Myth-Busters: Common Misconceptions About Food Labels

Jamie Moore is the Director of Sourcing and Sustainability at Parkhurst Dining. Moore is passionate about teaching people about common misconceptions about the labels we find on our food. He shares his guidance and tips on what to know about food labels.

Fact vs. Fiction

Food labels are designed to help us better understand our food purchases. However, according to Moore, a government agency does not regulate all of the claims on a food label. Without regulation or strict standards, some of these labels can, therefore, be misleading, he said. Most consumers don’t know the true meaning behind many of these labels and may purchase food thinking that the label means more than it does. Here are five common food labels that may be misleading you.

1. Cage-Free

It is generally thought that “cage-free” eggs come from a hen who lived outside of a cage.  However, according to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, seeing a “cage-free” label on eggs does not guarantee that hens were raised outdoors or even in large open spaces. In reality, most “cage-free” egg-laying hens were raised in hen houses where each hen has a space of about 8 inches by 8 inches.

Similarly, when “cage-free” is on a meat label, it may be thought that these animals are not raised in cages, but that doesn’t mean the animals don’t live in close quarters. For example, many “cage-free” chickens are raised in large, open structures called “grow-out houses”. These houses typically hold tens of thousands of chickens, and each chicken is given less than a square foot of space (about 10.5 inches by 11 inches per chicken).

Variation exists in what “cage-free” means because the “cage-free” claim is only verified sometimes. For example, while this label on eggs is supposed to be regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  the farms are not always inspected to verify the type of “cage-free” environment that the hens have access to.

2. Pasture-raised

When you see the label “pasture-raised,” you may picture animals who spend all day living in an open field, grazing on grass. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, however, a “pasture-raised” label on meat, poultry, dairy or egg products only means that the animals were raised for at least some portion of their lives on a pasture or with some access to a pasture. For example, “pasture-raised” dairy cows are given some access to a pasture, but primarily housed indoors and raised on a diet of hay, corn, and soy, not grass.

When it comes to dairy and eggs, there is no common standard for what “pasture-raised” means. This means that producers can decide the size, quality and access standards to the pasture. When it comes to meat and poultry, producers are required to explain what “pasture-raised’ means for their products. However, the USDA allows the producers to make their own definition of what it means. Producers do not necessarily have to stick to the same standard.

3. Free-Range

Much like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” hens and chickens are generally thought to have free access to the outdoors. However,  Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices explains that there are no standard requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor area that these animals have “free-range” in. Therefore, products can be labeled “free-range” as long as birds are given some kind of access to the outdoor area. Producers don’t have to report how accessible the area is to the birds or how often they are given access.

On beef products, the “free-range” label means that the animals were given free access to the outdoors for at least 120 days each year.  Again, there are no requirements for the size of the outdoor space or the quality of its condition. Like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” also doesn’t mean that the animals only at the grass on a range.

These products are only verified sometimes by the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

4. Locally-Grown

“Locally-grown” is a label that is not legally regulated. That means there is not a standard definition for what “locally-grown” means.

For example, when you hear about “locally-grown” produce, you may think the produce is grown right down the road. In reality, the produce could be grown 40, 60, or even 100 miles away. Producers can define what is “locally-grown” based on their own mission and circumstances. When you see that something is “locally-grown”, ask about what is “local” to that producer or grocer to learn more about where it came from.

5. Natural

The USDA defines this label as a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, this label is not verified. This means that there are no consistent standards to ensure that the label means what it implies to consumers. “Natural” is a label that companies can define for themselves and the definitions vary. Government agencies do not regulate the use of the “natural” food label, they can only provide guidance.

Organic food, on the other hand, is held to very rigorous standards. To learn more about the difference between “organic” and “natural” food labels, check out our article, What’s the Difference Between “Organic” and “Natural”?

Learn Before You Trust the Label

Moore emphasizes that many food labels can be confusing when there is a lack of regulation or standards for what a label means. That’s why it is important to learn more about the meaning behind a food label. By doing a little research or talking to experts like Moore, you too can be a more informed consumer at the grocery store.

