Monday, September 29, 2014


Five healthy questions to ask when eating out

If KFC’s “Double Down” sandwich has taught us anything, it’s that there is nothing nutritionally sacred when it comes to restaurants. If something is good, it can only get better by adding more butter, salt, cheese and bacon, right? 

Some restaurants will go to great lengths to get customers through their doors, committing some pretty amazing dietary debauchery along the way. But on the flip side, most will go to the same lengths to provide healthier options if you just know how to talk to the waitstaff. Here are some great questions to ask your server.

1) “Could I have water, please?”
Starting with a calorie-free beverage should be a no-brainer. And while artificially sweetened soft drinks technically fit the bill, good ol’ water will always win the healthy beverage choice award. If you would like a little something sweet to sip, consider getting a small juice along with your water and drink it slowly along with your meal.  

2) “What are your healthiest menu options?”
Servers usually know the menu inside and out, backwards, forwards and sideways. They know exactly how the food is prepared, so why not enlist their help?

3) “Do you offer lunch portions?” 
Enormous portions are one of the most egregious sins of restaurants today. But you need not fall victim to the mountain of mashed potatoes on your plate! There are a number of ways to minimize your portions when eating out. You can request a smaller lunch portion as suggested above, or share your meal with a dining companion. If no one else in your party shares your enthusiasm for limburger-anchovy pickled pigs feet, simply ask your server for a container and set aside half of the meal to take home. Just don’t expect a future dinner invite...

4) “May I substitute a salad or steamed vegetables for (insert deep-fried side here)?”
Most restaurants are more than willing to make these substitutions. And while you may be charged a tiny bit more, think of it as an investment in your health. What is your health worth to you?

5) “Can my meal be prepared with no added salt?”
Restaurants are notorious for the sky-high sodium content of their foods. But you can take control by asking that your food be prepared with no added salt or unnecessary fat and working with the staff to create a delicious meal that you can still feel good about. 

These are just a few ways to advocate for your dietary needs at restaurants. We all like to eat out from time to time, but we need not just accept the salt-laden, fat-drenched status quo. 

Oh, and when asking all of these questions, please don’t forget to be courteous to your server! They are handling your food, after all.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian for the Backus Health System and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, September 22, 2014


Today’s to-do list: Do nothing

Every day I receive an email from that starts with a positive quote, followed by an uplifting story or essay that illustrates that quote.  Last week’s essay was entitled, “Today I will do nothing.”   That sure caught my attention.   In this fast-paced, often-frantic, stress-filled world perhaps there is nothing we need more than a day to do absolutely nothing. 

It seems that everyone is too busy to “stop and smell the roses.” That’s a saying we haven’t heard in a long time. 

Kids are rocketed from one activity to the next at a high velocity — from school to baseball practice, to dance lessons, to karate lessons, to a track meet, with barely enough time to squeeze in a fast food take-out  burger and fries for supper.  Homework is jammed in there somewhere, too.

Free time to do nothing seems to be a thing of the past, a time-waster, unnecessary, even boring.

But the frantic pace of our days leads to trouble sleeping at night. We start the process over again the next day without ever getting restored and revitalized. 

Here are some ways to accept the challenge of slowing down and unwinding. 

•  Take time to go outside and breathe in fresh air.  It will clear your mind and clear your lungs.  Take a leisurely walk. Look around at the beauty nature has to offer.  Children have this one figured out. They notice unusual bark on a tree,  heart-shaped rocks, faces in the clouds, colorful wildflowers, chipmunks scurrying, ant hills being built, splendid sunsets; it’s all there to be seen and enjoyed -- and it’s free.   

•  Unplug from technology.  For one day, take a break from computers, cell phones, all electronic devices, even television, but especially video games.  Your email and Facebook posts will still be there a day later.

•  Relax about keeping the house in perfect order.  My husband doesn’t like this suggestion, but I agree with the late Erma Bombeck who said, “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”

The late author O. Henry is credited with saying, “The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.”

We really can’t be aimless and uncalculating every day; that just isn’t feasible.  But a day to do nothing once in a while may be just the remedy we all need.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, September 15, 2014


Preventing falls helps with confidence, independence

Julie, an active 76-year-old female who lived alone, had just finished eating her breakfast and was bringing her plate and coffee cup back to the sink.  As she turned away from the table, the cup wobbled, startling Julie and she lost her balance and fell to the ground.

She was scared and her right hip was aching, although she could move all her limbs.  The plate and cup had shattered and was all over the floor.  Julie tried to get up, but she couldn’t and the phone was in the other room.  She began to cry.

One third of all people over 65 years old who live independently will fall this year.  In Connecticut alone, we will spend nearly $140 million annually on the treatment of falls and related injuries.  In the United States, over $20 billion will be spent this year for the treatment of falls and related injuries. In the year 2020, over $67 billion will be spent.  Currently, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults.

More importantly, the impact of a fall on an older person’s life is very significant.  Due to the psychological and physical impacts of a fall, many people take fewer trips to see family, fewer visits to see friends, pursue less participation in events in the community and suffer a loss of safe or comfortable mobility.

