5 Non

Convenient. Attractive. Normal. These three words (which are the basis for the even easier to remember acronym C.A.N.) may be the key to eating healthier without really trying, according to a new paper from Cornell University. The review of 112 studies concluded that eaters make good choices when healthy foods are visible and within reach; they’re displayed enticingly; and they’re set up as the most obvious choices compared to other food options. It just makes sense: When you place gorgeous pieces of fresh fruit in a pretty bowl on your counter, you’re more likely to take one than if they’re hidden away—especially if the chips or cookies are even easier to grab. Bottom line, make it handy to eat healthfully and you’ll follow through, no “diet” or willpower required.

RELATED: 8 Salads That Satisfy

In addition to remembering C.A.N., there are plenty of other research-backed strategies for not dieting, and still shedding pounds. Here, four more easy tactics you can adopt.

Plate your veggies artistically

In a University of Oxford study, subjects in one group received salads arranged to resemble an artistic painting; a second group was provided with salads featuring vegetables lined up in neat rows, and salads in a third group were served in a typical piled-up fashion. While all the salads contained identical ingredients, dressing, and condiments, the artistic salad was rated the best by subjects, by a nearly 20 percent margin. In fact, people reported that they’d be willing to pay twice as much for the painting-like versions. The takeaway: We eat with our eyes as well as our stomachs, so if you’re trying to reach for healthy foods more often, put some effort into how you present them. (I think this study demonstrates one reason why Mason jar salads—and the myriad of photos of them on social media—have become so popular.)

RELATED: Change Plates to Lose Weight

Nosh before you shop

You’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating: A 2013 study, also from Cornell University, found that skipping meals before heading to the supermarket is a surefire way to sabotage healthy shopping. Volunteers were asked to fast for five hours, then either given nothing to eat or crackers, and asked to make purchases at a simulated food market. The fasting group bought 18.6% more food—including a whopping 44.8% more calorie-packed items, like chips and ice cream—than the cracker eating crowd. In a follow-up study, researchers observed shoppers at an actual supermarket just after lunch and in the late afternoon. Compared to post-lunch shoppers, those who strolled the aisles in the late afternoon—when they were way more likely to be hungry—bought over a quarter fewer low-calorie foods like vegetables. To prevent hunger from keeping healthy food items out of your grocery cart, eat something to take the edge off pre-shopping. Stash a golf-ball sized portion of nuts or seeds in your bag, and try to finish them before you walk through the entrance of the supermarket.

RELATED: How to Grocery Shop on a Diet

Spend a little time in the morning sun

The timing, intensity, and length of your exposure to light during the day may significantly affect your weight. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Northwestern University found that compared to people who got most of their light exposure later in the day, those who enjoyed even moderately bright light in the morning had significantly lower BMIs. In fact, the later the hour of light exposure, the higher a person’s BMI, and vice versa. The numbers held true independent of an individual’s exercise regime, calorie intake, sleep timing, and age. The powerful effect, researchers say, is due to how light influences our body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate metabolism and weight regulation. To keep those rhythms in sync and your weight in check, researchers advise getting 20 to 30 minutes of bright light exposure between 8:00 a.m. and noon. And no, you don’t have to be outdoors—a room brightened by natural sun (versus a room with no windows and only artificial light) will do.

Don’t dine while distracted

Bringing your lunch to work is a smart way to control your calories. But if you surf the Web while you eat, you may consume more than you would’ve if you’d focused on your meal, both during eating and later in the day. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who played a computer game while lunching felt less full, snacked more, and had more trouble recalling what they had eaten than those who’d eaten without distractions. So while it may feel weird to sit at your desk without checking email or doing anything but eating, that’s the best lunchtime strategy for your waistline. Bonus: You’ll actually enjoy your lunch.

RELATED: 9 Appetite Suppressants That Really Work

What are your thoughts on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the New York Yankees MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Cynthia is a three time New York Times best selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Fleas in Arizona Test Positive for the Plague–Here’s What You Need to Know About it

Turns out the plague—or Black Death, as it was called by the Europeans who survived this fearsome killer in the Middle Ages—isn’t a disease of the past. In the last two weeks, public health officials have confirmed that fleas in two Arizona counties have tested positive for the infectious disease. The affected counties are Navajo County and Coconino County, where plague-infested fleas were found on prairie dogs near the town of Taylor, the Associated Press reported.

