Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Health Care and Counting Calories

When you consider how much you eat, do you ever count calories? According to dieticians, fitness instructors, and weight loss management experts, your caloric intake has a direct affect on how much you weight you gain or lose. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that calories be listed on any packaged food product. Calorie counting is an easy way for you to manage your weight. This website has a calorie counter that will help you accomplish that goal: .

Why is calorie counting so popular? As Americans, we love easy sound bites, according to WebMD. Plus, counting calories (or fat grams) is far easier than actually understanding the complex effects food has on our bodies (and our waistlines). Calories do count, but they are far from the whole picture. Food produces hormonal effects in the body. Some hormones say 'store that fat'; others say 'release sugar'; others say 'build muscle.' Study after study shows that diets based on the same amount of calories, but different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, result in different amounts of weight loss.

According to the Mayo Clinic, calories are the energy in food. Your body has a constant demand for energy and uses the calories from food to keep functioning. Energy from calories fuels your every action, from fidgeting to marathon running. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the types of nutrients that contain calories and are the main energy sources for your body. The amount of energy in each varies. Proteins and carbohydrates have about 4 calories a gram, and fats have about 9 calories a gram. Alcohol also is a source of calories, providing about 7 calories a gram. Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat. These stored calories will remain in your body as fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories. Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you'd lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Cutting calories doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as simple as:
--Skipping one extra high-calorie indulgence a day.
--Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options.
--Reducing portion sizes.

Where do those missing calories go? Into our mouths and directly to our waistlines, for the most part, according to WebMD. In fact, there's a lot working against us when it comes to staying slim and healthy. Big meals and large portions (think holiday feasts and most restaurant dinners) tend to undermine our calorie-counting efforts, studies show. And being overweight makes it even more likely that we'll underestimate the calories in our meal --a definite disadvantage when it comes to losing weight. In one study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that all people, no matter what their size, are more likely to be able to accurately guess the number of calories in small meals than in large ones. Overweight people tend to eat larger meals and larger portions, which explains why they tend to make mistakes counting calories, researchers say.

According to WebMD, since it's hard to count calories outside the lab, you may want to pursue other methods of policing your energy intake. Think of your workouts. When you exercise, you're burning calories, but you rarely ever count calories when you're calculating how much exercise you need. Instead, you count miles, minutes, or heartbeats. Ready to jump off the calorie-counting bandwagon? Here's what to do instead:

1.) Instead of counting calories, eat smaller portions. It may seem like a basic concept, but it's easy to forget that bigger portions have more calories. Most people gauge a serving as "the amount you're used to eating," a recent study found. That would be restaurant food -- where meals are served on platters, not plates. And the more you look at (and eat) huge portions of food, the more you see them as normal -- to the point of serving ourselves the same amounts at home. Unfortunately, studies show that when you're served more, you tend to eat it. One caveat: there's no reason to eat fewer vegetables; they're much less calorie dense than other foods (they contain fewer calories per gram).

2.) Instead of counting calories, choose foods that use more calories. Some foods require more energy than others to digest and metabolize. For example, if a woman were to start eating only foods that take a lot of work to digest (high-fiber, protein foods) she might save about 12 to 15 calories per day, the same amount she could expend by walking for about four minutes. But for some people -- especially those stuck in sedentary jobs or crunched for time -- it just may be worth it. Besides, foods that take more work to digest, like those high in fiber, tend to be those that are better for you. And choosing the best nourishment for your body is a much healthier food focus than counting calories.

3.) Instead of counting calories, make sure you consume the right kind. Nearly one-quarter of Americans' calorie intake comes from sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages, research from the University of California, Berkeley notes. Another 5% comes from salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks. Nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contribute only 10% to the average American's calorie budget. When it comes strictly to weight loss, a calorie is a calorie. However, when it comes to your health, it's best not to blow your calorie budget on foods that lack nutrients. Nutrient-dense choices like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, while those lacking in nutrients, like candy, soft drinks and white bread can contribute to a whole host of health problems.

Eliminating high-calorie foods, choosing lower calorie alternatives and cutting your portion sizes can help you reduce calories and improve weight control. For a successful — and sustainable — weight management plan, you also need to increase your physical activity. It's this combination of regular activity and healthy eating that will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Regardless of your personal health situation, with the exception of certain medical conditions you may have, you should watch what you eat, and don't overeat. Calories can be a contributing factor to your desire to control your diet and weight. Most experts recommend a healthy mix of the right foods with quality portion control, and you should also consider a good exercise program that is right for you. And always consult your family doctor or primary care physician about changes in your lifestyle, diet, and exercise regimen.

