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A Cardio Core Workout Way Better Than the Treadmill + Sit-Ups

Cardio is good. Cardio that incorporates core strength at the same time is better. This workout lets you check off both without stepping foot on a treadmill or attempting a few lazy sit-ups on the mat. 

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The 25-minute routine features nontraditional core and cardio exercises to prevent boredom. You'll perform some standing and some on the floor, but all of them will hit every inch of your core. You need zero equipment for this one, but an exercise mat is optional if you'd prefer. 

To recap: No equipment is needed for this workout. Complete a dynamic warm-up (~1.5 minutes), followed by a 25-minute workout, and a cool-down stretch (~2 minutes).

Workout: Standing Lateral Crunch Squat With Toe Tap Squat Walk-Out With Row Flutter Kick Weightless Windmill Squat With Side Crunch Plank With Elbow Tap Starfish Reach and Pull Standing Kickback Sumo Squat to Tip Toe Standing High-Knee Crunch Frog Squat Forward Curtsy Squat With Side Reach Plank With TuckLooking 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!

Conservatives’ Goal To Relax Mandatory Health Benefits Unlikely To Tame Premiums

As House Republicans try to find common cause on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they may be ready to let states make the ultimate decision about whether to keep a key consumer provision in the federal health law that conservatives say is raising insurance costs.

Those conservatives, known as the House Freedom Caucus, and members of a more moderate group of House Republicans, the Tuesday Group, are hammering out changes to the GOP bill that was pulled unceremoniously by party leaders last month when they couldn’t get enough votes to pass it. At the heart of those changes reportedly is the law’s requirement for most insurance plans to offer 10 specific categories of “essential health benefits.” Those include hospital care, doctor and outpatient visits and prescription drug coverage, along with things like maternity care, mental health and preventive care services.

The Freedom Caucus had been pushing for those benefits to be removed, arguing that coverage guarantees were driving up premium prices.

“We ultimately will be judged by only one factor: if insurance premiums come down,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal.

But moderates, bolstered by complaints from patients groups and consumer activists, fought back. And a brief synopsis leaked from the intraparty negotiations suggests that the compromise could be letting states decide whether to seek a federal waiver to change the essential health benefits.

“The insurance mandates are a primary driver of [premium] spikes,” wrote Meadows and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in an op-ed in March.

But do those benefits drive increases in premiums? And would eliminating the requirement really bring premiums down? Health analysts and economists say probably not — at least not in the way conservatives are hoping.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking they’re going to pull out of this pie,” said Rebekah Bayram, a principal consulting actuary at the benefits consulting firm Milliman. She is the lead author of a recent study on the cost of various health benefits.

Opponents of the required benefits point to coverage for maternity care and mental health and substance abuse treatment as driving up premiums for people who will never use such services.

But Bayram said eliminating those wouldn’t have much of an impact. Hospital care, doctor visits and prescription drugs “are the three big ones,” she said. “Unless they were talking about ditching those, the other ones only have a marginal impact.”

John Bertko, an actuary who worked in the Obama administration and served on the board of Massachusetts’ health exchange, agreed: “You would either have very crappy benefits without drugs or physicians or hospitalization, or you would have roughly the same costs.”

Maternity care and mental health and substance abuse, he said, “are probably less than 5 percent” of premium costs.

Of course, requiring specific coverage does push up premiums to some extent. James Bailey, who teaches at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., has studied the issue at the state level. He estimates that the average state health insurance mandate “raises premiums by about one-half of 1 percent.”

Those who want to get rid of the required benefits point to the fact that premiums in the individual market jumped dramatically from 2013 to 2014, the first year the benefits were required.

“The ACA requires more benefits that every consumer is required to purchase regardless of whether they want them, need them or can afford them,” Ohio Insurance Commissioner Mary Taylor said in 2013, when the state’s rates were announced.

But Bayram noted most of that jump was not due to the broader benefits, but to the fact that, for the first time, sicker patients were allowed to buy coverage. “The premiums would go down a lot if only very healthy people were covered and people who were higher risk were pulled out of the risk pool,” she said. (Some conservatives want to change that requirement, too, and let insurers charge sick people higher premiums.)

