Healthy Living

What's new in health, diet and nutrition.



QUESTION OF THE MONTH:

Q. I heard about a new natural sweetener called agave. Is it a healthier alternative to regular white sugar?

A. Agave (uh-GAH-vee) is called a natural sweetener because it is derived from the leaves of a cactus-like desert plant. Often sold as agave nectar or syrup, it’s a sweetener that can be used both in warm and cold beverages, as well as in baking.

Agave actually has more calories per teaspoon when compared with white sugar: 20 calories for agave versus 15 for sugar. There are no special health benefits associated with agave consumption, so don’t be fooled by the “natural” claim.

In contrast to some recent claims, agave is not a preferred sweetener for diabetics. If you like the unique taste of agave, use it sparingly. It’s best to keep your intake of all sugars low for optimal health benefits.


Soda Tax: Better Health for Pittsburghers?
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s proposed tax of 2 cents per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages will raise an estimated revenue of about $25 million per year for the city of Pittsburgh. But does that actually translate into better health for our community?

Excess sugar intake—soft drinks account for 7 percent of our total daily calories—is linked to obesity (a direct pipeline to diabetes), poor diet (guzzling all those drinks crowds out healthy foods), cavities and heart disease. It’s not proven that a higher price will cut consumption, but it is an important public-health strategy to make consumers more aware of their beverage choices. Although officials are still debating the details of the plan, a tax on sugary drinks sounds like a win-win for good health. Certain drinks would not be taxed, including diet sodas and low-calorie sports drinks. Looking for a free option for summer hydration? Reach for water—filtered or unfiltered—right from the tap.


Mammograms Are Not the Only Prevention
While the debate rages on about how often women need mammograms to support good health, there is one area where all experts agree: There are healthy lifestyle steps that can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.

The consensus from an international panel of scientists that reviewed more than 900 studies on the connection between lifestyle habits (including weight, breast feeding, alcohol consumption and exercise) and breast cancer occurrence was very clear. Women can cut their risk of breast cancer nearly in half by adopting the following four healthy lifestyle habits: achieve and maintain a healthy weight; get daily physical activity; limit alcoholic beverages (one serving per day at most); and practice breast-feeding.

Men can get breast cancer, too, and although the death rate is higher, the incidence of breast cancer in men is approximately 100 times lower than in women. While the causes of breast cancers in men remain unknown, similar healthy lifestyle steps apply.


in the news

Best Diet for Your DNA
Both behavior (environment) and biology (DNA/genetics) contribute to the obesity epidemic. Factors such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise and high stress contribute from lifestyle factors, but how much influence do genetic factors have on our ability to lose weight?

A new study from Stanford University compared weight loss in people who had been randomly assigned to one of four diet groups (ranging from low-fat, low-carb and two mixed plans) to assess weight loss. The calories for all four diet groups were reduced, and all participants lost weight. The researchers went back to the same study participants and obtained a DNA sample with a cheek-swab test to measure genetic factors related to how fast or slowly carbohydrates, fats and proteins were digested and stored in the body. For the second study, the participants were re-assigned to their “best” diet group matched to their DNA factors, which would be expected to optimize their rate of weight loss, based on genetic factors. When the “best DNA match” diet plan was used, study participants lost twice as much weight after a year, compared with the group just randomly assigned to a certain diet.

While calories-in and calories-out always determine weight loss, if you’re struggling to lose weight, it might be a good idea to take a closer look at your “diet predisposition” to see if you might boost your rate of weight loss—with your same effort level—by learning more about your genetic factors linked to weight loss mechanisms. For more information, visit inherenthealth.com.

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC's Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is the author of The Runner's Diet. Also, visit "Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom," a health and wellness blog at iVillage.com.


Top Docs Q+A

This month, we asked Dr. Douglas Kress, M.D., Dermatology, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC:

Q. What should I do to keep my skin healthy during the summer months?

A. While the sunny summer months certainly mean more time spent outdoors, skin irritations such as sunburn, insect bites and poison ivy can damper even the best summer plans. Avoid summer skin-care troubles by following these preventative skin-care recommendations.

Of course, summer skin care starts with—you guessed it—sunscreen. Using sunscreen appropriately involves not only picking the right SPF but also making sure that you correctly apply it.

For most people in Pittsburgh, an SPF of 30 is sufficient.

Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before you first go out into the sun and then reapplied either several hours later or each time you come out of the pool for more than a few minutes. Use sunscreen daily from at least Memorial Day to Labor Day in the Pittsburgh region .