The news comes on the heels of three cases of the plague reported in humans in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, earlier this summer. The first case, identified in a 63-year-old man, was reported in early June. Later in the month, the New Mexico Department of Health confirmed that two women (ages 52 and 62) also had the illness. All three victims spent days in the hospital but have since been released, according to media reports. 

RELATED: Bug Bites: How to Prevent and Treat

The plague, which is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, doesn’t usually make headlines, at least not in the United States. The recent infections in fleas in Arizona and in people in New Mexico raise questions—such as how do you even get the plague? And should you be worried about it? We spoke to an infectious disease specialist for answers.

What exactly is plague?

“Plague is a very virulent infectious disease that’s often transmitted from animal host to human by the bite of a flea carrying the bacteria,” explains Claire Panosian Dunavan, professor of medicine emeritus in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “It can also be acquired if a human handles an infected rodent, a common reservoir for the Yersinia pestis bacterium.”

Three types of plague infect humans: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. The bubonic form is the most common type; patients develop “buboes,” which are swollen, typically painful lymph glands that become inflamed near the site of the flea bite. From there, bacteria can enter the bloodstream, causing the often-lethal blood infection sepsis.

These three types of plague aren’t mutually exclusive, explains Dr. Dunavan. For example, someone may not notice that they have large buboes before the disease has progressed to their lungs, resulting in pneumonic plague. “All of these complications can occur in different patterns, it just depends on the case,” she says.

Who is at risk?

Everyone, basically—though you have to have been bitten by the bacteria-carrying flea or come into close contact with a rodent who is hosting a carrier flea. Once infected, a person will typically come down with a high fever within a day, and it’s imperative to get medical care as fast as possible, ideally within 24 hours.

Antibiotics are “the most common lifesaving interventions for plague,” says Dr. Dunavan, but they have to be administered in a short window of time or the plague can be deadly. Thanks to antibiotics, it’s unlikely a person will die from plague, if he or she sees a doctor when symptoms first appear.

RELATED: What We Should Know About Pneumonia, According to a Lung Doctor

What precautions should I take?

To stay safe, keep your home and workplace rodent-proof by cleaning up garbage and clutter and getting rid of old firewood, all of which could attract them. Always wear gloves if you’re handling an animal that could be infected, and use flea repellents to safeguard you and your pet if you’re out hiking or camping. 

Above all, put plague in perspective, says Dr. Dunavan. “I’m all for people becoming educated about different infectious diseases, but a report reminded me that in 2015, a ‘banner year’ for plague, we had 15 cases and 4 deaths throughout the U.S.,” she says. “That’s a significant mortality rate, but the number of total cases is also quite small. In terms of what kills people day in and day out, plague is very, very rare.”  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, plague strikes seven people on average in the U.S. each year, often occurring in Northern New Mexico, where Santa Fe is, as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Nevada. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen in other states. But as long as you take a few precautions and see a doctor if you have any reason to suspect you’ve been infected, there’s no reason to panic.

5 Ways to Fine

A couple of weeks ago I packed up my pregnant self and headed west for a week of cooking and tasting in Napa. Tough job, I know.

I was there for a Sophisticated Palate class at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in the idyllic town of St. Helena, Calif. More specifically, I was taking a class that was unfortunately titled “Cooking for the Next Half of Your Life.” While the name may have been less than inspiring, the content didn’t disappoint.

The avuncular and quirky Chef John Ash, an innovator in fresh wine-country cuisine, led our intimate class of seven. If you came to the class blasé about food (which a few participants did), his thorough and enthusiastic presentations on spices, legumes, and juicing were enough to get you fired up.

Here’s a sample of what I’ll be incorporating into my own home-cooking. These little tricks are all simple enough to do at home—no matter your skill level.

1. Grind it: Got a coffee grinder? Then you have all the tools you need to grind your own spices. Why bother? Because the flavor you get from whole spices far exceeds the ground variety. Plus, there’s a completely practical factor: Ground spices only keep their true flavor for about six months (less if you expose them to heat), while whole spices will last for up to a year. You can use a clean (wipe it out thoroughly) coffee grinder or an old-school mortar and pestle.