Meanwhile, most of the research that has been done on required benefits has looked at plans offered to workers by their employers, not policies available to individuals who buy their own coverage because they don’t get it through work or the government. That individual market is the focus of the current debate.

Analysts warn that individual-market dynamics differ greatly from those of the employer insurance market.

Bailey said he “saw this debate coming and wanted to write a paper” about the ACA’s essential health benefits. But “I very quickly realized there are all these complicated details that are going to make it very hard to figure out,” he said, particularly the way the required benefits work in tandem with other requirements in the law.

For example, said Bertko, prescription drugs can represent 20 percent of costs in the individual market. That’s far more than in the employer market.

Bayram said another big complication is that the required benefits do double duty. They not only ensure that consumers have a comprehensive package of benefits but enable other parts of the health law to work by ensuring that everyone’s benefits are comparable.

For example, the law adjusts payments to insurers to help compensate plans that enroll sicker-than-average patients. But in order to do that “risk adjustment,” she said, “all of the plans have to agree on some kind of package. So if you think of essential health benefits as an agreed-upon benchmark, I don’t know how they can get rid of that and still have risk adjustment.”

For Doctors, A Clamp Down On Visas Could Have An Uneven Effect In The U.S.

Limiting the number of foreign doctors who can get visas to practice in the United States could have a significant impact on certain hospitals and states that rely on them, according to a new study.

The research, published online in JAMA this week, found that more than 2,100 U.S. employers were certified to fill nearly 10,500 physician jobs nationwide, in 2016. That represents 1.4 percent of the physician workforce overall. There were wide variations by state and employer, however.

Employers in New York, Michigan and Illinois accounted for the most H-1B visa applications for foreign physicians, nearly a third of the total. North Dakota, however, had the most applicants as a percentage of its physician workforce: 4.7 percent.

The top three employers that submitted applications for the most doctors through the visa program were William Beaumont Hospital in southeastern Michigan, with 470 physician applications, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, with 213, and Cleveland Clinic foundation in Ohio, with 180.

“People underestimate the fragility of certain hospitals and their reliance on certain physicians for their functioning,” said study co-author Peter Kahn, who’s graduating from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx this spring.

The H-1B visa program allows employers to hire highly skilled professionals from abroad to fill employment gaps in the U.S., typically in high-tech, science, engineering and math jobs. But hospitals use the program as well, often to recruit doctors to serve in rural or underserved urban areas. The number of visas is capped at 85,000 annually.

That could change. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating his administration’s priority to buy American goods and hire American workers. Among other things, it requires federal agencies to suggest reforms to the H-1B visa program to ensure the visas are awarded appropriately.

Please visit khn.org/columnists to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

For Doctors, A Clamp Down On Visas Could Have Uneven Effect In U.S.

Limiting the number of foreign doctors who can get visas to practice in the United States could have a significant impact on certain hospitals and states that rely on them, according to a new study.

The research, published online in JAMA this week, found that more than 2,100 U.S. employers were certified to fill nearly 10,500 physician jobs nationwide, in 2016. That represents 1.4 percent of the physician workforce overall. There were wide variations by state and employer, however.

Employers in New York, Michigan and Illinois accounted for the most H-1B visa applications for foreign physicians, nearly a third of the total. North Dakota, however, had the most applicants as a percentage of its physician workforce: 4.7 percent.

The top three employers that submitted applications for the most doctors through the visa program were William Beaumont Hospital in southeastern Michigan, with 470 physician applications, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, with 213, and Cleveland Clinic foundation in Ohio, with 180.

“People underestimate the fragility of certain hospitals and their reliance on certain physicians for their functioning,” said study co-author Peter Kahn, who’s graduating from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx this spring.

The H-1B visa program allows employers to hire highly skilled professionals from abroad to fill employment gaps in the U.S., typically in high-tech, science, engineering and math jobs. But hospitals use the program as well, often to recruit doctors to serve in rural or underserved urban areas. The number of visas is capped at 85,000 annually.

That could change. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating his administration’s priority to buy American goods and hire American workers. Among other things, it requires federal agencies to suggest reforms to the H-1B visa program to ensure the visas are awarded appropriately.

