#233 Health Headlines

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It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.

Jerry Seinfeld

12 Major Health Headlines in 2006

By Steve Edwards

We read and see news reports about our health almost on a daily basis. But what do they really mean to us? Most of them are presented as if it's earth-shattering info that we've only lived without for so long by blind luck. And while we're probably well aware that the media has a grace period where hyperbole is concerned, how are we supposed to get educated enough to decipher what is truly need-to-know information?

It's not easy. We rarely have time to read as much as we'd like to (or at least should). But we still want to stay informed. Here's a quick rundown of some of the major news headlines of 2006 and how to make sense out of them.

  1. The Biggest Loser*This TV show got a lot of attention and most of it seemed to present perfectly rational information that exercise and diet could promote weight loss. While it was often presented as if it were a shocking revelation, at least Beachbody members should have been out there saying "duh."

    What we learned: That with a little instruction and enough motivation we can change our lives and get healthier.

    What we need to be aware of: Accountability matters. Most of us don't have the pressure of having our results posted on prime-time television and motivation is the key to success. If you want to be a real-life version of the biggest loser you'll probably do better if you put some pressure on yourself. Using tools like the Beachbody Message Boards and WOWY® can help you do this at home.

  2. No Trans Fat — Along the lines of "no carb" and "fat free," the "no trans fat" slogan has been appearing on food labels and in commercials with more regularity. This is a great thing because trans fats are terrible for you. Added to food so that it will last longer on shelves, it has no necessary nutritional value.

    What we've learned: That trans fat is bad for your health.

    What we need to be aware of: That an absence of trans fat doesn't mean a food is good for you. Oreos, for example, are still just junk food, whether they contain trans fat or not, which is probably the case with most foods that post "no trans fat" on their label. You still need to look at the ingredients list.

    Want the skinny on the good kind of fat? Click here.

  3. Caffeine-Stoked Energy Drinks Worry Doctors — Energy drinks have hit the shelves with all guns blazing. A few years back all you could find was Red Bull. Now there's enough sugar and caffeine in the average 7-Eleven to keep an entire class of med students awake for a semester. Since sleep is vital for every aspect of your health, especially growing, it's easy to see why doctors are concerned about these beverages that are mainly consumed by teenagers.

    What we've learned: That energy drinks are mainly just amped-up soda and propose a health risk, especially to our youth.

    What we need to be aware of: Legal drugs are still drugs and that you can only force your body beyond its natural limitations (in this case, lack of sleep) for so long before your health will diminish.

    Maybe you're better off with a glass of water. Click here to read why.

  4. The Mediterranean Diet Doesn't Work on the Mediterranean — A recent survey showed that in Greece—a country used as a prime example of health in the hit diet book The Mediterranean Diet—obesity is on a meteoric rise and is now at levels nearly as high as the United States. However, a study linked this rise to Greece's growing fast-food industry so the only thing wrong with the book is the title. Maybe they should reissue it as The Old Mediterranean Diet.

    What we've learned: Where fast food goes, people get fat.

    What we need to be aware of: The fast-food industry is about money, not health. No matter how they spin their marketing jargon the only thing that will affect their behavior is their own bottom line. If we want to be healthy, we must do our best to make convenience food a last resort and never an integral part of our diet.

    Want more good diet tips from abroad? Click here to read more.

  5. Americans Don't Eat Enough Veggies — For some reason, various studies citing this are being shown to us more and more. Once a major food group, convenience diets have our veggie consumption coming largely in the form of hamburger condiments, iceberg lettuce, and french fries. A simple look at volume and calories of veggies compared to all other foods will show in the simplest of terms why we're getting larger, so do we really need a study?

    What we've learned: That apparently we do. Most of us know we'd be less fat if we ate more veggies but it's still not enough.

    What we need to be aware of: That there is no quick fix so we can get back to our Whoppers. Fiber, not just nutrients, is an important component so we can't just supplement our lack of nutrients and then eat junk. Veggies, as well as fruits, need to be consumed in their natural state or we'll have a tough time staying thin and healthy

    Want to learn more? Click here to veg out!

  6. Drinking Coffee Could Lead to Heart Attack — One Costa Rican study showed a possible link between coffee and heart attacks. However, there have been over 19,000 other modern studies on caffeine, none with similar findings, so most experts agree further work should be done in this area.

    What we've learned: That we should pay close attention to how coffee affects us. All of the heart attacks were non-fatal and occurred under somewhat odd conditions to only people of a certain gene variant. This threw a lot of doubt on the results, though it still got plenty of headline space.

    What we need to be aware of: That we should still treat caffeine with some respect, like any drug, natural or not. With caffeine available to us everywhere we turn (see #3 and #8), it would probably benefit us to use some restraint with its consumption.

    Should you say no to joe? Click here to read more.

  7. Juices May Cut Alzheimer's Risk — A rather large study covering a significant amount of time (10 years) concluded that the risk of Alzheimer's disease was 76 percent lower in individuals that drank juice (fruit and veggie) more than three times per week.

    What we've learned: That we don't eat enough fruits and veggies.

    What we need to be aware of: The word juice<. Most of us still associate the word juice with sweetened fruit juice only and this study was very clear that vegetable juice was a prime component. Along the lines of #5 we aren't getting enough fruits and veggies in our diet and it's affecting our health.

