Monday, July 27, 2009


Bike helmets save lives

There are approximately 70 million bicyclists in the United States. Most of these riders agree that helmets are a good idea, yet only about 35% report wearing one “all or most of the time.”

Consider this: A full 66% of all bicyclists’ deaths are the result of brain injury, and studies estimate up to 88% of these brain injuries may have been prevented by the use of a helmet. Clearly we need to, shall I say, use our heads!

Helmets work by reducing the peak energy at impact through the use of a layer of foam, usually expanded polystyrene foam similar to the old white picnic coolers. They also provide a barrier to protect the soft tissue of the head and face. An important fact to remember is that these foam layers are intended to withstand ONE major crash that usually involves two impacts; helmet-to-car, followed by helmet-to-road. So, not unlike car seats, helmets need to be replaced after a collision.

All helmets sold in the U.S. since 1999 must meet basic safety requirements, so some of the work has already been done for you. The less expensive helmets sold at Wal-Mart must meet the same standards as the high end ones sold at bike shops.

In choosing a helmet, fit is everything. In this area, a specialty shop does help – you are more likely to find assistance in getting the right fit. Here are some basics to remember when fitting a helmet:

A proper fitting helmet should:
* Fit level on the head.
* Touch all the way around – no gaps.
* Be snug, not tight. (Look in a mirror while moving the helmet – the movement should cause the eyebrows to move).
* Have a smooth surface – no fancy wings or visors that can knock the helmet loose in a collision.
* Stay put when tugged on.
* Have a strong strap to hold it in place.

White or bright colors are best for visibility. Ventilation will help you stay cooler, but remember – the more ventilation holes you have, the less energy-absorbing foam.

Skateboard helmets are designed for a different type of impact, so they should not be used for bike riding. Also, because the properly-fitted helmet will be snug, it must be removed when a child is not on the bike; it could become a safety hazard when climbing trees or playground equipment.

One of the most important things to remember when choosing a helmet is to make sure the rider likes it. If someone does not like the look and/or feel of their helmet, it will probably not be worn. Let children pick out their own helmets – choose their favorite color and decorate it with reflective stickers. Make having a bike helmet fun!

Cindy Arpin is a registered nurse and Stroke Coordinator at The William W. Backus Hospital. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. E-mail Ms. Arpin and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

Monday, July 20, 2009


Pedestrian accidents can be prevented

As trauma program manager at The William W. Backus Hospital, I see my share of pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

But what I’ve seen recently is alarming.

There have been at least five serious crashes involving motor vehicles and pedestrians in the past month and a half that have resulted in hospitalizations. This is more than the entire year in 2008.

Nationally, each year there are approximately 4,600 pedestrian fatalities and 70,000 injuries, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

Sadly, many of these could be prevented by taking some simple safety steps:
- Look left, right and left again before you cross the road.
- Use sidewalks.
- Cross only at intersections and crosswalks.
- Wear white or reflective clothing, especially at night.
- Stop at the end of the curb before crossing.
- Walk facing traffic.
- Don’t let anyone younger than 10 cross the street alone.
- Make sure drivers see you before crossing.
- Don’t run – walk across the street.

Drivers also have a role to play. They should always yield at cross walks, obey speed limits and never drink and drive. Nearly 50% of motor vehicle vs. pedestrian crashes are alcohol-related.

While many of these safety tips seem like common sense, you’d be surprised to know how many people don’t follow them. More often than not, the results are disastrous.

Gillian Mosier is a registered nurse and manager of the Backus Trauma Program. This column should not replace the advice of your physician. To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, go to the Healthy Living blog at or email the columnists at

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


What to make of the Greek yogurt craze

Stroll down the dairy aisle nowadays and you will find yogurt in all different forms.

Whether it is spoon-free, drinkable, with added toppings or fiber, full-fat, non-fat, soy, custard or whipped – it seems an endless variety fill the dairy case.

