Improving Health Literacy Could Improve Healthcare; Save an Estimated $73 Billion A Year.

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

In October, pink starts to appear on shelves and in the media. Breast Cancer Awareness Month (sometimes dubbed “Pinktober”) is an incredibly successful campaign. But it’s not the only public health initiative in October. This month is also Health Literacy Month, a less well known but vitally important campaign and concept.

Health Literacy for Patients

It’s still a relatively new concept, but in brief, health literacy is the idea that both health and literacy are essential resources for everyday living. It is defined as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.” In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) outlined three basic levels of health literacy: functional, conceptual, and empowerment.

Functional health literacy is the ability to read. If you’re reading this article, you’re also able to read medical consent forms, appointment schedules, doctors’ notes, and the labels and instructions on medicine. Count yourself lucky – 32 million American adults cannot read. That’s 14 percent of our population. An additional 21 percent of American adults read below a 5th grade level, leaving them woefully underprepared for sometimes complex written instructions from doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.

Conceptual literacy refers to the skills developed over our lifetime to seek out, understand, evaluate, and use health information and concepts. Conceptual literacy helps us enjoy a better quality of life, make informed choices about our healthcare, and reduce health risks.

Health literacy empowers individuals to understand their rights as patients and navigate the healthcare system at large. Health literate people are informed consumers with regard to the health risks of products and services. They understand options offered by health care providers. A group of educated, health literate people can come together to improve health for all through political action, advocacy, or social movements.

Also included in health literacy? Numeracy skills. Just choosing a health plan requires math to calculate premiums, copays, and deductibles, and to factor all three into your budget. Understanding a nutrition label requires math skills, as do calculating cholesterol levels and measuring medication. For people with diabetes, math is a factor each time they use insulin as they take into account their current blood sugar and/or the carbohydrates they’ve ingested.

Improving Health Literacy

According to the Institute of Medicine, 90 million Americans lack proper health literacy skills. At a time when healthcare costs are still rising, it’s estimated that a health literate society could save $73 billion in excess spending. The health benefits on an individual level could be astonishing.

For starters, we must work as a nation to improve our literacy rate – we have not improved in ten years. But there are organizations, like the American Library Association, working towards greater literacy. Learn more about their work here.

Providers play a vital role in improving health literacy as well. First providers must learn communication techniques, such as plain speech (providing the most important information first, breaking down complex information into smaller, understandable pieces, using the active voice, and generally foregoing technical terms in favor of simple language, and explaining technical terms when necessary.)

Cultural competence is part of provider literacy, too. Cultural beliefs, values, attitudes, and traditions all play a role in a patient’s feelings about healthcare and treatments. Understanding a patient’s culture can help providers create better health outcomes.

Next week, I’ll dive into October’s important cause-celebre, Breast Cancer Awareness. But I do hope that you’ll spare some time to learn about the foundation of good health, health literacy. It’s what allows us to make good use of this month’s awareness information! You can learn more about health literacy and ways to improve your own skills in the links below.

CDC: Learn About Health Literacy

Institute of Medicine: Health Literacy

For a deep dive into health literacy, look over this WHO white paper. It was prepared for a global conference, but illuminates the benefits and challenges to health literacy.

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Avoid “New Year’s Regrets” by adding a healthy habit or two now!

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Eating is an elemental physical and social urge. Food is almost always shared; mealtimes are an opportunity to come together. Food and family are inseparable. Surprising our spouse with dinner on a Monday night or preparing our kids’ school lunches are small but significant ways we show our love. Cooking a meal and providing nourishment for our loved ones is a profound way to show affection and altruism, a way to share and nourish one another. When gather during Thanksgiving and Christmas, cooking is a way we show our love for family we may not see the rest of the year. It’s a special occasion and we treat ourselves to rich, sweet dishes.

On average, Americans gain one to two pounds every holiday season. It doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that most of us don’t lose the weight, we just add to it the next year. If you’re starting the September Pledge or just hoping to avoid the traditional weight gain, here are a few tips for staying healthy while enjoying food with family this year.

