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Alcohol hand sanitizers are a popular alternative to soap and water. But are they really as effective at protecting us from germs?

Red wine is often touted for its power to prevent heart disease. But some research suggests that other types of alcohol such as white wine and beer may be just as beneficial.

Cleaning products labeled “natural,” “nontoxic,” or “green” are touted as safer than conventional cleaners. But not all such products deserve a clean bill of health.

Carrots have long been said to improve eyesight. While that’s not true, some of the nutrients they contain may help fight certain eye problems.

Can eating a late night meal or snack cause you to gain weight? Our Healthy Skeptic weighs in.

Don't let an email hoax spoil your dinner. Our Healthy Skeptic reveals the truth about microwaving food in plastic wraps and containers.

Eggs have gotten a bad rap for being high in cholesterol. But can they be part of a heart healthy diet? Our Healthy Skeptic is on the case.

Can you be overweight and still in good shape? Our Healthy Skeptic shows you how a few extra pounds don’t have to get in the way of good health.

Mammogram Debate Myths

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on November 19, 2009 2:43 PM

New breast cancer screening recommendations from an expert panel are turning conventional wisdom on its head. Rather than starting mammograms at age 40, as the panel previously recommended, women are now advised to begin at 50--and then to be tested every other year, rather than annually. The recommendations do not apply to those at increased risk of breast cancer, who may need to be tested at younger ages and more frequently.

Internet chat rooms, message boards, and Facebook postings from my friends reflect the widespread confusion, consternation, and even anger that the new guidelines have unleashed. The decision about whether and when to test can be tricky, and the scientific data are open to different interpretations. Other groups, such as the American Cancer Society, are still suggesting yearly mammograms, beginning at 40, at least for now.

Because there are no black and white answers when it comes to this issue, it's important for each woman to talk to her doctor and decide what makes sense for her. That requires being armed with accurate information, but unfortunately, there are a number of falsehoods floating around about the new recommendations. Here are five that seem to be especially popular:

  • This is all about saving money. In fact, it's about science. The group issuing the recommendations, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), is an independent panel of experts in prevention and primary care. Its job is to objectively analyze the scientific evidence for a wide array of clinical preventive measures--ranging from testing newborns' hearing to taking aspirin to prevent heart disease--and determine whether, on balance, they improve public health. The USPSTF's mission is not about money. In fact, one of the other steps that the group now recommends against, teaching breast self-exams, is very inexpensive, while others it embraces, such as routine screening for colon cancer, are relatively costly.
  • This is about rationing.The new recommendations are just that--recommendations--and if a woman prefers to get screened earlier or more often, she can and should do so. Insurers have said they will continue to cover the cost for annual mammograms beginning at 40. The idea behind guidelines like this is not to withhold life-saving tests and treatments; it's to help us figure out what works--and therefore make more rational decisions--by looking at outcomes. Guidelines that we take as gospel, whether starting mammograms at 40 or colonoscopies at 50, always involve subjective judgments. Why not start mammograms at 35, for example, or colonoscopies at 40? It's because scientists have determined that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits for the population as a whole. The latest mammography guidelines are simply one panel's attempt to re-draw that line, based on new information.
  • Early detection saves lives. Not always. For some conditions, such as cervical or colon cancer, early detection and treatment are unquestionably beneficial. But for others, it's not so clear-cut. With breast cancer, it depends on the type of tumor. Some breast cancers are so slow-growing that they don't spread or cause harm. In such cases, a woman will live just as long whether the tumor is found earlier or later. At the other end of the spectrum are aggressive cancers that spread quickly and kill, no matter how early they're detected. Mammography saves lives most often when it finds tumors between these extremes, but it's impossible to predict how an individual tumor will behave. One concern is that too many of the cancers that are found through mammography may be those for which it doesn't change the outcome.
  • The fact that I or someone I know was saved by a mammogram proves that more testing is better. There are two problems with this logic. First, while an individual who was diagnosed with a cancer in her 40s may believe that early detection saved her life, there's often no way to know for certain. As discussed above, depending on the type of tumor, the ultimate outcome may have been the same had the cancer been found later. Second, anecdotes aren't the same as evidence. Just because certain individuals have benefited from mammography in their 40s doesn't necessarily mean that it's warranted for all 40-somethings. Public health recommendations are based on aggregate data, which in this case show that starting screening at age 40 has only modest benefits over beginning at 50. Plus there's an increased risk of potential harms, such as unnecessary follow-up tests and biopsies.
  • The shifting recommendations prove that scientists are clueless. Science is about accumulating knowledge and getting smarter so that we get closer and closer to the truth. In this case, new research prompted the panel to change its recommendations. While flip-flops like this can certainly be frustrating, we want researchers to continue learning and sharing their findings so that we can make the best possible decisions about our health. And we should be grateful that there are groups like USPSTF that synthesize the science without an agenda. What we do with the information is up to us.