2. Toast it: Once you’ve ground the spices, punch up their flavor by toasting them. Use a dry frying pan, place your spices in it (you can mix all the spices you’ll be using in a dish), and heat the pan over medium-high heat until fragrant. Keep an eye out and be careful not to burn them!

3. Juice it: When I worked in a health-food store, I loved using my juicer, but it was such a pain to clean that I got rid of it. Plus, I would use a ton of fruits and veggies to get a measly glass of juice. But Chef Ash gave me another reason to use a juicer—fresh, super low-cal, nearly instant sauces. He made one from beets, ginger, and carrots that was sweet and flavorful, with just a hint of that gingerly burn. You could use it under a plate of sautéed scallops or salmon. Or whisk some extra-virgin olive oil into it for a gorgeous vinaigrette.

4. Blend it: Once margarita season is over, your blender probably collects dust bunnies. It’s a natural for drinks and smoothies, but it’s also ideal for making creamy dressings, soups, and sauces. On the first day of class, my cooking partner Erin and I were tasked with making a Waldorf salad. I had never made one before because the classic dressing for this salad is based on mayonnaise, with a touch of lemon juice and sometimes sugar. The heavy dressing made the dish lose its fresh appeal, even with the other traditional ingredients of grapes, celery, and apples. In class we made a version that was much fresher and pretty darn brilliant.

We used a base of roasted walnut oil, which has a wonderful nutty flavor and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Next, we added blanched garlic, fresh lemon juice and zest, sherry vinegar, and a bit of sugar to the oil. I didn’t know why we had to fuss with blanching (basically boiling for about 2 minutes and then plunging into cold water), but Chef explained that it removed garlic’s pungency, while still keeping its robust flavor intact. Makes sense to me—this was a salad you could enjoy and still chat with your neighbor.

5. Sniff it: When you’re cooking, do you usually get your schnoz right in there over the pot to give it a nice deep inhalation? You should, because nearly all of our sense of taste is located in our olfactory bulb, not in our taste buds. Chef Ash told us that when he used to interview chefs for his restaurant, he’d always cook with them. If they kept sticking their noses into the pots and pans, he knew he’d found someone with an excellent palate. So take a big whiff, and if the cumin isn’t quite coming through in your roasted squash recipe, taste it, re-season, and give it another sniff in 20 minutes.

California Waldorf salad recipe

This is a sort of “new age” version or revisit to the classic American salad created by Chef Oscar Tschirky at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in the late 1890s. Originally it contained just apples, celery, and mayonnaise.  This version has a little more going for it.  The celery, apples and cheese should all be cut in the same size and then arranged in “hay stack” shapes on the plate.  I call for aged Gouda here. Try the Winchester Gouda from San Diego, California, smoked Gouda, smoked mozzarella, or your favorite cheddar.

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup celery, cut in thick matchsticks1-1/2 cups peeled (if desired) firm, tart, sweet apples such as Fuji or Gala, cut in thickmatchsticks3/4 cup walnut halves or large pieces, lightly toasted and slivered1/2 cup seedless grapes, halved1/2 cup aged Gouda cheese cut in thick matchsticksWalnut oil dressing (recipe follows)Fresh lemon juiceSea salt and freshly ground pepperLettuce or radicchio cups

Toss the celery, apples, walnuts, grapes, and cheese with the walnut oil dressing to taste.  Season with drops of lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Serve immediately in crisp lettuce or radicchio cups.

Walnut oil dressing

Makes approximately 3/4 cup

Use a walnut oil that has a rich, nutty flavor.  The best seems to come from France.  The use of stock here helps reduce the fat content and also results in a “creamy” vinaigrette.  Reduced stocks are a great way to lower the fat in salad dressings.  Try to use a homemade, unsalted stock if you can.

2 tablespoons chopped shallots or green onions (white portion only)2 teaspoons blanched, chopped garlic1 teaspoon grated lemon zest1/4 cup rich chicken or vegetable stock 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice1 tablespoon sherry vinegar2 teaspoons Dijon mustard1/4 cup or so fragrant walnut oilSalt and freshly ground pepper1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon, parsley, chives, or a combination

Add the shallots, garlic, lemon zest, stock, vinegar and mustard to a blender and purée till smooth. With motor running, gradually add walnut oil to form a smooth, creamy vinaigrette.  Add more oil if a thicker vinaigrette is desired.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in herbs.  Store covered in refrigerator up to three days.

