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What's Really Making Your Back Hurt?

Back pain is one of the most common complaints doctors hear from their patients. In fact, studies show that more than 80% of Americans will suffer from at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime. Back pain can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms.    So what really causes back pain? The answer is complex, but what we do know is the following people are at a greater risk of lower back pain: 

  • Adults between the ages of 30 and 55.
  • People who smoke. (Researchers theorize that smoking may decrease blood flow to intervertebral discs which can lead to accelerated cell death.)
  • Adults who had episodes of low back pain as teens.
  • People whose occupational activities require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, etc. 
  • Those with a history of depression, anxiety or insomnia. (These conditions may affect a person’s ability to deal with pain.) 
Beyond these risk factors, there are a variety of problems that cause lower back pain. Here are the five most common causes of back pain—and what you can do about it.    Strains or Sprains to Back Muscles Strains (injuries to a muscle or tendon) and sprains (injuries to a ligament) are the most common causes of back pain. Moving suddenly, twisting or lifting heavy objects can cause microscopic tears in the muscles, tendons or ligaments in your back. Depending on the severity of the tear, this can cause mild to severe pain that comes on immediately or soon after an activity such as heavy lifting. The lower back area can be sore to the touch and achy, and muscle spasms can also occur.   Treatment:  Strains and sprains often heal on their own with home remedies, such as rest, ice and/or heat, gentle stretching and anti-inflammatory medication. Ice is generally used to reduce inflammation and swelling, while heat can help reduce muscle spasms. However, if you can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain, can’t move the affected area, or have numbness, you should see a doctor right away.   Degenerated Spinal Discs Spinal discs are soft, fluid-filled "sacs" located between each vertebra of the spine. They provide a cushion for the vertebrae, helping absorb impact and shock. Over time, the discs can degenerate or wear out, especially in the lumber (lower back) region. Some disc degeneration is part of the normal aging process. Other disc issues can be caused by injury or trauma to the back. The wearing down of intervertebral discs causes chemical and physical changes within the discs that can lead to inflammation and nerve-related pain, usually contained in the lower back region and not extending into the arms or legs. It is usually brought on by activities that compress the spine, such as bending forward from the waist, sneezing, coughing or sitting for prolonged periods of time. Often, it is relieved by a change in position such as standing up or lying down.        Treatment:  In most cases, anti-inflammatory medications and exercises that strengthen and stretch the back muscles can help.   Herniated Discs With age, spinal discs become less elastic, increasing the risk of rupture. When a rupture occurs, a portion of the disc is pushed outside of its normal boundaries; this is referred to as a herniated disc. The most common area where people experience herniated discs is in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine. Injury or trauma to the spine can also cause a disc to rupture as can prolonged sitting (which puts pressure on lower back discs) and heavy lifting.   A herniated disc results in sharp or throbbing lower back pain that can come on suddenly (as the result of a fall, sudden movement or accident) or gradually. Some people feel less pain when lying down; others experience less pain with increased movement or standing. Depending on the severity of the rupture and its location near the nerves, some people may experience nerve-related numbness, tingling, weakness or pain that shoots down the leg.   Treatment: Dealing with a herniated disc depends on a number of factors, including age and severity of symptoms. Treatment typically starts with rest and refraining from activities that aggravate the condition. Many times, the condition will resolve itself given time. Ice, heat and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve symptoms. Physical therapy can also help to improve the stability and strength of the lumbar region to reduce the risk of further injury.    Sciatica "Sciatica" refers to pain along the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and runs down the hip and buttock on each side of the body. Sciatica commonly occurs when a herniated disc or bone spur compresses part of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain is usually limited to one side of the body. It can result in inflammation and numbness in the affected leg, and can get worse with standing, sitting, sneezing or heavy lifting. Pain varies from a mild ache to a jolt or shock.    Treatment: Prolonged inactivity can make sciatica symptoms worse, so it’s important to continue with regular activity (assuming it’s not the activity that caused the problem in the first place). Cold packs, heat packs, stretching the hamstrings and piriformis (which runs across the buttocks to the outer hip) and pain relieving medication can be helpful ways to self-treat the problem. If those aren’t successful, your doctor might prescribe stronger medication and/or physical therapy to help correct the problem.    Spinal Stenosis This is a narrowing of the open spaces within the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that travel through the spine. Degenerative changes typically cause this narrowing process to occur, which is why the condition normally affects people over age 50. Spinal stenosis can cause cramping in the legs (when sitting or standing for long periods of time), and pain, numbness or weakness in the back or legs. It can also lead to problems with bowel or bladder control.   Treatment: Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and other types of medication might be prescribed by your doctor to relieve spinal stenosis pain. Exercises to improve balance, increase flexibility and stability of the spine and increase overall strength are also often part of a comprehensive treatment program.   Special Exercise Considerations for Back Pain Although two-thirds of patients with back pain report improvements within seven weeks, as many as 40 percent will see a relapse within six months. The good news is that, in general, those who engage in a regular physical activity program are less likely to have back pain now and in the future. And for most individuals, exercise will be a key component of their treatment program. Although the standard recommendation for people with back pain used to be rest, recent research has shown inactivity may not only delay recovery, but can also make the symptoms worse.     For most acute low back pain issues, low-impact cardiovascular activities such as walking are recommended. Patients are encouraged to resume daily activities as soon as possible. Specific back exercises, heavy lifting and prolonged sitting should be avoided when the issue is acute.   For many chronic low back pain issues, physical therapy is often helpful to correct muscle imbalances and prevent future problems. The goal is typically to develop a specific set of exercises that will increase strength, endurance and flexibility and also to learn correct movement techniques that will benefit the patient for the rest of their life.    With the proper guidance, it's possible for many back pain sufferers to resume normal activities and exercise in a safe, pain-free manner.   Sources Solomon, Jennifer. “Low-back Pain.” In ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual, edited by Cedric X. Bryant and Daniel J. Green, 489-507. 2012.  About.com, "Herniated Disc," orthopedics.about.com, accessed on July 2, 2013. About.com, "Discogenic Back Pain," orthopedics.about.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.   Mayo Clinic, "Spinal Stenosis," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.   Mayo Clinic, "Sciatica," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.   Spine Health, "Lower Back Pain Symptoms and Causes," www.spine-health.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.                 Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1762