Please visit khn.org/columnists to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Clamping Down On Visas Could Leave Some Areas Underserved By Doctors

Limiting the number of foreign doctors who can get visas to practice in the United States could have a significant impact on certain hospitals and states that rely on them, according to a new study.

The research, published online in JAMA this week, found that more than 2,100 U.S. employers were certified to fill nearly 10,500 physician jobs nationwide, in 2016. That represents 1.4 percent of the physician workforce overall. There were wide variations by state and employer, however.

Employers in New York, Michigan and Illinois accounted for the most H-1B visa applications for foreign physicians, nearly a third of the total. North Dakota, however, had the most applicants as a percentage of its physician workforce: 4.7 percent.

The top three employers that submitted applications for the most doctors through the visa program were William Beaumont Hospital in southeastern Michigan, with 470 physician applications, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, with 213, and Cleveland Clinic foundation in Ohio, with 180.

“People underestimate the fragility of certain hospitals and their reliance on certain physicians for their functioning,” said study co-author Peter Kahn, who’s graduating from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx this spring.

The H-1B visa program allows employers to hire highly skilled professionals from abroad to fill employment gaps in the U.S., typically in high-tech, science, engineering and math jobs. But hospitals use the program as well, often to recruit doctors to serve in rural or underserved urban areas. The number of visas is capped at 85,000 annually.

That could change. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating his administration’s priority to buy American goods and hire American workers. Among other things, it requires federal agencies to suggest reforms to the H-1B visa program to ensure the visas are awarded appropriately.

Please visit khn.org/columnists to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

What Doesn’t Kill You Can Maim: Unexpected Injuries From Opioids

The trouble started for Lisa when she took a blood pressure pill and one to control seizures, along with methadone, a drug used to help wean patients off heroin.

“I inadvertently did the methadone cocktail and I went to sleep for like 48 hours,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes and coughing out a laugh. “It kicked my butt. It really kicked my butt.”

The last thing this 46-year-old Somerville, Mass., native remembers is starting to do laundry. That’s where Lisa’s daughter found her — passed out on the washing machine.

“My daughter brought me up and put me to bed. I hate the fact that she saw me like that,” said Lisa. We’re not using Lisa’s last name because she has used illegal drugs and fears going public about that could harm job prospects.

Lisa lay in the same position on the bed — one leg bent under her body, arms folded across her chest — for more than a day. Family members checked to make sure she was still breathing. Lisa’s daughter noticed that her mom’s right leg had gone white and looked shriveled.

“She came in and massaged it really, really vigorously,” Lisa said. “If she hadn’t done that, I don’t think I’d be walking on this leg. I think I would have killed it.”

As it is, almost five years after the injury, Lisa said she still limps in some weather, “or I have what I call flabberfoot. My foot, like, slaps the ground when I walk.”

Lisa never told a nurse or doctor about her injury.

“I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anybody to know I had a drug problem,” she said.

Lisa’s injury may reflect nerve damage, which doctors say is common in people who misuse opioids. Or it may have been the result of something called compartment syndrome, where muscles are damaged or die because blood can’t get in or out of part of an arm or a leg. In some such cases, the damaged muscles must be removed.

Dr. Ed Boyer remembers one such patient, a man who injected heroin while sitting and stayed in that position, leaning to one side, for hours on end.

“When he woke up, he had a compartment syndrome of his buttock and they had to remove half of it,” said Boyer, the director of academic development in the emergency medicine department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“So you can have very severe and disfiguring injuries,” he said. “Because now this individual has great difficulty even walking.”

Lingering Damage To Those Who Survive Overdose

The common understanding of patients addicted to heroin or other opioids is that they either survive a high or die, but that there’s no real damage to those who get up and walk away. Increasingly, emergency room doctors will tell you that’s not the case.

“I would say at least 75 percent — every three of four patients [brought] in after an overdose — has some sort of associated injury, whether it’s a minor injury or major injury from that overdose,” said Dr. Ali Raja, the vice chair of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, the busiest emergency room in the Boston area.

The trauma ranges from frostbite or broken bones after a fall on the ice to serious brain damage. Raja said many injuries from drug use don’t get treated because patients who are revived never come to the hospital, and those who do are driven by their addiction to leave the hospital quickly and use again.