John Ash © 2000

Next week: How to make perfect wine and food pairings.

(PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO)

By: Frances Largeman-Roth

Thanksgiving Best

By Julie Upton, RDTurkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, pecan pie, oh my! That’s a meal primed to bust the button off your pants.

You may think you know how much you’re eating—and whether you’re making the healthiest choices at your holiday dinner—but you’d probably be surprised at the hidden fat and calorie content of some of your favorite dishes.

Take our Thanksgiving quiz to help better prepare for this season of friends, family, and of course, food.

[health-survey height=”500″ width=”460″]

Thanksgiving Best

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Thanks for taking our quiz! Here are the answers.

1. How many calories does a typical adult consume in one Thanksgiving dinner?

Correct answer: 3,000 calories

According to the Calorie Control Council, a turkey and trimmings dinner is not lacking in calories or fat. If we don’t make wise choices, we can easily eat as much as 3,000 calories at the holiday dinner.

2. How many additional calories does the average person snack on before and after Turkey Day dinner?

Correct answer: 1,500 calories

We can nibble and drink away another 1,500 calories (the same number of calories that many women can get by with for an entire day) while the Philadelphia Eagles try to make minced meat out of the Arizona Cardinals. Our total daily Thanksgiving Day calories can be enough to last us for more than two days, and we can eat enough fat on that day to last nearly four days. Instead, go into the holiday with a game plan: Eat a portion-controlled breakfast and a filling snack or lunch, depending on what time the big meal is served—and resist the urge to munch aimlessly throughout the day and during food preparation.

3. Eating a 3 1/2-ounce serving of white meat turkey without skin shaves how many fat grams—mostly saturated—from your main course?

Correct answer: 8.5 grams

Turkey is one of the lowest calorie and leanest protein sources—if you don’t eat the skin. A serving of roasted white meat has just 157 calories and 3 grams of fat. Dark meat without skin has just 187 and 7 grams of fat. However, dark meat with skin has a whopping 11.5 grams of fat (nearly 3 teaspoons of fat), and more than 3.5 grams of it are heart-stopping saturated fats.

4. Which side dish is the safest bet for seconds?

Correct answer: Green bean casserole

When in doubt, pile your plate with a non-starchy vegetable casserole. A cup of sweet potato or mashed potatoes will debit over 325 calories out of your diet, whereas a green bean casserole is a calorie bargain at 145 calories per cup. Better yet? Enjoy roasted or steamed vegetables this holiday and skip the added butter or cream-based sauces in which we often smother our vegetables.

5. Which alcoholic beverage is best for your waistline?

Correct answer: Light beer

Light beers are the skinniest sips when it comes to alcoholic beverages. You can find several that have well under 100 calories per 12-ounce bottle. Wines are the second best option, at about 120 calories per 4-ounce serving. Mixed drinks are the most calorie-rich and often contain 400+ calories each. If you like distilled spirits, try drinks that mix with diet sodas or club soda. A shot of any alcohol is just 80 calories.

6. If you’re watching calories, which holiday pie is the best?

Correct answer: Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin is the slimmest pie option around, and one of the healthier desserts because it is packed with beta-carotene, fiber, and lots of vitamins and minerals. A slice (1/8 of a 9-inch pie) has 325 calories, compared to 355 in a slice of apple and 455 in a slice of pecan. To cut calories back even further, look for pie crusts made with oats or graham crackers instead of shortening- or butter-based crusts.

Healthy Snacks for Super Bowl Sunday

By Frances Largeman-Roth, RDEven though I was born on Super Bowl Sunday and my husband played college ball, I’m not a football fan. But I do get into watching the expensive commercials and settling in for some tasty snacks. The problem is that most of what gets served for the occasion is what I call “caveman food”—stuff that you can pick up with your hands and that has enough calories to keep you going till you kill the next saber-toothed tiger.

I’m all for party food, but it doesn’t have to be laden with fat and sodium to be a good time. Here’s my menu for game day, guaranteed to allow you to get off the couch by the halftime show.