Until next time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Health Care and IBS

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a common medical problem that has received a lot of attention over the past decade, and you can see plenty of TV commercials about products to help reduce the affect of this health care issue. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) refers to a disorder that involves abdominal pain and cramping, as well as changes in bowel movements.
It is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

There are many possible causes of IBS, according to the NIH. For example, there may be a problem with muscles in the intestine, or the intestine may be more sensitive to stretching or movement. There is no problem with the structure of the intestine. It is not clear why patients develop IBS, but in some instances, it occurs after an intestinal infection. This is called postinfectious IBS. There may also be other triggers. Stress can worsen IBS. The colon is connected to the brain through nerves of the autonomic nervous system. These nerves become more active during times of stress, and can cause the intestines to squeeze or contract more. People with IBS may have a colon that is over-responsive to these nerves. IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. It is more common in women. About 1 in 6 people in the U.S. have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal complaint for which patients are referred to a gastroenterologist.

Despite these uncomfortable signs and symptoms, IBS doesn't cause permanent damage to your colon, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people with IBS find that symptoms improve as they learn to control their condition. Only a small number of people with irritable bowel syndrome have severe signs and symptoms. Fortunately, unlike more-serious intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome doesn't cause inflammation or changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer. In many cases, you can control irritable bowel syndrome by managing your diet, lifestyle and stress.

For reasons that still aren't clear, if you have IBS you probably react strongly to stimuli that don't bother other people. Triggers for IBS can range from gas or pressure on your intestines to certain foods, medications or emotions, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example:

1.) Foods: Many people find that their signs and symptoms worsen when they eat certain foods. For instance, chocolate, milk and alcohol might cause constipation or diarrhea. Carbonated beverages and some fruits and vegetables may lead to bloating and discomfort in some people with IBS. The role of food allergy or intolerance in irritable bowel syndrome has yet to be clearly understood. If you experience cramping and bloating mainly after eating dairy products, food with caffeine, or sugar-free gum or candies, the problem may not be irritable bowel syndrome. Instead, your body may not be able to tolerate the sugar (lactose) in dairy products, caffeine or the artificial sweetener sorbitol.

2.) Stress: If you're like most people with IBS, you probably find that your signs and symptoms are worse or more frequent during stressful events, such as a change in your daily routine or family arguments. But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn't cause them.
3.) Hormones: Because women are twice as likely to have IBS, researchers believe that hormonal changes play a role in this condition. Many women find that signs and symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods.
4.) Other illnesses: Sometimes another illness, such as an acute episode of infectious diarrhea (gastroenteritis), can trigger IBS.
According to the NIH, the goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes can be helpful in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms. Dietary changes can be helpful. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS in general, because the condition differs from one person to another. The following changes may help:

•Avoid foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines (such as caffeine, tea, or colas).
•Avoid large meals.
•Avoid wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, milk products, and alcohol.
•Increase dietary fiber.

Talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications, and beware of these other health issues:
•Fiber supplements can make symptoms worse.
•Laxatives taken for constipation can become habit forming.

No one medication will work for everyone. Medications your doctor might try include:
•Anticholinergic medications (dicyclomine, propantheline, belladonna, and hyoscyamine) taken about a half-hour before eating to control colon muscle spasms.
•Loperamide to treat diarrhea
•Low doses of tricyclic antidepressants to help relieve intestinal pain.
•Lubiprostone for constipation symptoms.
•Medications that relax muscles in the intestines.

Counseling may help in cases of severe anxiety or depression. Irritable bowel syndrome may be a lifelong condition. For some people, symptoms are disabling and reduce the ability to work, travel, and attend social events. Symptoms can often be improved or relieved through treatment. IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, and it does not lead to a serious disease, such as cancer. Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or if you notice a persistent change in your bowel habits.

Plus, according to, if your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you manage or lessen your symptoms. For example, if your main symptom is pain, your doctor may prescribe antispasmodic medicines such as hyoscyamine or dicyclomine to reduce cramping. Heating pads and hot baths can also be comforting. If diarrhea is a frequent problem, medicine such as loperamide (brand name: Imodium) may help. Your doctor may give you tranquilizers or sedatives for short periods to treat anxiety that may be making your symptoms worse. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant for you if your symptoms are severe and you are feeling depressed. IBS may have caused you to avoid doing certain things, like going out or going to work or school. While it may take some time for your efforts to pay off, you may find new freedom by following a plan that includes a healthy diet, learning new ways to deal with your stress and avoiding foods that may make your symptoms worse. Good info can be found at this site: .