Gaining in popularity is Greek yogurt, which is a blend of cream and milk. Here is what you need to know about this latest food craze:

- It has a higher percentage of milk fat (9-10%) compared to regular whole milk yogurt that generally does not exceed 3.5% milk fat.
- It is triple-strained instead of double-strained to remove much of the whey. This extra straining removes more water; resulting in a more dense, firm, and creamy yogurt.
- There are lower fat (2%) and non-fat (0%) varieties of Greek yogurt available also in the U.S.
- It does not contain pectin or other thickeners found in many American yogurts.
- It is often paired with honey and nuts or used to make tzatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce.
- Because of the lower whey content in Greek yogurt, it stays fresh longer and is less likely to separate or curdle when heated. For this reason, it makes a good substitute for sour cream on a baked potato.

A benefit of Greek over regular yogurt is its protein content. An average 8 oz cup of Greek yogurt contains 20 grams of protein, compared to 13 grams in 8 oz of the regular variety.

Greek yogurt is also lower in sodium (83 mg per 8 oz) than regular yogurt (175 mg per 8 oz).

One thing to note: If you are depending on yogurt as a calcium source, regular yogurt has three times more calcium in it than Greek yogurt. Regular non-fat yogurt provides 450 mg calcium per 8 oz; compared to 151 mg calcium in Greek yogurt.

What to do? Include both regular and Greek style yogurts in your diet. Choose low- fat or non-fat varieties with a small amount of added sugar and top with fresh fruit, a small handful of nuts, or whole grain cereal.

Another bonus: yogurt is a good vehicle for incorporating probiotics (friendly bacteria offering many health benefits) into your diet.

Make yogurt one of the ways to get your three servings of dairy foods each day.

Catherine Schneider is a Registered Dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. Contact Ms. Schneider and all the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 06, 2009


Cheerios and other foods can help lower your cholesterol

By now many of us have heard about the FDA warning to General Mills that its popular cereal, Cheerios, is “misbranded” in a way that makes it sound like a drug to prevent and treat high cholesterol and heart disease.

The FDA specifically takes issue with the following statements found either on the Cheerios label or the General Mills website:

“Did you know that in just 6 weeks Cheerios can reduce bad cholesterol by an average of 4%?

“Cheerios is ….clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1.5 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.”

According to the FDA, a health claim linking soluble fiber from whole grain oats with a lower risk of coronary heart disease along with a statement about lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels is allowed. The FDA cites that the Cheerios label inappropriately separated the heart disease and cholesterol claims.

Another issue, according to the FDA, is that the General Mills web site used language that does not comply with approved health claims.

For example, its approved health claim about heart disease is supposed to mention fiber, fruits, vegetables and a low-fat diet – not just whole grain foods alone.

General Mills was also warned about another statement that links whole grains as part of a low fat diet to a reduced risk of stomach and colon cancers. According to the FDA, this is not an approved health claim.

So what’s all the hype about? Does Cheerios really help lower your cholesterol?

The answer is probably yes, but so do many other foods.

Cheerios’ great taste, low sugar, and fiber content appeal to both adults and kids alike. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines recognize fiber for its beneficial effect in lowering LDL cholesterol and include viscous (soluble) fiber (10-25 gm/day) in the Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet.

What makes Cheerios a good choice for a heart healthy diet? Cheerios is beneficial because it is comprised of oat bran; a source of soluble fiber. But it is important to note that several dietary fiber sources lower LDL cholesterol levels – not just oat fiber alone.

Foods such as apples, barley, beans and other legumes, fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, rice hulls and purified sources like guar gum, pectin and psyllium seed husk, (to name a few) also lower LDL cholesterol. So including a wide variety of these foods/fiber sources in your heart healthy diet makes sense.

Here are some ways you can include soluble fiber sources in your meals and snacks:

- Add kidney beans or chick peas to soups or salads
- Snack on an orange, apple or pear
- Serve brussel sprouts or lima beans for dinner
- Make a pilaf using barley, and lentils
- Substitute oat bran for part of the flour, and prune puree for part of the fat in your favorite muffin recipe
- Consider taking a psyllium husk supplement (i.e., Metamucil) daily.

There are numerous ways to increase your soluble fiber intake. For Cheerios to be effective in reducing your risk of heart disease, as well as total and LDL cholesterol, General Mills recommends having two 1 1⁄2 cup servings of the cereal each day as part of a heart healthy diet.

Although there is nothing wrong with this approach; you may opt for a little more variety in your own diet.

Catherine Schneider is a Registered Dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Schneider and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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