Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Omega 3 Buyer Beware - Don’t be fooled by processed omega 3 products

For the past couple of years, many processed foods have been boasting the label *trans fat free*, as consumers became more aware of the health concerns of ingesting trans fats. The interesting thing is that almost all of these products still contain trans fats, although it must be less than .2 grams per serving to be labeled as trans fat free. (still not good enough, in my books)

In recent months, however, labeling is changing from *trans fat free* to *with omega 3*. This change is in response to media reports on the health benefits of omega 3 fats (which are true).

Sounds like processed food manufacturers are finally taking health to heart, right?

WRONG

Never, ever believe labeling on the front of a package – If a manufacturer can get you to buy something with omega 3, they no longer need to try to persuade you with a trans fat free statement, and therefore many don’t worry about making it trans fat free!

So you purchase some cookies which are enriched with omega 3’s, thinking you are eating healthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I checked a package of omega 3 enriched cookies the other day, and the third ingredient was modified palm oil (yup, trans fats). Whole flax seed, and flax seed oil were the ninth and tenth ingredients – almost last!

There are three major problems with this:
1. There are more trans fats then omega 3’s, so it kind of defeats the purpose (ingredients are always listed in order of amount included – the more of an ingredient in something, the sooner it is listed.

2. Flax seeds really need to be ground for us to digest, otherwise they just go right through us, so there is no point spending the extra buck for the fancy omega 3 products if they contain whole flax seeds.

3. Ground flax seeds and flax oil go rancid quickly, and spoil if heated at high heat. If you bake it into something, you could create free radicals, which are very harmful to your health. Now your healthy food isn’t so healthy after all.

We are blessed to have nutrition labels on our food in Canada, and we need to read them. I am not saying that all food labeled with omega 3’s are bad, but many are, and you need to be a savvy shopper! The bottom line is you should question anything that is processed, regardless of the whole grain, fat free healthy label you see on the packaging.

Here are a few tips for healthy shopping:

* Anything with trans fats in it should be considered junk food and off limits, even if it appears to be healthy, or is boasting to be filled with omega 3’s. Trans fats go by the terms modified, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or vegetable shortening.

* Keep your purchases of processed foods to a minimum (this means anything in a box or package). Make your own cookies, granola bars and muffins, so that you know what is going into them.

* If you do buy pre-made, processed food, please read labels and check for sugar, salt, fillers, MSG, hydrogenated fats, and preservatives. The more you realize how much junk is in your food, the more you will begin to appreciate a good old apple!

* Remember that nothing beats whole foods. If you are looking to up your omega 3 intake, eat some fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or anchovies. Grind up some fresh flax seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle them on your salad, cereal or yogurt. Always try to eat the food itself containing the nutrient you are looking for, rather than a supplement or expensive product that has it listed in the last three ingredients.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Balancing Body, Mind and Spirit

There is always a lot of talk in the media about balancing body, mind and spirit for optimal health, yet it is still a very confusing and misunderstood field.

Many of us just ignore the “mind, spirit” components,dismissing them as too *granola* and too weird. Although only focusing on diet and exercise might make you look healthy from the outside, for some people it just provides a beautiful shell, holding inside it nothing but an emotional wreck. On the flip side, there are people who have very balanced spiritual lives, but
do not take care of their physical bodies, which, in my opinion, is just as bad.

Human beings are made up of an amazing mind, capable of doing very complex things; an intricate body, filled with organs, muscles, ligaments, nerves, etc; and energy, spirit, life force,
call it what you will. Without any one of these things we cannot exist. In order to live to our
full potential, then, we must support and nurture each one of these parts equally.

Why bother, you may ask? Lets look at an example – a flower. It is made up of roots, leaves, stem and flower. You might think if you just give it some soil, water and sun it will be fine. In fact, however, there needs to be a correct balance of these things for the flower to flourish. If the plant gets too much water the roots might rot. If it gets too much sun it may wilt and die, and if it is planted in the wrong type of soil, with insufficient nutrients, it may not flower. It is only when all these elements are in balance that the flower can bloom to its full potential. Often times if you move a plant you will “stress it out”, and it may not flower for years after, even with water and nutrients.

