Monday, November 30, 2009


Stay safe this holiday season

Thanksgiving is past, but the winter holiday season has only begun and family get-togethers and parties will continue to increase.

And so will the potential for avoidable mistakes that can have devastating consequences.

Working in the busy Backus Hospital Emergency Department and Trauma Center, I’ve seen firsthand what can happen – from food poisoning to drunken and distracted driving.

Here are some tips to follow, courtesy of the Emergency Nurses Association Injury Prevention Institute:

• After holiday parties, wrap leftovers tightly, and keep them well-refrigerated or frozen to avoid food poisoning.
• If you are having a holiday party, monitor the alcohol consumption of your guests. Be sure to provide non-alcoholic
• Be prepared to call a cab for anyone who may not be safe to drive.
• Reduce the number, size and frequency of alcoholic beverages you drink and serve at holiday occasions.
• Never get behind the wheel of a moving vehicle after having consumed any alcohol.
• Avoid traveling after midnight, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, since that is the time that most motor vehicle crashes occur.
• Drive defensively.
• Keep to your normal sleep schedule. Avoid driving when fatigued.
• Always wear your safety belt and make sure that all adult and child passengers are properly restrained.
• Prevent holiday fires by using only nonflammable decorations, inspecting holiday lights, and using only those that are UL-approved.
• Keep Christmas trees well-watered and away from heat sources so that they do not become dried out.
• Avoid using portable heaters. If they are absolutely necessary, keep them in open spaces, away from anything that might catch fire and be sure to turn them off before you go to bed, leave the house or leave a room for a long time.
• If you have children and have out-of -town guests staying in your home, provide those guests with child-proof place to keep any medications they might be taking.
• If you have relatives staying with you, particularly elderly relatives, encourage them to bring a list of medications they are taking, a list of medical conditions and contact information for their doctors.
• When buying gifts, remember that toys with small parts can pose a choking hazard for younger children. If it will fit through a toilet paper roll it is too small to let a child play with.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009


Boost nutrition to boost immunity

The cold and flu season has officially arrived with a vengeance. There are no known cures for colds and flu, so prevention is the key to staying healthy.

The most effective way to prevent the seasonal or H1N1 flu is to be vaccinated. For some of us, however, getting the vaccination may not be an option, whether by choice or availability.
Luckily, there are strategies for people to take to protect themselves and their families.

Exercise, nutrition and good old-fashioned handwashing are preventative measures we can take in protecting ourselves from illness. Exercise can protect and enhance the immune response. Studies have shown that a regular exercise program can strengthen the immune system, including the antibody response. Twenty to thirty minutes of walking per day is an ideal goal for maintaining a healthy immune system.

A varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can go a long way to prevent illness and disease. It is these foods that provide our bodies antioxidants in the form of vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants remove harmful free radicals (aka oxidants) from our bloodstreams. Free radicals are toxic byproducts our bodies make when turning food into energy. They are also byproducts of cigarette smoke, pollution, sunlight exposure and other environmental factors. Free radicals are capable of damaging DNA and suppressing the body’s immune response.

Marginal nutrient deficiencies in the diet can also weaken the immune system. Marginal deficiency is a state of gradual vitamin loss, but often does not cause obvious symptoms. This marginal deficiency can affect your body’s ability to resist disease and infection.

A variety of vitamins and minerals have been identified to play a role in boosting the immune system. The following list identifies the nutrient and foods you can eat to naturally boost your nutrition. Nutrients are better absorbed through diet versus a supplement:

• Protein: Lean meats, poultry, fish, nut butters, eggs, low fat cheese, nuts.
• Vitamin A: Egg yolks, liver, low fat dairy, butter and fortified margarine.
• Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, strawberries, green peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupes, currants, gooseberries, liver, green leafy vegetables, baked potato.
• Vitamin E: Salad oils, shortening, margarine, whole grain products, nuts, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard), wheat germ.
• Selenium: Shellfish, seafood, chicken, egg yolks, lean meats, whole grain breads and cereals, wheat germ, garlic, low fat dairy and brazil nuts.
Copper: Shellfish, nuts, dried beans (legumes), cocoa powder, eggs, prunes, and potatoes.
• Zinc: Shellfish, seafood, poultry, lean beef, eggs, low fat milk, peanuts, oatmeal, whole corn, whole grains, wheat germ.
• Vitamin B6: Lean beef, poultry, liver, fish, whole grain cereals, legumes, peanuts, potatoes, yeast, bananas, corn, cabbage, yams, prunes, watermelon, avocados, eggs.
• Vitamin B12: Lean beef, poultry, eggs, low fat cheese, low fat milk, shellfish, seafood, fermented foods (tempeh, miso), fortified soymilk.
• Vitamin D: Cod liver oil, sunshine, eggs, liver, salmon, sardines, caviar, tuna, herring, fortified milk, fortified margarine.