“They often believe that they’re just fine and they repeat the exact same circumstances that led to the overdose in the first place,” Raja said. “And they’re definitely prone to repeating the same injuries we just talked about.”

That prompts another question for the emerging science of drug and overdose injuries: What’s the effect of overdosing again and again? Dr. Alex Walley, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, offers a theory about the impact on the brain.

“One way to think about this would be that an overdose is like a concussion, where you have a traumatic injury to the brain,” he said. “If the person doesn’t die, the brain recovers, but they may be, like with a concussion, more susceptible to a future event. And then there also may be cumulative damage that occurs.”

That damage, Walley said, might make these patients more difficult to treat.

Another injury that doctors see among some overdose patients is kidney failure. When a person spends hours in one position, blood stops circulating through muscles and that living tissue can break down, releasing chemicals into the bloodstream.

“They can clog up the filtration system in the kidneys,” said Dr. Melisa Lai Becker, chief of the Cambridge Health Alliance emergency department in Everett, Mass. “And when that happens, the kidneys can shut down completely.”

Patients coming out of an overdose often vomit, which can lead to aspiration into the lungs and pneumonia. And then there’s a condition called pulmonary edema, which hits some patients who are revived — their lungs fill suddenly with fluid.

“The lungs become so waterlogged that you can’t get any more oxygen into the body even though the patient is wide awake and they’re struggling to breathe,” Lai Becker said.

Doctors offer different theories about why this occurs. Lai Becker said it may be related to a sudden change in blood pressure when a patient is revived abruptly with naloxone. Other doctors think it’s a reaction to some part of the drug combination patients take.

Emergency doctors have many questions about why this is happening — it’s why researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now wading into this new field of opioid-use injuries, to gather data.

“We’re only beginning to scratch the surface and trying to understand what is going on, on this front,” said Mark Faul, a senior health scientist at the CDC.

Faul is studying the possible link between opioid overdoses and traumatic brain injury. He plans to collect data about how often an overdose leaves patients with permanent or temporary brain damage that that can leave them blind or deaf, or with amnesia or other cognitive problems.

Fentanyl Exacerbates The Problems

And there’s one more complicating factor: fentanyl. This very powerful opioid gives those who use it recreationally a high that is more intense than heroin’s but wears off more quickly. Traci Green, a senior scientist and deputy director of the injury prevention center at Boston Medical Center, said that means recreational drug users tend to use fentanyl more times a day than they would pure heroin.

“It also means more opportunity to overdose,” she said. “Simple math tells us that we’re going to have more visits to the emergency department and we’re going to potentially have more injury. And injury will beget injury.”

Fentanyl can also change the kind of injuries some emergency rooms see — more falls and head trauma because taking too much of the opioid cuts off breathing immediately and patients collapse. But Lai Becker has a different perspective. She said she has treated fewer of what she calls “in between” injuries in the past six months.

On one end of the spectrum, she said, “we’re seeing people who have fortunately had a good, full, complete reversal.” On the other extreme, she added, “patients have either arrived dead, or we’re able to resuscitate them, but unfortunately, they’ve already undergone brain death.”

To avoid fentanyl injuries and overdoses, people who are addicted to the drug at least should use it in pairs, Green urges, making sure one partner is stable before the other person injects. She said the state could help, too, by allowing patients who are addicted to opioids to use the drugs in a supervised setting like a hospital or clinic.

“Individuals who are able to spend time there don’t have to worry about hypothermia,” Green said. “They don’t have to worry about being hit or kicked or struck by a truck. This is something we should consider — this is a new era of prevention and intervention.”

This story is part of a partnership that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Starbucks barista rants about unicorn Frappuccino drink

A man claiming to be a barista at a Starbucks had some pointed criticism about the company’s limited-edition unicorn Frappuccino drink.

>> Read more trending news 

Braden Burson of Monument, Colorado, posted a video on Twitter and begged customers to stop ordering the drink, USA Today reported. The video has since been deleted off Twitter, but is still gaining plenty of views on YouTube.