Avoid Overeating During the Holidays

  • Add at least one healthy habit to your life before the holidays hit. Try adding twice-weekly walks at the park, start carrying a water bottle and stay hydrated, or cut sodas out of your diet. Carry healthy snacks, like nuts, apple slices, or carrot sticks to work and snack regularly so you don’t binge on carb and starch heavy meals at lunch. In the push and pull of the holidays, we forget to tend to our health. Incorporating a good habit now makes it more likely you’ll continue when the holidays hit.
  • Don’t bring home Halloween Candy to early; plan to purge the house of candy on November 1st. No one wants to run out of candy when trick-or-treaters come knocking, but don’t buy candy so early that you end up having to buy it again, because your family got into it. And don’t hang onto extra sweets after All Hallow’s Eve. You don’t need it and if you have it in the house, chances are you’ll eat it. Pick a few favorites out of the pile and donate the rest. (This advice is for people without trick-or-treaters of their own. If your kid comes home with a pillowcase full of sweets, here are a few tricksfor parents. Good luck!)
  • Plan your “splurges.” Thanksgiving and Christmas are modern feast days and it is fine to indulge if you’re lucky enough to be able to. In the end, Thanksgiving is just one day. Don’t feel guilty about your third helping of stuffing and the generous amount of gravy with which you’ve covered it. But before the feast, eat right. “It’s Thanksgiving, so I can eat what I want,” should only apply to one day, not the week before or after. Stock the pantry with healthy fruits and veggies for meals before Turkey Day and to enjoy with leftovers on Black Friday. (Same goes for the end of December!)
  • Pick your favorite sweets and steer clear of filler. If your uncle’s pumpkin pie is the best part of Thanksgiving, help yourself to a big slice with whipped cream. If your aunt is still valiantly bringing her rock-like cookies to the Christmas Eve celebration, ignore them. Eat what you love and don’t waste calories on mediocre sweets you don’t particularly care for. Skipping the filler means you’ve got room to fill up on the good stuff later.
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Men: Find a medical home base early on. (Pass this along to male twenty-somethings.)

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Let’s spend this week talking about assets. With proper maintenance and care, a car can last a decade, or more.  Our investments, when carefully managed, will grow and provide for us when we retire. How can we treat material possessions so conscientiously, yet fail to look after our bodies with the same diligence?

 

Men are the guiltier party when it comes to neglecting self-care. An alarming number of men stop going to the doctor after they age out of pediatric care at 18. Men typically don’t go back to the doctor until their 40s. Objectively, this is a terrible idea. (But I’m sure there are a few men reading this who will agree, while still falling into the category.)

 

Men are almost 20 percent less likely than women to have seen a doctor in the last year. But men are at greater risk of developing cancer (one-in-two) than women, and have higher death rates in all 10 leading causes of death. The causes include cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. On average, men die six years earlier than women. So why do men shy away from the doctor?

 

Men are more likely to ignore health problems when they do arise, putting off a visit to the doctor even when they are sick. When they feel fine, men skip the doctor all together. But feeling fine and being healthy are two different things.

 

From 18 to 39, the CDC recommends a preventative check up every two years. Sound excessive? Think about the benefits. At every age, we’ve got health concerns to discuss and preventative measures worth taking. One of the best ways to prevent future illness or catch it early is to establish a “medical home base.” Establishing a good relationship with a primary care doctor and visiting them on a regular basis is the cornerstone of preventative care. Find a primary care doctor you like, and with whom you feel comfortable discussing your health. Preventative care is key: we can head off many major health problems before they start. After all, it is usually easier tot illnesses sooner, when they’re easier to cure, than later, when they are likely to have become painful and more costly.

 

Preventative Care Before Age 40 

 

In your late teens, your doctor will provide an HPV and meningitis vaccination and a tetanus booster shot. Other vaccines may be recommended – you’ll have to chat with your doctor to find out what you need.

 

As soon as (and hopefully before) you’re sexually active, your doctor should discuss sexual health with you. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of best practices and you may have questions for a medical professional. Further, you may need regular screening for STDs. Your doctor will be able to recommend what’s best for you.

