Wednesday, September 21, 2016

9 Fraudulent Foods That May Be Ripping You Off

A photo of a business man holding a burger stuffed with money.
Image: Shutterstock
The Congressional Research Service has just released a list of nine food categories with the highest reported instances of food fraud. Food fraud is when food manufacturers purposefully mislead consumers by mislabeling their products. The most common form of this takes place when cheap ingredients are substituted for their more expensive counterparts. The consequences are horrific, and in some cases, even deadly. But consumers can protect themselves from falling victim to this scam by educating themselves about the most common food archetypes. Read on to learn more about why each one of these food categories is a target for con artists.


Certain varieties of fish can be quite expensive, leaving a huge loophole in which shady seafood companies can take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Oceana, an ocean conservation group, conducted a study on more than 25,000 seafood samples. The group found that one in five samples were incorrectly labeled.

Olive Oil

Like fish, olive oil can be expensive. Companies looking to make a quick buck are mixing cheaper oil varieties (such as canola, seed, and peanut oils) in with actual olive oil and passing it off as premium extra virgin olive oil.

Dairy Products

Milk is one of the most tampered with products on the market, probably because it’s so easy to get away with. Milk powders, urea, and rennet are among the most popular additives found in cheeses, yogurt, and infant formulas. They are used to recreate the creamy consistency of milk, but in actuality are just cheap, unhealthy knockoffs.

Natural Sweeteners

Maple syrup falls victim to this fraudulent activity all the time. In fact, most of the syrups sold in super markets are merely high fructose corn syrup, which is just a euphemism for overly processed sugar. Honey often falls victim to this practice as well. Real raw honey should be minimally processed, and is usually a bit pricey.

Fruit Juice

That “100% juice” sitting in your fridge? Yeah, it’s more than likely watered down or infused with food dye.

Coffee and Tea

Low-end coffee is often low-end because there are leaves, twigs, and other debris mixed into it. The same goes for tea, where mysterious shrubs, weeds, and herbs are mixed in with color dyes to impersonate the real deal.  


Take special care when purchasing pepper, saffron, turmeric, star anise, paprika, and chili powder. These are among the most common spices that are filled with counterfeit ingredients and artificial flavorings.

Organic Foods

Unless a product is specifically labeled “USDA Certified Organic,” it should be approached with caution. Any company can label their product “organic” or “all-natural” without oversight from the federal government. That’s why the only way to protect against non-organic products being sold as organic products is to make sure it is USDA certified.

Clouding Agents

Clouding agents are used to visually deceive consumers. They make products like jams, juices, and soups look more visually appealing by creating a murky effect. Of particular concern is a recent trend by some manufacturers who are replacing the typical solution with the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Studies have linked DEHP with cancer and reproductive complications.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Eat Your Way Out of a Depression

The silhouette of a man hunched over in a chair. He looks down and out.
Image: Shutterstock
Many people turn to food when they’re depressed. The usual culprits include pizza, ice cream, and cookies. Unfortunately, junk food items like these can actually worsen the symptoms of depression. That’s because foods high in fat, sugar, and salt create a “crash” effect. Much like drugs, these foods provide an instant high immediately after being consumed. The salt, sugar, and fat releases dopamine in the brain, the compound responsible for human pleasure. But by the time the high wears off, these high-caloric foods cause the consumer to feel bloated, lethargic, and mentally foggy. That’s the last thing that someone who is depressed needs.

The good news is that there are plenty of healthy, mood-lifting alternatives to these junk-food cravings. The following comprises a list of nutritious substitutes that can help ease the symptoms of depression:

Sweet tooth?
Say hello to dark chocolate. Eaten in moderation (about 1.5 ounces per day), dark chocolate can provide numerous health benefits. Cocoa has a ton of antioxidants that ward off infections, fight the signs of aging, and boost energy levels. The tricky thing to watch out for is sugar content. Generally speaking, a higher cocoa percentage equates to less sugar. Consumers should aim for at least 72% cocoa in order to feel the uplifting effects of dark chocolate. 

Craving carbs?
Despite weight-loss experts touting the benefits of zero-carb diets, whole grains actually provide the body with much needed fiber, protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. These nutrients are essential in providing the energy the body needs to combat stress. However, bad carbs (such as white bread) cause insulin levels to spike. Spiked insulin levels can result in mood swings, fatigue, and irritability. If depression is taking its toll, ditch the overly processed bleached flours and instead opt for whole grains.

Can’t live without salt?
People who love salt are merely people who love flavor. There’s nothing wrong with that. But why not simultaneously enjoy flavor and health? For a sweet flavor, try some cinnamon, nutmeg, or saffron. For a spicy flavor, try cayenne, curry, cumin, or turmeric. Rosemary, basil, and thyme are also great options and taste delicious when used in soups.