Candy from Co-Workers

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on November 2, 2009 9:43 AM

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so I don't take kindly to the killjoys who try to scare us about all the calories and fat in candy. After all, it's just one day a year.

But now comes the post-Halloween candy glut, and we need to heed their warnings. It's that time when people take their leftover candy (and perhaps part of their kids' loot too) to the office to unload on, er share with, co-workers.

For many of us, that big bowl of candy by the water cooler can be impossible to resist. If you're like me, every time you walk by it, you grab a piece or two, thinking "These are tiny. What's the harm?"

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Well, the answer is that the calories in those mini candies can quickly add up. My pal Hungry Girl has done a little digging and compiled some scary stats. Eat just eight Hershey's Kisses, three Nestle Crunch Fun Size Bars, or a couple of Reese's Snack Size Peanut Butter Cups, and you'll instantly get 200 calories. Do that a few times a day, and you'll soon be packing on pounds. Check here for the complete list.

Research shows that, not surprisingly, we consume more if the candy is in a clear container that allows us to see the goodies. As this video segment reveals, the candy's location can also make a difference. The easier it is to reach, the more we tend to eat.

Unfortunately, if it's candy I like--meaning pretty much anything chocolate--putting it out of reach still doesn't seem to deter me much. My only hope is that my co-workers will come in with treats that don't tempt me. Bring on the Skittles and Sweetarts!

Are organic foods safer and more nutritious? Our healthy skeptic cuts through the hype to reveal the truth about how organic foods affect your health.

Get a Kick out of Exercise

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on October 2, 2009 6:03 PM

I am part of a small (and perhaps strange) minority of people who actually enjoy running. When non-runners learn about my passion, they sometimes seem slightly apologetic--as though they have this nagging feeling that they too should be hitting the trails but for whatever reason aren't.

If you fall into that category, here's some good news: Other activities may be even better for you--and easier to stick with.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen divided 65 subjects--all of them women ages 19 to 47--into three groups: One learned to play soccer for two hours a week; the second ran for two hours a week; and the third did neither. After 16 weeks, the soccer players had greater improvements than the runners in measures of fitness such as maximum oxygen uptake, muscle mass of the legs, and sprinting speed.

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Perhaps most important, the soccer players were more likely than the runners to continue their activity after the study was over. The reason is motivation: Runners cited health benefits as the impetus for their exercise, while the soccer players were motivated by the opportunity to join others in the group and have fun.

The research offers two lessons (and no, one of them is not that everyone needs to run out and join a soccer league). First, running is by no means the only way, or necessarily the best way, to stay fit. If you like it, then great. But if not, don't feel you're a slacker. And second, exercise has to be enjoyable. If you're doing it only because you feel you must, you're far less likely to continue over the long term.

There are all kinds of ways to be physically active and have fun. Watch these videos to learn about just a few: waltzing, tai chi, kickball, belly dancing, sword fighting, and self defense.

So if you're discouraged because you can't bring yourself to pound the pavement or hit the gym, don't fret. Instead, just find something you enjoy--and get moving.

Shocking Health Messages

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on September 10, 2009 5:44 PM

As H1N1 flu marches across college campuses this fall, students are hearing a simple message about how to protect themselves: Wash your hands. But getting them to comply may be far more complicated.