Supplements for a Healthy Heart

So you just found out that you have high cholesterol, or perhaps you have a strong family history of heart disease and want to do your best to prevent it. So you head to the pharmacy or health food store for help, only to be bombarded by countless supplements that tout their heart healthy benefits. Which should you choose? Are they all good for your heart? Are supplements necessary to improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease? Before you buy into the billion-dollar business of dietary supplements, remember a few key things.

  1. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way as medications are regulated. Manufacturers have a lot of leeway in their ability to make health claims on their bottles—much more than most health professionals would like—and these claims can be very misleading. Some claims are not even true or are not based on good scientific research. Never trust what a bottle or advertisement tells you about a product. After all, the goal of both is to get you to buy it. Do your own investigation first.  
  2. Dietary supplements are NOT a must for a healthy heart. Many people can reduce their risk of heart disease and improve their heart health by making simple lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and following the heart-health plan provided by their health care provider. Supplements alone cannot and will not undo an unhealthy (poor quality) diet or inactive lifestyle. If you do prefer to take supplements, think of them as an added insurance plan to the heart-healthy changes you're already making.  
  3. Supplements can interact with other medications. Even something as seemingly benign as a vitamin or mineral supplement can cause adverse reactions when combined with certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs, so ALWAYS keep a list of all supplements you take and share it with your pharmacist and health care provider.  
  4. Talk to your doctor first. Before taking any supplement, get advice and recommendations from your health care provider.
Here's a list of common supplements (listed in alphabetical order) that make heart health claims. Read on to find out which may help, and which supplements you should leave on the shelf according to evidence-based research. B Vitamins: Folic Acid, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin B-12 The B-complex vitamins, which include folic acid, help keep your nerves and red blood cells healthy and strong. They are also involved in the metabolism (and reduction) of homocysteine, an amino acid that, when elevated, is linked to heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and strokes. Several controlled research studies indicate that a combination of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folic acid can decrease homocysteine levels; but other studies have shown no benefit in reducing the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the American Heart Association has concluded that there isn't enough evidence to say that B-vitamin supplementation reduces cardiovascular risk. It is important to work with your physician before taking B-complex vitamin supplements to improve heart health. Baby Aspirin This little over-the-counter pain reliever has been shown to have some great heart-healthy benefits as well. Aspirin interferes with your body’s blood clotting ability. For someone with narrowed blood vessels, a decrease in blood clotting may help to prevent a blockage and thus prevent a heart attack or stroke. To determine if you would benefit from taking an aspirin daily, talk to your doctor first about usage and dosage. If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, your doctor has probably already discussed this treatment option. If you have strong risk factors for heart disease, you may also benefit from taking a baby aspirin daily. There is no standard dosage for aspirin usage and heart health: It can range from 75-325 milligrams. A baby aspirin (81 mg) is often prescribed. Some medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, asthma, stomach ulcer, or heart failure could become more dangerous if a baby aspirin was consumed daily. Aspirin can also interfere with certain medications, herbal supplements and dietary supplements, too, so talk to your doctor first. Calcium The mineral calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, but the heart, nerves, and blood-clotting systems also need calcium to work properly. In people with high blood pressure (hypertension), calcium supplementation appears to have a modest effect by lowering systolic blood pressure by 2–4 mmHg, but it appears to have little effect in people with normal blood pressure. Calcium seems to be most effective in salt-sensitive people and people who normally get very little calcium in their diet. For people with high cholesterol, taking calcium supplements along with a heart healthy diet may modestly reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol by 4.4% and increase HDL "good" cholesterol by 4.1%. Taking calcium alone, without the heart healthy diet, does not seem to lower cholesterol. Other studies suggest that simply eating a calcium-rich diet (not supplementing it) can improve heart health. Research has shown that individuals who eat a vegetarian diet that is high in minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium) and fiber, and low in fat tend to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Similarly, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study was conducted to test the effects of three different eating patterns on blood pressure: the "typical" American diet; a diet high in fruits and vegetables; and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, now known as the DASH diet. The third group experienced the greatest reduction in blood pressure among the three groups, which signals that dietary calcium plays an important role in heart health. A heart-healthy goal for calcium intake is to consume at least 1,000-1,200 milligrams daily. Determine how much calcium you are getting daily through your diet (tracking your food on SparkPeople's free Nutrition Tracker will do the math for you!) and then add a supplement to meet the remaining amount, if necessary. Coenzyme Q-10 Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10) is a vitamin-like substance found throughout the body, especially in the cells of the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is involved in generating energy, cell respiration and cell transport. It occurs naturally (in small amounts) in meats and seafood, but can also be made in a laboratory for medicinal and supplementation purposes. Preliminary research indicates that Coenzyme Q-10 supplementation MAY:
  • Reduce blood pressure enough that people taking medication for hypertension can decrease or discontinue their dosage (under a doctor's care, of course).
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease complications when started within 72 hours of having a heart attack and taken for one year.
  • Help treat congestive heart failure when taken in combination with other heart failure medications and treatments.
  • Improve exercise tolerance in patients with chest pain (angina).
  • Help prevent the muscle pains and liver damage often experience by people using statin drugs.
Work closely with your physician when using or considering this supplement. Fish Oil Fatty fish that are especially rich in the beneficial oils called omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, and trout. The omega-3 fatty acids can improve heart health due to their anti-inflammatory action. Fish oil can be obtained from eating fish or by taking fish oil supplements. Studies indicate the fish oil can help prevent heart disease and lower the risk of additional complications in people who already have heart disease. Some research indicates that fish oil can: reduce triglycerides by up to 20-50%; modestly lower blood pressure by expanding blood vessels; and offer greater heart-protection benefits when combined with statin drugs (cholesterol-lowering medications). Be sure to talk to your doctor about the amount of fish oil you should be taking. Your doctor will follow specific dosing guidelines based on your medical needs. A dose of 1 to 4 grams daily (with 240 milligrams of DHA and 360 milligrams of EPA per gram) is fairly typical, but the prescribed dosage will vary depending on your heart health and lipid profile. Warning: Taking high doses of fish oil can be dangerous; more than 3 grams per day can keep blood from clotting properly and can increase bleeding in your body. High doses of fish oil might also reduce the functioning of your immune system. Taking fish oil supplements in large amounts can also increase levels of the LDL "bad" cholesterol in some people. Green Tea Extract Green tea extract can be made from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant, a perennial evergreen shrub. Since green tea is not fermented (as black tea is) and is produced by steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures, it maintain important molecules called catechins, a type of flavonoid thought to be responsible for many of the benefits of green tea. Epidemiological evidence suggests that people who drink more green tea have healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In one study, participants who ingested 375 milligrams of an oral theaflavin-enriched green tea extract daily for 12 weeks experienced reductions in total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Typical recommendations encourage the drinking of freshly brewed green tea, which appears to offer more benefits than supplementation. Drink up to 5 cups of green tea daily for heart health, or supplement with 375 milligrams of green tea extract daily. Talk to your doctor for more specific guidelines based on your medical needs. Niacin Niacin and niacinamide are forms of vitamin B-3, which is found in many protein-rich foods including poultry, fish, beef, pork, peanut butter, and legumes. It is also added to many enriched and fortified grain products (think cereals and breads). Niacin and niacinamide are required for fats and sugars to function properly in the body and for the maintenance of healthy cells. Research has shown that in high doses, niacin and niacinamide can help prevent heart disease by interfering with the body’s blood clotting action and possibly lowering triglyceride levels. Therefore, individual niacin supplements are sometimes used as a treatment for high cholesterol. Only niacin—not the form niacinamide—appears to lower cholesterol. Some niacin supplements are FDA-approved as prescriptions for treating high cholesterol. These prescription niacin supplements typically come in 50- milligram doses or higher, while over-the-counter supplements (which are not regulated by the FDA) come in strengths of 250 milligrams or less. Since very high doses of niacin are required for the treatment of high cholesterol, dietary niacin supplements is usually not effective or appropriate for this purpose. Niacin is safe for most adults. A flushing reaction is a common effect of niacin supplementation. This can occur as a burning, tingling, itching, and redness of the face, arms, and chest. Often starting with a smaller dose of niacin and taking aspirin before each dose of niacin will help reduce the flushing effect. Usually, this reaction goes away as the body gets used to the medication. Other side effects of niacin are stomach upset, gas, dizziness, and pain in the mouth. Serious and toxic side effects can occur when an individual consumes 3 grams or more per day. Talk to your doctor before using niacin as a treatment option for high cholesterol. Plant Sterols and Stanols Plant sterols and plant stanols are components of certain plant membranes. They are found naturally in small amounts in some vegetable oils, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Research has shown that plant sterols and plant stanols have the ability to help lower total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol. When you eat food that contains dietary cholesterol (found in animal products) your intestinal tract absorbs that cholesterol and puts it into the bloodstream. When the sterols and stanols travel through your digestive tract, they get in the way of dietary cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, less total cholesterol is absorbed by your body when plant sterols and stanols are present. The cholesterol that is not absorbed leaves the body as waste. To be beneficial, plant sterols and stanols must be consumed in the correct amount on a daily basis. The National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III recommends an intake of at least 2 grams of plant sterols and plant stanols daily to be effective at lowering cholesterol and LDL levels. Plant sterols and stanols are now added to some margarines, orange juices, yogurts and