Health & Fitness

Get sour on sugar

From Austria to Zimbabwe and more than 43 countries in between, sweet soda (Frucade! GoGo!) is the drink of choice. But here in North America, we’ve taken it to a new level: Canadians down 101 liters (27 gallons) of syrupy liquids per person per year; Mexicans drink 146 liters (38.5 gallons); and Americans gulp more soda and sweet beverages than in any other country – 170 liters (45 gallons).

Added sugar makes up almost 15 percent of the calories in an average North American diet. That takes a big toll: Tracking more than 12,000 Americans for 14 years, researchers found that folks who consumed the most added sugar were twice as likely to die of heart disease. No surprise there.

So if you want to take steps toward a sweeter future, reduce – even eliminate – added sugar and sugar syrups from your diet. (It’ll also sweeten the economy by reducing health care costs.) And you’ll improve your heart health, brain power and sex life.

What is natural?

It comes as no surprise that Marilyn Monroe was not a natural blonde. In the 1952 film classic “Monkey Business,” Ginger Rogers wanted to “pull that blond hair out by its black roots.” But did you know your “100 percent natural” granola bar contains ingredients such as high-maltose corn syrup – not something Mother Nature came up with? Or that your favorite “natural lemonade” contains butylated hydroxyanisole, a synthetic preservative that the Department of Health and Human Services Toxicology Program says is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”?

Most folks – around 77 percent of you – assume that if something is labeled “natural,” it’s close to organic, as far as purity goes. But in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has no official definition of “natural” food. (In Canada, foods claiming to be natural must meet specific standards for content and purity.) The only statement the FDA has made about the word “natural” is to say it hasn’t “objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” That hasn’t stopped companies from misusing the word on all kinds of product packaging.

What can you do? If you do opt for prepared (prepackaged) foods, read the ingredients label. It’s only natural to want healthy, tasty foods that you can grab on the go. Our favorites? Apples, pears and oranges, any berry, walnuts, almonds and nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Just say no to products that try to pull the nylon (wool would be natural) over your eyes.

Cat nipped

In the 1992 film “Batman Returns,” after being tossed off a building by evildoer Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is bitten by a cat and reawakens as Catwoman. Pretty good cinematic choices by director Tim Burton, since cat bites can pack a pretty big wallop, and statistically, most cat bites happen to adult women. (Pick up the cat? Zowie! Ouch!) Why do cats attack women? We don’t know. Maybe women are just more likely to be around them.

But whatever the circumstance, a cat bite may deliver an aggressive bacteria, Pasteurella multocida, that can trigger skin inflammation, infection, joint pain and swelling. And because cats’ fangs are sharp and pointed, they can deposit bacteria deep inside your flesh. Antibiotics, usually amoxicillin, often are administered. But a recent Mayo Clinic study found that 33 percent of patients who came to one hospital after they were bitten on the hand had to be hospitalized, and two-thirds of them needed surgery.

Does this happen with every nip? Reacting to the Mayo Clinic study, the UK’s National Health Service cautions that most cat bites go unreported and the study was not very representative of what happens.

We say the bottom line is that cat saliva carries nasty bacteria, and any animal bite can cause a serious infection. So if you have any signs of infection or pain (or you just want to be careful), report to the emergency room or urgent-care center. Remember, cats are the ones with nine lives, not you.