Fruits and veggies are great ways to get important nutrients, try new tastes, and add low-calorie sides to your meals. When fresh isn’t available or affordable, frozen is a healthy option. Look for fresh-frozen fruits and vegetables that have been properly stored, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends. Packages should feel firm. They shouldn’t be limp, wet or sweating, which are signs of thawing. However, when choosing vegetables and fruits sold in bags, you should be able to feel individual pieces, not large solid blocks of food, which could signal that the contents thawed and re-froze. Avoid stained packages or any with visible ice crystals, other signs of defrosting and re-freezing. Choose plain frozen vegetables without any butter, sauce or added salt. Choose plain frozen fruit without any added sugar. These are also the best options when adding the food to a recipe. Look for U.S. grade standards that measure quality. These are optional, so they’re not always printed on the package. But when they are, Grade A fancy vegetables have the most color and tenderness. Grade B aren’t quite as perfect and have a more mature, slightly different taste. Grade C are less uniform in color and flavor but are fine for soups and stews. Grade A fruits are near picture-perfect. Grade B, the most common fruit grade, signals very good quality. Grade C…  read on >

If you think your battle against obesity ends on the operating table, you’re mistaken. “Exercise and eating smaller portions have to be part of your lifestyle change in order to be successful” after weight-loss surgery, said Dr. Ann Rogers, director of Surgical Weight Loss at Penn State Medical Center, in Hershey, Pa. It’s also important to keep a detailed food journal, she added. “It’s unbelievably helpful at getting people back on track because it forces them to be accountable,” Rogers said in a Penn State news release. Patients must also keep all follow-up appointments with their doctor. “There’s a lot of evidence that people who see their doctor regularly after surgery do better,” Rogers said. Some people are afraid of potential complications from weight-loss surgery, but for most, Rogers said, “it’s safer than choosing to live their lives as obese.” Doctors usually recommend patients try different types of diet and exercise for at least five years before considering weight-loss surgery. They should also have at least one serious weight-related health problem, such as diabetes, or a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or greater. BMI is a rough estimate of a person’s body fat based on height and weight. “Most of our patients have tried diet and exercise for their whole lives,” Rogers said. “Yet a lot of them have still been overweight or obese…  read on >

It seems like “gluten-free” labels are popping up everywhere, including on foods that never had any gluten to begin with. Is this a health bandwagon you should jump on … or shy away from? Gluten is a protein found mostly in wheat, barley and rye. A gluten-free diet is a must for the 2 percent of the population diagnosed with celiac disease, to avoid serious intestinal inflammation. Some people have a lesser condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity and may feel better on a gluten-free diet. What to avoid when you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity: Wheat in all forms including durum flour, farina, graham flour, semolina and spelt. Barley and products with malt. Rye. Triticale. But for everyone else, gluten-free may just be more costly and could negatively affect digestive health because you’re missing out on fiber. Consumer Reports also found that some gluten-free foods have more fat, sugar and/or salt than their regular counterparts, and are short on nutrients like iron and folic acid — found in foods with enriched-wheat flour. Many products also replace wheat with rice. This is a concern because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring rice and rice products for the presence of small amounts of arsenic, which finds its way into rice from both natural and human sources. So, it’s important not to overload on…  read on >

Many of us make choices about whether to eat healthy or not-so-healthy foods based on whether we’re in a good or not-so-good mood. When a bad mood strikes, we often tend to reach for junk food. And that can be a recipe for disaster when you’re trying to lose weight. Here’s how to keep your emotions from ruining your diet resolve. First, it helps to think about the future rather than just that moment. Refocus on the long-term health benefits of good nutrition, and remind yourself how much more important they are than any short-lived comfort from food. Next, look for ways to brighten your mood that don’t involve eating at all. If you’re blue, call a diet buddy who knows how to motivate you. Or turn on a favorite movie. If you’re nervous or angry, release your emotions by working out to your favorite music mix or taking a short run. Healthy lifestyle habits help insulate you from bad moods and the emotional eating that often follows. Boost your mood on a daily basis with regular exercise and with a few minutes of relaxation, like taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading a book. Using a food journal can help you look for causes of a bad mood, like stress, and show patterns you can then take steps to change. For example, if giving…  read on >

Relaxing in a hot sauna may not only feel good — it might affect your heart and blood vessels in ways that are similar to moderate exercise. That’s the finding of a new study that tested the effects of a 30-minute sauna session. The researchers say their results may help explain why people who regularly use saunas tend to have a decreased risk for heart disease and even dementia. On average, the study found, sauna users saw a drop in blood pressure and artery “stiffness” immediately after their heat bath. They also showed an increase in heart rate that was similar to the effect from moderate exercise. It’s not fully clear why, but the sauna heat is “one major factor,” said researcher Tanjaniina Laukkanen, of the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio. For one, heat generates sweating: “That’s like a natural diuretic effect — lowering blood pressure and decreasing the work load of the heart,” Laukkanen explained. On top of that, the researcher added, saunas simply help people relax. The study, which involved 102 middle-aged adults, was conducted in Finland — where “sauna bathing” originated and remains ubiquitous. In a study last year, Laukkanen’s team found that men who often used saunas had lower rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease than did those who used saunas less often. But that did not prove the…  read on >

