Healthy Living

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Q. I love oysters but wonder if they’re safe to eat in a month without an “r.” Is that an old wives’ tale?
A. The “safe” months to consume raw oysters—September to April (months with an “r”) is an old wives’ tale and relates to the higher presence of bacteria (Vibrio vulnificus) in warmer sea waters from May through August. But sea bacteria are present all year round. There’s a lot more to the raw-oyster story that you need to know.

If you have a compromised immune system related to illness or to medications, steer clear of raw shellfish. At any time of year, make sure you ask at your local oyster bar or supermarket for the source of raw oysters on the half shell and how they were stored. Shucked oysters (out of the shell) should never be eaten raw as bacterial contamination related to freshness can be a problem. These rules apply all year round. Cooking, steaming or baking kills the bacteria, so that’s a positive food-safety option that can work for you year-round.

A Healthy Heart
While there are risk factors you can’t control when it comes to heart-attack risk, such as age and family history, there are some medically documented lifestyle factors you can modify. Take charge of your heart health by managing these six factors:

Maintain a stable weight. Excess weight makes your heart work harder.

Stop smoking. Your risk is four times higher as a smoker.

Monitor your blood sugar. Untreated and poorly controlled diabetes often leads to heart disease.

Know your blood cholesterol numbers. HDL (“healthy”) should be above 60 and LDL (“lousy”) should be below 130—or below 100 if you have heart disease. Triglycerides should be under 150.

Measure your blood pressure regularly with a home monitor. Don’t wait for your yearly physical—high blood pressure is a silent and often deadly disease.

Be active. A daily 30-minute walk is a mental and physical boost. Talk to your doctor for the best combination of medical and lifestyle heart-disease management.

Best Muffin Choice
Oversize muffins loaded with sugar, fat and calories are easy to find in Pittsburgh, but they aren’t part of a healthy eating plan. Many muffins weigh in at nearly 500 calories.

So what should you do when the urge to eat a tasty muffin hits? Turn to the freezer compartment in the supermarket. Look for Vitalicious products—makers of the delicious VitaMuffins and VitaTops, which are muffin tops. These 100-calorie tasty muffin tops contain 6 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per top. They’re available in nearly a dozen varieties, including corn, banana nut, cran-bran and deep chocolate.

From freezer to toaster and ready in just a minute or two, they are a healthy, satisfying indulgence.

in the news
May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. When it comes to healthy bones, prevention is key. Both you and your family need a lifelong combination of low-fat dairy products, sunshine (for vitamin D) and physical activity. Lack of vitamin D can be a real problem in Pittsburgh due to our northern location and amount of daily sunlight; oftentimes, a supplement is necessary to meet daily requirements. While dark-green vegetables are calcium-rich, it takes nearly three cups of broccoli to equal the calcium in a glass of milk. Women are at greater risk for thinning bones at mid-life. A follow-up with your doctor is key to preventing bone loss, which increases your risk of hip or other bone fractures. Ask your doctor for a bone-density evaluation to determine if you’re a good candidate for this test. And take a look at your family tree: If you have close family members who are stooped over with osteoporosis, you’re also likely at greater risk. For more information, check out

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


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