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Month: November 2014

Why Eating with the Seasons Makes Good Sense

It’s true. The combination of industrial agriculture and efficient global logistics has made it possible for many American families to enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables year round.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????But just because they’re available doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the best choice for you or your family. In fact, there are several really good reasons that your diet—particularly your choice of fruits and vegetables—should change with the seasons. Now that fall is here and winter is just around the corner, this is a great time to talk about seasonal eating and how you can make the most of the cold-weather months.

The reasons for eating local produce in-season basically fall into four categories: nutrition, taste, cost and environmental sustainability.

Nutrition. Local fruits and vegetables picked seasonally at their ultimate ripeness are usually more nutritious than produce that is grown in a hot-house environment or that is raised in other parts of the world and transported over long distances.

Taste. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, flavors and textures tends to suffer when they’re grown out-of-season or spend lots of time in transit. This encourages farmers to do things they might not ordinarily do, including adding colors, sweeteners or preservatives. The fact that out-of-season produce needs to be marketable after shipping may also encourage farmers to grow varieties that are more durable but less flavorful. The net result is often a poorer product.

Cost. Growing produce out-of-season or transporting it over long distances involves expenses that just don’t exist when fruits and vegetables are grown and marketed locally. As anyone who has ever bought fresh strawberries or tomatoes in the middle of January has noticed, these expenses translate into higher prices at the grocery store.

Environmental Sustainability. The emergence of a global marketplace for fruits and vegetables has opened up lots of possibilities for growers and consumers alike but has also come with high environmental costs. The new economics of farming and distribution have changed how land, water, energy, and chemicals are used in producing food. In some cases, they’ve also tipped the scales against centuries-old patterns of sustainable crop rotation and conservation practices. Plus, moving and storing large amounts of fresh produce requires energy and increases our collective carbon footprint.

When you consider all of these factors together, it’s clear that out-of-season produce is really a pretty big compromise. So what’s the alternative? There are many winter fruits and vegetables that will soon be their peak. Knowing about these and adding them to your diet over the coming months can provide plenty of variety and may even help you get important nutrients that you wouldn’t normally get from produce at other times of the year.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of our winter favorites.

Winter Butternut Squash. Squash has relatively few calories (only 63 calories per cup) but contains lots of vitamin A and potassium. Plus, a single cup of squash also provides half your daily requirement of vitamin C!

Kale. Kale is another winter vegetable that’s packed with important nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C and K, and minerals such as calcium, copper and magnesium. Kale is also rich in cancer-fighting phytonutrients called flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol, among others) and has been shown in some research to lower cholesterol. Cooked kale can easily be added to mashed potatoes to make for a healthy side dish.

Leeks. Leeks too are abundant at this time of year. They are rich in vitamin K (good for bone health and vital for blood coagulation), and have a healthy amount of folate. A versatile member of the allium family (like onions and garlic), leeks can be added to soups and stews in pretty much the same way you might typically use onions. Leeks are also tasty on their own—just braise them a little liquid. If you’re willing to put just a bit more effort into preparation, creamed leeks is another tasty alternative. Just clean and slice 2-3 leeks thinly, then sauté them in a little butter, add a couple of tablespoons of water, and cover for about 10 minutes or until cooked. Mix in a tablespoon of flour and about ½ cup of sour cream and you have an excellent side dish to serve along with fish or chicken.

Apples. Apples are a great seasonal complement to the vegetables on our list. Over 2,500 varieties of this fruit are grown in the U.S., with 100 varieties grown commercially. A medium apple contains about 80 calories and is fat, sodium, and cholesterol free. If you’re interested in getting the most nutritional bang for the buck, be sure to eat the peels! Two-thirds of a typical apple’s fiber and lots of its antioxidants are concentrated in the peel. Most apples are still picked by hand in the fall and are ready for eating throughout the country all winter long!

Nuts. Many popular types of nuts (which are technically fruits containing a hard shell and a seed) are actively harvested in the fall and are available throughout much of the country year-round. Almonds, chestnuts and walnuts are a few winter favorites. It’s worth noting that while almonds and walnuts are not true nuts in the botanical sense, they are considered nuts in the culinary sense. Nuts like these are typically very high in protein and fat and naturally low in carbohydrates. They also contain several important vitamins and minerals. They are a particularly dense nutritional package and have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.