Much more indepth material about IBS can also be found online at these other websites: , , , and .

You can learn to live with IBS, and manage the affects of it with good common sense concerning stress, diet, and your lifestyle. Remember to always consult your family doctor when symptoms come up that make you concerned or appear to be unusual for you. It helps to get information from qualified medical personnel to make sure that your illness is easily treatable and not something worse.

Until next time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Health Care and July 4th

The Fourth of July is the first original American holiday, and it has been celebrated for over 200 years in our nation. This quintessential Holiday has been venerated as a time to step back and revel in all that is America--Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Just the very thought of this day brings to memory those glorious words penned by Francis Scott Key during the Battle of Fort McHenry, when American forces outlasted a horrific bombardment by the British Navy in our own waters outside of Baltimore during the War of 1812. How marvelous is it that our country is still "one nation, under God, one, and indivisible."

During the hot summer of 1776, when representatives from the colonies stood resolute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor all on the line, the country was bracing for war. When the last of 52 signatures were penned on the Declaration of Independence, those men announced to a waiting public, and to the world, that Americans were a free and independent people and no longer captive to a British monarch over 3,000 miles away. Bells tolled, huzzahs sounded, and America moved toward what would be a long, bloody struggle against an overwhelming force. Yet, with divine Providence, the nation survived intact and won our freedom against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Fast forwarding to 2011, our nation once again faces huge issues that would seem to tear apart the fabric that holds it together--political, spiritual, financial, and moral. Now, more than ever, Americans must focus on the importance of our singular spirit and what makes our nation great. Too often, families are torn asunder by strife. A multitude of pressures force men and women into impossible circumstances, creating stress that sometimes blows up homes and lives. Those topics that not long ago were taboo to discuss are now flaunted without regard to consequence, and America faces enemies both foreign and domestic.

More than just a fun weekend or day to shoot off fireworks and enjoy backyard barbeques and local home town parades, this day--July 4th--has a far deeper meaning. Beyond all the holiday sales and media events including TV and blockbuster movies in theaters, this Holiday represents all that is good about our nation. Americans come together to remember our founding, our history, and our reason for being as a people who celebrate freedom and liberty.

Fireworks are fun, and so is celebrating with family and friends. The Fourth of July is a great time to relax, and it's also a phenomenal time to reflect on the good things about America--freedom to worship, to assemble, to speak your mind, and all the guarantees as provided by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the following words after he toured the fledgling country in the early 1800's:

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers — and it was not there … in her fertile fields and boundless forests — and it was not there … in her rich mines and her vast world commerce — and it was not there … in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution — and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteous­ness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

The goodness of America is not in her health care, her government, her media, her military, or any other aspect of the nation except for the goodness of her people. America is great because she is good. Why do you think that everyone in the world wants to come to her shores, and why do you think we are esteemed above most nations? Regardless of the negative stories in the media, or political hype from liberal politicians, or the horrific hate that comes from other peoples and nations, nowhere else on earth do you find the deep satisfaction of people who live here and love America--citizens or not.

Where does that goodness come from? Many would say it is due to good feelings about the country, or positive thinking about our greatness as a people--Americans. Some would argue it's due to all of the technological advances and standard of living most Americans enjoy. It has been said that the worst day here is still better than the best day somewhere else, especially when you consider life in most of the rest of the world.

However, I would suggest that you consider that the reason America is good is because it was founded on Biblical principles and still relies on Judeo-Christian ethics for its moral backbone and laws. I would also suggest, contrary to the opinion of some--including Presidents--that America is still a Christian nation. The day we forget that is the day we lose our soul as America. Reliance on the mercies of a loving God is the true path to freedom and liberty. After all, the phrase "the Truth shall set you free" was not based on a book or a mere thought. It is based on the One Who is Truth. Knowing Him will be the real source of your freedom.

Enjoy the Fourth of July. Remember how it started and why we still have it to celebrate. Think about the sacrifices made to keep it a Holiday. Then give thanks to those who keep our nation free, and ask God to keep our nation good. Thank Him for all He provides, and remember:

To lose your freedom is to lose your soul!

Until next time.