 

Also starting in your late teens, you’ll need blood pressure checks. High blood pressure doesn’t just happen to out of shape guys in their 40s. It’s important to keep an eye on your blood pressure, because high blood pressure can damage your body for years before symptoms show up.

 

Starting in your 20s, your doctor will check your cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of many controllable preventable risks for heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. In addition to the tests your doctor performs, they’ll be engaging in a frank discussion of your health and behaviors.

 

For way too many men, the trip to the doctor is the only time we engage in a meaningful conversation about our health. Go to the doctor. Let your primary care provider help cheer on and guide you to a longer, healthier life.

If you are in your 20s, take note! And if you know a young man in his 20s, you’ll be doing him – and his future significant other – a favor by passing this article along.

 

 

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Drilling Down on the September Pledge Idea: Tackling Diet

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, I wrote about an idea called the September Pledge: a personal commitment to healthy habits in the advent of the holiday season. Habits take more than 60 days to form. If you want a new, healthy habit established before the onslaught of holiday cookies, now is the time to start. This week, I’d like to focus on diet.

Diet is a dreaded word for good reason. For centuries (maybe longer) we’ve fretted over just what to eat, how to eat it, when, how much… the list goes on. An entire industry is devoted to selling you a diet. Diets are big business, too. Annually, the weight-loss industry makes $20 billion. But what are they selling? The science to support one diet over another is scant. A study published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, found little to no difference between once-trendy diets including The Zone, Weight Watchers, and Atkins.

The JAMA study also found that most studies of diets didn’t test rigorously enough. Since 1966, there have been less than 50 blinded trials (in a blinded trial, participants do not know what treatment they are receiving and thus are not affected by the placebo effect.) There were less than 8,000 participants in all the studies from 1966 to 2014. The trial for each diet study usually lasted only 24 weeks and included around 100 people.

Are diets a load of bunk? Here’s the short answer: probably. Long answer: trend diets that promise the moon usually can’t back up their claims. (The JAMA study found that diet trials weren’t able to determine whether a particular diet lowered the risk of disease.) In a sea of lose-it-quick schemes, it’s easy to get discouraged. The key to a healthy diet is moderation and simplicity, not the obsessive calorie counting, juicing, cleansing, all-meat, no-meat, raw food foolishness.

Lots of people “fail” their diets because they overcommit, find their new restrictions oppressive, and then break down and give up. It’s not you; it’s your diet. A rigid plan that restricts a lot of foods is bound to fail. The best plan to succeed? Long-term goals that are slowly integrated into your daily life .

If you want to improve your diet, (what you generally eat) start in increments. Spend a week keeping a food journal. Write down what you ate and when, and if you can, add in why. Did you eat a frozen pizza on Tuesdaybecause you got home late and couldn’t bear to cook? Put it in the journal. At the end of the week, look for patterns. How often did you treat yourself to something sweet? So many times that “treat” has been rendered meaningless? (You’re in good company if you have.) How much of what you ate was processed? Looking back, did you get enough fruits and vegetables? Did you eat meat every single day? Did you have an alcoholic beverage every evening after dinner?

Here’s the secret to the best diet: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Ideally, our diet consists of whole, unprocessed ingredients and includes a large variety or brightly colored vegetables. In an ideal diet, our meat intake is around 2.5 ounces a day and includes chicken and fish in addition to beef. If you decide your diet isn’t up to snuff and want to change it, start small. Identify one habit you’d like to change, and make a concerted effort to modify your habit.

Remember: one habit at a time! As an example, say you’re eating too many processed frozen meals during the week. Find a healthy recipe you like that can be doubled easily, like a soup or stew. Gather your ingredients and spend a couple hours in the kitchen on Sunday. Have the soup on hand during the week so you won’t need to rely on frozen pizza as often. Buy some no-prep or low-prep sides like apples, romaine lettuce for a salad, or some good, crusty bread.

By the time the holidays roll around, you may even have perfected a new dish worthy of the Thanksgiving table.

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Now is the best time for resolutions; take your September Pledge!