BeerNo Super Bowl party would be complete without some cold brews. If you happen to live on the West Coast, pick up some of New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat Beer. My other fave (not that I can enjoy it right now, being eight months preggers) is Blue Moon. Try the seasonal Full Moon Winter Ale. I find that wheat beer is really refreshing and goes well with a lot of different types of food.

Dips and suchWhite Bean and Roasted Garlic Dip is low fat but robust enough to feel appropriate for the occasion. Serve it up with toasted pita chips and an assortment of veggies (carrots, celery, radishes, and pepper strips are nice).

For something even easier, try this Creamy Salsa Dip. Just dump bottled salsa (as hot as you like) into a bowl and mix with yogurt, sour cream, and a little green onion and cumin. It’s perfect for crowds that turn up their noses at anything that smacks of “gourmet.” Serve with baked tortilla chips and jicama sticks.

Everyone loves a Warm Spinach-Artichoke Dip, but most are filled with copious amounts of artery-clogging saturated fat. Our version uses a secret ingredient—lima beans—to keep the dip rich and creamy, while keeping the fat under 5 grams per serving. Serve it hot from the oven with crusty bread, or spoon it into a pumpernickel round.

The hearty stuffThe game starts at dinnertime (6 p.m. EST), so you’ll be able to stave off your guests’ hunger with chips and dip for only so long. Then they’ll want something more substantial, like our Stromboli and ALT sandwiches. The stromboli is like a classic meatball sub. I recommend serving it on a baguette instead of individual French rolls. That way, you can slice a big sandwich into a bunch of minis, which is much easier for serving.

The ALT (Avocado, Lettuce, and Tomato) Sandwich will make your vegetarian friends happy (yes, there are non-meat-eating football fans). I would double the recipe and put turkey bacon on half of the sandwiches for even greater crowd appeal.

A warm bowl of chili is another favorite game-day dish. Try this easy vegetarian Black Bean Chili With Winter Squash or our more stick-to-your-ribs Smoky Chipotle Chili with steak. It has a hint of unsweetened cocoa for a richer flavor. Make them the day before, and then serve in a slow cooker on low.

Sweet noteWhether you’re a die-hard Steelers fan or a dedicated Cardinals supporter, wrap up the game with a treat that’ll please both camps. These Cheesecake Brownies have a luscious swirl on top and are a lean 140 calories. If you don’t have time to make your own brownies, you can use a boxed mix and dress it up with the light cream cheese swirl.

And, not to toot my own horn, but my recipe for Oatmeal-Date-Chocolate Cookies rocks. The dates add chewiness to these delicious and heart-healthy snacks. I won’t tell anyone there are dates in the cookies if you don’t.

Easy, Elegant Valentine’s Day Menu Under $40

By Frances Largeman-Roth, RDNeed a little extra something to put the sizzle back into your Valentine’s Day? I’m right there with you. I haven’t been feeling particularly romantic these days, with a baby due next month. But let me impart these words of wisdom: Don’t waste your money on an expensive Valentine’s dinner out. Not only is the holiday known as “amateur night” in chef circles, but an average dinner for two will cost you anywhere from $140 to nearly $400 on this “special” night.

Instead, do something truly special and cook for the one you love. Not only are these homemade meals delicious, but they’re also easy on the wallet (I just totaled up the costs on freshdirect.com, and my meal came out to be $42). This way, you and your sweetie will have more dough to put toward a romantic evening at a nice hotel some other night—or at least a babysitter for a kid-free evening out. Istockphoto

ForeplayFeeling weighed down is the last thing you want when you’re trying to get in the mood. I recommend starting the meal with one of these light dishes.  The Shrimp, Grapefruit, and Avocado Salad and Goat Cheese and Spiced Walnuts on Endive have heart-healthy ingredients (avocado and walnuts), and our Light French Onion Soup has less than one-third of the sodium in typical recipes, making it much better for your ticker.

Hot, but not heavySeafood is always sexy in my book. It’s hearty enough to satisfy your date but is still light enough to make sure he or she leaves plenty of room for dessert. For a light pasta-based seafood dish, try Pappardelle With Asparagus and Salmon. If you have a bit more time and want to put your big soup pot to use, our Cioppino With Garlic Toasts is seriously impressive. Once you plate this Italian fisherman stew in a nice bowl with the crispy toasts, it’ll look like you slaved in the kitchen for hours.