Though healthy eating is good for everyone, those who have genes that put them at high risk for obesity might benefit the most. A new study suggests that even those who carry an inherited predisposition to pack on excess pounds are not destined to become obese. In fact, researchers say it can be avoided over time by adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and unencumbered by salt, sugar, alcohol and red meat. The finding stems from a new analysis of diet, lifestyle and medical data on about 14,000 men and women that had been collected for two earlier studies. “We found that eating healthy foods — high intake of vegetable, fruits, whole grain, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and low intakes of trans fat, fried foods and sugary drinks — lowers the risk of obesity and promotes weight loss for all populations,” said study author Dr. Lu Qi. “Interestingly, the protective effects appear to be more evident among those at higher genetic risk,” he said. Qi serves as director of the Obesity Research Center at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in New Orleans. The study was published Jan. 10 in The BMJ. Qi and his colleagues stressed that obesity risk is driven by a complex brew of genetic and environmental factors. Also, although DNA analyses can easily spot…  read on >

Wine and spirits are tallied in the “empty calories” column because they lack any nutritional benefits. Add cream or soda to make a mixed drink and you can more than double the caloric damage. So how can you enjoy a cocktail without wrecking your diet? Here are some options. Choose your alcoholic drinks wisely. A light beer has about a third less calories than regular beer. A shot of vodka, whiskey or gin — that’s 1.5 fluid ounces — has about 100 calories or less; so does a 4-ounce glass of wine or champagne. When you want a mixed drink, make your own lighter version of classics by limiting the amount of alcohol you put in. For instance, for a Bloody Mary, mix half the amount of vodka with extra tomato juice and spices. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to skip some drinks, especially those made with cream liqueurs, like those flavored with chocolate and coconut, as well as drinks with cream or creamy ingredients like Egg Nog, Pina Coladas and White Russians. Some of these indulgences have more than 400 calories — the amount in an entire meal of wholesome ingredients. Prepackaged drink mixers might be convenient, but they’re also very high in sugar. Make your own flavored frozen daiquiris and margaritas by blending a shot of liquor with unsweetened frozen…  read on >

Cutting down on fat is a big part of any weight-loss diet. Fat has twice the calories of protein and carbs — so ounce for ounce, you can replace fat with twice the amount of those foods for the same calories. You do need some fat in your diet, but you want to lower the amount of saturated fat you eat. These are the fats in meat and dairy, and they contribute to high cholesterol. Cutting out saturated fat when you want to lose weight helps rein in calories, too. Use milk or yogurt rather than cream in recipes. Select low- or non-fat varieties when buying these dairy products. To adopt this healthy habit, reset your taste buds gradually. For instance, go from whole milk to 2 percent to 1 percent to fat-free in stages. Choose lean cuts of meat. If you can see any solid white fat, trim it off before cooking. You can cook poultry with the skin on to keep it moist — just remove and discard it before eating. Replace butter, lard and shortening with healthier plant-based oils, like olive, canola and nut-based oils. Limit calories by using just small amounts for flavor. Be careful with coconut and palm oils, which are higher in saturated fat than other plant oils. Although the cholesterol in eggs isn’t as dangerous as once thought,…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — If you’ve got celiac disease or have another reason to go gluten-free, there are lots of ways to avoid dietary wheat, rye and barley. The American Diabetes Association says healthier gluten-free options include: Amaranth. Arrowroot. Beans (kidney, black, soy, navy, pinto). Buckwheat. Corn. Flax. Gluten-free baked products (made from corn, rice, soy, nut, teff or potato flour). Kasha. Millet. Polenta. Potatoes. Quinoa. Rice. Sorghum. Soy. Tapioca.

(HealthDay News) — Fido can become quite sick from unsafe treats, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns. Your dog may have a bone to pick with you if a bad treat leads to stomach or bowel obstruction, choking, mouth wounds, vomiting, diarrhea or internal bleeding, the FDA says. In some cases, a bad treat can lead to death. The FDA suggests how to keep your dog safe: Some bones from the kitchen table, chicken bones in particular, are relatively soft and can break with sharp edges. So keep platters out of your pet’s reach when you’re cooking or the family is eating. Be careful about what you throw away. Dogs are notorious for digging into trash. Ask your veterinarian about treats that are safe and appropriate for your dog.