other specialized foods. They are also available as a supplement. To assure that one gets the 2 grams daily needed for effectiveness, many doctors now suggest taking plant sterols and stanols as a supplement. Psyllium Blond psyllium seed and psyllium husk (the outer covering of the seed) are primarily used as to make laxatives for constipation and fiber supplements such as Metamucil. You can also find psyllium added to cereals, breads and snack bars that are marketed as "high in fiber." In addition, psyllium alone can be found as a supplement. The fiber from psyllium can reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol. Studies have indicated that taking blond psyllium in a dose of approximately 10-12 grams daily can reduce levels of total cholesterol by 3% to 14% and LDL "bad" cholesterol by 5% to 10% after 7 weeks of treatment. Warnings: Blond psyllium is safe for most people when taken with plenty of fluids to prevent the fiber from forming an obstruction in the esophagus. Blond psyllium can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, so monitor blood sugar levels closely. It can also decrease the absorption of certain medications. In some people, blond psyllium might cause gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. For these reasons, make sure you talk with your doctor before using psyllium seed or psyllium husk. Red Yeast Rice Red yeast rice supplements come from the rice that is fermented with Monascus purpureus yeast. The active ingredient in red yeast rice supplements is similar to the active ingredient in the cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs (statins), such as lovastatin (Mevacor). While red yeast rice supplements can be used to maintain normal cholesterol levels in healthy people, and in reducing cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol, it can also cause all the same side effects as statin drugs: liver damage, muscle pain, and muscle damage. Some red yeast supplements contain none of the active ingredient, and some contain significant amounts. Therefore, the American Heart Association warns against using red yeast until the results of long-term studies are available and the quality of the products become more standardized. It can cause stomach discomfort, heartburn, gas and dizziness. You should talk with your healthcare provider before taking red yeast rice. Selenium Selenium is a mineral found in foods and water sources. The amount of selenium in the foods you eat depends on where it is grown or raised; the amount of selenium in soils varies greatly, which means that foods grown in different soils have differing selenium levels. Crab, liver, fish, poultry, and wheat are generally good selenium sources. There is some preliminary evidence that selenium may help to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol and decrease plaque build-up in the arteries. However, in people with coronary heart disease, selenium supplementation in combination with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E does NOT seem to protect against the progression of heart disease. Currently there is insufficient evidence available to recommend selenium supplements for the prevention of heart disease. Vitamin C Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin helps form and repair red blood cells and other body tissue. It helps keep blood vessels firm, prevents bruising, and helps keep the immune system strong. Good sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables, especially citrus fruits. Synthetic vitamin C can also be made in a laboratory to be used in supplements. Taking vitamin C along with conventional high blood pressure medications appears to decrease systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by a small amount, but does not seem to decrease diastolic pressure (the bottom number). Taking vitamin C supplements alone, though, doesn’t seem to affect blood pressure. Regarding cardiovascular disease, evidence from many epidemiological studies suggests that high intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, partly due to the antioxidant content of these foods. However, results from research examining vitamin C intake and cardiovascular disease risk are conflicting. Results from most clinical intervention trials have failed to show a beneficial effect of vitamin C supplementation on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. So you're better off saving your money and just eating more fruits and vegetables to get the heart-protecting benefits of vitamin C. Vitamin E Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in many foods including vegetable oils (such as soybean, corn, cottonseed, and safflower oil), as well as margarines and salad dressings made from such oils. Nuts, seeds and wheat germ are also good sources of vitamin E. It is known as a powerful antioxidant, and for years, vitamin E supplements were touted as having a protective effect on the heart. Several observational studies have associated high dietary (not supplemented) intakes of vitamin E with lower rates of heart disease. However, clinical trials have not shown vitamin E supplements to be effective in preventing heart disease, stroke or chest pain. In fact some studies indicate that vitamin E supplementation actually increased heart failure and mortality. Overall, clinical trials have not provided evidence that routine use of vitamin E supplements prevents cardiovascular disease. While taking vitamin E supplements may not help prevent heart disease, increasing your intake of vitamin E by eating more foods that contain it may be beneficial. Sources Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Supplementing Your Heart Health: Omega-3, Plant Sterols, and More," accessed March 2011. www.webmd.com. Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Calcium supplements: A risk factor for heart attack?," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com. Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH," (PDF) accessed March 2011. www.nhlbi.nih.gov. Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets," accessed March 2011. www.ods.od.nih.gov. Therapeutic Research Faculty. "Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database," accessed March 2011. www.naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com. Woolston, Chris. "Why Supplements May Do Your Heart More Harm Than Good," accessed March 2011. www.health.com.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1631