If you’re trying to cut down on costs even more, there’s no need to use all the seafood called for in the cioppino recipe. And go with the cheapest ones—shrimp and halibut.

I love to order scallops when I’m out to eat, but they are also a cinch to cook at home. The key is to avoid overcooking them, which gives them a rubbery texture. Our Pan-Roasted Scallops With Sesame Sauce is absolutely mouthwatering and easy to make, even for first-timers.

I’m not sure about yours, but my guy isn’t satisfied with a meal unless there’s meat involved. You can serve up a nice piece of steak without breaking the bank or racking up too many calories. Our Steak Frites has less than 300 calories—and that’s with the fries! Plus, flank steak won’t give you sticker shock. For another steak idea that’s light on the hips and the grocery bill, try our Hoisin-Glazed Beef Tenderloin Steak with a side of Minty Snap Peas.

The afterglowNow for the best part—dessert. What’s sexier than gooey, warm chocolate cake? Gooey, warm chocolate cake that only takes 30 minutes, is less than 300 calories, and basically takes three ingredients to make. If you want to dress up our Molten Flourless Chocolate Cake, make a quick raspberry sauce out of frozen raspberries and a bit of sugar. Not a chocolate fan? Try my simple, inexpensive Apple Tart Tatin hot out of the oven.

Next: Wines and table settings

Liquid courageChampagne is festive and goes with nearly everything, but for something more affordable, try a bottle of Spanish cava or Italian prosecco. You should be able to find something decent for about $10 to $12 a bottle. If you’re not into sparkling wine, pair a pinot grigio with any of the seafood options. A viognier would be especially good with the scallop dish.

To go with a lusty steak, I often reach for a pinot noir or, if I feel like something a bit lighter, red zinfandel. You can usually find La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for about $12. For a spicy zin that won’t stretch your budget, try Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend, which you can find for about $10.

Set the mood on a budgetDress up a table without spending lots of bucks by using fresh fruit. The best part is that you can eat the décor once your “tablescape” has served its purpose.

For Valentine’s, I suggest buying a giant pomegranate. The night before you want to use it, use a sharp knife to make a horizontal split in the stem. Allow it to dry overnight. Then, create any message—”I Love You,” “Hot and Heavy,” “Let’s Be Friends”—on a small piece of heavy stock paper and slide it through the slit you made in the pomegranate. This is similar to what I used at my wedding, and it looks impressive, trust me.

Beyond the pom, you could use fresh or frozen cranberries to fill up a tall glass vase, and then place a votive candle on top. Candles of all types are amazing for creating warm light and an inviting atmosphere. Nix the scented candles at the dinner table, but put some in the bathroom and bedroom.

If you can find vintage Valentine’s Day cards at a garage sale or antique store, they’re fun to place around your table.

Next: Updated mood music

Updated mood musicMarvin Gaye may be the obvious choice for a Valentine’s Day soundtrack, but it’s time to think outside of your vinyl record collection. Here’s a list of some songs that have an updated beat but the same smooth melody you’d expect at a romantic meal for two.

RockIf you love a good power ballad, like Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”…Then try Grammy-winning Kings of Leon. Tracks like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” have romance with a hard-rock edge.

JazzIf you like smooth jazz like Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me”…Then try the soothing voice of Amos Lee. If “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight” doesn’t get you in the mood, I’m not sure what will.

PopIf you still sigh when you hear Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You”…Then try the more pop-inspired “If This Isn’t Love,” by Jennifer Hudson.

CountryIf you hear Garth Brooks “The Dance” and start to two-step…Then try the twangy but tender “Alabama” by Cross Canadian Ragweed. If that’s too upbeat, I promise you’ll want to slow dance to “When the Stars Go Blue” by Ryan Adams.

DiscoIf you bring out the Bee Gees on date nights…Then try MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” It may not have the disco-fabulous quality, but it’s definitely something you can groove to. Or slow it down with “Woman” by Maroon 5.

ClassicsIf you still have a death grip on your seal-the-deal playlist…Then try some of these remakes of your favorite love songs:

Sarah Bareilles brings her rich voice to Peter Gabriel’s “Your Eyes.”

Vampire Weekend adds a little indie rock to Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere.”

Deathcab for Cutie does more than respectable job with the Cure’s “Love Song.”