If you’re interested in buying a product that truly has verified claims for things like having access to a pasture or being grass-fed,  Consumer Reports suggests looking for additional labels on the product. Some food labels are strictly regulated and provide meaningful standards for things like free access to the outdoors. These labels include:

 

What You Need to Know About Appendicitis

Do you know what it feels like to have appendicitis? I didn’t either.

I was attending my first year of college, living alone in a studio apartment in the big city and taking a full load of classes while working two part-time jobs to pay rent and support my cat. While I was lying on the couch watching Netflix one night, a dull pain started in my stomach. I figured it was just stress or maybe menstrual cramps. As a woman, I’m used to stomach pains because they hit me every month for at least three days. A little stomach pain is nothing.

But the pain gradually got worse, which was a little different than the norm. It made it painful to move or breathe. I grimaced as the pain escalated. I thought about going to the emergency department, but I instantly doubted myself.

What if I get there and find out that it’s just gas? That would be so embarrassing, was just one of the many doubts going through my mind.

I was a nineteen-year-old who had grown up in a no-nonsense family that believed if you’re not dying then you’re probably fine. I had never been to the emergency department and I didn’t think I was qualified to make this decision. So I spoke to three different mothers (mine, my grandma, and my best friend’s) and finally decided to go.

Once I arrived, I went through four hours of waiting in the emergency department, four different tests and a lot of medications before they diagnosed me with appendicitis.

I almost didn’t go to the Emergency Department

As a female who gets menstrual cramps once a month and has had stomach aches pretty regularly my whole life, I just assumed it was normal stomach pain that would go away. I was used to stomach pain and doubted that it could actually be something like appendicitis.

That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between everyday stomach pains that don’t require a hospital visit and something like appendicitis, which can be very dangerous.

What even is appendicitis?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix. Untreated appendicitis can rupture, which can cause you to become very ill with a fever, nausea, severe tenderness in your abdomen, and vomiting.

Appendicitis can have more than one cause, and in many cases, the cause is not clear. Some possible causes are:

  • Blockage of the opening inside the appendix
  • Enlarged tissue in the wall of your appendix caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in your body
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, stool, parasites, or growths that can clog your appendiceal lumen
  • Trauma to your abdomen

So, how do you know when the pain in your stomach is appendicitis?

There are some classic signs and symptoms of appendicitis, but it is important to know that people can present very differently with this condition. When your appendix is inflamed, it can cause a pain in your abdomen that starts near your belly button and moves lower and to the right side. The pain can come on suddenly and can gradually get worse over several hours. Something that the doctor will do is push into the right lower side of your abdomen. This will cause a pain in the area.

If you’re still unsure, there are other symptoms of appendicitis that can follow the pain. Those symptoms can include:

  • Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A loss of appetite
  • A low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating

There are other medical conditions that can also lead to similar symptoms. Since appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose, call your medical provider to discuss any unusual abdominal pain that you are experiencing. Your medical provider can help you to determine the next best steps in diagnosing the source of your pain.

Get treatment, even when you’re unsure

Appendicitis is a medical condition that requires timely care. A doctor can help treat appendicitis and reduce symptoms and the chance of complications. It’s better to be safe and find out it’s just gas, than to have your appendix rupture and end up in a lot more pain than before. If you have appendicitis, it is vital that you are treated. If I had listened to my doubts that it was just cramps or gas, I would have ended up very ill and spending a lot more time in the hospital.

Know the difference between your usual stomach pains and a pain that feels unusual. Trust your instincts and seek the guidance of a medical provider in getting the care that you need.

Heat Illness: What to Watch Out For

As the year gears up for August, I’m plagued by memories of sweltering heat, affecting my focus, motivation, and workout schedule. This weekend, I tried to plan a day when I could run. But even in the early mornings, the humidity was soaking the air, making it hard to breathe. I almost went to the gym, but a treadmill sounded just as bad.

Are you like me and insist on exercising outdoors in the summer? If so, remember that exercising in the severe temperature can cause heat strokes, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, all of which can really hurt you.

Different Types of Heat Illness

There are three different types of heat illness.