 

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

 

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, lay out some stockings, and start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions – wait. Unless you’re living your life by K-Mart’s insane timetable, you’re not thinking about the holidays yet. But should you be?

 

The holiday season seems to be ever expanding as retailers race to collect as many consumer dollars as they can. It’s frustrating (and downright disturbing) to see Christmas advertised in sunny September. Still, there are a few good reasons to consider the holidays this early in the year. (Despite what K-Mart would have you believe, it has nothing to do with putting gifts on layaway.)

 

The average American puts on 1 to 2 pounds a year during the holidays. It may seem like a small amount, but for most of us the weight hangs around long after we’ve put the Christmas decorations away. Even when we don’t gain weight, we eat and drink more calories than at any other time of year. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we celebrate with beloved family members, cherishing time spent together. The allure of family, a cup of eggnog, and the frightful weather outside means we also exercise less than at any time of year.

 

Regardless, we have New Year’s Resolutions to atone for whatever minor gluttony we’ve indulged in. But our resolutions tend to fade quickly. Expansive lists and overly ambitious goals cause 92 percent of us to give up on our resolutions before spring. Before 2015 puts this year out to pasture, it’s time to kick start our well-being with healthy goals we can complete. Are you ready to sign on for the September Pledge?

 

September is a great month to restart incorporating vigorous healthy habits into your lifestyle. The weather is cooling down, routines are back to normal, and we’re well ahead of the holidays. Part of the reason New Year’s Resolutions fail to transform into habits is that we anticipate rapid change. Habits take a while to form – some recent research suggests it takes around 66 days.

 

So start working towards your goals slowly. Pick a (reasonable and small) healthy habit or two you’d like to incorporate into your life. A few recommendations: a walk after dinner, drinking 64 ounces of water a day, having one to three vegetarian dinners a week, or setting an end-of-screentime and start-of-bedtime ritual. (A cornucopia of flavorful and nutrient rich veggies are back in season this month, so vegetarian dinners might be the most doable!)

 

If you start making positive changes now, your good habits should be cemented by the holiday season. You might even be able to convince family to take a long walk after Thanksgiving dinner!

 

 

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Married men live longer than their single counterparts. Men in general can take health for granted, need “medical home base.”

David Martin

Martin Report

September 1, 2014

Married men live longer than their single counterparts. Men in general can take health for granted, need “medical home base.”

For all that they do for us, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the function of our bodies. Consider everything we ask of our bodies on a daily basis. We expect that our bodies will do all that we require without much complaint. What do we do on behalf of our bodies? Often, we skip nutritious meals in favor of something quick and easy. We brush off aches and pains, when we really ought to give our bodies a break by taking it easy. At one time or another, most of us are guilty of expecting good health to continue without putting in the requisite effort. We need to be proactive about our health instead of reacting when we stop feeling well.

Men and women alike are guilty of not caring for ourselves as well as we should. But on average, women do a better job of recognizing and reporting ill health. Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to ignore possible warning signs and symptoms. Odd aches, pains, or irregularities are filed under ‘probably nothing’ and promptly forgotten. In part, we are all defined by our health – confined as we are to our bodies. Why, then are men so prone to make little of their health?

Men tend to skip preventative care, opting instead to go to the doctor only when they were already sick. According to one survey, even when men do get sick, 92 percent of men will only head to the doctor’s office after they’ve taken a few days to see if they’d get better on their own. If all you’re suffering is a case of allergies or a cold, this isn’t a terrible strategy. The only downside may be your own prolonged misery while waiting on prescription allergy medication. But for more serious symptoms or illnesses, the longer you wait, the harder it is to treat what’s ailing you.

Men skip the doctor for a variety of reasons, including high cost and busy schedules. Another culprit is good old-fashioned stoicism. One way to combat reluctance to go the doctor is to find a primary care physician you like. Do a few consults and get a sense of which doctor makes you feel comfortable and is easy for you to communicate with. In all stages of life, having a ‘medical home base’ makes getting good medical care easier, but it’s especially important as we age. A doctor who knows you is more likely to notice subtle changes and help you keep track of changing health needs. (Make sure you can get to your doctor easily. If they’re not readily accessible to you, they’re not going to be of much use.)