Burson, who said the new pink-and-blue drink “tastes like a Sweet Tart,” filmed the video in his car. “I need to rant just a little bit,” he said, before blasting the drink.

“Because it's been so popular online everyone is like ‘oh my gosh I need to try it when it comes out,’” he says in the video.

The drink, which was released Wednesday, is made with pink powder blended into cream Frappuccino with mango syrup and layered with a sour blue drizzle, USA Today reported.

“I have never made so many Frappuccinos in my entire life,” Burson said on the video. “My hands are completely sticky. I have unicorn crap all in my hair and on my nose. I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”

After the rant, Burson backtracked. He told The Associated Press he did not think his rant would garner that much publicity, and he was not trying to “downgrade” the beverage.

One poster on Burson’s Facebook page asked, “You still got a job, buddy? Haha.”

“If this had been Apple, he would have been cooked over an open flame,” another poster said.

“It’s a great drink,” he told the AP. “But it’s difficult to make when there are like 20 fraps all at once.”

In a statement, Starbucks said the company will be reaching out to Burson “to talk about his experience and how to make it better.”

Burson apparently is not the only barista who is not enamored with the unicorn Frappuccino. “A perfect summarization of my day today, this Frappuccino is the devil,” a woman named Alexandria tweeted.

“I've had to make about 30 so far and I feel like I'm already disappearing from photos like in back to the future,” tweeted Tina Dee.

Author Rainn Wilson, who wrote “The Bassoon King” in 2015, tweeted that “I seriously want to punch in the tooth anyone who buys or drinks a unicorn Frappuccino.”

The drink will be available through April 23.