During an infectious disease outbreak at a Canadian university in 2006, researchers found that students frequently failed to clean their hands before going into the cafeteria--even though there was a hand sanitizer and poster by the door instructing them not to enter unless they washed up. According to the study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, 83% of the students said they practiced proper hand hygiene. Yet they actually did so less than 20% of the time.

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The researchers say one problem is that the "wash your hands" messages posted on campus weren't compelling enough. So how do you get students' attention? Gross them out. At least that's what another study on hand-washing found. As this video shows, when messages such as, "You just peed, wash your hands," were posted in bathrooms at the University of Denver, hand-washing rates went up.

This kind of in-your-face approach isn't limited to hygiene messages. It's also being used in Great Britain to warn kids about the dangers of texting while driving. Police in Wales have produced a gory video, which has become a YouTube sensation, showing a deadly accident caused by a teen texter.

Health officials in New York City are also trying to shock people--
in this case adults -- with posters on subways. A picture shows disgusting globs of fat pouring from a soda bottle, along with the message "Don't drink yourself fat." The campaign, which will run through the fall, aims to get people to cut back on soda and other sugary beverages.

Not all health educators agree that provoking shock and disgust is an effective way to change behavior. But if the result is that even a few more students wash their hands or put away their cell phones in the car, it's worth the effort. At the very least, it makes those health messages a lot more entertaining.

Sand Trap: Germs at the Beach

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on August 20, 2009 4:29 PM

As summer draws to a close, many of us will be hitting the beach for one last hurrah. If, like some members of my family, you prefer building sandcastles over swimming because the ocean seems dirty and disgusting, I have some unsettling news: The sand is even worse.

Scientists have found that levels of E. coli bacteria in sand tend to be higher than those in the water. The result, according to a recently-published study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, is that people who dig in the sand are more likely to get sick than those who take a dip in the ocean or walk on the beach.

The scientists interviewed more than 27,000 visitors at seven U.S. beaches and asked about the beachgoers' activities. Ten to 12 days later, participants were contacted by phone and asked about any illnesses they had experienced since their trip to the beach.

Those who had dug in the sand were slightly more likely to develop stomach illnesses and diarrhea than those who had not dug in the sand. The risk was further increased among people who had been buried in the sand. As you might expect, kids were especially vulnerable.

Fortunately, you don't need to forfeit that sandcastle-building contest to stay well. According to another new study, this one in the Journal of Water and Health, there's a simple solution: Wash your hands. The researchers found that subjects with sand-covered hands who rinsed in clean water removed 92% of E. coli that might otherwise have ended up in their mouths and led to illness. Rinsing four times removed virtually 100%.

Of course, it's best to use soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you don't have access to either, though, rinsing your hands with clean water several times before you dig into your picnic basket or leave the beach can do the trick.

It's a reminder that even on vacation, Mom's advice to wash your hands still applies. To find out other surprising places where potentially harmful germs lurk and how to protect yourself, watch this video.

Minding Your Health

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on August 6, 2009 5:35 PM

How mindful are you? Unless you're a Buddhist, it may sound like a strange question. But being more mindful could be an answer to two health issues high on many people's top-10 list: stress and weight.

Simply put, mindfulness means being aware of what you think and do in response to what's around you. It's the idea behind a technique known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which was developed by best-selling author Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. Research has shown that MBSR can help alleviate anxiety, depression, and pain.

MBSR, which is now offered by medical centers around the world, teaches people to live in the moment and become more aware of how they respond to their surroundings. As a result, they can change how they view whatever causes stress, pain, or other negative feelings and thereby achieve greater peace of mind. Typically, training is intensive, requiring eight weekly 2.5-hour classes plus 45 to 60 minutes a day of meditation. For some busy, stressed-out people, the time commitment is, well, too stressful.

A recent study, published in the journal Health Education & Behavior, has found that a scaled-down version of MBSR can be used successfully at workplaces. People who attended weekly one-hour MBSR meetings at lunch and practiced 20 minutes of yoga a day at their desks reported feeling less stress and sleeping better than those in a comparison group who did not participate.

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On the heels of that research comes another new study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggesting that mindfulness may also play a role in weight control. Participants (80% of them women) filled out questionnaires asking how often they had reactions such as:

• When a restaurant portion is too large, I stop eating when I'm full.
• I taste every bite of food that I eat.
• I recognize when I'm eating and not hungry.
• When I'm sad, I eat to feel better.