The health outcomes for single and married men provide a bit of insight about men’s health, too. Various studies have found that married men may live longer than their single counterparts. That’s probably because married men are more likely to exercise, eat better and go to the doctor. Married men are also less likely to suffer from depression, smoke, drink in excess or engage in risky behaviors. If you’re single, don’t despair. The reasons married men are (potentially) prone to outlive the unhitched stem from community. Health is a partnership, not just between you and your doctor. Listen to your friends and family. Don’t put off a visit to the doctor; take care of your health.

Ready to become proactive about your health? The CDC’s website is a good starting place. Another great resource? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Their list of preventative screenings for men is a must read and a good way to start your health checklist. So get going! Take charge of your health and encourage other men to do the same. And the next time you feel sick, spare yourself an extra day of discomfort and call the doctor’s office pronto.

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As Sneaky Sugar Invades the Food Supply, We’re Eating More With Not-So-Sweet Consequences

As Sneaky Sugar Invades the Food Supply, We’re Eating More With Not-So-Sweet Consequences

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Over the years, I’ve written many Thought Leadership articles addressing nutrition. I’ve discussed superfoods (and the marketing behind them.) I’ve covered fat, good and bad, and I’ve touched on sugar consumption. In the past, I’ve written that moderation is key and it is. So is knowing the enemy.

Sugar has been insidiously invading our food supply for years. If you’re not eating a diet of fruits, vegetables, and grain-fed meat, it’s almost impossible to stay away from the stuff. So plentiful is sugar, that worldwide consumption is about 500 calories a day. The average American eats about three pounds of sugar a week. The “recommended amount” is six teaspoons per day.

At holidays and celebratory occasions we commune over indulgent foods. When we suffer a setback at work or go through a breakup, we fall back on treats for comfort. We treat sugar as a special occasion food, but consume vast quantities of it on a daily basis. The stuff is nearly impossible to get away from.

If you drink one regular Coca-Cola a day, you’ve already consumed 50 percent more sugar than you should in a single day. (One Coke contains 9.3 teaspoons of sugar.) You expect your Coke to contain a large amount of sugar. But do you expect sugar to show up in yogurt, canned soup, low-fat products, frozen pizza and mayo? The list of processed foods containing sugar goes on… and on.

Why did sugar encroach into foods we’d never think to look for it in? Because we can’t get enough of it. Our brains love sugar and consuming it lights up our reward centers. We’re addicted to it – truly. The video below quickly explains how our brains react when we consume sugar and why it’s so enjoyable.

http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-nicole-avena#watch

The companies that make processed foods study what makes us tick, from a flavor perspective. Market research is, in large part, the dedicated science of learning what tempts our tongues and makes our brain ask for more. (Sugar, Salt, Fat by Michael Moss is an excellent break down of the industry.) The bad news is that processed food relies on ingredients that taste good, but aren’t good for us, to keep us coming back for more. Sugar in all its many forms does a lot of the heavy lifting.

Unfortunately, sugar consumption is at least partly to blame for a host of health problems. Studies have linked sugar consumption to heart disease and obesity and all the ills that go along with those two killers (including diabetes.) Study after study finds new links between sugar and our health, finding relationships between overeating, depression, dementia, and problems with forming new memories. Sugar also contributes to kidney and liver damage. For a food that’s so ubiquitous and over consumed, one would think the threats would be more widely known. And that action would be taken by a reduction of sugar in foods.

We can’t expect our food system to change overnight. We can’t expect labels to shout ‘Sugar!’ on the side of the box. And we shouldn’t expect ourselves to cut out processed foods entirely. (Not in one quick campaign, anyway. Cleaning up our pantries and our diets is a process and it can take a long time.) Get to know the names sugar takes – it gets sneaked into food under many different names – and take extra time at the grocery store to notice the amount of sugar in the foods you’re buying. It’s time to be critical of the nutrition facts, and to buy and consume accordingly.