Garlic: The Big Flavor with Benefits

Garlic is a great way to add bold taste to your cooking without extra calories or sodium. But did you know that garlic offers more than big flavor? It's such a common ingredient in so many dishes that it's easy to overlook its health benefits.   Garlic is a member of the Allium family, along with onions, leeks and shallots. Like a tulip or daffodil, garlic grows from a bulb underground, producing leaves and a flower stalk. The underground bulb, with its individual cloves, is what humans have cooked with for more than 6,000 years.   Garlic originated in central Asia. Although Gilroy, Ca, calls itself the garlic capital of the world, China is the world's dominant garlic producer. Garlic shows up in many world cuisines, from garlicky Asian sauces, to Italian pasta dishes, to the classic French sauce, aioli.   Ancient Greeks and Romans embraced garlic for its health benefits; the Roman physician Galen praised its cure-all properties. Today, the National Institutes for Health notes that garlic is used as medicine for many conditions involving the heart and blood system, and for treating the immune system. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting properties. According to the NIH, garlic is ''possibly effective'' when used as treatment for high blood pressure, fungal infections of the skin, hardening of the arteries, and colon, rectal and stomach cancer. When used medicinally, garlic is typically concentrated into extract or powder and given as tablets or capsules.   Varieties Garlic comes in hardneck and softneck varieties. Softneck varieties have a flexible flower stalk (which can be braided) and smaller cloves; most commercially available garlic is of this variety. Hardneck garlics have a firm, edible flower stalk (called a scape) and larger cloves. Increasingly, small farmers are growing heirloom hardneck varieties, some of which date back hundreds of years. You can find these varieties at many farmers markets.   Nutrition Data Garlic has been shown to moderately reduce cholesterol, and its sulfur compounds have been shown to reduce blood pressure. It's also low in calories (4 calories per clove) and high in vitamin C, selenium and magnesium. Very preliminary research has suggested that garlic may inhibit the production of fat cells in the body. A Note on Prepared/Processed Garlic Allicin, a unique sulfur component, is responsible for garlic's pungent flavor and also for some of its health benefits. Allicin is released when a clove of garlic is chopped and is at its most potent when used soon after chopping. For this reason, prepared minced garlic sold in jars in the grocery is less flavorful and less beneficial than fresh garlic. Pre-minced garlic is packaged with oil and preservatives like citric or phosphoric acid. Since it's so easy to peel and chop garlic, using fresh is recommended. You can even grow it at home pretty easily.  

Buying and Storing Look for garlic bulbs that are undamaged, with their papery skins intact. Choose bulbs that have larger cloves, as these are easier to peel. Garlic can be stored in a cool, dark place for three to six months; discard any cloves that have dried out or begun to sprout.   Cooking Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked. Cooking tempers the flavor (and lessens garlic breath). To prepare garlic for cooking, remove the papery skin and the hard root end from each clove, then chop according to recipe directions. (Some research has shown that cutting or crushing garlic activates its enzymes and that it's beneficial to wait five minutes before continuing with the recipe.) You can infuse olive oil with garlic by simmering a half cup of oil in a saucepan with 2-3 chopped garlic cloves. Garlic can be roasted, which creates a soft, caramelized texture and sweet, rich flavor. Note: Garlic is also sold in powdered or granulated form, which is appropriate for use in recipes like dressings, sauces or dips. Garlic powder is not a good substitute in recipes that call for sautéing or cooking fresh garlic. Granulated garlic, garlic powder and garlic salt are three different ingredients and shouldn't be used interchangeably, so pay attention to your recipe. Avoid garlic salt if you're watching your sodium levels. Healthy Recipes that Feature Garlic   Chef Meg's Favorite Ginger-Garlic Sauce This versatile recipe can be used to add bold flavor as a marinade or sauce for grilled meats or vegetables.   Low-Fat Slow-Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes Perfect for a crowd, this recipe can be made ahead for family gatherings. Chef Meg's Grilled Citrus Garlic Flank Steak Garlic adds a ton of flavor to this healthy, lean cut of beef.   Chef Meg's Herb-Roasted Garlic Sweet, softened roasted garlic is terrific on toasted bread slices, or in soups and stews. So, what are you waiting for? Start adding more garlic to your meals--the flavor and health benefits will be worth the garlic breath!

  Sources   National Institutes of Health. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov.   The World's Healthiest Foods. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012. http://whfoods.org.  

Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1791

Eating for a Healthy Heart

Looking for ways to kick start your heart-healthy lifestyle? Start by looking at your diet. Poor food choices can have a negative effect on your heart, weight and overall health; but making small, sustainable changes to improve your diet can have a lasting impact. There is a lot of misinformation about what foods are or aren't heart-healthy, so it may surprise you to learn that you don't need exotic fruits, imported nuts, or even pricey supplements to take care of your ticker. By making heart smart choices at home, at the grocery and at your favorite restaurant, you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Dietary DOs and DON'Ts for a Healthy Heart DO focus on fruits and vegetables. Most American's don't come close to eating the recommended minimum of five servings per day, but vegetables and fruits of all kinds and colors should take center stage in a heart-healthy diet. They're rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that promote a healthy heart and body, plus they're filling and low in calories, which can promote weight management. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned (without sugar/syrups or added salt), raw, cooked—all fruits and vegetables are good for you. Here are more tips to fit them into your meals and snacks. DON'T overdo it on juice and processed "fruit" snacks. The fruit filling in a breakfast pastry is mostly sugar—not a real serving of fruit. And while small amounts of 100% fruit juice can fit into a healthy diet, they're also concentrated sources of sugar (naturally occurring) and calories compared to whole fruits, which also boast heart-healthy fiber while juice does not. Find out how juice can fit into a healthy diet. DO monitor your sodium intake. Sodium gets a bad rap—and deservedly so. Our bodies do need this mineral, but in much smaller quantities than we normally eat. To prevent high blood pressure and heart disease, a healthy sodium goal to strive for is no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Keep in mind that sodium doesn't just come from the salt shaker; processed foods, frozen entrees, canned vegetables, common condiments (like ketchup), deli meats (such as salami) and cheeses (including cottage cheese) can be high in sodium, as can many restaurant dishes. Learn how sodium sneaks into your diet and ways to reduce your intake. DON'T forget about added sugar. Most people know that sugar isn't exactly a health food. It provides quick-digesting carbohydrates, but no real nutrition (think: vitamins and minerals). While many people associate sugar with the development of diabetes, few people realize that sugar plays just as much of a role in heart disease as dietary fat does. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals who ate more sugar had lower levels of HDL "good" cholesterol and higher triglycerides—markers of increased heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars (about 100 calories) each day; that number becomes 9 teaspoons for men (150 calories). Just one 12-ounce can of cola has about 130 calories, or eight teaspoons of sugar. Learn more about where sugar lurks in your diet. DO cut back on fat. To reduce your risk of heart disease you need to choose the right types of fat, and make sure that you're not eating too much fat in general. Most adults eat too much fat, regardless of the source, so cutting back on dietary fat is a good first step to a heart healthy diet. That's why choosing low-fat products, baking or broiling instead of frying, and reducing or omitting the fats that recipes call for (think: oil, shortening, lard) are important first steps to get your fat intake in line. Avoid fats that elevate your cholesterol levels: trans fats (hydrogenated oils found in baked goods and many margarines) and saturated fats (usually found in high-fat meats and dairy products, including beef, lamb, pork, poultry, beef fat, cream, lard, butter, cheese and dairy products made with whole or 2% milk, as well as baked goods and fried foods that contain palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil). About 25-35% of your total calories for the day should come from fat sources. For someone eating 1,500 calories per day, that's about 41-58 grams of fat. SparkPeople's meal plans and nutrition ranges meet this guideline, so if you track your food and are within your daily fat goal, you are meeting this recommendation. DON'T fear all fats. Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, certain types of fat, such as monounsaturated fat and Omega-3s, actually promote heart health. Once you've gotten your fat intake in line, focus on making heart-smart fat choices to meet your daily recommendations. Fats found in nuts, olive, soybean and canola oils, fish and seafood. DO imbibe in moderation (if you drink). Research indicates that a moderate alcohol intake has been associated with a decreased risk for certain cardiovascular diseases, particularly coronary heart disease. A moderate alcohol intake is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. To find out if a moderate alcohol intake is appropriate for you, talk to your doctor about your consumption of alcohol, medical history, and any medications you use. Learn more about alcohol and your heart. DON'T start drinking alcohol if you aren't already a drinker. There are other, healthier ways to reduce your risk of heart disease rather than drinking alcohol, which also comes with its own set of risks and can lead to problems. If you don't drink now, don't start. Other healthy habits (like not smoking, eating right, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight) can also help you reduce your risk of heart disease. DO fill up on fiber. A high fiber diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Certain types of fiber may help lower LDL "bad" cholesterol. Adults should aim for 20-30 grams each day. To meet your daily quota, select a variety of unprocessed plant-based foods each day, including whole grains, (oats, whole-wheat bread/flour/cereal fruits and vegetables and beans. DON'T forget about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance made in the liver and cells of animals. It is therefore found in animal products (meat, poultry, dairy and eggs), but not plant-sourced foods. A high intake of dietary cholesterol can contribute to heart disease. For the prevention of heart disease, limit your intake of dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams each day. If you already have an elevated LDL cholesterol level or you are taking a cholesterol medication, this goal is even lower: 200 milligrams daily. While it may seem like there are a lot of "rules" to follow to protect your heart, it all boils down to making smart choices on a consistent basis. Focus on the foods that you know are good for you—whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean protein choices, and healthy fats—and limit or avoid the types of foods that don't do anything for your health (think empty calories, fried foods, sugar and sweets, and high-fat meats and dairy products). When you focus on the good stuff and make healthful choices most of the time, you'll be doing your body—and your heart—well. Sources American Heart Association. "Nutrition Center: Healthy Diet Goals," accessed March 2011. www.heart.org. American Heart Association. "Saturated Fats," accessed March 2011. www.heart.org. HelpGuide.org "Easy Tips for Planning a Healthy Diet and Sticking To It," accessed March 2011. www.helpguide.org. Mayo Clinic. "Healthy Diet: End the Guesswork with These Nutrition Guidelines," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com. United Press International. "Eating Fiber May Reduce Heart Risk," accessed March 2011. www.upi.com. Welsh, Jean A, Andrea Sharma, Jerome L. Abramson, Viola Vaccarino, Cathleen Gillespie and Miriam B. Vos. "Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults," Journal of the American Medical Association. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=53

Hate Trump or Clinton? This Website Uses That Anger to Help You Lose Weight

Setting goals is one thing, but actually sticking to them is, well... yeah. The aptly named website Trump Your Goals is here to help, whether you want to lose weight or run a 5K—albeit in a pretty messed up way. Here's how it works: Enter your goal, set the deadline, choose the amount of money you'll pony up if you fall short, and answer the question: Who do you hate more, Trump or Clinton? If you don't complete it, the site donates the cash to your least favorite presidential candidate. Photo: Trump Your Goals This all sounds pretty backward, and to be fair, there's not much accountability here. You just have to say you completed your goal—and we know how easy that is. Science does back up the so-called anti-charity form of motivation. Studies have shown people are more driven by the possibility of a punishment than a reward. There's also research that supports attaching money to your goals and making them public. But there are plenty of ways to stick to your goals that don't involve inadvertently supporting a cause you're fundamentally against. Apps such as Commit and Strides can keep you on track, or if you're really the type that needs to put your money where you mouth is, tell a friend you'll buy them a drink if you fall short. Because life does get in the way, and it's not worth compromising your values.