In conclusion, it’s important not to feel guilty about having junk food cravings. The human body has evolved over time to crave foods high in fat, sugar, and salt because the extra calories could be stored as fat in times of starvation. However, in times of depression, just think of those extra calories being stored as extra hours of distress.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What’s So Great About Essential Oils?

A photo of three small bottles filled with oil. The bottles are surrounded by plants and flowers.
Image: Shutterstock
Essential oils? What are they? They must be important, right? 

Essential oils are not the same as vegetable oils, which are commonly used for cooking. Essential oils are incredibly concentrated non-water soluble compounds distilled from the various leaves and roots of flowers and plants. They are extremely potent due to their high concentration levels. Because of this high concentration, improper use can lead to irritation and discomfort. However, when used correctly, essential oils provide a variety of benefits depending on the plant that they are derived from.

The best way to use essential oils is through aromatherapy and topical use. The small molecules of the oil are either absorbed through the skin or more gently through the air and into the respiratory system. If applied topically, they should be diluted with a carrier oil like jojoba or almond oil. Essential oils should never be ingested.

While most people use essential oils in place of candles or air fresheners, certain essential oils have can be used for health purposes. For example, mixing peppermint oil into steamed water is a great way to clear up congestion. Peppermint oil can also be used to increase mental alertness. Meanwhile, lavender acts as a natural disinfectant. Lavender is also known for relieving migraines and aiding in relaxation. Citrus oils, on the other hand, provide an uplifting feeling when used in aromatherapy. As a topical treatment, citrus oils are astringent and antiseptic. Tea tree oil is also known for its antibacterial properties and works great when mixed with lavender or citrus as a natural cleaning product. Tea tree oil is also commonly used as a treatment for acne.

Incorporating essential oils into your lifestyle can help you cut down on the amount of chemicals you are using. This is important for two reasons: for one, it reduces your carbon footprint. For two, it limits the amount of toxic chemicals your body absorbs. However, make sure you use essential oils with caution. Improper use can result in allergic reactions. And remember: essential oils are not meant for consumption.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Where My Ladies At? Women in Urology

A photo of a doctor holding a sign that reads, "urology."
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 If you’re in the market for a urologist, chances are you’ll be seeing a male doctor. According to a poll from WebMD, only about 8% of urologists are female.

It’s not so surprising, right? If a gent is seeking professional help on a problem with his downstairs plumbing, he’s likely to prefer seeing a man over a woman, isn’t he?

Urology is more than doting on the dingus, though.

“It’s not all male genitalia!” says Dr. Leslie Rickey, urologist and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “It’s the kidneys and the urinary tract. And as you may or may not be aware, there are a lot of women leaking urine out there.”

Rickey is also the president of the Society for Women in Urology (SWIU). Started in 1980 in San Francisco, the SWIU now has more than 650 members, 250 of which are board-certified urologists. Its mission, according to its website, is to “support the professional development and career advancement of women urologists and urologic researchers through education, advocacy, and mentorship.”

It’s that mentorship that many female urologists have said tops the list when it comes to their education and decision to focus on urology. Increasing numbers of women both in the field and running the classroom have encouraged more women to go into urology—though not always without resistance. A New York Times article from 2008 reported that female urologists are often mistaken for nurses or called unprofessional names like “babe,” “sweetheart,” and “honey,” particularly during training.

Still, there’s definitely a place for women in urology. If male patients might prefer a male doctor, the same can be said of female patients and female doctors. Incontinence or other urinary tract issues are sometimes easier to discuss with someone of your own gender.

Dr. Christina Pramudii, a urologist in Houston, says of her former workplace, “As soon as the women learned that there was a female urologist, they just flocked.” This is probably what led Pramudii to start a women-only practice based on the need she saw in her previous position. “For women it’s just so nice to have a women-only place,” she says. “I could just see a need for that.”

In the end, the gender of your urologist isn’t what matters so much as their ability to make you comfortable sharing your problems and to provide the best care possible.

Do you find that you are more comfortable with a urologist of the same gender? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, August 26, 2016

New Bones, New Problems

A photo of a newborn baby's clubfoot.
A newborn child with bilateral clubfoot.
Photo credit:
Orthopedic surgery: It’s usually something we think older people go through as the body ages. But there are plenty of children who need this kind of support as well, which is why hospitals like New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) are so important.

Alex Crisses is an HSS Pediatric Council Member, and his own daughter was treated at HSS soon after birth.