Humans are just like flowers (our needs are just a little bit different). We can survive for many years with insufficient exercise, nutrition, mental stimulation and little or no spiritual or emotional support, but we live like a dandelion that seeded itself in a crack in concrete: small, weak and pale. Pardon me for a minute while I get up on my soapbox, and tell you that you need to take care of yourselves – your entire selves. Stop hiding your emotional issues behind your marathon running (I could write an entire report on this one!), stop blaming your lack of exercise on your busy job, stop pretending your over eating is because of your genes. Take responsibility for your body, your mental health, and your spirit.

In our society we seem to view people as weak and crazy if we hear that they are seeing a councilor, or taking a meditation class. If we see someone eat salads for lunch everyday and order dressing on the sides, we look at them and think, “who do they think the are?” Well, these are people who are taking their health into their own hands, and maybe, just maybe, understand the power of prevention – a concept not well known in Western Civilization.

Wow, are you still with me? I hope so – I don’t mean to rant, but we have been handed so much in this part of the world that I think many of us have forgotten that not everything is free or easy, and we just can’t take our health for granted anymore.

So turn off the computer, go for a walk to a beautiful spot, sit down and take 5 minutes to soak it all in. Let your mind wander as your body relaxes, and just “be” in this miracle of life! This is an example of the perfect balance!
See how easy it is!

If you just can't slow down, and need some great music to help you calm down and relax, check out Mark Romero's site at http://tinyurl.com/29nopj

Monday, October 1, 2007

Trigger Point Talk - An Introduction to Myofascial Pain Syndrome

I am sure that many of you have heard of (and experienced)
myofascial trigger points. They are those nasty little
painful spots in muscles that refer pain into other areas,
cause your muscles to feel weak and tired, and generally
make you want to cry!

As a massage therapist, I loooove trigger points, because
they are fun to locate and release. It is so satisfying to
find one hiding within a taut muscle. You can often tell
they are there, because the tissue will give a little jump
when you land right on the trigger point. The skin around
a trigger point can also break out in goosebumps or sweat,
and if you palpate one bang on, the referred pain pattern can
flare up too, like a beacon saying "here I am - come and
get me!" But I am certain that most of you do not share my
sentiment!

Myofascial trigger points are extremely common. One
research article (Drugs. 2004) states that an estimated 44
million Americans suffer from myofascial pain. Pain of
musculoskeletal origin, (which includes trigger point pain)
is reportedly the main cause of disability in the
working-age population, and one of the leading causes of
disability in other age groups as well. (Am Fam Physician.
2003 Jan 1)

Muscle stress due to acute strain, repetitive overuse,
direct chilling and direct trauma seem to be major factors
in development of active trigger points. (South Med J.
1984)

You can probably have a trigger point in any muscle (or
tendon, ligament, scar tissue) in the
body, but they do occur more commonly in the muscles of the
neck, shoulder, and pelvic girdle.

Trigger point pain is often misdiagnosed as joint or nerve
pain (South Med J. 1984), due to its referring nature, and
the fact that it is not at the forefront of a physicians
mind when making a quick diagnosis!

Trigger points can cause tension headaches, tinnitus
(ringing in the ears), jaw pain, low back pain, and
torticollis (Am Fam Physician. 2003
Jan 1). They can mimic the pain and symptoms of sciatica,
tennis elbow, arthritis, and even angina. (These are just
a few examples, not a complete list)

Trigger points can be effectively treated my massage
therapy, and you can even treat them yourself by applying
gentle pressure to the trigger point, and then stretching
and/or mobilizing the muscle(s) out after. (You can search
for a trigger point by palpating around the tender area
until you feel a spot that increases your pain. Then back
off your pressure a little and hold until the pain
disappears)

Home care is important to prevent reoccurrence. Applying
heat to the area following treatment is important. A hot
bath is great!
Simple stretch, range of motion and strengthening exercises for
involved muscles helps to keep them healthy and avoid
reactivation of trigger points. It is also important to
avoid chilling the area following treatment, as cold can
flare them up again!