When was the last time you gave your kids a small bowl of sugar for breakfast? Or yourself? Probably today, if you had a cup of Honey Smacks, Golden Crisps, Cap’n Crunch or even healthy-sounding Quaker Oats Oh’s. All have 3 to 5 teaspoons of sugar per cup.
OK, we know it’s hardly news that kids’ cereals are loaded with sugar, but this much? (To see the full list, go to www.ewg.org, home site of the Environmental Working Group, which — insert applause — sugar-rated 84 cereals.) If you weighed out 8 ounces of many kids’ cereals on a kitchen scale, a third to half the weight would be sugar. Adding that much sugar to any food, especially to children’s breakfasts, oughta be a punishable crime. Food makers are condemning kids to health problems and the country to higher health costs. Yes, your cereal picks are that important.
Happily, there’s an upside to this story: There were some winners — healthy, tasty, 100 percent whole-grain cereals that kids will eat and you can buy at any grocery store. Oatmeal is the obvious choice. (Just skip flavored instant types; they’re sugar fiestas, too.) And there are other good-morning choices that meet both federal guidelines and ours, which are tougher: Cheerios, Mini-Wheats, Shredded Wheat, Grape-Nuts Flakes and, somewhat surprisingly, Kix. Add bananas, berries, raisins, walnuts, diced apples, almonds — it’s all good.
Bonus: Eating fiber in the morning — fruit and 100 percent whole-grain cereals are full of it — curbs hunger later. That helps keep kids slim. You, too.
Social networking, flu-style
Facebook for flu sufferers? A new site called FluNearYou.org wants you to log on and complain lots about how miserable you feel.
The site aims to map every flu case in the country. The goal: to predict when, where and how severely flu will strike far faster than current government systems do, plus gauge how well the annual vaccine is working. It could also help healthy folks dodge the aches, chills, fever and sore throat by letting you know if there’s a flu outbreak around you. (Less hand-shaking, more hand-washing, extra sleep.)
This isn’t a new idea. Australia’s FluTracking project started in 2004; today, 10,000 people are online every week. Europe’s Influenzanet started in 2003, and now tracks flu and chicken soup sales (not really) in 10 countries.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others monitor U.S. flu patterns, they rely on lab data and doctor visits. Not lightning-fast or grass-roots accurate. We YOU Docs use Google Flu Trends, which — based on the number of searches about flu symptoms — spots patterns a week or two sooner than the CDC. If FluNearYou succeeds, it aims to be far more specific (we doubt anyone can beat Google’s speed).
Specificity is the point of the venting: Not only will your family appreciate someone else listening to you, but the more you rant about the severity of your symptoms — how sick you feel, how long they last — the more FluNearYou can pass along about how tough the current flu is. Whining? It’s your public duty.
Be generous, be happy
There’s generous, as in Bill and Melissa Gates donating billions or Oprah handing out cars. Then there’s generous, as in giving your partner a travel mug of fresh coffee and an extra kiss on a morning when you’re both late. Marriage experts call that going above and beyond. It’s not about grand gestures. It’s about small acts of kindness and affection. And it’s the key to happy marriages.
Every couple instinctively knows that little things make a big difference. But precisely because they are little, it’s easy to skip ’em and figure the anniversary cruise makes up for it. Nope. Two things come with the coffee and kiss: knowing they’ll make your spouse happy and taking the time to do it.
Generosity is a two-way street, and incredibly powerful. It boosts your partner’s sense of being loved and appreciated, and says, "This madness wouldn’t be worth it without you."
Generosity is also about forgiveness — as when one of you screws up and, instead of flipping out, the other says, "Yeah, it’s a mess, but we’ll figure it out." In one scientist’s words (they study love as well as microbes): "Small positive marital acts frequently performed affect marital quality more strongly than large gestures irregularly enacted." OK, it’s dry researcher talk, but you get it.
During these time-pressured, email-cluttered, budget-tense days — when everyone’s juggling tasks faster than Cirque du Soleil spins plates — hitting pause for a hug or to say, "I found those batteries you needed" is manna for marriages. Sure, sex, commitment and communication are vital, too. But so is generosity. Go give it.
Coffee racks up points as a cancer-killer
In the war against cancer, coffee may turn out to be one of the most beneficial and surprising weapons you never suspected. In just the past eight months, coffee — often lots of it (heaven if you can’t get enough of the stuff) — has been linked to lower rates of four kinds of cancer. We’ve checked the list twice. Here’s what could keep Starbucks’ and Keurig’s businesses nice. Starting with the newest news, coffee seems to be anathema to:
Women who have several cups are 25 percent less likely to develop endometrial cancer than women who don’t finish even one cup. Dose: at least four cups a day.
There’s increasing evidence that prostate cancer wants nothing to do with coffee. Just weeks ago, new data came in indicating that coffee — high-test AND decaf — is particularly effective at shooing off the most dangerous kind of prostate cancer. Dose: at least one and ideally up to six cups a day, with/without caffeine.
•The most common skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.
If cellular trouble has quietly started, caffeinated coffee acts to shut it down. Dose: more than three cups a day.
Heavy coffee drinkers have been linked to a lower risk of certain types of breast cancer after menopause — 20 percent to 50 percent lower versus women who have less than a cup a day. Dose: at least five cups a day of regular. Decaf doesn’t do it.
Making hospitals safer and healthier
Used to be that when you needed surgery, your biggest worry was the operation itself. Today, superbugs like MRSA and other nasty infections that are Houdinis at outwitting antibiotics have made hospitals themselves scary. Like ants rushing to a picnic, these bad bugs flock to places full of people with weakened immune systems: hospitals. It has made checking in for even simple procedures not so simple. And it’s why many patients arrive with jugs of hand sanitizer, and visitors bring it instead of flowers when they come to see friends.
So you’ll be as intrigued as we were by this news. First, Canadian researchers have cloned one of your body’s systems for killing bad bugs. Antibodies use tiny, lethal blasts of ozone and hydrogen peroxide to attack certain germs — zap, they’re goners. The combo has been turned into an ozone-peroxide gas that, when pumped into a room, sterilizes everything: floors, ceilings, furniture, bathrooms, mattresses. (Bonus: It kills bed bugs.) MRSA, e. coli, c. difficile and other famously difficult bacteria keel over, as do viruses and molds. The disinfection process takes 60 minutes and supposedly leaves a pleasant smell, though we haven’t had a whiff. Best news: It’s available in early 2012.
Meanwhile, Israeli microbiologists have developed a novel way to attack the deadly bacteria: infecting these tiny terrorists with a gene that breaks down their resistance to antibiotics. It’s a liquid that’s added to other cleansers and is said to be easy to make and use, nontoxic and cheap. Testing’s not complete. Still, it’s good to have a plan B.