In addition to sun protection, there are at least two other seasonal risks to watch out for this summer: poison ivy and insect bites.

You can avoid poison ivy by looking out for plants that have clusters of three green leaves that can have tinges of red. For those who know they are very allergic to poison ivy and know they are going into areas where they might come in contact with poison-ivy plants, Ivy Block, an over-the-counter cream, can help keep skin from being exposed to the poison-ivy plant resin that causes the reaction.

To avoid insect bites, use a DEET-based insect repellent, which is the best type of insect repellant available. DEET concentrations below 10 percent are recommended for children.

Although there are products that contain both sunscreen and insect repellant, dermatologists don’t usually recommend them because sunscreen needs to be applied much more frequently than insect repellant should be applied.

If you have a health question for one of our Top Doctors, e-mail kjohnston@pittsburghmagazine.com.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

2016 Homes of the Year

2016 Homes of the Year

Our independent panel of judges recognizes three local, unique residences as our Homes of the Year in the categories of New Build, Renovation and Green.
Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Back From the Dead? Parkway Center Focus of New Development Talk

Back From the Dead? Parkway Center Focus of New Development Talk

Aside from a Giant Eagle, the mall has been empty for the past three years.
Great Catch: Easiest Way to Tasty Lenten Fish Frys

Great Catch: Easiest Way to Tasty Lenten Fish Frys

Looking for a delicious battered fish sandwich or golden-brown pierogies on Friday? Here’s a handy guide plus a few fun facts about our fascination with fish.
Sweetheart Ideas: How to Make the Most out of Valentine's Day

Sweetheart Ideas: How to Make the Most out of Valentine's Day

From a hotel “Love Lockdown,” to a museum breakfast in bed, to a rooftop singles event - there's plenty to eat, drink at do in Pittsburgh on this weekend for love.
Beer News: East End Brewing Moving to Bigger Space in Strip District

Beer News: East End Brewing Moving to Bigger Space in Strip District

The new space, called the East End Brewery Taproom, will offer lunch and dinner service, expanded hours and a place for customers to sit and enjoy a pint of beer from one of the brewery’s 12 taps.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

2016 Homes of the Year

2016 Homes of the Year

Our independent panel of judges recognizes three local, unique residences as our Homes of the Year in the categories of New Build, Renovation and Green.
Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

In Lawrenceville, a love for letterpress leads to a business whose greeting cards reach audiences across the country.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Back From the Dead? Parkway Center Focus of New Development Talk

Back From the Dead? Parkway Center Focus of New Development Talk

Aside from a Giant Eagle, the mall has been empty for the past three years.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

City leaders considered many options for Pittsburgh's confluence including something that looked like it was designed by the Jetsons, or an absolutely bonkers, batpoop insane idea by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pittsburgh Chef Move: Lily Tran New Executive Chef of Soba

Pittsburgh Chef Move: Lily Tran New Executive Chef of Soba

Tran takes over big Burrito's Ellsworth Ave. restaurant from Dustin Gardner, who moves back to Casbah on Highland Ave.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


End Your Work Day at Muddy Waters' Oyster Happy Hour

End Your Work Day at Muddy Waters' Oyster Happy Hour

Some of the best oysters available in Pittsburgh can be yours for a steal at the new East Liberty spot.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Super Bowl Predictions: Can I Have That One Back?

Super Bowl Predictions: Can I Have That One Back?

Denver's upset win over Carolina -- predicted by hardly anyone (including yours truly) -- should be interpreted as good news for Steelers' fans.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Shirts We Love For Valentine’s Day

Shirts We Love For Valentine’s Day

Let your heart do the talking with these fun sweaters from Rosewood Boutique.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

Our reviews of "Hail, Caesar!," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "The Choice."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
This is How You Pop the Question: Four Fabulous Proposals

This is How You Pop the Question: Four Fabulous Proposals

On Day Four of our Week of Wedded Bliss, we said “yes!” to these four beautiful proposals from our Real Pittsburgh Weddings couples.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Say Hello (and Goodbye) to These Home & Lifestyle Shops

Say Hello (and Goodbye) to These Home & Lifestyle Shops

Divertido and Jack + Jules close in Lawrenceville, while the neighborhood welcomes Brambler Boutique. Plus, Splurge expands to a new location in Fox Chapel.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

The event is for high school students who are interested in criminal justice, law enforcement and forensic science.

Comments