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. Email Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog below.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Cranberries have many health benefits

Think cranberries, and you probably think of the holidays. Whatever your association with fall fruit, an impressive body of evidence proves that starting your day with a shot of cranberry juice, or tossing the dried berries in cereal or salads can bring health benefits any time of the year.

Long before the colonists first arrived in the new land, the American Indians were using cranberries. The Native Americans understood cranberries and used them not only as food, but also as dye and for medicinal purposes. Primary among their uses was as a poultice to heal wounds. Although you will not hear the recommendation to rub cranberries on our scrapes and cuts today, you may have heard of drinking cranberries juice to ward off urinary tract infections (UTI’s) or even that they are a good source of antioxidants for cancer prevention or heart health.

Though cranberries are tiny, they are potent. Packed with nutrition, they are also high in fiber, like their relative, the blueberry. They also contain antioxidants in abundance which has antibacterial properties in the body and potentially can help improve cholesterol profiles.

A study conducted at the Harvard Medical School determined that regular consumption of cranberry juice reduced the amount of bacteria in the urinary tracts of elderly women. These researchers concluded that something specific to the cranberry actually prevented bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder.

A few years later, researchers from Rutgers University identified the specific components in cranberries that produce health benefits. These condensed tannins or proatnothocyanidins (PACs) from the cranberry fruit prevent Escherichia coli (e.coli), the primary bacteria responsible for UTI’s, from attaching to the urinary tract.

Thus, the bacteria are flushed from the urinary tract rather than being allowed to stick, grow and lead to infection. Cranberries can not be used to treat an existing infection, but, drinking plenty of water every day and consuming cranberries on a regular basis may help prevent reoccurrence.

Most of the research with heart health and the antioxidant flavonoids has involved red wine or tea, not cranberries. The few studies that have been done with cranberries show that they have the potential to increase HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Getting the nutritional benefits of cranberries through food is recommended versus taking it in a pill form. Cranberry extract is considered a dietary supplement. Dietary supplements are not regulated, so you can’t be sure what you are getting. If you want the benefit of cranberries, eat the real fruit or drink cranberry juice.

Keep in mind cranberry juice is 100% juice; the cocktail version is about 25% juice and about 75% sugar. Try cranberry juice with other fruit juices if the 100% juice version is too tart for your taste buds.

Dried cranberries are coated with sugar and are caloric dense so keep portion control in mind. 1/3 cup dried cranberries are considered 2 fruits servings with about 130-140 kcal compared to 1⁄2 cup whole berries have only 22 kcal. Try tossing some fresh cranberries into your cereal, salad, or making you own cranberry sauce mixed with apples, pears or oranges. They can be added to muffins, breads or even a fruited salsa.

Fresh cranberries are generally available mid-September through December and most abundant during peak harvest season in October and November. Cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. Buy fresh cranberries in season, and then freeze them up to 18 months to enjoy them all year long.

So this holiday season, pick up some cranberries and incorporate them into your diet and grab a couple extra bags to put in your freezer to get you through until next fall. They are tasty, tiny, tart and good for you.

Sarah Hospod is a registered dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Hospod and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog below.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Answers to frequently asked questions about H1N1

The H1N1 virus continues to present challenges for the public health community. The Uncas Health District is focusing on three areas: community education, continuity of operations planning and support and public vaccination.

Understandably, the public finds the response to the H1N1 virus to be confusing and frustrating. With information changing daily, reports of high absentee rates in schools, and concern about the lack of vaccine – the public may not be sure what to ask. The following questions and answers may help to clear up some of the confusion.

• Why is there such a limited supply of vaccine and do you think everyone who wants vaccine will be able to get one?
In fact, more doses are being released each week and the first priority groups are beginning to be addressed quite well. Unfortunately, we are not all in a priority group. For those individuals, an additional wait will be necessary. However, the plan is for every individual to be offered a dose.

• What are the current risk groups that are being targeted?
The current risk groups being targeted include pregnant women, household contacts of children less than 6 months of age, children 6 months to 6 years, EMS and healthcare providers, and children less than 19 years old with chronic health issues. These groups are continuing to expand as the vaccine becomes more widely available.

• How do I find out about flu clinics and vaccine availability?
H1N1 clinics have been scheduled by appointment. Please contact your physician or the Uncas Health District office at 823-1189 x113 or email

• How prevalent is H1N1 now in our community?
Influenza data reviewed from the week ending Oct. 31 reveals a continuing increase in the level of influenza activity being observed in Connecticut as measured by laboratory confirmed test results. Over 100 influenza- associated hospitalizations have been reported to date, with many more people having the disease that aren’t hospitalized.