Those who were more mindful about food and eating tended to weigh less. They were also more likely to practice yoga, which the researchers hypothesize may have taught them greater self-awareness.

Food scientist Brian Wansink has written a terrific book, called Mindless Eating, about our lack of mindfulness regarding food and what we can do about it. I highly recommend it. And for more on how greater self-awareness can help control stress, sit back, relax, and watch this video segment.

The Assault on Our Ears

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on July 16, 2009 5:36 PM

I attended a rock concert recently, and my ears did not enjoy it. They began to hurt as soon as the band started to play. Now, granted, I'm not exactly an avid concertgoer--you're about as likely to find me in a mosh pit as on an alien space ship--but my ears' aversion surprised me. This was, after all, an outdoor concert, and I was sitting relatively far from the stage. But as I learned, amphitheater speakers that are many hundreds of feet away may still produce noise levels that can be hazardous to your hearing.

Noise is one of those health threats that many of us don't take very seriously, but we should. Exposure to loud noise is thought to be a contributor to hearing loss in about half of the estimated 28 million Americans who have it. Damage can occur from short-term exposure, but typically it's due to the daily, chronic assault on our ears from multiple sources.

One of those sources is public transportation. A study in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health finds that noise levels from New York City subways are high enough to cause hearing loss in people with regular exposure. loud noises_1.jpg

On average, subways had noise levels of about 80 decibels (dBA). The highest levels--up to 102 dBA--were found on platforms. That's about the same as the noise level from a chainsaw. By comparison, normal conversation is about 65 dBA and a whisper is 30. (Each increase of 10 dBA corresponds to a 10-fold increase in loudness.)

According to the researchers, exposure to 100 dBA for as briefly as two minutes a day could lead to hearing loss in some regular riders. Longer exposures to 90 or 95 dBA-- levels found on many of the subway trains--could have a similar effect.

If you're tempted to try to drown out the noise with your MP3 player, think again. Cranking the volume up to high on your favorite Metallica or Twisted Sister tune can produce noise levels of 100 dBA or higher. The result is that you've traded one potentially hazardous exposure for another.

A better solution when you're encountering the subway, concerts, or any other noisy environment is to wear protective earplugs. For more tips, watch this segment. And see what one former punk rocker is doing to raise awareness of noise-related hearing loss.

Are the java jitters a hazard to your heart? Is a two cup-a-day habit dangerous? Our healthy skeptic separates myths from facts.

5 Sunscreen Surprises

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on June 29, 2009 6:10 PM

Tis the season for sunscreen - and for lots of advice in the media about how to use it properly. Among the often-repeated tips: Choose a product with an SPF of at least 15 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays; apply liberally to all exposed areas; and reapply every two hours.

That's good advice, but there's more to the story. Here are five facts about sunscreen that often go unreported:

Sunscreen has not been proven to protect against all forms of skin cancer.
While sunscreen has been shown to guard against squamous cell skin cancer, a less dangerous form of the disease, it has never been proven to protect against melanoma, the most deadly type. Nor is there definitive evidence that it guards against basal cell skin cancer, the most common form. It's possible that relying on sunscreen as a first line of defense, as we often do, may actually increase the risk of certain skin cancers by allowing us to spend more time in the sun and giving us a false sense of security. While sunscreen is an important tool for protecting skin against the sun's damaging rays, it's best used as a second line of defense, behind measures such as avoiding the sun, seeking shade, wearing a hat, and covering up. (Watch this to learn more about sun-protective clothing.)

Ultra-high SPF sunscreen offers very little extra protection.
Recently, manufacturers have been introducing sunscreens with SPFs as high as 85 or 100. In fact, these astronomical numbers are largely a marketing gimmick. While it may seem that SPF 90 provides three times the protection of SPF 30, the math doesn't work that way. SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 90 does only marginally better, blocking 99%. No sunscreen blocks 100% of rays. An SPF of 15 or 30 provides adequate protection for most people - assuming they use the sunscreen correctly.