Your Good-Better-Best Guide to the Grocery

One of the best things about supermarkets can also be the most confusing: all the choices! When walking from aisle to aisle, it can be overwhelming to look at all the products in each section. Just think of all the choices when you’re looking at the entire wall of cereal or a large cooler packed with tiny yogurt cups! Trying to find the best item—especially when you're trying to eat healthier or watch your intake of calories, fat or sodium—is not always a walk in the park. Within each section of the grocery store, you'll find plenty of healthful foods that can help you reach your goals. But sometimes you have to make a food choice based on budget constraints, availability or taste preferences that isn't ideal. Not to worry. This "Good, Better, Best" guide will help you make the best possible choices on your next trip to the store. If you're new to eating healthy, start at the bottom and work your way up to the top of the lists over time. Even if all you can afford is in the "good" category, you're still doing pretty well. If you prefer the taste and texture of the "better" item to the "best" choice, that's OK, too. Or maybe you're facing a hotel breakfast buffet or trying to find something healthy to eat at a party and all you'll find is the "good" choice. No matter what your situation, you'll still be able to make the best possible choices by using this simple guide. MILK Good Better Best 2% milk 1% milk Skim milk It has 3 fewer grams of fat than whole milk, yet still offers calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and protein for your body. It's a useful stepping-stone as whole- and vitamin D-milk drinkers make the healthy transition to low-fat dairy. With a mere 2 grams of fat per cup, it slashes the fat found in 2% milk by more than half. This lower-fat version of milk still has 30% of the daily dose of calcium, as well as vitamin D. It's fat-free, yet provides about the same amount of calcium and protein as higher-fat options. This is the best choice, especially for heavy milk drinkers. Skim milk may take some getting used to because it’s thinner, but it has lower amount of saturated fat and your heart will love that. YOGURT Good Better Best Low-fat Low-fat + fortified Plain nonfat Greek Low-fat yogurt is made with skim or low-fat milk, which cuts calories and fat but still provides calcium and protein. Beware of added sugar (plain yogurt, flavored with fruit or topped with whole-grain cereal is your best bet). A great up-and-coming trend in the yogurt aisle is supplementing yogurts with vitamin D. There aren’t many food sources of vitamin D, which helps in immunity and cancer prevention, so this is a great way to get an extra dose. This plain, thick, smooth yogurt has 21 fewer grams of sugar and 60 fewer calories than it's fat-free, flavored counterparts but still leaves in a great amount of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Get our expert recommendations for the best yogurts. BREAD Good Better Best Whole grain 100% whole wheat Light 100% whole wheat Bread "made with whole grains" usually contains a mix of refined flour and whole grain flour. It has a lighter texture and taste than whole wheat, making it a good choice for people who are transitioning from white bread to 100% whole-wheat bread. While it's lower in fiber, it is usually enriched with vitamins and minerals. Bread made with 100% whole wheat doesn't contain any refined or enriched flour. It's less processed and higher in fiber than white bread and whole-grain breads. Make sure "whole wheat flour" is the first ingredient on the label or else it's an imposter! This combines 100% whole wheat with calorie control. Some of the whole-wheat varieties can pack up to 100 calories per slice. Light whole-wheat bread can help you cut up to 130 calories from your sandwich if you're watching your weight. Here's how to pick the best bread. CEREAL Good Better Best Cereal without marshmallows, bright colors or clusters Whole-grain cereal Whole-grain cereal that's low in sugar If you're going to eat cereal, avoid those made like desserts (with marshmallows, clusters, chocolate flavors and bright colors). Cereals that meet these criteria are enriched with vitamins and minerals (better than nothing), but they are highly processed, full of sugar--sometimes up to two tablespoons per serving--and seriously lacking in fiber. A cereal made with whole grains is a better choice, but don't believe anything you read on the front of the box. Look for whole grains to be the #1 ingredient on the nutrition label and make sure there is at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Kashi Cinnamon Harvest and Kashi Autumn Wheat are good options that contain 6 grams of fiber per serving. The best cereal is made from whole grains and very little sugar (5 or fewer grams per serving). Grape Nuts and Total are good examples. If you’re used to cereal with more sweetness, add fresh berries or sliced fruit to help you get your 5-a-day. Get SparkPeople's top cereal picks here. PASTA Good Better Best Durum wheat pasta Whole-wheat pasta Omega-3 enriched whole-wheat pasta Standard spaghetti noodles, made from durum wheat, aren't inherently unhealthy. They're slightly less processed than semolina pasta and contain some protein and plenty of carbohydrates for energy. But durum wheat flour is refined and stripped of important nutrients like fiber. Whole-wheat noodles contain more fiber and protein per serving, while providing energy-giving carbohydrates. Load them up with vegetables and low-fat tomato sauce for a nutritious meal. Get more nutrition per bite with whole-wheat noodles that are enriched with omega-3’s. Commonplace in most supermarkets, they provide all of the goodness of whole-wheat pasta with an added dose of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. DELI MEAT Good Better Best Chicken or turkey slices Low-sodium lean meats Whole cuts of meat (preferably homemade) Buying lean deli meat cuts like chicken or turkey is better than bologna, salami and processed meats, which are higher in fat and sodium and contain nitrates, which are believed to be carcinogenic. Low-sodium lean meats are better choices for your sandwiches. Look for a low-sodium version of your favorite lean lunch meat (such as turkey or chicken). Purchasing your own skinless chicken or turkey breast to grill or bake, then slice is the best way to go. It's lower in salt, less expensive, and won't contain any of the additives of processed or packaged meat slices--and you can cook it yourself to reduce the fat and calories, depending on your method. With all the options in the grocery store, it’s easy to find items to feel good about buying. But remember: Healthy eating isn't about perfection. All foods do have some merits and even if you can't eat ideally all the time, that's OK. By striving to make the best choices from what is available to you, you'll make a real difference in your health! This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople resident expert Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1460

4 Good Reasons to Buy Local Food

If you’re buying California-grown organic strawberries because you know organic food is better for the environment, then you might want to reconsider your purchase—or at least your motivations. While choosing organic over "conventional" does reduce the pesticide burden on the ecosystem, shipping organic food thousands of miles across the country creates an even greater environmental woe—fossil fuel consumption. Says Barbara Kingsolver, author of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, transporting fruit from California to New York, for example, is about "as efficient as driving from Philadelphia to Annapolis and back in order to walk three miles on a treadmill in a Maryland gym." In a 2005 issue of the journal Food Policy, researchers stated that although organic farming is valuable, the fact that organic food often travels thousands of miles to get to our supermarkets creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. Before the advent of the highway, most food was grown or raised on family farms, packaged or processed nearby, and sold in local retail outlets. Today, this has become the exception to the rule, as the average North American meal logs more than 1,500 miles from farm to table. Although this shift results in an exceptional selection at the grocery store, it causes a host of other problems. Taste, quality, freshness, and nutritional value all decrease, and the environmental burden balloons. So what’s the alternative? Buy local. Buying food that a nearby farmer has grown or raised uses far less fossil fuels, and the benefits don’t stop there. Locally grown food is also better for:

  • Your taste buds: Traditionally, farmers selected breeds of crops for their flavor and growing abilities, and let them ripen until ready to eat. Now, more often than not, breeds are selected for their ability to withstand the rigors of cold storage and cross-country transport and are plucked from the vine far before their time. This results in tomatoes whose flavor only slightly resembles tomatoes and strawberries that are strawberries in name only. Buying local will yield food so fresh and ripe that your taste buds won’t know what hit them.
  • Your health: The moment an item of produce parts from its mother plant, its nutritional value begins to decline. Produce at the supermarket has likely been in transit or sitting in the display case for days or weeks. Local produce was probably picked in the last 24 hours and is still in its nutrient prime.
  • Farmers: According to Stewart Smith from the University of Maine, in the year 1900, 40 cents of every dollar a consumer spent on food went to the farmer. Today, only 7 cents goes into the pockets of food growers. The remainder is spent on storage, packaging, marketing, and shipping. Farmers are struggling more than ever as a result. Buying directly from local farmers can help reverse this trend.
  • Your local economy: In his book Eat Here, Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, Brian Halweil states that, in comparison to imported produce, "a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy." All that extra money circulating in your neck of the woods translates into better schools, safer streets, and nicer parks perfect for picnics with all the healthful foods you purchased locally.
Buying local also means buying what’s in season in your area and not buying what isn’t. Thanks to modern supermarkets, we’re so accustomed to having what we want when we want it (watermelon in April, asparagus in September and tomatoes in the dead of winter) that eating any other way sounds like deprivation. Yes, getting used to tomato-less winters can be a challenge. You'll soon realize that tomatoes taste better when you’ve waited for them, not only because they’re at their season’s best, but also because you’ve waited. Kingsolver says, "It’s tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late-summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it’s actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about it being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand." The variety of a local, seasonal menu is a boon to your health, too. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommends choosing a variety of foods, to cover all of your nutritional bases. Eating local fits the bill. There is no strict definition for mileage of local food, but generally anything grown within a 50- to 100-mile radius is considered local, and obviously, the closer the better. The best source for it is your local farmers market. You’ll find veggies, fruits, meats, and cheeses, and you’ll get to buy them from the hands that picked, dug, fed, or cultured them. Depending on what you’re buying, the price may be higher or lower than you’ll pay in a supermarket, but it will always be fresher and tastier. To find a farmer’s market near you, check out www.LocalHarvest.org. Another option is to join a buying club. Farmers deliver many orders to one person’s home (or another centralized location), and the rest of the club members pick up from there. To find a buying club in your area, visit www.EatWild.com, select your state, and look for the "Beyond the Farm" link at the top of the page. It will take you to a directory of buying clubs that exist in your state. Local food isn't just another passing trend. While it might be difficult or impossible to buy all of your food locally, any amount of local food you can find and purchase will still benefit the health of your community, the planet, and your own body, too.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1473