In other words, falls can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life.  Unfortunately, even if the fall did not result in an injury, the older person feels that falling is just a part of getting older and there is nothing they can do.

Julie began to settle down and was able to pull herself over to the kitchen chair.  After a few attempts, she was able to get herself up on the chair.  Her hip was still sore, but she could put weight on the leg without any severe pain.  She took a few deep breaths, stood up and made her way to the closet to get the broom.

Falls are not a normal consequence of aging.  Seniors should not accept that frequent losses of balance and falls are part of getting older.

Discussing a fall with family or a health-care professional is critical to recovery.  In fact, many of the reasons people fall can be treated or improved, but this begins by having a discussion with a healthcare professional and often by participating in physical and/or occupational therapy services focused on treating falls.

Therapy for the treatment of falls should be geared towards improving movement, strength, range of motion, reducing pain. Include a vestibular assessment and incorporate head movement with various activities.

Depending on the level of need, fall-related care can be done in the home or in outpatient clinics.  Even regular participation in simple exercise programs and walking groups can reduce the risk of falls.

Most importantly, losses of balance and falls should not be ignored.  Less than half of known falls are even reported to a health-care professional.  If your doctor knows you have fallen,  he or she can work with you to get the right services and care to help avoid future issues.

After the mess in the kitchen was cleaned up, Julie called her daughter and told her what happened.  They made an appointment to see her doctor and later received physical therapy for balance and gait.

Julie now takes daily walks around her neighborhood and has visited more of her friends recently than she had over the past few years.  She is happily living independently in her home.

Ross Davis, MSPT, MBA, is the director of Rehabilitation Services at VNA HealthCare, which, like Backus, is a member of the Hartford HealthCare network. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Davis or any of the Healthy Living columnists at 

Monday, September 08, 2014


Kale is king for some

For several months, I have had an ongoing dialogue with my co-worker Jeff who just can’t understand my fondness for kale.  Everywhere you look there are recipes for kale.  It’s the featured new “wonder food” in gourmet magazines, health magazines, newspapers, and sports magazines.  He's not buying it. I tell him it’s called the “queen of greens.”  And for good reason.  Alison Lewis, writing for MindBodyGreen, touts some health benefits of kale:

•  Kale is low in calories, high in fiber and has zero fat. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It’s great for aiding in digestion and elimination with its great fiber content. It’s also filled with many nutrients, vitamins, folate and magnesium as well as those listed below.

•  It is high in iron. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and more.

•  Kale is great for the cardiovascular system. Eating more kale can also help lower cholesterol levels.

•  It is high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A is great for your vision, your skin as well as helping to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers.

•  The vegetable has lots Vitamin C. This is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism and your hydration.

•  Last, but not least, kale is high in calcium. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk, which aids in preventing bone loss, preventing osteoporosis and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Vitamin C is also helpful to maintain cartilage and joint flexibility.

OK, my coworker is still not convinced.  He’s not impressed with this remarkable list of health benefits.  If he thinks it doesn’t taste good, he won’t eat it.  I was up for the challenge. He didn’t like sautéed kale or tomato and kale salad, so maybe it was time to bring out the big guns.  My husband and I took him out to a restaurant in Putnam that serves kale chips as an appetizer.  They were tender, crunchy, melt-in-your mouth tasty.  Surprise: Jeff didn’t like them, so I was forced to eat the whole bowl.

Over the past year our community dietitian has developed several presentations designed to encourage school-aged kids to try new, healthy foods.  Teenagers pose the biggest challenge: fresh vegetables are hardly a match for pizza, burgers, fries and soda.  However, when I recently asked some teens to honestly tell me if these programs have changed their taste for vegetables, I was thrilled when two of them replied, “I really love kale now.”  One even said she looks for recipes to make it in different ways.

I told Jeff about these teen kale converts, but he just laughed.  I concede that he will never be the “king of kale,” but I will keep trying.  He doesn’t know what he’s missing!

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at 

Monday, September 01, 2014


Robin Williams’ suicide underscores a major problem

It has been several weeks, but many of us are still reeling from the tragic suicide of Robin Williams.  It’s difficult for us to comprehend that the entertainer who made us laugh heartily for decades could be suffering from depression so profound that he could find no other alternative to ease his pain than to take his own life.   None of us can know what someone else is experiencing in their own life.  It brings to mind the saying, “Don’t judge me until you have walked a mile in my shoes.”

Over one million people die by suicide every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it is the 13th-leading cause of death worldwide and the National Safety Council rates it sixth in the United States. It is a leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under 35.

There are many common myths about suicide, including that talking about it may give someone the idea.  The opposite is true: bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly may be one of the most helpful things you can do.  It shows you care, and it may even save a life.

Rev. John Watson is credited with saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”  We all need to be mindful of this in our daily interactions.

World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept 10.  This awareness day is observed every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world. 

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  This is a national resource that may be accessed by anyone. If the person is a veteran, press “1” to access the Veterans Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For hearing and speech impaired with TTY equipment : 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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