The Worst Foods You Can Eat

I know what you’re thinking. I think it myself all the time. “Not another one of those food police types telling me what I can’t eat.” It’s rare that you’ll hear me say a particular food has no place in a healthy diet. I am the queen of moderation. As long as your “dietary vices” aren’t contributing more than five to ten percent of your dietary intake, no sweat.

Spend Wisely

But I do believe that an informed consumer is a wise consumer. Nothing is truly off-limits. But knowing which foods and ingredients are the worst for health can help you decide where you’d like to “spend” your vices and which foods simply aren’t worth it.

Think of your body as a bank account. To keep the account balance healthy, you need to make regular deposits. It’s OK to make the occasional withdrawal. Too many withdrawals, however, and you’re headed for overdraft fees.

With health, overdraft fees come in the form of fatigue, excess body fat, and aches and pains. In the worst case, small overdraft fees add up to a large penalty. This might come in the form of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Avoid Large Penalties to Your Health

Don’t worry about the occasional overdraft fee. Food is to be enjoyed. A piece of cake or a French fry now and then never killed anyone. To avoid a large penalty, however, keep the following five foods and ingredients out of your diet. (Next week we’ll cover foods and ingredients six through ten of the Top Ten Worst Foods and Ingredients to Avoid.)

The Top Ten Foods and Ingredients to Avoid: One through Five


Soda is the frequent target of healthy eating campaigns. This is not arbitrary. There is absolutely nothing of any nutritional value in soda. Worse yet, our bodies aren’t particularly good at registering liquid calories, like those in soda.

When we take in sugary, solid calories (think jelly beans), we typically end up eating less later in the day to compensate. People do not eat less after they’ve taken in excess liquid calories. With soda, you take in extra calories, but your body doesn’t even know it!

Soda makes up between 10% and 14% of the calories consumed by the average American. That’s hundreds of sugary, liquid calories per day – fifty gallons of soda per person per year in the US! No wonder two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. It’s time to drop the pop habit.

Hydrogenated Fat

For years, health experts admonished Americans to eat less saturated fat. Butter was a target. Margarine was promoted as the healthy option.

The only way to make vegetable oil into margarine is to process it with hydrogen and a metal (catalyst) under high pressure. This is hydrogenation. This creates hydrogenated fats, which sometimes are called trans fats.

When you replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated vegetable oil fats, this does lower heart disease risk. But not if the vegetable oil hydrogenated! In fact, hydrogenated fat is far worse for health than saturated fat. Some saturated fat can be part of a healthy diet. Hydrogenated fat cannot.

Hydrogenated fats are linked with an increased risk of heart disease – the number one killer in the US. For every 2% increase in energy intake from trans fat there is a 23% increase in cardiovascular risk. If that’s not motivation to avoid hydrogenated fats (read labels), I don’t know what is!

Synthetic Yellow, Red, and Blue Dyes

If I want my food to be yellow, orange, purple, red, green, and blue, I’ll stick to bananas, mangos, eggplant, apples, broccoli, and blueberries. Unfortunately, most processed food companies don’t feel the same way. And given that 90% of all food dollars in the US are spent on processed food,4 that’s an awful lot of synthetic dye we’re eating.

Consider Yellow Dye #5, which also goes by the names tartrazine, FD&C yellow No. 5, yellow lake, and yellow oxide. Yellow #5 appears in products such as candy, yogurt, frozen desserts, soda, sports drinks, snack chips, salad dressing, and even medications.

Tartrazine causes the most allergic reactions of all the colorants known as azo dyes. It may be particularly likely to cause problems in people with asthma or aspirin intolerance or allergy. Allergy symptoms such as hives and wheezing can occur from ingestion (eating) or topical (on the skin) exposure.

According to the Environmental Working Group, a commonly used red colorant called D&C Red 28 Aluminum Lake shows strong evidence of neurotoxicity (toxic to nerves) and may be cancer-causing.