Heat cramps are muscle pains and spasms that occur with strenuous activity. These cramps can occur during or after activity. Heat cramps can be treated with rest, moving to a cool place, cool cloths, giving a cool sports drink containing salt and sugar, and stretching.

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps. If you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, you may experience heavy sweating, paleness, fatigue, and even nausea. Anyone faced with heat exhaustion should drink fluids, take a cool shower, and be moved to an air-conditioned environment. If there is no improvement with these measures, the individual should go to an emergency department.

Heat stroke is the most severe type of heat illness. Heat stroke happens when a person’s body temperature reaches 103 degrees or higher. Symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, fainting, headaches, vomiting, and weakness. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or your local emergency medical service.

Risk Factors

Young, healthy people who exercise with a high intensity or long duration outside are susceptible to heat illnesses due to overexertion. Athletes, people working in hot environments and military should be especially careful.

Some athletes can adapt their body to warmer temperatures. It takes several weeks of exercise in the heat for our bodies to adapt and compensate for the higher temperatures. Our bodies will sweat more and start sweating earlier to help us better handle the heat. But make sure to pace activity to build up fitness, or you could get really sick.

Prevention

To prevent “exertional” heat illness, make sure to take frequent breaks, exercise in the morning or night when the temperatures are cooler, and drink plenty of fluids.

In almost all cases, young athletes should rehydrate with water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sports drinks are full of sugar and empty calories that can put you at risk for obesity and dental issues.

You should only consume sports drinks during “prolonged, vigorous sports participation or other intense physical activity,” according to the Academy. This is when you need to quickly replenish some of the carbohydrates and/or electrolytes you lose through intense sweating. Sports drinks are also appropriate to use with heat cramps.

Keep in mind, heat does not only affect athletes. Elderly people are also at risk of experiencing heat illness. Older individuals should stay hydrated and stay in air conditioning as much as possible, especially on very hot days. Looking for more tips for keeping older adults safe in the heat? Click here. 

Staying Active Indoors

When the heat rises, try to think of other ways to get in a workout. Swimming at the local gym, doing a spin class or yoga in an air-conditioned environment are great options that allow you to be inside and better control your body temperature.

How to Help Those with Depression or Suicidal Thoughts

I was saddened to hear of the two recent celebrity suicides. I was sad for their families and also for them.

But I was also anxious. I knew that I would soon be receiving texts and emails full of questions about, “why?”  I don’t know why these things happen. Each person’s story is unique. There may be certain risk factors and things that could be done to prevent suicide. But there is no simple formula to predict or prevent these types of things.

Many are also saddened to hear that suicide rates are climbing nationwide. In New York state, the suicide rate rose about 30 percent between 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Things That Can Help

For me, I deal with all of this by focusing on what we can do to help people battling depression and suicidal thoughts. Some of the top ways include:

  1. Effective mental health treatment. Evidence-based-treatments – including cognitive behavioral therapy – could help. This therapy revolves around helping you handle mood fluctuations and stressful situations. Talk to your physician for more information.
  2. Connection to the world around you. This includes your connection to family, pets, caregivers, therapists, and church or spiritual communities. These connections provide you with a purpose, support, and something to live for. In dark times, it helps to wake up with a purpose and wake up to someone to love and/or to be loved by.
  3. Try to stay sober during sad times. Substances like drugs or alcohol can make you feel isolated or make obstacles appear insurmountable.

Additional Resources

Remember: If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers additional suicide prevention information:

Skin Cancer: What to Watch Out For – A Personal Reflection

Skin is something people take for granted, until the worst happens. It is the largest living organ of the human body and the most exposed to the elements.

Too much exposure to UV rays from the sun can cause skin cancer.  According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with one in five Americans developing skin cancer by the time they turn 70. While skin cancer is more likely to occur in older adults, younger people can also get skin cancer.

There are many things we can do to safeguard our skin. A Healthier Upstate spoke to Tom Hoffman, a former construction professional living in Rochester, NY who survived a skin cancer diagnosis back in 2007. He shared lessons learned from his experience.

Tom Hoffman, diagnosed with melanoma in 2007.