• Who is most vulnerable?
Data continues to support the hypothesis that young people and individuals with chronic health conditions are at greatest risk.

• How do experts see this playing out? Is there an end in sight?
While it is difficult to predict how H1N1 will pan out, it appears that the H1N1 virus is coming in waves. Keep in mind, seasonal flu typically arrives in November and peaks in January – February. Therefore, it is still going to be important to take precautions into the Spring.

• What about seasonal flu vaccine – will that become available again or is it too late?
It is not too late as the season has yet to truly begin. Unfortunately, the vaccine is an unknown commodity at this point, with public health officials crossing their fingers, right along with the public, hoping it becomes available in great numbers very soon.

• Besides vaccinations, what are other ways to protect against the flu?
Social distancing is an important part of protecting yourself and others. If you are sick, avoid public interaction as much as possible until 24 hours after signs and symtoms have ended without fever-reducing medications. In addition, you should continue to cover your cough, wash hands frequently, eat well, and get your rest. If you do need to fight something off, you want your body to be at its best.

Patrick R. McCormack is Director of Health for the Uncas Health District. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail McCormack and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog below.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Tips for dining out with the kids

As parents we juggle our careers, household upkeep, soccer practice and homework and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. We try in vain to manage all these activities and get the kids to bed at a decent hour.

Let’s face it, in today’s busy world, who doesn’t like having someone else do the cooking once in a while? Dining out allows us to slow down a little. It gives us time to sit back and really talk to our kids and perhaps work on that homework while waiting for the meal to arrive.

The challenge that we face, however, is chicken fingers, mac and cheese and fries. Now, if you only splurge once or twice a month in a restaurant this is not such a big issue. But if your family dines out several times per week, your children are eating too much fat, too many calories and not enough vegetables.

Once the decision is made to dine out we are faced with many decisions, including where to go and what to eat. Whether it’s fast food or a sit down meal, there are menu options available for kids that will meet your healthy standards and then of course there is the opposite.

Take, for example, the kids’ turkey mini burgers at Ruby Tuesday, which are 873 calories and 41 g of fat and the kids’ chicken tenders are 704 calories and 34 g of fat. Better choices include the kids’ pasta marinara (490 calories and 6 g fat) or the kids’ chicken breast (217 calories and 9 g of fat) paired with broccoli and the meal is complete. Ruby Tuesday also offers choices such as green beans, baked potato and mashed cauliflower.

Friendly’s, another popular spot to bring the kids, offers a wide selection of choices. While the cheeseburger has 450 calories and 27 grams of fat (fries not included), the grilled cheese sandwich is only 290 calories with 17 grams of fat.

A better choice might be to ask for a grilled chicken breast with a vegetable choice such as broccoli or corn or perhaps the applesauce or mandarin orange slices. Watch out for the kids’ happy ending ice cream desserts, these add an additional 300-860 calories to an already calorie-heavy meal.

As for beverages, stick with water or low fat milk and stay away from soda, juices, flavored milk and lemonades. These choices can easily add 100-350 calories to the meal.

Fast food restaurants can also be a challenge, but don’t despair; you can feel good about the occasional trip to the golden arches. A simple hamburger with a small fry comes in at 480 calories with 20 grams of fat. Skip the fries and choose the apple slices and you’ve just shaved off quite a few calories. Both McDonalds and Burger King offer 1% or skim milk, which always a good choice. Encourage your child to choose the grilled chicken sandwiches or the grilled chicken snack wrap, both of which have fewer calories than the cheeseburger.

If your favorite restaurant doesn’t offer a kids’ menu or you don’t like the choices offered, ask your server for child-size portions from the regular menu.

Spaghetti and marinara or grilled chicken or fish are always healthy choices. Encourage salads or maybe a grilled chicken fajita and if low fat milk is not available, go with water, which is always calorie-free. Keep asking for low fat milk -- my philosophy is if enough requests are made, restaurants will eventually catch on.

Chain restaurants, such as 99, Ruby Tuesday, Subway, McDonald's or Panera Bread provide the nutrition information online. Check out your favorite restaurant’s websites to help you navigate your way through the menu.

Putting it all into perspective:
• Ages 4-8 years: Needs are 1400-1600 calories/day for a moderately active child.
• Ages 9-13 years: Needs are 1600-2000 calories/day for a moderately active female and 1800-2200 calories/day for a moderately active male.
Source: Institute of Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrient report, 2002.

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. Email Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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