  • Glucose
  • Dextrose
  • Invert Sugar
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Crystalline Fructose
  • Maltose
  • Raw Sugar
  • Malt Syrup
  • Cane Crystals
  • Fructose
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Robin Williams’ Death; Destigmatizing Mental Illness

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, a very funny man passed away unexpectedly. Known for wild stand up humor and touching movies, Robin William’s suicide was a shock to fans. William’s death was also a sad reminder that whatever our public veneer may be, anyone can struggle with mental illness. This week, I’d like to focus on the prevalence of mental illness and efforts to end the stigma that keeps so many people from receiving the treatment they deserve.

Mental illness is far more prevalent than public discourse would lead us to believe. True, when a high profile actor dies of a common problem – like William’s suicide or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose – a slew of articles follow. Collectively, we decry either the lack of discourse, funding for treatment programs, or understanding. These articles are well and good, but more important than increased discussion in public spaces is the discussion we have in our homes, with our children, friends, and family members.

Despite the prevalence of mental illness – nearly one in four Americans suffers some form of mental illness each year – the stigma persists. Feelings of shame accompany struggles with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Society and cultures across the globe view mental health problems in a very negative light. This causes social distancing – avoiding and separating ourselves from people who are challenged. If we perceive the person living with a mental illness to be dangerous, we distance ourselves even further. Unfortunately, our perception of danger is almost always wrong. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. They are, in fact, much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators.

Stigma and social distancing lead to “self stigma” in people suffering from mental illness. Left socially isolated and lonely, people with mental illness are much less likely to receive the treatment they need. (Worldwide, 60 percent of the 450 million individuals struggling with some form of mental health problem do not receive treatment of any kind.) The dissolution of a mentally ill person’s social network can be devastating; such isolation is associated with poor physical and mental health, and even early mortality. It’s common sense; humans in peak physical and mental fitness agonize when isolated from others. We rely on our communities in sickness and in health.

If you or a loved one are living with mental illness (or have in the past) I’ll say what you’ve no doubt heard before, but may need to hear again: you are not alone. Your experience is not exceptional; it’s far more common than you may realize. There’s not an easy path through mental illness; few health articles about the topic end with a brief list of wellness suggestions. There are many resources available on the Internet that can help improve understanding and point you to real-world sources of help. I’ve listed a few below. Be well.

From the CDC: Attitudes Towards Mental Health

Other sources for help with Mental Illness and Addiction:

NIMH: Men and Depression

National Institute of Mental Health

Movember: Men’s Mental Health

The Stigma of Mental Illness is Making Us Sicker

www.aa.org  Alcoholics Anonymous

www.nami.org National Alliance on Mental Illness

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Are “Superfoods” Another Super Myth? One Quick Read That May Help You Decide…

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

If poorly drawn ads on the Internet are to be believed, common problems such as unwanted belly fat and a case of diabetes can be solved with “One weird trick.” It’s unbelievable enough that most of us chose not to take the bait. But the advertisers must have some success – the “trick” ads are ubiquitous. (The ads are so common that Slate even covered the strategies of “one weird trick” marketing.) We might pat ourselves on the back for passing up obvious chicanery, but how often do we buy into another trend with better marketing – superfoods?

Have you tried a superfood yet? How is the term even defined? “Superfood” is not a scientific term – it just refers to a food that is nutrient-rich and considered to be especially beneficial to health. Oatmeal, spinach, wheatgrass, and acai berries have all been labeled superfoods. When a new superfood is “discovered” there’s often a frenzy of excitement on blogs and in the media. New products appear on shelves and new dishes show up in restaurants. The foods designated as superfoods seem to be continually expanding, so how do we decide which to add to our grocery list and which aren’t worth the purchase?

Generally speaking, the best way to decide which superfoods to throw in the shopping cart is to use common sense. Any fruit or vegetable is likely to have at least one article dedicated to its superior properties – for good reason. Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is the simplest and most effective diet for good health. Try to pick what’s in season and eat locally if you can. Put a variety of color on your plate. Pair green broccoli with white lima beans on a Monday and try different pairings all week. Reading about the “superfood”qualities of kale or watermelon may inspire you to try something new. Just don’t let superfoods become your sole focus. Variety is important and so is a reasonably priced trip to the grocery store.

