. You define your own life. Don't let other people write your script.

3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.

4. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (A lesson from Maya Angelou.)

5. Worrying is wasted time. Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.

6. What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.

7. If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that will be enough. (From the German theologian and humanist Meister Eckhart.)

8. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.

9. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.

10. If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.

11. Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn't lie.

12. Love yourself and then learn to extend that love to others in every encounter.

13. Let passion drive your profession.

14. Find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Then every paycheck will be a bonus.

15. Love doesn't hurt. It feels really good.

16. Every day brings a chance to start over.

17. Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.

18. Doubt means don't. Don't move. Don't answer. Don't rush forward.

19. When you don't know what to do, get still. The answer will come.

20. "Trouble don't last always." (A line from a Negro spiritual, which calls to mind another favorite: This, too, shall pass.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Deepak Chopra’s 4-Step Plan to Stress Less

Don’t let stress make a mess of your balanced life. The greatest mind and body expert of our time, Deepak Chopra, shares his four simple secrets to stress less.

Stress-Less Starter Breakfast
This breakfast consists of one tablespoon of flaxseed oil, one hardboiled egg, and tomatoes and cucumbers drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Flaxseed and olive oil help slow the release of inflammatory hormones the body pumps out under stress. The omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseed and olive oil also provide anti-inflammatory effects on your joints and improve blood flow. EPA and DHA fatty acids present in omega-3s also maintain healthy levels of serotonin. Serotonin controls emotional response and creates a sense of well-being within the body. Take the flaxseed oil as you would cough syrup and enjoy this nutrient-rich breakfast.

Take a Stress-Less Supplement: Endorphinate
Endorphinate is used to support important functions in the body that promote a sense of calm, comfort and well-being. This stress-reducing supplement contains two B vitamins, folate and vitamin B12, which help prevent and relieve physical and emotional distress. Take two capsules in the morning and afternoon, for a total of 4 capsules. This supplement can be found online for $17.50.

Eat a Stress-Less Snack: Chyawanprash
This jam-like mixture of herbs, spices and other ingredients from the ancient ayurvedic healing tradition is widely used in India due to its extensive health benefits. The main ingredient in this snack is amla, a gooseberry that is very rich in vitamin C. Research shows vitamin C may help prevent the stress hormone cortisol from increasing after a stressful event. Chyawanprash can be eaten by itself or it can be spread on a cracker or piece of toast. This vitamin C-packed snack is available at health food stores for $10.

Try Stress-Less Breathing Exercise: Ujjayi
Breathing is fundamental for life, but because it is automatic, we tend to take it for granted. Ujjayi breathing is a technique created by ancient yogis to help clear and cleanse the body and mind. It is a diaphragmatic breath which first fills the lower belly, activating the lower rib cage and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. Practicing ujjayi breathing several times a day for a minute or two can have huge benefits.