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Some products' claims about UVA protection are deceptive.
Increasingly, sunscreens claim to offer "broad spectrum" protection against both UVA and UVB rays - something that's important because both types contribute to skin cancer. But it turns out that many of these sunscreens have only limited effectiveness against UVA rays. Manufacturers are able to get away with this deception because there are no FDA regulations in place regarding UVA labeling. (After years of delay, such rules are expected to be finalized later this year.) To make sure you're getting a sunscreen that provides UVA protection, look for ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, or Mexoryl SX on the label.

There's no such thing as a 100% "waterproof" sunscreen.
Some products claim to be waterproof, implying that you can swim or sweat all day without having to worry about reapplying. While a sunscreen can be water resistant - meaning that its SPF protection remains intact after exposure to water for 40 minutes (and 80 minutes for sunscreens that are labeled "very water resistant") - no product is completely waterproof. To be safe, it's best to reapply sunscreen after you get in the water or sweat heavily. Oh, and by the way: In case you're wondering about those widely-circulated Internet rumors claiming that waterproof sunscreens cause blindness, they're false.

Products endorsed by health groups aren't necessarily better.
Some products carry seals of approval from respected health groups, implying that these sunscreens are superior to others. For example, you can find the logo of the American Cancer Society on certain Neutrogena sunscreens. It turns out, though, that only Neutrogena products are eligible for this recognition. It's part of a marketing deal between the two organizations, in which Neutrogena pays ACS for the right to use its logo. Likewise, the nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation has a "seal of recommendation" program that it offers to qualified sunscreens and other sun protection products. But to be eligible, a manufacturer must be a member of the group's "Corporate Council." And how does one receive that honor? Contribute $10,000 to the organization. The bottom line is these stamps of approval are often more about money and marketing than solid science. They're best ignored.

Now that you're in the know, test your knowledge of sun safety with our video quiz.

How to Maintain Your Brain

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on June 19, 2009 5:31 PM

Eighty-five year-old Gloria Vanderbilt has a new erotic novel out. Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, continues to crank out opinions from his perch on the Supreme Court of the United States. And journalist Daniel Schorr, who will soon be 93, is still providing incisive commentaries on NPR.

So why is it that they and others like them in their ninth or tenth decades of life manage to stay sharp, while many of their peers decline mentally and succumb to dementia?

It's a question that scientists continue to ponder and debate. A new study in the journal Neurology offers a few clues. For eight years, researchers followed 2500 people in their 70s, repeatedly testing the subjects' cognitive abilities. They found that over time, about half performed slightly worse on tests, and 16 percent showed major decline. But about one-third experienced no decline or even improved their test scores.BLOG_judge_2.jpg

The scientists looked for characteristics that distinguished the non-decliners from everyone else. Some of the factors are things we can't do much about: Those who stayed sharp tended to have more social support, be more literate, and have at least a ninth grade education. But other, controllable factors also appeared to play a role: People who weighed less, got regular moderate or vigorous exercise, and didn't smoke were more likely to maintain their cognitive skills, as were those who still worked or volunteered.

If you listen to ads and claims on the Web, you may be led to believe that special brain-boosting puzzles, DVDs, and software are necessary for keeping your brain fit. For the truth about what measures are--and are not--proven, watch this Healthy Skeptic segment and listen to this interview with Dr. Sam Wang, co-author of Welcome to Your Brain.

Or, if you don't want to overload your brain, just remember this: Live a healthy lifestyle and stay active, both physically and mentally.

Your State of Mental Health

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on May 27, 2009 5:26 PM

Which state is psychologically healthier: New York or California? Sounds like a strange question, but it turns out that your emotional well-being may be linked to where you live.

Using CDC survey data, researchers tallied the percentage of residents in every state who reported that their mental health--which included stress, depression and problems with emotions--had been "not good" for at least 14 of the past 30 days. Data were collected before the current recession.

The study, published in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that people living in Kentucky fared worst, with 14% of adults reporting frequent mental distress. West Virginia and Nevada weren't far behind.

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The least stressed-out state? Hawaii, where fewer than 7% of residents reported poor mental health. Not too surprising, perhaps. But consider this: Washington, DC--not typically regarded as a bastion of happiness--also topped the list, as did South Dakota. To find out how your state ranked, see the full list.