Crisses and his wife found out while she was pregnant that their daughter had clubfoot, an inward twisting of the foot. Through their research, they learned that Dr. David Scher, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at HSS, was the best doctor to treat her condition.

“When my daughter was born, the first stop we made was at the Hospital for Special Surgery,” Crisses said.

Dr. Scher carefully explained the process of correcting their daughter’s clubfoot and some of the innovations in orthopedics that would be used during her treatment.

After their experience at HSS, Crisses and his wife decided to become members of the hospital’s Pediatric Council, on which they have served since then.

Innovations in pediatric orthopedic surgery have been helping children across the nation. This subspecialty involves correcting limb and spine deformities such as clubfoot, scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine), and limb length differences, as well as broken bones and bone infections, in from birth through adolescence.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons specialize in working with children and helping them to be relaxed and cooperative during examination and treatment. They have the widest range of treatment options, the most extensive and comprehensive training, and the greatest expertise in working with youth.

They also know about the latest technical developments in the field. 3D modeling, for example, helps surgeons to visualize deformed bone and shape special equipment such as plates and rods prior to surgery.

All the members of the Crisses family, including daughter Blake, are grateful to Dr. Scher and the Hospital for Special Surgery for the great care they received while they were there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Easy Ways to Incorporate Local Foods Into Your Diet

A photo of several different kinds of vegetables sorted into separate buckets. There is a sign that reads, "Fresh, local, produce."
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Over the past few years, people have become more conscious of the fact that it’s better for the earth when consumers eat locally. It saves gas because food isn’t traveling as far. It’s also helps boost the local economy by supporting small farms. As an added bonus, fruits and vegetables that have been picked at the proper time will taste better than their chemically ripened counterparts. 

The one downside is that eating locally is more expensive, right? Wrong. With a little planning and some research, eating locally can be both healthy and affordable.

An easy way to ensure that you are eating local food is to shop at farmers markets. Many people don't realize that farmers market vegetables are sold at a competitive rate to the supermarket. And if you don’t live near a farmers market? Support stores that label the origins of their food. At the very least, commit to buying items that come from your state. And if your supermarket doesn't have any locally grown/raised food? Make sure that you express your desire for these items to store management. Businesses operate on a supply and demand basis, and for that reason, they are always looking to please customers. Don’t have time to make it to a farmers market or read through food labels? That's understandable, simply order a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) plan. Many local farmers put together weekly or monthly boxes of produce that are distributed directly to consumers, supplying you with fresh, local, seasonal produce.

And if you're worried about giving up fruits that aren't in season during the winter, don’t be. There are plenty of ways to preserve fruits and veggies so you don’t have to buy ones that have been shipped from the opposite side of the hemisphere. Berries are super easy to freeze, as are most fruits. Be careful though, because vegetables should be blanched before freezing. Canning and drying are other suitable options as well.

Don’t forget that you always have the option of growing your own plants. Herbs can be grown in windowsills or on balconies. But no matter what you choose, you’ll find that eating fresh, local produce will be a great addition to your diet.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Easy Way to Improve Your Body’s Functions

An infographic of how much water your body needs every day as well as what percentage of various human body parts are made up of water.
Image: Shutterstock

Hydration matters. According to NASA, the human body is about 70% water. In some parts of the world, alcohol or soda are more easily accessible than clean drinking water, but it’s important that every human being is consuming water daily. There is still debate on how much water the average human should be drinking because necessary water intake is dependent on a multitude of different variables including diet, weather, and activity level. The body loses liquid not just through urine, but through perspiration and respiration.

Dehydration starts to have an effect on both the body and the mind once as little as 1% of the body’s water is lost. Losing 2-3% reduces the body’s ability to regulate temperature and reduces energy levels and mood. It will also reduce brain and memory performance. This makes physical activity feel more difficult, and can also affect performance at work or school.

Staying hydrated is beneficial for the organs, too. Dehydration can lead to both constipation and kidney stones. Water ensures that organs are functioning properly and clearing out any unwanted materials and toxins.

Dehydration is also a key component in why most people feel miserable during a hangover. It is the number one contributor to the thirst, fatigue, headache, and dry mouth experienced the morning after intoxication. Alcohol is a diuretic and interrupts communication between the brain and the kidneys. It causes the kidneys to release more water from the body.

Finally, water intake can help regulate food intake. Foods with a higher water content tend to be or look larger. These foods require more chewing and are generally slower to digest. This allows the stomach to feel fuller longer. Drinking a glass of water before meals also helps the stomach feel fuller. This regulates hunger pangs and can help with proper food intake.

In conclusion, whether you are an athlete, watching what you eat, or trying to improve your performance at work, making sure you are hydrated is a quick way to ensure that you are helping your body perform at its best.