High-Sodium Processed Foods (Soups, Microwave Dinners, and More)

We’ve all heard how important it is to reduce our sodium intake. The reason goes far beyond blood pressure concerns. From worsening of metabolic syndrome to kidney damage and heart disease, sodium is public enemy number one.

The most amazing part of the sodium picture is how easy it is to avoid. I was working on a menu project recently. I was tasked with creating menus to meet nutrient intake guidelines.

When I calculated the sodium in my menus, I found, much to my dismay, that the levels were very low. I even paused to momentarily look up the minimum amount of sodium needed for good health. Imagine that…a diet so low in sodium. The reason why sodium was so low in my menus? No processed food!

The average American gets 10 to 12 grams of sodium per day. This is about 5 to 6 times the highest recommended intake (2.4 grams, or 2,400 milligrams) for good health! And it’s all due to processed food.

Cured, Smoked, and Salted Meats

There are two main reasons to steer clear of cured, smoked, and salted meats. One is sodium. The second reason is because these foods contain carcinogens. Carcinogen is a fancy way of saying, “causes cancer.”

Compounds called nitrosamines and nitrosamides are formed during the meat curing, smoking, and salting process. They cause cancer. No ifs ands or buts. If you are interested in avoiding a known carcinogen in the foods you eat, give processed meats a pass.

The New Honey Facial – The Medical Marvel of Manuka

If your like me you’ve found out that when checking out any product that comes on the market, it’s important to examine the active ingredients to see how it functions.

In the case of these new honey facial products that have begun to crop up, you may be wondering “Is this just another spin on an old brand or will honey actually do anything positive for my face”?

The answer is a surprising one. Though it may seem that the simple inclusion of honey wouldn’t be enough to cause any dramatic effect on the health of your skin, it in fact does and with remarkable effect. The honey in question is a special ‘active’ form of manuka honey, present in manuka honey face gel and other associated products.

Now, your probably asking what exactly is manuka honey, and what does it do?

You see, for centuries, honey has been used to treat all manner of skin conditions, and was not just limited to honey facial products. However, it hasn’t been until recently that we have an understanding of why it functions the way it does. The answer is a combination of a number of reasons. Honey naturally has an anti-septic function, and has been used on many different types of wounds through out history. As well, it exhibits a ‘hydrogen peroxide’-like effect due to its highly acidic nature. Manuka honey, it turns out, takes these remarkable properties even further.

Referred to as a ‘monofloral honey’, manuka honey is honey taken from a single flower – in this case the manuka tree, or Leptospermum scoparium, located in New Zealand. Scientists have been laboring to explain why the properties of this monofloral honey were so pronounced in relation to other honeys, and recently they’ve come upon the answer.

Dubbed “UMF” for “Unique Manuka Factor”, this honey not only functions as an anti-septic when applied to your skin; it also contains powerful anti-bacterial agents that actively repel bacterial development. Most remarkably, it has a dramatic effect on your skin cells, promoting active growth and cellular development. So a manuka honey face gel. does not just include this active agent to seem naturalistic or organic, it is, in fact, a potent new medical advancement.

Manuka honey is now being used in lab environments, as an anti-bacterial agent as well as in some remarkably advanced ‘anti-fungal’ treatments, where it uses all its capabilities, allowing the user to raise healthy skin growth, shields the skin from harmful bacterial agents, and provides a softening, regenerative effect on the surface of the skin.

Now if it can do all this, providing all these types of serious medicinal uses, just imagine what it can do for your skin.

So there you have it, your next step is to look for manuka honey in any honey facial products you examine and search out the best products you can find for your skin.

Expat Survival Guide – Self Medicating a Staph Infection in a Third World Country

Ask any well traveled expat about health care, during his or her travels, and most will tell you essentially the same thing – Some countries provide excellent or adequate medical services, while others are completely inadequate or nearly nonexistent. Today’s Expat Survival Guide will concentrate on the countries where medical care is, in many cases, sub par or not readily available.