How did you first find out you had skin cancer?

It was 2007 and there was some unusual crusting on my right hand. I was concerned it was a solar spot. I worked in construction at the time. I went to my physician to check it out. My wife came with me. I talked to the doctor about working outside in the sun as an adult and playing outside in the sun as a child. The doctor took a look at my right hand and told me the spot could be cancerous.

Tom originally went to his doctor worried about “crusting” on his hand.

He then examined the rest of my body. I thought everything else was fine, until my wife pointed to a spot on my body and said, “That doesn’t look right.” She pointed to a black-bluish spot a quarter-inch in diameter. The doctor agreed the spot was out of the ordinary and booked me for a biopsy. I got the biopsy and waited. One day when I was at work I got a phone call from the dermatologist.

They gave me the results of the biopsy. I had skin cancer. Melanoma. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer.  I was shocked.

What happened then?

I set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon since I had Stage 2 melanoma (it hadn’t spread, but it was on the edge of spreading).

The area of Tom’s abdomen that was affected by the melanoma.

The surgeon said he had to cut around the area. Unfortunately, that didn’t clear the cancer, so I had to go back for a second surgery, this time for a larger incision. Thankfully the final biopsy came back clear.

Did you do anything differently since getting cancer?

I was expected to survive five years.  It was an eye-opener! I did a lot of research and realized things I hadn’t realized before. I learned about precautionary steps, such as the correct use of sunscreen with enough SPF. I use sunscreen with an SPF of 50 and now wear a wide-brimmed hat. You’re still exposed to the sun’s harmful rays on cloudy days, so I make sure to put on sunscreen. I also learned you can get melanoma in the eyes, so it’s a good idea to wear shades. I passed the 5-year survival rate in 2012, and am grateful for each day given to me.

Tips for protecting yourself from the sun

This summer, enjoy the sunshine safely, with these tips from the CDC:

  1. Stay in the shade, especially when the sun is high
  2. Cover up your exposed skin, especially your arms and legs
  3. Wear sunglasses that protect from UVA and UVB rays
  4. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 and that offers broad-spectrum protection. Apply sunscreen before going outside. Reapply if you’re staying out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming or sweating. Damaging UV rays can impact all types of skin, so even people with darker skin need sunscreen.
  5. Avoid indoor tanning

If you notice any changes to your skin, make an appointment with your doctor to examine your skin.

Click HERE to download a free infographic, “The Scorching Truth About Skin Cancer” or learn more by watching this short animation:

Men’s health: How pride and stubbornness almost ruined my well-being

Fall of 2017 had just begun. Changes were coming — I could feel it in the air. And I don’t mean just the change in seasons from summer morphing into fall, of green leaves turning brilliant shades of orange and red, and warm days transitioning to cooler temperatures.

Having asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I find it easier to breathe in the fall. I was looking forward to breathing a little easier after the long, hot summer that featured lots of rain.

At work, I was gearing up for another open enrollment period. This is the time of year when companies choose the health insurance they are offering their employees. It always brings many new changes, challenges, and exhilaration for me and my colleagues in the Sales and Marketing department at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Letting pride and stubbornness get the best of me

As I sat home doing what I usually do on Sundays — watching football — I suddenly noticed that I was having difficulty breathing. Grabbing my inhaler, I took a few puffs, only to realize that my fast-acting Inhaler wasn’t acting fast. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t acting at all.

For a while, I kept telling myself that if I just relax on the couch, I would soon feel better. As time went on, though, I wasn’t feeling better — I was feeling worse. Pretty soon, I could barely breathe. It wasn’t long before I was sweating and hyperventilating.

Finally, I had to admit to myself that a trip to the emergency room was in my very near future. To do that, I needed to get dressed. I was NOT going in my skivvies.

When my wife noticed the challenge I was having getting dressed, she offered to call the ambulance. “Nooooo, don’t call the ambulance,” I wailed. “I can make it to the car.”

It was pride, or foolish pride and stubbornness, getting the best of me. I didn’t want the neighbors to see me being hauled off in the ambulance.

“911. What is your emergency?”

