When Bullwinkle the moose tells his buddy Rocket J. Squirrel, “Hey, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” a rabbit is never what appears. That kind of switcheroo isn’t so comic, however, when certain snack and cereal bars claim on their front label that they contain (ta da!) real fruit. If you look at the ingredients list (in small type hidden on the back) to see what you’re really getting, like Bullwinkle, it might not be what you were hoping for.
The ingredients in these supposedly fruit-packed and, you assume, healthy meal substitutes and snack bars are listed in order of weight. Chances are good that high fructose corn syrup along with other sugars and fats are the first three to five ingredients. After that you might see mention of the advertised “real” fruit, but it’s usually something like strawberry-flavored fruit pieces (sugar, cranberries, citric acid, natural strawberry flavor with other natural flavors, elderberry juice concentrate and oil). Huh? And that’s followed by a parade of health-damaging partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), artificial colors and preservatives. We found one with TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone), a synthetic antioxidant used in varnishes and lacquers.
Now, you may not want to go as far as one woman did – she sued a large food manufacturer when she noticed her “real strawberry fruit snack” contained only pear concentrate. But while the Food and Drug Administration tries to chase down the companies that make these misleading claims on their labels, we say choose real real fruit if you want a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
Folic acid follies
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The Ziegfeld Follies were the epitome of glitzy, amusing Vaudeville shows from 1907 to 1930. But today’s Folic Acid Follies are no laughing matter: Only about 40 percent of North American women take a folic acid supplement, and the average North American gets less than half the recommended intake.
If this essential nutrient doesn’t show up in the daily diet of women who can become pregnant, fetal development can be compromised. (We recommend that women and men get 400 mcg daily from a supplement and make sure to eat folate-rich leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, asparagus, citrus fruit, beans and 100 percent whole grains.)
Now, it’s long been known that folic acid helps a fetus develop properly and prevents birth defects such as spina bifida. But maybe the latest research news will inspire every woman of child-bearing age, whether they plan to get pregnant or not (remember, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned), to follow the recommendations. In one study, taking a folic acid supplement from four weeks before conception through the first eight weeks of pregnancy cut the risk of having a child with autism by 40 percent. We suggest you take it for 12 weeks before conception.
And whatever your age, get plenty of folic acid every day. Tip: Prepared and packaged foods such as breads, rice and breakfast cereals are fortified with folic acid, but they often come loaded with added sugar and syrup. So we say, avoid those and go for nutrition-packed leafy greens and a 400 mcg supplement.
Cut out catastrophizing
Hundreds of movies and TV shows, from “On the Beach” (1959) to “Falling Skies” (2011), seem designed to express your secret fears (and, say some doctors, dispel the anxiety that fuels those worries). But in the movie of your life, assuming your future is going to be filled with doom and gloom makes it difficult for you to be healthy and productive.
Catastrophizing can contribute to heart disease, gastrointestinal distress, respiratory conditions and chronic pain disorders. It also obliterates the positive things you can do to improve your life and the lives of those around you. So if you think it may be time to rescript the doomsday scenes in your life, try this:
Write down your worries. You’ll see how often you think of disastrous things. Then when you imagine a catastrophe (my boss disagreed with me, and I am going to get fired!), you can consciously counter it (maybe he wants an open discussion so we can get the best results. I’ll ask).
And consider this four-step journey to optimism:
1. A daily walk of 30-60 minutes, aiming for 10,000 steps every day, no excuses. Dispelling stress through physical activity is calming and empowering.
2. Do something special (big or small) for a friend or family member once a week. The positive feedback will start you looking happily forward to next week’s interaction.
3. Practice mindful meditation 15 minutes a day.
4. Volunteer at a community center or charity; focus your attention on helping make the world better for others.