Before we get too far into this, I should tell you that the information contained in this article should never substitute for the advice and care of a qualified doctor or health care professional. However, should you find yourself in an area where such an individual is not readily available, then the information contained herein will be of good use to you. Just make sure that you visit a qualified doctor as soon as possible, as only he or she will be able to completely and accurately diagnose and treat an infectious condition.

First off. We should go over exactly what a Staph Infection is, and the symptoms of such an infection.

A Staph Infection is an infection caused by Staphylococcus (or “Staph” bacteria). It is a very common bacterium and is generally believed to be present in about 25% of all people. In many cases, it lives upon the skin in the nose, mouth, genital, and anal areas without causing an infection. However, once a cut or puncture occurs, in an area where the bacteria are residing, chances of an infection increase dramatically. The foot is also susceptible to picking up the bacteria from the floor. Staph infections normally begin with a minor cut that becomes infected with the bacteria.

Staph infections can range from a simple boil or enlarged pimple type occurrence to dangerous flesh-eating conditions which can be highly resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant strains of the bacteria are prevalent in North America, due to an ever growing dependence on antibiotics to treat bacteria related conditions and illnesses. The severity of a Staph Infection normally depends on the depth of the infection and how fast it is spread. Of course strains of the bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics can become more dangerous and may even be life threatening if left untreated or unchecked.

Staph infections normally begin with a small area of redness. The area may be very tender and swollen. It may or may not begin with a break in the skin. The affected area may become quite warm and painful. If this occurs, then chances are good you have been infected by the Staph Cellulitis strain of the bacteria. This seems to be the most common strain of the bacteria; however, it will be hard to determine whether the strain is resistant or not to antibiotics, unless a culture sample is tested. Therefore, you should visit a qualified doctor as soon as you can. But this guide is for expats with no qualified doctor readily available to him, and until you can actually visit a doctor you have to do something.

I have known many expats that suffered from Staph Infections, while in third world countries. Though I don’t recommend self medicating, there are times when there is no choice. If you find yourself in this position, here are some things you can do to help.

First, keep the infected area very clean. This is the most important thing you can do to help minimize or prevent spread of the bacterial infection. When cleaning the affected area, use a good quality soap and warm water. Allow the soap to remain on the infected area of the skin for two or three minutes before rinsing.

Once the affected area is cleaned, wipe the affected area with cotton and hydrogen peroxide or betadine to further help kill the surface bacteria. If the wound is an open wound then saturate the wound with hydrogen peroxide and allow it to thoroughly clean the wound. Cover the affected area with a clean gauze bandage. Clean the affected area and change the bandage at least three or four times daily.

If you have access to a pharmacy or drug store (In many developing countries there are pharmacies available but not trained doctors) you will most likely be able to acquire most common antibiotics and antibacterial medications without a prescription. Many western countries restrict sale of these medications; however, most developing nations do not. Therefore, if you have access to a pharmacy then the following medications are the most commonly prescribed for Staph Infections:

Good ‘ole Penicillin (if you’re not allergic) can fight many nonresistant strains of the bacteria, and is usually available in most countries of the world. Actually, many doctors will usually prescribe two derivatives of penicillin to treat Staph infections. Penicillin or Amoxicillin which are broad spectrum antibiotics and Cloxacillin, Cloxacillin Sodium or Flucloxacillin which are narrow spectrum derivatives that more actively attack the Staph Bacteria itself. Taking both at the same time is quite common. Both are normally prescribed in 500mg capsules and should be taken 3 – 4 times daily. Penicillin and its derivatives work best on an empty stomach.

If you are allergic to Penicillin, you can substitute Erythromycin for the Penicillin or Amoxicillin and Doxycycline for the Cloxacillin-based drug. Erythromycin dosage is 500mg twice daily, and Doxycycline dosage is 100mg once daily. Erythromycin and Doxycycline may be taken with or without food.