For the most part, climate didn't appear to be a factor. New Yorkers were better off than Californians, and Hawaiians notwithstanding, people living in the relatively harsh climates of the upper Midwest tended to come out on top.

Still, as this video segment shows, weather can affect our mental well-being, but sometimes in unexpected ways. Another new study--this one published in BMC Psychiatry--found that suicides in Greenland were more common in the summertime, especially in northern regions with nearly constant daylight.

Too much sunny weather, it seems, may not be so good for your mental health. Unless you live in Hawaii.

Is arthritis caused by years of running? How do you protect your knees and hips? Our healthy skeptic tracks down the facts about how running affects your joints.

Shaking Away Pounds

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on May 15, 2009 5:09 PM

Stand on a vibrating platform and shed pounds. No exertion required. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, maybe not.

A recently-released study from Belgium looked at the effects of whole body vibrating machines (in this case one known as Power Plate), which are in a growing number of health clubs. The researchers assigned 61 subjects - all of them overweight or obese - to one of four groups: 1) a restricted-calorie diet and no exercise; 2) diet plus a conventional fitness program consisting of activities such as swimming, cycling, and strength training; 3) diet plus vibration training; and 4) no diet, no exercise.
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So who were the biggest losers? Believe it or not, the vibration group. After six months, they had lost 11% of their body weight, compared with 7% of the conventional exercisers and 6% in the diet only group. (The control group's weight increased slightly.) After one year, the vibration group had maintained their weight loss more than the others.

The study, presented at a European obesity conference, has not yet been published. But it comes on the heels of published research out of the University of Oklahoma, which found that in older women, resistance training plus whole body vibration decreased body fat more than resistance training alone.

Other published studies suggest that whole body vibration may increase muscle strength, bone density and balance in older women, and boost strength and jumping ability in trained athletes.

So how can this be? The machines' vibrations of 30 to 50 times per second are thought to trigger the body's reflex response, which causes muscles to contract. But the evidence regarding benefits is still preliminary, and some scientists are concerned about unknown risks.

Even if whole body vibration lives up to the claims, it shouldn't replace regular exercise. Instead, use it as a way to supplement to your routine. As this clip on exercise gadgets for the office reminds us, technology can add some fun and variety to your workout, and as a result, help you stick with it. Now get shaking.

Fast Food Facts

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on May 7, 2009 9:22 AM

Here's a quick quiz: Which McDonald's item has more calories - a Quarter Pounder or a grilled chicken sandwich?

The answer, which I'll get to in a minute, can be found right in the restaurant. But customers rarely, if ever, seek out such information, according to research published in this month's American Journal of Public Health.

In the study, observers recorded how often customers accessed nutritional data available at four chain restaurants: McDonald's, Burger King, Au Bon Pain, and Starbucks. Of the 4311 customers seen making purchases, only six - a measly one-tenth of one percent - bothered to look at wall posters, pamphlets, or computer screens in the restaurants that displayed calories, fat, and other facts about menu items.

For the authors, the take-home message is that the information needs to more visible - displayed, for example, on menu boards, as is now required in New York City. chicken sandwich.jpg

Perhaps. But the study may also reveal something else: Customers at fast-food restaurants may not look because they're afraid of what they'll find. Some people assume that any place whose offerings include a Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino or Triple Whopper with Cheese can't be paragons of nutritional virtue. If you're going to eat fast food, the thinking goes, why fret about fat and calories?

In fact, there are plenty of relatively healthful items available. And some that appear to be better for you actually are not. To make good choices, you need to be armed with information, which you can find - if you look - at many fast food restaurants or on their Web sites.

You can also get calorie counts and other nutritional information for popular menu items through searchable databases such as those provided by the USDA , the American Cancer Society, and calorieking.com.

As registered dietitian Carolyn O'Neil reminds us in this video segment on navigating the mall food court , the more you know, the more you can eat.

OK, now the answer to the question: The grilled chicken sandwich actually has a few more calories (420) than the Quarter Pounder (410), though the QP has more saturated fat. For a lower-calorie option, go for the regular hamburger. It has 250.