Three Days Grace’s version of “Wicked Game” may not replicate Chris Isaak’s eerie vocals, but it’s a great version of the ultimate love song.

Have fun, get cozy, and enjoy each other, feeling smug that you’re not shelling out a fortune for an overcooked, overpriced meal.

Job Loss Linked to Risk of Hypertension, Heart Disease, Other Conditions

Istockphoto

By Theresa TamkinsFRIDAY, May 8, 2009 (Health.com) – As if losing your job isn’t bad enough, a new study suggests that people who are laid off are at higher risk of being diagnosed with health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and even arthritis than those who keep their jobs.

“It’s particularly difficult to take good care of yourself, but maybe what this study can do is help people realize that it is precisely in that period right after a job loss when your health may be the most vulnerable,” says study author Kate Strully, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Albany. “It’s particularly important to manage stress in healthy ways and try to maintain good health habits and cope effectively.”

Strully examined survey data from more than 8,000 workers, including 3,359 white-collar workers and 1,851 blue-collar workers, who answered questions about their health and work history three times—in 1999, 2001, and 2003. Strully conducted the study, which was published Friday in the journal Demography, when she was at Harvard University as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society scholar.

She found that people who had lost their job were 83% more likely to report a new health problem during the study than people who did not lose their job—even if they went on to find a new job. People who had lost a job had about a 10% chance of developing a new health problem during the study—such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or arthritis—compared to roughly a 5% chance for people who had never lost a job.

The risks seemed to be true for both white- and blue-collar workers, she says. “I would have expected to see less of an effect on white-collar than blue-collar workers but I don’t,” she says. “I see a similar effect.”

To make sure the study subjects didn’t have health problems or other issues that might cause them to lose their jobs, Strully specifically looked at people who lost their job because their place of business had shut down.

In a second analysis she looked at people who said they were laid off or fired by a business that didn’t close. Strully found similar effects on health—although this time only in blue-collar workers, for reasons that are unclear.

Next page: Why job loss may be hazardous to your health

So how can job loss increase the risk of health problems? There are a lot of life changes that can go along with unemployment, including a loss of health insurance and income, and possibly a decline in healthy habits, says Strully.

“People may have more trouble quitting smoking after a job loss, or it’s harder to eat a healthy diet,” she says. “But additionally there’s this issue of psychological stress that goes along with it.”

It’s possible that stress itself may be partly responsible for the link, she says.

“Some of the most common health conditions coming up were arthritis and heart disease and hypertension and cardiovascular conditions, which in large part are inflammatory-type responses,” she says. “We know that inflammation is a common physiological response to stressors and psychological stress.”

Experts have long known that there is a link between unemployment and poor health, but it wasn’t clear if illness led to job loss, or vice versa. For example, people who are sick are 40% more likely to lose their job than those who are well. The new study is unusual in that it teased those factors and tried to get to the root of health problems that could have been caused by a job loss, say Strully.

“When we see that people who lost their job are sick, we don’t know if they lost their job because they’re sick or the job loss caused them to get sick,” she says. “I could separate out people who had lost their jobs under different circumstances and various reasons.”

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, director of the Division of Health Psychology at Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, Ohio, says, the results “likely underestimate the impact of job loss on health, if anything.”

She says that her own and other research has shown that stress can increase inflammatory molecules such as interleukin-6, which are known to be higher in those with arthritis, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis. “And that’s just the short list,” she says.

“I think the role of stress related to job loss is much bigger than what was captured by the survey questions,” says Kiecolt-Glaser, who was not involved in the study.

Now that unemployment in the United States is at 8.9%, the highest rate in 25 years, the health risks of unemployment might be even higher than the study suggests, says Strully. Although the economy had its ups and downs during the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s “nothing like what we’re seeing right now,” says Strully. “When [study subjects] lost their jobs many of them could expect to become re-employed relatively quickly.”

“I think what we are seeing now is not only an increase in job loss but also a broader economic change that is limiting alternative incomes,” she says. “Common sense just says that it’s going to be much harder to cope financially.”


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Is Your Bottled Water Safe?

(Getty Images)

By Kate StinchfieldTHURSDAY, July 9, 2009 (Health.com) — Although you may think that bottled water is a safer option than tap, two new reports show that the store-bought stuff is actually less regulated than the water you get out of your faucet for free.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has little authority to regulate bottled brands, according to a recently released U.S. Congressional report.

