Question of the Month
Q. How can I cut down on my salt intake?
A. New guidelines for salt (sodium) intake recommend less than 2,400 mg daily - about a teaspoonful. Is that a lot? Not really. Most of us easily consume three to four times that amount. And low salt doesn't mean low flavor. Lose the salt shaker and season food with fresh or dried herbs or with salt-free seasoning mixes. Limit your intake of processed foods in cans or boxes; a single serving of canned soup can contain up to half your sodium need for an entire day. Limit your use of condiments, and look for low- and reduced-sodium products. Monitoring your salt intake is a definite health plus.
The Pros of Probiotics
Our digestive tracts normally contain trillions of healthy bacteria contributing to digestive health. The term probiotics refers to foods and supplements containing "good" bacteria, which support healthy digestion. Claims abound about their positive health effects, but the most well-studied claim is their use to help treat diarrhea during treatment with some antibiotics, which kill off both good and bad bacteria. Adding probiotics during antibiotic treatment contributes a steady source of healthy bacteria to improve digestive health.
Probiotics also have been shown to help people with constipation, irritable bowel and other causes of diarrhea. You'll find them naturally in yogurt and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and miso. In addition, probiotics are sometimes added to yogurt and cereals, and are found in bars like Attune or in supplement form - all available at area supermarkets. While not a must-have, probiotics can often help support digestive health. Check with your doctor before boosting your intake with sources other than foods.
Fitness Plan for Your Brain
Even your brain needs a workout to stay healthy, and here are four easy steps to follow.
* Be physically active. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and body, and appears to support brain health just as it does for our hearts - by improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure and controlling weight.
* Eat a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, omega-3-fats and whole grains. This combo is a brain-health plus.
* Keep up novel mental activities and new learning. It's really a "use it or lose it" mentality. Try a crossword or Sudoku puzzle or a computer game, or shop without a list; the important concept is "new."
* Manage your stress. Moderating your response to stress helps by reducing the level of circulating stress hormones, which can negatively affect the brain, including your memory. Take a 30-minute "personal time" break, and make time for daily exercise. These provide a double-duty brain boost - to relieve stress and to increase circulation.
In the News: Marriage, Divorce and Your Health
Many studies show that married people tend to be healthier than single people for reasons ranging from emotional support to greater financial resources and better health care.
A recent study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior took a look at personal health when a marriage ends. Men and women now single (either from divorce or from the death of a spouse) were 20 percent more likely to report chronic health problems including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. While this study does not prove that marriage loss causes health problems, it shows a strong and lasting association. Even for those who remarried, health problems were still greater when compared with those who were married to their first spouse.
The mechanism(s) for this are still under study, but a likely theory is related to the effects of long-term stress on both the body and mind. If you're a singleton, make your physical health a priority.
If you have a health question for Dr. Fernstrom, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.