5 Ways to Prevent Food from Going to Waste

Food spoils--and quickly! When thinking about your own kitchen, you may not view the food you toss or the leftovers you never eat as money down the drain, but food waste has a major impact on your bank account and the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that "American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually." Fortunately, you can start at home and do your part to help curb food waste. You’ll be thinking green and stretching your dollars further at the same time. Some simple changes can have big effects! Here are a few ideas to get you started. Create a plan—and stick to it! Meal planning is a critical step to help you spend less and waste less. When you know what you're going to eat today, tomorrow and this coming weekend, you will only purchase the foods you need at the store, preventing you from buying foods on a whim only to have them spoil before you eat them. Creating the plan isn't enough—you must stick to it if it's going to work. Setting your sights for making chili next weekend is great, but when you lose track of time during the week and let the veggies wilt, you are throwing away more than spoiled food; you're wasting your money, too. Stay on top of your planned meal schedule by keeping a calendar on the fridge to remember what’s on the menu each day. When planning, account for all the foods you have to buy and creatively use them throughout the week. Use that eight-pack of whole-wheat hamburger buns for a cookout one night and tuna sandwiches for lunch the next day, for example. Scrape your scraps. Look for new ways to use food scraps. Instead of throwing away half an onion or extra bits of carrot, store extras in a container in the freezer. Once you’ve saved enough, boil them in water to make your own homemade vegetable broth that you can use when cooking rice and soup. (You can also compost your food scraps.) Don't like the heels of a loaf of bread? Chop them up and bake your own croutons, or dry them to use as breadcrumbs. (Your heart will thank you, too! Most store-bought breadcrumbs still contain trans fat.) Leftover bits of chicken, fish, shrimp, or tofu can be used in a soups or salads the next day. If you have a dog, you may be able to treat her to certain scraps from fruits, vegetables, and meats as a treat, but check with your vet first. Plan to preserve. Consider preserving your own food if you don't have time to eat it before it goes bad. Pickling, canning, drying (dehydrating) and freezing are all ways to extend the shelf life of many fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. We often only think of cucumbers when it comes to pickling, but in reality, almost any vegetable can be pickled. Canning your own fruits, vegetables, sauces and soups can be a fun family event, and it can make farm-fresh foods available all winter. Raisins are dried grapes, but have you ever considered drying mango, pineapple or apple slices? This can be done in a food dehydrator or on a low setting in your oven. However you do it, drying fruit is a great way to make your own grab-and-go snacks and to prevent fruit from going bad. The freezer is often underutilized. Bread, scrambled egg mix, leftover coffee, tea, and broths can all be frozen for later use. Your homemade soup, cooked rice and other dinner entrees can also be frozen if you don't have a chance to eat the leftovers in time. Try using an ice cube try to store single serving pieces of purees, sauces and beverages. Freeze leftover coffee for an iced coffee drink, or a cube of frozen veggie broth to whip up some gravy later in the week. Make smoothies down the road by freezing mashed or chopped fruit. Almost anything can be frozen except for canned foods in the can (although they can usually be removed and frozen) and eggs in the shell. The USDA’s Freezing and Food Safety information sheet offers tips on freezing food and thawing it successfully. Keep your eyes on the size. Serving up the correct portion size can help stretch you food dollars and eliminate waste created from uneaten portions—not to mention cut calories for weight management! You should be getting two servings from each boneless, skinless chicken breast. If you’re cooking for one or two, cut your meat into the correct portion sizes and freeze the rest that you won’t eat right away. Stick to these proper portions to feed more people per dollar and cut down on what you may be scraping off the plate! Compost. Throwing away (or composting) food should be your last resort if you can't eat it or preserve it first. When food lands in a landfill, it's out of sight, out of mind. So what's the big deal? Well, food and lawn waste makes up 25% of all waste in landfills, which are so densely packed that oxygen isn't readily available. When oxygen is lacking during the decomposition process, the food emits methane gas, which is 20 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. All this methane is bad for the environment, and the inhospitable conditions of landfills make it difficult if not impossible for natural materials like food to break down properly. Each ton of organic matter we can divert from a landfill can save 1/3 of a ton of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the environment. Plus, composting can provide you with your very own "black gold" for free, allowing you to condition and enrich your soil, saving money and turning your food into nutritious fertilizer that will nourish future plants. If you can’t think of a way to utilize extra foods and food scraps, composting is a better alternative than the trash. Think of it as a way to save the nutrients you’ve paid for by transferring them into new foods as you garden! Many foods can be composted, and it's a lot easier and sanitary than you might think. Check out SparkPeople's Composting Guide for Beginners to get started. Overall, reducing food waste requires you to become more aware of what you’re tossing and come up with creative ways to utilize the scraps—or prevent them entirely. Becoming a leftover king or queen, being a savvy shopper, and serving up proper sizes will all help you become a more efficient user of food, saving you money and helping preserve our natural resources. Selected Sources: Garden Compost from backyardgardener.com Freezing and Food Safety from USDA.gov Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill from the NRDC Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1481

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