Ignoring my protest, my wife did call an ambulance, which prompted cries along the lines of, “Oh dear God! They’re coming to take me away.”

Thoroughly embarrassed, I arrived at the emergency room of my local hospital, where my diagnosis was so bad that it prompted a transfer to Crouse Hospital. I had a pneumothorax. In layman’s terms, I had suffered a collapsed lung due to an abnormal collection of air between the lung and the chest wall.

The treatment sounded simple enough. The medical practitioner informed me they would insert a chest tube to inflate the lung and remove fluid and air.

“Oh goodie,” I thought. “I’ll be home in no time and be able to catch the Sunday night game.” Well, I did catch the game, but it was from my bed at Crouse Hospital.

Patient versus Patience

Patience is a quality which shows that a man or woman is tolerant and has the capacity to endure pain or suffering. Patient is a word that is used for sick people.

Being a good patient requires patience. Neither one describes me. I am a horrible patient with little or no patience. After spending four days in the hospital, I was so ready to go home. My condition had improved, my lung was inflated again, and I was anxious to be discharged.

The day of my expected return home, I tried hard to be forbearing. But by 3 p.m., I still had not received my promised discharge papers. As I said, I am not a good patient and have little to no patience.

I ended up yanking out the intravenous cord attached to my arm and storming out of the hospital. I told the nurse to mail me my discharge papers. My wife was not amused.

Who says Friday the thirteenth is bad luck?

I did manage to recover enough of my strength to return to work a week later. A few days in, on Friday the thirteenth (which meant nothing to me, as I am not superstitious), I had scheduled a one-on-one with my manager.

Suddenly, I was not feeling right. Again I was having shortness of breath and starting to sweat. My fast-acting inhaler once again was not acting fast. I had seen this movie before.

I asked my manager if we could reschedule our meeting because I was not feeling well. I just wanted to get in my car, go home and lay down.

Thankfully for me, she would not let me go, insisted I did not look well and thought to call the Emergency Response Team. Again I howled, “Nooooo! Not that,” to no avail.

Dismissing my protests, the Emergency Response Team and my co-workers convinced me to stop being stubborn and get to the hospital. “Here we go again! I get to have another ambulance ride. Yeah me,” I thought wryly.

Taking corporate culture to a whole other level

Lying on the gurney in the ambulance, I had no choice but to accept my fate. Deep down, I knew that the trained and experienced people at Crouse could help me in spite of my stubbornness.

What I did not expect was my manager, Vaia Spasevski, to join me in the ambulance for the ride to the hospital. I was vaguely aware that she was standing outside the ambulance when I was getting loaded in. I thought I saw Todd Muscatello, our Corporate VP of Sales and Marketing, outside as well.

Pulling up to the hospital as if through in a fog, I finally arrived in the emergency room. The diagnosis was a collapsed lung again. I was not surprised.

What was surprising was seeing Todd and Vaia standing outside my examining room. I am still not sure how Todd got there so fast. I’m beginning to wonder if he was driving the ambulance. The two of them waited there until I went in for surgery and my wife arrived.

All’s well that ends well

The successful thoracic surgery I then underwent included a procedure to prevent air from getting between my lung and chest cavity. At this point, I no longer felt any sense of embarrassment, as it was only my wife there seeing me at my worst.

At least that feeling of relief lasted until Mark Muthumbi, Regional VP of Sales and Marketing at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, showed up. Could it be possible that the people I work with day in and day out are so concerned with my well-being?

It took some time, but I did come to realize that many of my co-workers cared about me and were concerned about me. That convinced me to be a better patient and have more patience. This time around, I allowed myself more time to convalesce and heeded the advice to take my time returning to work.

When a minor setback occurred a couple of weeks into my recovery, I didn’t stubbornly try to ride it out by convincing myself to just rest and give it some time. I used the opportunity to call our telemedicine provider, MDLive, which saved me the trouble of making a separate doctor’s office visit.

Today, I’m thankful to be back at work. I realize that the outcome could have been a lot worse if not for the actions of my wife and my co-workers. I thank them all for their concern and well wishes. They didn’t just do it any way; they did it the “Lifetime Way,” the cultural mantra that we live by at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

What have I learned from this cautionary tale?