It’s hard to find the harm in superfoods. It’s a marketing strategy, pure and simple, but at least this trend mostly encourages consumers to load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. Anecdotal experience can hold a powerful sway over some of us, however, and one good experience with a superfood may make someone a lifelong convert. If the worst thing that happens is a family member’s insistence that he be allowed to make kale chips for every holiday gathering, who minds?

Some Shape readers were so devoted to an early morning lemon water detox, that an article debunking overhyped claims of the drink was soon awash in angry comments. In a nutshell, drinking lemon water in the mornings isn’t going to make drastic positive changes in your health. Proponents of the drink have claimed that the lemon juice improves digestion, boosts your body’s ability to absorb minerals and detoxifies your body. As the author (a doctor) points out, “detoxification” is term so often bandied about that it doesn’t have much meaning. What does your body need detoxified? If drinking lemon juice and warm water perks you up in the morning and makes you feel better, keep doing it. (Starting the day with a big glass of plain old water is excellent for your health.)

No superfood is likely to do all that its adherents claim it will, so when you see a headline sporting the term “superfood”, read it with a critical eye. (A diet heavy in chia seeds won’t likely be the reason for dramatic weight loss, as some have claimed. But you might find you really enjoy the tiny seeds in your smoothie!) There’s no reason to spend tons of cash on the superfood du jour. The old superfoods – fruits, vegetables and whole grains – are just as good for your health.

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While you sleep, parts of your body are hard at work

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

If you’re reading this article before your morning coffee, sleep is probably still on your mind. The satisfaction of getting under cover and laying your head on a pillow at the end of the day is second to none. We crave rest the way we crave food and water and we need it just as much. Scientists have studied why we need sleep for decades; on the face of it, our need for sleep doesn’t make any sense. In sleep, even the most fearsome and powerful are defenseless. Sleep leaves us vulnerable; it is a dangerous undertaking in the wild. Evolution should have cured us of our need for sleep, but it didn’t. We know sleep is essential to our survival, but we’re still learning what sleep does for our bodies and our health.

A good night’s sleep protects us from becoming ill after exposure to a virus. The seven to eight hours we need to rest each night is the time our immune systems need to release proteins called cytokines. Some cytokines need to increase their presence when we’re under stress or are fighting infection or inflammation. Depriving ourselves of sleep may reduce production of these helpful proteins. Sleep deficiency also causes lower levels of infection fighting antibodies and cells. Getting enough sleep helps to keep us healthy and helps us recover when we do get sick.

Earlier this year, scientists made an exciting discovery about sleep and our brains. Our bodies are efficient machines, but they’re not without waste. When we exercise, for example, toxic byproducts such as lactic acid accumulate in our muscle cells. We’re not harmed by the process because our lymphatic system clears the byproducts out. Our brains are hard at work and they, too, create waste. It was thought at one time that the brain recycled its waste, but studies in mice, baboons, dogs and goats have all shown that the brain doesn’t rely on recycling. Instead, a system of waste removal (through the newly named glymphatic system) is at work during sleep.

Researchers theorize that in sleep, the fluid-filled area between tissue cells in the brain (interstitial space) is mostly used to physically remove daily waste created by brain cells.  Interstitial space accounts for about 20 percent of the brain’s total volume. Human studies haven’t yet occurred, but are in the works. Scientists will study fluid moving through the interstitial space to see if it does indeed cleanse our brains. The potential implications of these findings on our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s could be far reaching – to learn more about this fascinating topic, please follow this link.

As we learn more about the role of sleep, its importance to our health is further highlighted. It’s troubling, then, that so many adults report not getting enough sleep or being sleep deprived. Sleep deficiency is when we get less than the six to eight hours a night adults need. (Children, infants and pregnant women in the first trimester need more.) If you’re running on less than six hours, you are sleep deprived. You might feel used to it, but your body isn’t, and we can’t condition our bodies to need less sleep.

Do your body (and yourself) a favor; make it a priority to get a solid seven (or at least six!) hours of sleep a night.

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