Hate Trump or Clinton? This Website Uses That Fury to Help You Lose Weight

Setting goals is one thing, but actually sticking to them is, well... yeah. The aptly named website Trump Your Goals is here to help, whether you want to lose weight or run a 5K—albeit in a pretty messed up way. Here's how it works: Enter your goal, set the deadline, choose the amount of money you'll pony up if you fall short, and answer the question: Who do you hate more, Trump or Clinton? If you don't complete it, the site donates the cash to your least favorite presidential candidate. Photo: Trump Your Goals This all sounds pretty backward, and to be fair, there's not much accountability here. You just have to say you completed your goal—and we know how easy that is. Science does back up the so-called anti-charity form of motivation. Studies have shown people are more driven by the possibility of a punishment than a reward. There's also research that supports attaching money to your goals and making them public. But there are plenty of ways to stick to your goals that don't involve inadvertently supporting a cause you're fundamentally against. Apps such as Commit and Strides can keep you on track, or if you're really the type that needs to put your money where you mouth is, tell a friend you'll buy them a drink if you fall short. Because life does get in the way, and it's not worth compromising your values.

A Bodyweight Workout That Gets Back to Basics

Sometimes you need to feel the burn to feel like you got a good workout, right? While it's good to incorporate high intensity exercise into your routine, it's also important to perfect your form. This beginner workout will help you do just that and build strength at the same time. This 30-minute series is designed to help you build a strong training foundation with the proper techniques. You'll perform the moves slowly and deliberately to make sure you're engaging the right muscles. Each exercise is a functional movement (i.e., moves you actually use every day, like lifting grocery bags, walking up stairs, or squatting to sit in a chair). Whether you're just getting started, coming back from an injury, or want to refocus on your form, this routine has something for everyone. Grab an exercise mat (a set of 5 to 10 pound dumbbells is optional), then get back to the basics below. To recap: You will need an exercise mat. One set of 5 to 10 pound dumbbells is optional. Each move is performed for about 30 seconds. You will repeat the workout a total of three times. -Warm-Up- Arm Circle Side Plank (both sides) Single Leg Bridge Spiderman Stretch -Workout- Single Leg Arm Raise Single Leg Squat Single Leg Row Single Leg Lunge With Row and Kickback Front Lunge With Rotation and Press Squat Jump -Repeat- Looking for more short and effective at-home workouts? Grokker has thousands of routines, so you’ll never get bored. Bonus: For a limited time, Greatist readers get 40 percent off Grokker Premium (just $9 per month) and their first 14 days free. Sign up now!