While it’s natural for many people to wish for the warmer weather in the depths of winter, there are definitely benefits to changing up your menu to follow the seasons!

Women’s Feet Are Paying a High Price for Fashion

Fashion before comfort… and health! That seems to be a prevailing attitude in the United States, particularly among women out shopping for new shoes. And while there are a number of shoe styles that can cause foot problems, the high heel (especially the ultra-high heel) is by far the biggest culprit. According the American Podiatric Medical Association:??????????

  • 72% of women wear high-heeled shoes (39% wear heels daily, while 33% wear them less often).
  • 59% report toe pain as a result of wearing uncomfortable shoes; 54% report pain in the ball of the foot.
  • 58% of women purchased new high-heeled shoes in the last year.
  • Younger women are more likely to experience blisters and pain in the arches of their feet than older women. Older women are more likely to experience corns, calluses, and bunions.

Ultra high-heels have many podiatrists concerned: According to Hillary Brenner, DPM, a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, “Heels are getting higher and higher,” she says. “We podiatrists like to call it shoe-icide.” Ultra-high heels often result in an array of injuries, short- and long-term, from ankle sprains to chronic pain and many issues in-between.

“Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot,” continues Brenner. “At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.”

However, heels in general, whether they’re stilettos or mid-heels, are hobbling women all around the country. High heels are known for producing a tender knot on the back of the heel, called the “pump bump” by some. This is a result of the pressure from the stiff, unyielding high-heel on the back of the foot. Blisters, swelling, bursitis, and even discomfort in the Achilles tendon can follow.

Additionally, all high heels increase the danger of an ankle sprain. The issue most seen by podiatrists is a lateral sprain, which occurs when a walker rolls onto the outside of their foot, stretching the ankle ligaments beyond their usual length. A serious sprain may even tear the ligaments and increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

In podiatrists’ and other medical professionals’ offices across the country, women are presenting with mild to severe foot problems due to wearing the wrong shoes. Other shoes that can cause foot pain and other issues include:

  • Ballet flats, which provide no support whatsoever.
  • Flip-flops, which provide almost no protection from splinters and other injuries.
  • Platform shoes, which often have rigid foot beds, putting unnecessary pressure on the foot.
  • Pointy-toed shoes, which can result in nerve pain, bunions, blisters, and hammertoes.

So what can a woman do to stay fashionable and keep her feet healthy and pain-free? For those who love high heels, consider performance pumps, which most often come with reinforced heels, athletic shoe construction, and more wiggle room for the toes.

Another solution for the pump enthusiast is a chunky-heeled shoe. Chunky heels allow better balance with a wider surface area, which gives the foot much more stability thereby diminishing the risk of ankle sprains.

For other shoes such as ballet flats, orthotic inserts can offer the support that the shoes lack. If you’re unsure about what kind of insert is best for your feet, talk to your podiatrist to get an informed opinion on how to best take care of your feet—and look good doing it.

A Brief History of Physical Education in America’s Schools

School-based physical education’s history goes all the way back to Greece in 386 B.C. at Plato’s school, named simply Akademia, or “The Academy.” The Greek philosopher well understood the importance of physical fitness. He was, after all, an athlete, particularly skilled as a wrestler. In fact, he is quoted as once saying, “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

??????????Of course, American physical education has come a long way since—but we owe our physical education system to Greece and many other countries, from which we’ve derived the system we use now. According to the official United States government website, Fitness.gov, the goal of physical education in American schools is “to develop physically educated individuals who have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.”

Interestingly, the driver behind the establishment of the physical education system in America was war—in short, the fitness of soldiers in combat became a country-wide priority. After the end of the American Civil War, school systems implemented physical education programs and enacted laws that would make the inclusion of physical education programs compulsory in all public schools.

After World War I ended, distressing overall health statistics revealed that one-third of all drafted recruits in the U.S military were not physically fit for combat. The government interceded and passed legislation intended to advance the quality of physical education classes throughout the country. During World War II physical education programs became more common for men and women due to the physical fitness that was required in military service and for manual labor jobs.