Here are some things I’ve learned from my experience:

  • Be aware of what’s going on with your body. Pay attention to the smallest of signs that can point to something bigger going on.
  • Be more proactive when it comes to health issues. Don’t just dismiss them, thinking that another day of rest and recuperation will make things better.
  • Embarrassment, pride, and stubbornness will not help you in a medical emergency. You have to ditch all three of these and allow yourself to be put in a vulnerable position to get to the bottom of a health issue.
  • There are people outside of your immediate family who genuinely care about you.
  • Telemedicine is an awesome healthcare resource that can help in a myriad of situations.
  • Have more patience, especially if you’re a patient.

Digestive Health – Your Gut is More Important Than You Think

On a recent webinar with Kelly Springer of Kelly’s Choice Nutritional Company, I learned about digestive health and why it’s so important. As a college student with little time to eat healthy and who lives off of dining hall food, I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that 74 percent of Americans are currently living with digestive issues. Here are a few of the most valuable things I picked up on:

Everything is connected to the gut

Your gut does so much more than digest your food. Ninety percent of your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates body functions like your mood, is actually produced in your gut, not your brain. That’s why more psychiatrists are recommending a healthy lifestyle – with a focus on nutrition and exercise – as part of treatment plans for depression and anxiety. What one eats can affect mood and well-being. Therefore, maintaining your digestive health is just as important as maintaining your heart and brain health.

Fiber is key

Fiber is essential for your diet. It regulates your gastrointestinal tract, helps with treating constipation, and can lead to weight loss. Here are foods to  add to your diet if you’re  trying to incorporate more fiber:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Chia Seeds
  • Brewed coffee

Limit foods high in fat and sugar

I learned that it’s important to avoid artificial sweeteners and that there are good fats AND bad fats. Bad fats can slow down your digestive process. But good fats like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are actually really good for you.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prior to the webinar, I had heard of prebiotics and probiotics but had no real sense of what they were. Probiotics are a good type of bacteria that are naturally found in foods like yogurt. They help to regulate your digestion. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates found in fiber-rich foods that act as food for probiotics.   They’re the reason fiber is so important to your digestive health.

Some people try to increase the healthy bacteria in their digestive symptom by taking a probiotic supplement. Many probiotic supplements are marketed as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval. Therefore, it is important to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before starting them. However, there are many ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet without taking supplements.

Just a few of these options include:

Eat mindfully and develop a routine

Most importantly, always be mindful of how much you’re eating. Overeating can result in digestive symptoms such as heartburn or an upset stomach. Don’t just focus on eating; make sure to always stay hydrated. Water in your digestive system can help dissolve fats and soluble fiber. You can’t just rely on healthy eating, it’s also important to exercise regularly. This will help to manage your stress and improve your overall health.

Now you try

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are a few easy ways to start improving your digestive health today:

  • Focus on drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of fiber throughout the day
  • Start trying products like kefir, kombucha, or kimchi for probiotics
  • Try to eat mindfully for one meal every day
  • Start cutting out diet sodas and artificially sweetened drinks

Consider some of these small changes and you may be well on your way to improving your digestive health and overall lifestyle! Don’t forget to also discuss dietary changes and major digestive issues with your health care provider.

What’s the difference between “organic” and “natural”?

If you’re confused about the difference between organic and natural, you’re not alone. While they might sound like the same thing, one describes a strictly regulated product, while the other is largely a marketing term. Don’t be fooled.

What is “Organic”?

Organic food is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets national standards for certification. Foods that are certified organic must follow strict regulations. For example, they must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, certain fertilizers or genetic engineering. Livestock must have access to the outdoors and be raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. These farming practices are designed to help enhance the quality of soil and water, decrease pollution, and provide healthier habitats for animals.

The USDA also sets standards for product labeling, with 4 types of labels:

  • 100% organic: all ingredients in that product must be certified organic
  • Organic: must contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients: must include at least 70% certified organic ingredients
  • Contains organic ingredients: includes less than 70% certified organic ingredients

Only products labeled “100% organic” or “organic” can use the USDA seal, with some exceptions.