The Secret to Hosting a Dinner Party That Won’t Turn You Into a Stress Case

Three different kitchen timers go off at the exact moment you drop a carton of eggs; the avocados you bought days ago still aren’t ripe; and the oven was a little too hot, leaving your roasted chicken bone-dry. Is it a nightmare? No, we're just thinking of all the things that could go wrong right before a dinner party. Add 10 guests and the pressure of ~entertaining~ to that equation? Way too much for a Saturday night. The secret to avoiding all the mess and frustration of a traditional dinner party: Don't make dinner. Counterintuitive? Maybe. But once you abandon the stressful task of actually cooking a full meal for a group, you’ll feel a weight lift from your shoulders. You’ll remember to buy ice and actually have time to shower before everyone arrives. Keep it up and you’ll want to host every week. Still not convinced? We also checked in with a few of our favorite bloggers (they’re no strangers to making tons of food!) to get their biggest tips for anxiety-free entertaining. How to Host a Dinner-Free Dinner Party Photo: Damn Delicious 1. Give people something the moment they walk in. Greet guests with a drink and have snacks ready on the table. While no one should feel like they have to ask for something to eat at any point in the evening, just because you’re hosting doesn’t make you a waiter. Have a bar set up in the kitchen or living room stocked with options for those who drink and those who don’t, and make it known that everyone can serve themselves. If a particular drink runs out, that’s just a sign of a fun party—no need to run to the store for another six-pack of the Lagunitas just because everyone really liked it. You can always whip out your stockpile of not-so-great wine too. And don't forget to refill the chip bowl once—and only if it’s nearly empty. 2. Let the setting do the work. “Lit candles and a really good playlist set the mood,” says Jamie Webber, our own senior food editor, suggesting a Top-40 station for a casual party or jazz for a moodier setting. Webber also stresses the importance of a tidy space: “People tend to judge you if you have a dirty bathroom.” Instead of spending 40 minutes making a baked Brie, use that time to refill the hand soap, straighten out the shower curtain, and move your roommate’s towel to his or her bedroom. Your guests may not notice outright, but your pad will feel instantly more polished (with little effort). Photo: The First Mess 3. Keep the main event minimal. Just because you’ve invited people over doesn’t mean you also have to cook a four-course meal. When Laura Wright of The First Mess has friends over, she keeps it simple by making a “deluxe hummus table.” She whips up a big batch of hummus (store-bought works too!), divides it into three bowls, and covers each with unique toppings. "From there, I load up the table with crackers, pita chips, vegetable chips, pickled vegetables, extra olives, and chopped fresh vegetables. This strategy usually takes care of multiple dietary needs, and keeps everyone busy and milling about." Use this model for the base of any party—maybe it's a taco bar instead of hummus—because sticking with a theme always helps to keep the focus simple. Ali Maffucci, the queen of the zoodle and founder of Inspiralized, relies on a big salad to feed everyone. “I like tossing zucchini noodles together with pesto and then adding chopped tomatoes and chickpeas,” Maffucci says. “I'll place the salad in a bowl with some serving tongs and set it out for [self-serve].” Maffucci suggests supplementing with small bites, like cheese and crackers, hummus and crudités, and olives. The most important thing to remember? “No need to go overboard, the wine and laughter will do the rest!” Photo: Inspiralized 4. If you still want to cook, stay organized. Shelly Westerhausen of Vegetarian ‘Ventures swears by action lists, making sure every moment of her prep time is well-spent. “I hosted a big grill-out the other weekend and had a list of action items split up,” Westerhausen says. She makes 'do on Friday night', 'do on Saturday morning,' and 'do right before the event' lists, including steps for recipes, setting up the backyard, and errands she needs to run. Westerhausen knows this extra planning step pays off in the long run: “[They] help me feel less stressed about what I still need to do and guarantee nothing is missed.” If three to-do lists is too much for you, just stick with one. 5. Go halfsies with your friends. “Get the guests involved,” says Giselle Rochford of Diary of an ExSloth. “With all the food allergies, sensitivities, and restrictions today, [it’s] impossible to cater to the needs of all your guests without going all out.” Rochford suggests throwing a potluck-style party, in which every guest cooks one dish. “It gives the party a more relaxed and intimate vibe, which is something I love,” Rochford adds. “Plus the different dishes [are] great conversation starters if all the guests don't know one another.” You'll also have more time to focus on stocking the bar. Photo: The First Mess 6. Most importantly, don’t worry. Whether you're cooking or opening a container of premade hummus, "dinner parties are meant to be fun and social,” says Chungah Rhee of Damn Delicious. “Instead of trying to cook everything down to the last second, try make-ahead recipes; all you have to do is reheat.” Rhee also suggests using a slow cooker for "set-and-forget" meals that also keep food warm throughout the length of the party. Pulled pork sliders, anyone? 7. Don’t always host in your home. Who says you have to set up your house for company because you want to host? For some, particularly those living in tiny apartments, even finding more than three chairs may prove difficult. There’s a solution here too: Host a picnic in a local park instead of in your home. Tell everyone to bring a drink or a side, make a few long sandwiches on baguettes, slice, and bring speakers (and if it’s not summer, a blanket or two.) The Takeaway Even if the guacamole turns dirt-brown halfway through the night or someone drops a full beer, shattering glass all over your kitchen floor (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything… ), if you’re hanging with good friends, the evening will still be a success. Just maybe check that you have a frozen pizza in the freezer and a vacuum on hand for cleanup.

How to Make the Greatist Ice Cream Sundae of All Time

Few desserts cover as much ground as the ice cream sundae. A truly perfect one is a sweet, salty, chocolaty, crunchy, creamy, fruity (did we miss anything?) blend of goodness. While we can take down a double scoop of mint chocolate chip any day, sometimes we’re in the mood for something a little less rich. Enter the ultimate better-for-you ice cream sundae. With a banana ice cream base, coconut oil hot fudge, and Greek yogurt whipped cream (plus a cherry on top, duh!), this cooling treat is super satisfying, but won’t leave you moaning on the couch an hour later. Grab a few friends and a bunch of spoons to demolish the sundae together… but only if you’re feeling generous. How to Make the Greatist Ice Cream Sundae You'll need... Step 1: Melt 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Whisk in 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, then 2 teaspoons maple syrup and pinch of salt. Set aside. Scoop banana ice cream (here's how to make it) into your sundae vessel of choice: bowl, mug, bathtub, etc. Step 2: Drizzle the coconut oil hot fudge over the ice cream. Step 3: Dollop a generous mound of yogurt whipped cream. (That'd be 2 tablespoons plain Green yogurt, whisked for about 30 seconds.) Step 4: Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Step 5: Add a shower of cocoa nibs, then top with a cherry (or five!). Step 6: Grab some friends and a bunch of spoons; destroy the sundae. The Greatist Ice Cream Sundae Recipe by: Rebecca Firkser Serves: 3-5 2 tablespoons coconut oil 3 tablespoons cocoa powder 2 teaspoons room temperature maple syrup Pinch Kosher salt 1 batch banana ice cream 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, whisked for about 30 seconds Cocoa nibs Chopped walnuts (or your favorite nut/seed) 1 cherry 1. Melt coconut oil in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Whisk in cocoa powder, then maple syrup and salt. Set aside. Scoop ice cream into your sundae vessel of choice (bowl, mug, bathtub, etc.). 2. Drizzle the coconut oil hot fudge over the ice cream. 3. Dollop a generous mound of yogurt whipped cream. 4. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. 5. Add a shower of cocoa nibs, then top with a cherry (or five!). 6. Grab some friends and a bunch of spoons; destroy the sundae.

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