All antibiotics mentioned above will require 3 – 4 days before signs of improvement, if any, are noticed. Typical periods of treatment are 10 – 14 days. However, in more serious cases, the need to take the antibiotics for up to 45 days is not uncommon.

In addition, many studies and tests have shown that applying a good anti bacterial ointment or salve to the wound or infected area can help prevent the spread of the Staph Bacteria and allow the affected area to more quickly heal.

Many expats have used more natural remedies when neither a doctor nor pharmacy is available, and I have also used a few to treat minor staph infections. However, natural remedies should only be used when no other resources are available. I guess that is a topic for another issue of the Expat Survival Guide. Again, if you believe you have a Staph Infection, see a qualified doctor as soon as possible. The information here has helped many expats, but it may not be the best advice for you.

Mysteries of the Medicine Cabinet – How and When to Properly Dispose of Old Medication

Medicine cabinets tend to bring out the packrat in most of us. Once we’ve gone to the trouble and expense of a doctor’s appointment or a trip to the pharmacy, we find it hard to part with anything remaining in the bottle when we feel better.

Is there anything wrong with keeping those three Hydrocodone tablets left over from your root canal last year? How about the cough syrup your daughter’s pediatrician prescribed this winter? Even if you don’t need it, how should you dispose of it? Dealing with it seems like so much trouble, we’d rather just close the door and forget it.

Location, Location, Location

Real estate isn’t the only business where location matters. Whether you’re dealing with prescription or over-the-counter medication, storage location is important. According to Heidi Kallivayalil, PharmD., Ambulatory and In-Hospital Practitioner, one of the worst places to store medications is the bathroom medicine cabinet. The steam and humidity from the sink and shower produce moisture that can seep in and cause drugs to degrade.

Unless special storage instructions are given, medications should be kept in a cool, dry place. Consider using the linen closet or a kitchen cabinet that’s located away from the stove and sink. You should also avoid storing medications in the refrigerator unless instructions specifically say so. Refrigerated air is too damp for most medications. If refrigeration is required, placing the bottle in an opaque plastic container on a high shelf helps to keep it out-of-sight.

A cabinet or box with a lock on it is a good idea for homes that have young children or teenagers. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 64 percent of kids between the age of 12 and 17 who have abused pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives, typically without their knowledge. Even over-the-counter and non-narcotic medication can be dangerous when mixed or in the hands of children. Locking up medication doesn’t mean we don’t trust our kids; it’s just one more way of keeping them safe.

Also, be sure to store medication in the original container with the name and expiration date on the label. “Some medication can be affected by light,” says Kallivayalil, “that’s why prescription medication comes in amber-colored bottles.” Resist the urge to transfer pills to a smaller bottle or to combine even the same medication into one bottle. If you end up with multiple medications in the same container, they can be difficult to identify and risky to take.

Ann Greene, a pharmacist at O’Steen’s Pharmacy in Jacksonville, says she is occasionally asked to play detective by identifying medication that has been transferred from a prescription bottle to a daily or weekly pill reminder case. “Usually, it’s a family member that transfers the pills,” says Greene. “When you’re dealing with generic medications, the color is sometimes changed. Clients will be used to taking a pink pill and then the color is changed to orange. We note this on the bottle, but if a pill has been transferred to another container, it can cause confusion. I have seen cases where it leads to double dosing. The client actually takes the pill in the reminder case and also the familiar pink pill from the bottle.”

Take or Toss?

Most of us have ended up with small amounts of medication left over from various illnesses. When this happens, it’s a good idea to get rid of it. Although most expired drugs aren’t necessarily harmful, they can lose their potency. It may be tempting to hang on to them to avoid a future trip to the doctor, but there are reasons why you shouldn’t.

Unless medication is prescribed on an as needed basis (which is common for pain killers and other medications needed intermittently) it’s important to take every dose. Not doing so can lead to complications. For instance, small doses of antibiotics may not destroy an infection, and eventually could cause bacteria to develop a resistance to that particular antibiotic, making it difficult to treat in the future. Dosage amounts are different for every medication, so it’s important to follow instructions closely.