While municipal water utilities are required to provide public reports of test results, bottled-water makers are not. (On the other hand, well water, which is found in many rural areas, isn’t regulated like water provided by towns and cities.) So although you may fork over a pretty penny for bottled water, that doesn’t mean it’s any better than what’s coming out of your faucet. In fact, it could be worse and you’d never know it.

The new research is backed by a second report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The nonprofit advocacy organization surveyed the labels and websites of nearly 200 popular bottled-water brands and found that less than 2% disclosed three important facts that can affect safety: the water’s source, purification methods, and chemical pollutants in each bottle. (See the full report on bottled water at EWG.)

“We’re really pushing for a consumer’s right to know what’s in their water,” says Nneka Leiba, an environmental health researcher at the EWG. “This isn’t a doomsday scenario. It isn’t that the claims are false; it’s just that they are misleading.”

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Reaching for the most popular bottled brands isn’t necessarily a solution. In fact, the EWG report found that some of the best-known brands—like Whole Foods and San Pellegrino—are the least likely to report where the water comes from and what it contains.

“This probably has to do with the fact that they’re imported, so the regulations are different,” says Leiba. “Some of the brands you think wouldn’t be as transparent, like Walgreens or Sam’s Club, scored higher than many of the popular brands.”

Next page: So what’s a safety-conscious shopper to do?

In recent years, some reports have suggested that tap water could be contaminated by trace amounts of pharmaceuticals or other substances.

Leiba says that activated carbon water filters—like Brita pitchers or faucet attachments—are a safe and affordable option for filtering tap water. If families can afford it, she recommends a reverse osmosis filter, which will eliminate all impurities.

These reports come as food safety concerns seem to be at an all-time high. Lately, recalls of spinach, sprouts, peanut butter, and, most recently, cookie dough have made many consumers start to question the safety of the items they find on grocery-store shelves.

Unlike tap water suppliers, bottled water companies don’t have to have their water tested by a certified laboratory, and they aren’t required to notify customers within 24 hours if they find elevated levels of contaminants. The FDA does require bottled water companies to test for contaminants and other problems, says Joshua Sharfstein, MD, the agency’s principal deputy commissioner.

If the companies fail, however, the public doesn’t get to see the actual test results. “There’s clearly a difference in disclosure between municipal water and bottled water, but the FDA’s laws focus on safety of food more than on disclosure of information,” says Dr. Sharfstein. “It’s not a question of whether the FDA can do more; it’s whether the government can do more through the food safety bill.”

Only changes in the current regulations would make it mandatory for manufacturers to make those kinds of records public, he says. Those regulations may change with the Food Safety Enhancement Act.

The proposed Food Safety Enhancement Act covers many aspects of food safety, including better preventive control measures by food manufacturers, more frequent inspections of facilities, and greater FDA authority over food recalls.

Brain Freeze Explained, Movies That Make You Fat, and Palin's Challenge to Obama

Brain freeze, earwax, goose bumps, hiccups…here’s the scoop on 12 fascinating health mysteries, plus what you can do when they happen to you. [Real Simple]

Here’s a race we’d definitely campaign for: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin says she can beat President Barack Obama in a long-distance run in her home state. Obama says he’s “95% cured” of his smoking habit, but Palin has a leg up: She’s already completed a sub-four-hour marathon. One thing’s for sure: We betcha can see Russia from the finish line… [Runner’s World]

Talk about 3-D ultrasounds: A Brazilian designer has found a way to create life-size models of unborn fetuses. Experts say such models could help expectant parents bond with their baby or adjust to abnormalities. We can’t decide: Cute…or creepy? [Good Morning America]

Watching your waistline? You might also want to keep an eye on your upcoming Netflix picks: Research shows that sad movies make people eat more than happy ones. [Real Age]

“Report: 90% of Waking Hours Spent Staring at Glowing Rectangles.” We recently saw this headline in The Onion and laughed—then became a little horrified at how true it really is. Sometimes we feel like our job (not to mention our must-see TV schedule and our online “social life”) is keeping us from enjoying the great outdoors. Luckily, these tips on avoiding “nature-deficit disorder” should help us reconnect. [Care 2]