What is “Natural”?

No government agency or group regulates the term “natural” (other than for meat and poultry, where the USDA has created some requirements). Therefore, it’s not really clear what this term means. It is generally thought that a natural product has “no artificial ingredients”. But without regulation, it’s common to find products labeled “natural” that contain things that are not natural, like artificial preservatives or genetically modified organisms. Without strict standards, food corporations can define what “natural” means for their products.

Why Does This Matter?

According to a 2015 Consumer Reports survey, nearly two-thirds of people believe that the natural food label means more than it does. This confusion means that people may be buying a product assuming certain regulations and standards when that’s not the case.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Use the food label and ingredients list to check if food lives up to its front-of-package claims. If you want to purchase organic products, look for the labels or the USDA seal. This food can cost more money, so pick the foods where you’ll get the most “bang for your buck”. For example, the “dirty dozen” is a list of 12 fruits and veggies that have the most pesticide residue when grown conventionally. Those may be a good starting place. On the other hand, the “clean fifteen” are fruits and veggies that have low pesticide residue, even when grown conventionally.

Looking to add more of those veggies to your day? Check out 9 Easy Ways to Add Vegetables to Your Meals.

Have a Medicare Plan? Take Steps to Protect Yourself Against Fraud

My mom laughed out loud when she got a call from her bank asking if she had purchased hand-crafted men’s cowboy boots from a store in Texas. She was grateful the bank checked to see if the charge was legitimate. The account was frozen and she cut up her card and waited for the bank to send a new one.

New Medicare Cards

Similar to this instance, the Federal government is notifying people with Medicare about the new red, white and blue Medicare card they’ll be receiving. They’re giving advance notice so that you can take precautions to protect yourself against fraud.

Medicare is a Federal program for those over 65 years old, certain people with disabilities, and those with permanent kidney failure (end-stage renal disease). I work with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medicare members and I’m sharing this story to help inform you.

To help protect against identity theft, the card will have a new unique identifier. On the other hand, current cards use the Social Security number.

Protect Yourself From Scams

Unfortunately, scam artists may use this opportunity to try to steal personal information. Medicare will never call beneficiaries and ask for information like a Medicare number. Therefore, if someone asks for this personal information over-the-phone, hang up and call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

Also avoid sharing personal information by email or in person, unless you have given your permission in advance. Visit Medicare.gov/fraud for tips on protecting your identity.

And remember to destroy or shred the old card after the new card arrives. This will better protect your social security number.

If you are eligible for Medicare, or know someone who is, consider these tips:

  • Keep your address up-to-date. The card will be mailed to the name and address on file with Social Security. To update an address call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, or visit SSA.gov.
  • Be patient. It may take some time to mail the new cards. You may not receive the card at the same time as your friends and neighbors. If you do not receive a card by April 2019, call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).
  • Keep your card safe. Many Medicare beneficiaries have additional coverage through private insurance companies. Not all plans require the Medicare card be shown at the doctor, hospital or pharmacy. So, if you don’t need to carry your card, store it at home in a safe place.

To learn more visit:

https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-and-resources/your-medicare-card.html

 

This Tasty Recipe Won the “Chompionship!”

Congrats to the big winner of our Munch Madness “Chompionship.”

The Winter Squash Bake recipe “squashed” the competition to earn the coveted crown.  The chef behind the winning dish was Lauren “All Day” Daley, a chef with a knack for super simple comfort food.

Lauren “All Day” Daley, the chef behind the winning dish.

The Winning Recipe in Action

Here is my (video) attempt at making the dish. I skipped the red pepper flakes (a no-no with our kiddos) and may have accidentally used regular ground sausage instead of poultry sausage. (Don’t ask – It’s been a long week.) Enjoy!

Check out her recipe: Winter Squash Bake 

Interested in tasting the other recipes in our Final Fork Chompionship? Read: Munch Madness.

Or, click on the following recipes:

Southwestern Two-Bean Chicken Soup

Freezer Meal Chicken Parmesan

Honey Sriracha Wings