Parents occasionally give medication prescribed for one child to another child. Sharing may be a good thing most of the time, but in this case it isn’t recommended. Even if children have the same illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be given the same medication or the same dosage. Drug allergies are common, particularly with antibiotics. It’s best to let your physician determine what medication is appropriate for each illness.

Is This Still Good?

The shelf-life is the period of time the manufacturer has determined to be the safest and most effective for that particular medication. All medications should have an expiration date. Most prescription bottles have the date typed clearly on the label. Over-the-counter medications sometimes have the date stamped on the outside box. If you remove the tube or bottle from the box, check for a date. If you don’t see one, be sure to write the expiration date on the container with a permanent marker.

Many prescription medications expire one year from the date they were filled, but don’t just assume. According to Kallivayalil, some medications expire more quickly than others. Liquid medications often have a shorter shelf-life, some as little as 14 days.

Even supplies like adhesive bandages and hydrogen peroxide come with expiration dates. For example, Vaseline® recommends keeping their products, like petroleum jelly and moisturizers, at room temperature for up to two years.

A Closer Look

Always make sure to examine medication before taking it. Even if you’ve used the same prescription every night for the past decade, it pays to be alert. Take time to double check the name and appearance of the medication.

Be aware of anything that doesn’t look right. Capsules that are stuck together or pills that have changed color could indicate moisture has seeped into the container and they should be tossed. The same goes for any medication that is crumbled, has spots or has changed in consistency or appearance.

Leaving medication in the car can also lead to problems, especially during the summer months in Florida. “Most medication should be kept at room temperature and is stable up to about 78 degrees,” says Greene. Higher temperatures can be damaging, “If capsules are left in the glove compartment on a warm day, temperatures can climb high enough to actually melt them.” When that happens, most pharmacies are willing to exchange the damaged medication but only at the patient’s expense.

Safe Disposal

Pouring old medications down the drain or flushing them in the toilet used to be an acceptable way to dispose of them. In Florida, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health both advise against it. What’s the big deal? This method of disposal leads to a risk of contamination of Florida’s drinking water and water bodies. Most wastewater treatment systems aren’t equipped to remove medications, which means they will eventually make their way into water sources. It’s unlikely such small traces are enough to be harmful to humans, but the Florida DEP says research has shown there can be an effect on aquatic organisms like fish and frogs.

According to Eulinda Smith, spokesperson for the Florida DEP, there are a number of steps you can take to protect both humans and animals from risk when disposing of medications:

Pills and Capsules

A)Keep medication in its original container with the prescription name. This helps to identify it if it is accidentally ingested by a person or animal.
B)Mark out your name and the prescription number before tossing.
C)Add a small amount of liquid such as water or soda to the bottle to help dissolve medication.
D)Tape the lid securely with duct tape or packing tape.
E)Place the taped bottle inside a coffee can or opaque plastic container like an empty laundry detergent bottle. Tape the lid on the outer container, too.
F)Hide the container in the trash…don’t recycle it.

Liquid medications

A)Add cat litter or dirt to the remaining liquid. Anything that makes the liquid less palatable to animals or humans, such as cayenne pepper, could also be used.
B)Follow the same instructions for taping the lid and placing in an outer container.

If you come across other non-medication items while cleaning out your medicine cabinet, don’t just assume it’s okay to toss them in your regular trash either. Certain items such as thermometers also have specific disposal requirements. Mercury filled thermometers should be taken to a hazardous waste facility and digital thermometers containing a button cell battery should be recycled in the same manner as other batteries.

Once you’ve organized your home medications and supplies, an occasional check is all that’s necessary. Dispose of left-over prescription medications as soon as you’re finished with them, and periodically check the expiration date on over-the-counter medicines. Maintaining proper storage and disposal procedures will help to keep your family and the environment safe.