    Want to learn more? Click here for all the juicy details.

  8. Tea Could Be "Healthier" Drink than Water — We've heard a lot over the past few years about the high content of healthy antioxidants found in tea. Well, one study in England concluded that the overall benefit of tea could be more than water because—even though it's a diuretic—you can still hydrate with it.

    What we've learned: That tea has some nutrients in it that are good for us.

    What we need to be aware of: The word could. Tea also contains caffeine and there is plenty of evidence (note #3 and #6) to show that caffeine consumption should be, at minimum, observed. As with coffee, soda, and all those energy drinks, no benefit from tea can possibly offset an inability to sleep.

    Not all teas are created equal. Click here to see what's brewing.

  9. Seafood Benefits Outweigh Risks — Whether or not to eat fish is becoming a huge conundrum. Nutrient-wise, fish is one of the healthiest items we can put into our bodies. It's high in protein and has an outstanding fatty acid profile. On the other hand, we've contaminated our waterways to the point where many fish are now storehouses of toxic chemicals. What to do?

    What we've learned: That the nutrient value of fish is really, really good.

    What we need to be aware of: That fish are becoming more toxic by the year and maladies such as mercury contamination are a very real possibility. This means we must do two things in the near future. One is to enact policies that will help clean up our waterways and, two, we must be cautious about our consumption of fish until it happens.

    Read more about fish and other so-called miracle foods.

  10. Weight Gain Means Lower Gas Mileage — This one probably falls under the "I've never thought of that before" category but someone did a study that concluded obese people used more gas than thin people, due to extra weight carried in their cars.

    What we've learned: That studies are conducted on almost anything.

    What we need to be aware of: That any weight in your car reduces gas mileage. Cleaning out our cars on a daily basis will not only save us money but we'll burn extra calories doing it and end up breathing cleaner air. Maybe the study had some merit after all.

  11. Testosterone Tumbling in American Males — This was the headline for an article about serum testosterone in U.S. males that was skewed by the fact that obese men produce far less testosterone than healthy men, which brought down the overall average.

    What we've learned: We're fat and it's negatively affecting our health.

    What we need to be aware of: We're fat and it's negatively affecting our health.

  12. Cutting Back On Smoking Won't Cut Death Risk — This dubious study concluded that those who cut back on smoking died just as regularly as those who didn't—and even more in some cases. When looking deeper into its protocol, however, we were shown a glaring omission. The actual number of total cigarettes smoked per day was unaccounted for. Therefore, someone who smoked 30 cigarettes per day and cut back to, say, 15 was lumped into the same statistical group as someone who went from a pack a day to one or two. Since these are two significantly different medical cases, the entire findings must be skewed.

    What we've learned: That study protocol must be accounted for and that all study conclusions should be scrutinized.

    What we need to be aware of: This sloppy protocol can be used against us. Most of us are pretty aware of the fact that smoking is bad for us. In fact, it was the smoking industry's false science that once brought bogus studies into the limelight. But we still see skewed science on a regular basis. Therefore, before we react to what we read in the headlines we should do our best to become more informed on the issue, especially when it concerns our health.

* The Biggest Loser is the property of NBC Universal, Inc. and in no manner sponsors or endorses any of the information contained in this article or any other products or services of Beachbody or Product Partners, LLC.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter.

Check out Steve's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Holiday Cookie Recipes

The holidays are upon us and that means it won't be long before you're faced with plates of homemade cookies and end-of-the year goodie baskets. You've been on the nice list all year, and now it's easy to be tempted to be a little naughty. But we're not complete Scrooges. Everybody deserves a little treat, especially if they've been good. Here are a couple of our favorite cookie recipes that are healthier than some of the little sugar bombs that will show up in the office kitchen, but won't make you feel like you're eating a lump of coal.

Gingerbread Cookies

6 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and mix in the spices and salt. Then, add the eggs and molasses. When combined, begin adding the flour mixture, mixing at low speed until all the ingredients are completely combined. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. On a floured board, roll out cookie dough 1/8" thick. Cut cookies into desired shapes and place on an ungreased baking sheet and refrigerate until firm. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Let cookies cool and decorate if desired. Makes 8 dozen 3-inch cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie)

Calories 72 Protein 1 g Fiber < 1 g
Carbs 12 gFat 2 gSaturated Fat 1 g

Almond, Lemon, and Anise Biscotti

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. lemon zest, grated
2 tsp. anise seeds, crushed
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
Plain or vanilla sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients. Add the flour and almonds and stir until the ingredients make a dough. Knead dough until smooth and divide in half. Roll each half into a log that measures about 2 inches in diameter. On an ungreased baking sheet, bake logs about 30 minutes until firm. Take the logs out (but leave the oven on) and let them cool for 10 minutes. With a serrated knife cut the logs crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Return the slices cut side down to the baking sheet and return them to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until brown. Let cool and eat! Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie)

Calories 92 Protein 1.5 g Fiber 1 g
Carbs 10 gFat 8 gSaturated Fat 0.5 g

If you've been extra nice this year, you can coat half of the biscotti in chocolate. Just melt 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a double boiler and whisk until smooth. Dip half the biscotti in chocolate and allow to cool on a sheet of wax paper. For extra variety, you can do the same thing with white chocolate.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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