August 19, 2008 [Volume 2, Issue 19]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
Mix and Match: The Do's and Don'ts of Pairing Foods
The Skinny on Juice
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream?

Mix and Match: The Do's and Don'ts of Pairing Foods

Certain foods become even healthier when mixed with other certain foods. Conversely, other food pairing may become less healthy and even endanger your health. Follow these simple rules from CNN.com to get the most out of your food choices:

DO mix grilled steak and brussels sprouts: Certain compounds in brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, may help rid the body of carcinogens that can form on meat during high-heat cooking. Nevertheless, charring meat on the barbeque is not the best preparation method. Instead, cook your meat or fish at low temperatures until done.

DO mix avocado and tomato: Tomatoes, which contain the antioxidant lycopene, are a superfood. If you eat some avocado at the same time, you've just made it even more super. The fat in the avocado helps the body absorb seven times more lycopene. Also, add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to your zucchini, spinach and other dark green vegetables to unleash the lutein, an antioxidant that may help protect against age-related macular degeneration.

DO mix spinach and oranges: Although spinach has lots of iron, your body doesn't absorb it well when spinach is eaten alone. Add in some vitamin C and spinach becomes a veggie Popeye would be proud to eat. That's because vitamin C converts the iron in spinach into a form that is more available to the body. This is also true for other foods that are sources of iron, such as broccoli and tofu. It doesn't take a lot of vitamin C – one medium orange will do.

DON'T mix alcohol and energy drinks: Vodka mixed with an energy drink might be popular on the party circuit, but this combo can cause heart palpitations and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it could contribute to a heart attack or a stroke. Overloading the body with stimulants such as caffeine (which is found in many energy drinks) and alcohol, which is a depressant and a diuretic, puts tremendous stress on the central nervous system and heart.

DON'T mix alcohol and diet soda: You might cut calories but you also might get drunk faster. In a recent study, it took just 21 minutes for half a diet cocktail to leave the stomach and reach the small intestine, where most alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, while the same amount of a non-diet cocktail took 36 minutes.

DON'T mix coffee and breakfast cereal: Most cereals sold in U.S. are fortified with iron. The problem is that polyphenols, an antioxidant in coffee, can hamper the body's ability to absorb iron. Black tea and some herbal teas (including peppermint and chamomile), which also contain polyphenols, also may reduce iron absorption – by as much as 94 percent – and hot cocoa cuts it by 71 percent.

The solution is to have your java before or after your cereal. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a cup of coffee consumed one hour before an iron-rich meal didn't affect absorption. If you choose to get your fix after breakfast, wait at least an hour or more.

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The Skinny on Juice

Scan the grocery store shelves and you'll find a variety of juices on display. The old favorites still remain — apple, orange and grape — but you'll also see some new flavors these days, such as blueberry-pomegranate, cranberry-raspberry, guava and even "lychee" (an edible fruit native to the Kwangtung and Fukein provinces of China).

Juice can provide many health benefits, especially for those trying to squeeze in the recommended number of servings. Just 6 ounces or ¾ of a cup of 100-percent fruit juice can equal one serving of a fruit or vegetable. Fruit juices can contain a number of important vitamins and nutrients our bodies need including potassium, antioxidants and vitamins A and C.

It's important to read the labels as you make your juice selection. You want to look for labels that say "100% juice." Only juice with this on the label can truly be considered juice. Anything less than 100-percent juice and the label must clearly be labeled a juice "drink," "beverage," "cocktail," "punch," "blend" or "sparkler." These products might contain as little as 10 percent or as much as 99 percent juice. The rest of the ingredients might include artificial sweeteners, sugar or other artificial ingredients. Review the list of ingredients on the products. Ingredients must be listed in order of volume. The farther down the list of ingredients juice appears, the less there is of it in the drink.

In your grocer's freezer section, you'll find juices from concentrate. These are the same as the original juice, except most of the water has been removed. Once you add the water back in, the juice has the same nutritional profile as it does in its original form. Many people think fresh-squeezed juice offers a nutritional advantage and some experts might agree. However, the important thing is to realize that the goal is to incorporate the right amount of fruits and vegetables into your diet, and when juice is consumed as part of a well-balanced diet, this can be achieved without consuming fresh-squeezed juice all the time.

Some juice is fortified with extra vitamins, minerals, cholesterol-lowering sterols and omega-3 fatty acids - something to consider if you aren't getting enough of any of these nutrients in your normal diet. Recent research indicates certain juices also might help in protecting against certain health conditions and diseases. Pomegranate juice has been shown to lower total cholesterol and reduce systolic blood pressure, while cranberry juice helps women maintain proper urinary tract health.

Check with your doctor to make sure certain juices won't interfere with any prescription medication you're taking. For example, grapefruit contains a natural substance that inhibits the liver's ability to metabolize certain drugs. These restrictions aside, 100-percent juice is a great way to get those recommended daily servings of fruits (and vegetables) into your diet.

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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream?

William Shakespeare isn't the only one to espouse the benefits of adequate sleep. The question remains, however: How much is enough? Certainly, not enough sleep can be detrimental to your health, but can you also suffer health risks from catching too many zzz's?

Daniel Kripke, co-director of research at the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in La Jolla, Calif., compared death rates among more than 1 million American adults who, as part of a study on cancer prevention, reported their average nightly sleep totals. He recently discussed the results of his findings in an interview with Time magazine.

According to Kripke, "Studies show that people who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hours a night, as they report, live the longest. And people who sleep 8 hours or more, or less than 6.5 hours don't live quite as long. There is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short. The big surprise is that long sleep seems to start at 8 hours. Sleeping 8.5 hours might really be a little worse than sleeping 5 hours."

He added that risks for various illnesses, such as depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes increase both with not enough and too much sleep. 'Morbidity [or sickness] is also ëu-shaped,' in the sense that both very short sleep and very long sleep are associated with many illnesses."

Finally, getting out of bed when you're not sleepy and restricting your time in bed actually helps you to sleep more. Kripke noted this helps people get over their fear of the bed. "Spending less time in bed actually makes you sleep better. It is, in fact, a more powerful and effective long-term treatment for insomnia than sleeping pills."

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