Following World War II, as a response to an inquiry that concluded that the men rejected from the American military draft during World War II were unfit for service due to childhood malnutrition, the Roosevelt administration introduced the National School Lunch Program, intended to improve the nutrition of American school children.

In 1975, the United States House of Representatives amended the Federal Education Act in order to lift gender discrimination in school physical education programs. This granted girls and women new opportunities to participate and compete in athletic programs in high school and college.

Currently, according to the United States President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 95% of high schools and 84% of middle schools require physical education. However, only 69% of elementary schools do so. 38 of 50 states now require or encourage districts and schools to follow physical education standards based on the National Standards for Physical Education.

The current standards of U.S. physical education involve:

  1. Competency in motor skills and movement patterns
  2. Understanding of movement concepts
  3. Participates regularly in physical activity
  4. Achieves and maintains health‐related fitness
  5. Responsible behavior in physical activity settings
  6. Values physical activity

The success key factor of any physical education program is ensuring that adequate time is devoted to physical education. Current recommendations are at least 150 minutes/week for elementary school and 225 minutes/week for middle school and high school.

How to Improve Your Bone Health at Any Age

Childhood is the ideal time to build strong bones. However, there are always things you can do—even as an adult—to help keep your bones healthy. And it’s particularly important to do these things as you age.

????????????????Our bones are in a constant state of being broken down and rebuilt. Until the age of about 30, bone buildup exceeds bone loss. Then bone density slowly begins to decline. If you’re a woman, the reduction in estrogen that comes with menopause can accelerate this bone loss, sometimes dramatically. But no matter how old you are, there are four simple things to keep in mind if you’re interested in maintaining higher levels of bone density into older age: calcium, vitamin K, vitamin D and exercise. Let’s look at how these four are related.

Calcium is integral to maintaining bone strength. However, the number one source of calcium is not what most people believe it is. Dark green leafy vegetables are the single best source of this mineral. Ounce for ounce, they’re even better than dairy products (which are also good). So the key to feeding your bones is to incorporate more spinach, collard greens, broccoli and bok choy into your diet in addition to dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese). Tofu is often fortified with calcium as well, so a quick stir-fry including tofu, bok choy and sesame seeds (another great source of calcium) makes an excellent bone-healthy meal.

In addition to being a great source of calcium, dark green leafy vegetables are also high in vitamin K, a vitamin key to the production of osteocalcin, a bone protein. Vitamin K is needed to bind calcium to the bones and reduces the amount of calcium that is excreted in the urine. It has been shown to promote higher bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. For maintaining bone health, the best supplement to take is a form of vitamin K2 called MK-7 (menaquinone).

In order for your bones to make the most of all that calcium, you also need an adequate supply of vitamin D, which is critical to calcium absorption. However, vitamin D deficiency can be very common in people who live far from the equator and may not benefit from much sunlight during certain times of the year. Dr. Michael Holick, a leading vitamin D expert, believes that most Americans do not get nearly enough it. “We want everyone to be above 30 nanograms per milliliter,” Holick says, “but currently in the United States, Caucasians average 18 to 22 nanograms and African-Americans average 13 to 15 nanograms.”

Most vitamin D is produced from our skin’s exposure to the sun. But even when the sun is shining strongly in the summer months, we are still unlikely to get sufficient exposure. Many people sit in an office all day and rarely get outside. When they do, they are admonished to cover themselves with sunscreen. Sunscreen is good at helping to prevent UV damage, but it is those same UV rays that spur vitamin D production. Experts advise that you get outdoors in the summer months with minimal clothing and no sunscreen two to three times a week for 5 or 10 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Equally important in maintaining bone density is performing sufficient amounts of weight-bearing exercise. Even if you get adequate amounts of the necessary vitamins, you will still lose bone mass if you become a couch potato. As your muscles and bones work against gravity, it stimulates bone formation and lowers the rate of calcium loss. You can help to increase bone density at any age by practicing weight-bearing exercise for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week. This can include activities such as lifting weights, walking or running, dancing, playing tennis, climbing stairs or jumping rope.

With just a little extra attention to your diet and some regular exercise, you can significantly reduce your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures and maintain good bone density into old age.