Seven Flu-Fighting Mistakes

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on April 29, 2009 12:23 PM

With swine flu dominating the headlines, there's lots of talk about how best to protect ourselves from this and other infectious diseases. Health experts continue to repeat what our mothers always told us: Wash your hands. It's among the most effective steps we can take.

Most of us hear this and think "yep, check, I do that." But in fact, too often we fall short when it comes to hand-washing and needlessly expose ourselves to germs and illness that might have been avoided with a bit more diligence.

Below are seven common hand-washing mistakes. How many do you make? (Be honest!)

1. Not washing often enough. In a telephone survey, 92% of adults said they washed their hands after using public restrooms. But when researchers watched, they found that only 77% of people actually did so. Clean your hands not only at obvious times such as after using the bathroom - or changing a diaper, handling garbage, or before eating, for example - but also anytime you've touched surfaces that might harbor germs. These include doorknobs in public places, gym equipment, and seats and poles on public transportation. And to protect others, don't forget to wash your hands after blowing your nose or coughing or sneezing into your hands.

2. Not washing long enough. Too often, we're in a hurry and devote too little time to the task. It's important to wash at least 15 to 20 seconds, which can seem longer than you think. If you're too impatient to count seconds, try following the advice given to kids and sing your ABCs.
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3. Not washing thoroughly enough. Just sticking your hands under the faucet doesn't cut it. Use warm, running water and liquid soap or clean bar soap. Scrub all surfaces, including backs of hands, between fingers, and under fingernails. The scrubbing, along with running water, helps dislodge germs.

4. Relying on antibacterial soaps. The label "antibacterial" gives the impression that these soaps are more effective in killing germs, but actually they're not. Using them can be detrimental if it lulls you into a false sense of security and makes you less diligent about hand-washing. Also, there are concerns that antibacterial soaps may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

5. Not drying your hands. If you leave the sink with wet hands - something many of us frequently do - you haven't completed the job. Germs thrive in moist environments, so you need to dry your hands with a clean towel or air dryer. If neither is immediately available, try to locate a clean napkin or cloth and remove moisture as soon as possible.

6. Touching restroom surfaces after washing. Faucets and other surfaces in public restrooms are full of germs, so putting your clean hands on them can undermine even the best hand-washing efforts. After you wash, avoid contact with restroom surfaces by using a towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

7. Using ineffective hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers are a great option if you don't have access to soap and water. Not all products are effective, though. Some may smell clean, but they don't contain enough alcohol to kill germs. Look for brands that have at least 60 percent alcohol. Use about a half-teaspoon and rub over all parts of your hands until they're dry.

Think you have all this down? Try this fun interactive quiz to test your knowledge of hand-washing and germs in general.

While it's essential to be vigilant, we also don't want to get carried away and become paranoid about germs. Here's an entertaining take on the subject from comedian Brian Frazer. Enjoy.

Laugh to Your Health

posted by Robert Davis, Ph.D. on April 20, 2009 5:33 PM

We all know that a good laugh can help you feel better. But can humor also improve your health?

The late Norman Cousins thought so. When the writer and editor was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in the 1970's, his self-prescribed treatment included humorous TV shows and films, which he credited for helping him recover. He called laughter "internal jogging."

Three decades later, there's new research that may support Cousins' belief. In a study of 20 diabetic patients, half of whom were exposed to humor as part of their treatment, those in the laughter group had higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and fewer signs of inflammation in their blood vessels (a possible risk for heart disease) than those not exposed to humor.LAUGHTER BLOG.jpg

To be sure, a study with only 20 subjects is far from conclusive, and it has yet to be published. Still, it follows other research suggesting that laughter may help increase blood flow, reduce levels of stress hormones, and enhance immune function.

By itself, laughter therapy won't cure cancer or keep you from getting sick. But it certainly can't hurt. At the very least, it may make your pursuit of better health more enjoyable. Watch, for example, how some yoga practitioners are incorporating laugher into their routines.

One physician, Dr. Brad Nieder, has gone so far as to become a stand-up comedian. If further research corroborates that, as the Bible says, a "merry heart doeth good like a medicine," then the good doctor may indeed be on to something by keeping people in stitches.

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