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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and your family a healthy and happy holiday season!
Dr. Cruz, Dr. Jakob and the entire staff of Total Family Healthcare.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Healthy Menu Item May Not Be All That Healthy

Just because a restaurant bills itself as healthy doesn’t mean that everything on the menu is that great for you. Here are a few things to look out for when eating out:

It’s labeled gluten-free. Unless you have celiac disease or you’re sensitive to gluten, gluten-free foods are no safer for your diet or your body than the regular stuff. Look out for calorie bombs like gluten-free mac and cheese, and flourless cakes.

A component of the dish is maple- or honey-glazed. These natural sugars may sound appealing and less refined than white sugar, but they still contain unnecessary calories that give sugar-sweetened candy and soda a bad rep. Instead, look for caramelized foods. They’re cooked slowly, which creates a chemical reaction that breaks down natural sugars to develop a deep, nutty flavor.

“Creamy” is used to describe something on the plate. While this could describe a frothy sauce or dressing that is blended for an extra-smooth mouth feel, it probably refers to an item made with milk or cream, which means it could contains a lot of saturated fat. Just ask what’s in the item and request sauce on the side so you can monitor your portions.

It’s vegan! Vegetarian proteins like tofu, tempeh, and seitan may be naturally low in calories, and high in protein and fiber, but they’re also low in flavor. To compensate, chefs add sodium and sauces that contribute fat. Beware of menu items modeled after classic pub foods (like wings and nachos), which tend to be highly processed. And remember that your vegan “bacon” “cheese” “burger” could easily contain just as many calories as the real version.

It’s dairy-free. It’s true that dairy-free items tend to contain less saturated fat than cheesy, creamy dishes. But if a chef swaps out regular cheese for vegan cheese, your dairy-free dish might contain just as many calories as a dish that contains cow’s  milk. Also, dairy-free foods tend to be full of fillers and foreign-sounding additives like carrageenan, maltodextrin, and mono and diglycerides. If you’re lactose intolerant and crave some gooey goodness, dig in, but watch your portions.
The same warnings go for dairy-free desserts and coffee drinks made with flavored dairy alternatives like vanilla soy milk, which tend to contain added sugars that bump up the total amount of calories. Opt for unsweetened, unflavored alternatives, and remember that foods made with low-cal options like almond milk have less protein than regular cow’s milk, so they won’t really satisfy your appetite.

It’s made with whole grains. You know that whole grains like brown rice are better for you than refined carbs like white rice, which cause a blood sugar spike that can stoke your appetite shortly after you eat. But rice is rice — it’s not free of calories or carbs. Look out for meals that feature starchy carbs like pasta as the main event — even if it’s whole wheat pasta, you’ll end up with a dish that’s extra high in carbs. And if you do go with the pasta; opt for the seafood special, which will contain lean protein and healthy fats to balance out your meal.

It’s fat-free. Unfortunately, low-fat often means low-flavor. To compensate, chefs add sugar, which is no better (and probably worse) than the healthy fats found in options like balsamic vinaigrette.

It’s organic. Organic foods aren’t always healthier than non-organic foods, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The term itself refers to how a food is grown or produced: without chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and antibiotics (in the case of livestock). In other words, organic foods might be cleaner when they enter the kitchen, but there’s no saying whether they’ll be healthier (i.e., richer in nutrients and lower in fat) than regular foods by the time they make it to your plate.

It’s 100-percent natural. "Natural" meat, poultry, and eggs are minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients, according to the USDA. But natural doesn’t mean low-calorie or low-fat. So you know that 100-percent of your natural bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich has no artificial ingredients, but It’s probably still dripping in unhealthy fats.

It’s raw. Because raw foods are minimally processed, they may seem like your best bet. But because cooking can kill dangerous bacteria found in food, a dish made with raw meat, eggs, or unpasteurized milk products can actually make you sick. While raw food advocates claim that cooking kills enzymes in food and reduces the food’s nutrients, science suggests that cooking some foods (like tomatoes) can actually help your body absorb more of that food’s nutrients. One last thing to remember, raw vegan meals tend to contain fewer calories and less protein than cooked dishes, so they might leave you hungry and craving some serious dessert.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Depression

Christmas time is the most likely time of the year to experience depression. The suicide rate is higher during December than any other month, which tells us that Christmas depression should be taken quite seriously. Depression at Christmas time can be triggered by a multitude of things, such as losses, failures, and loneliness. These elements are exacerbated this time of year. People who have had deaths in the family or have experienced divorce or the loss of a child are more prone to depression, especially during the holiday season.

It can be especially difficult to cope with a Christmas depression because everyone else seems so joyous, so reaching out feels more awkward and more remote. We don’t want to bring down those around us, we don’t want to feel “different” or alienate ourselves, and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves either. We tend to disassociate ourselves from our own feelings and ask ourselves self defeating questions. We wonder what’s wrong with us and why we can’t just jump right on into the holiday cheer. This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year and yet we can barely drag ourselves out of bed and become functional human beings. On top of feeling sad and dysfunctional, we feel out of place, and somehow illegitimate in our feelings.

 Not all holiday depression has anything to do with loss or failure or death, or even anything obvious. Sometimes people tend to just get depressed around the holidays. Yet those without an obvious “reason” feel that they really shouldn’t be depressed and are least likely to reach out for help. It’s as though people who have experienced trauma have more of a “right” to experience holiday depression than those who appear to have everything that could need or want.

People fail to recognize that holidays are stressful enough to trigger a depression. Sometimes the hustle and bustle and the need to produce (food, presents, parties, and the lot) are enough to seriously frustrate a person right into a depression. Feeling disconnected with the holidays can easily lead to a mild to moderate depression.

Whether dealing with a loss or change or simply feeling overwhelmed by holiday sadness, the number one most important thing anyone can do is to tell someone. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Over the past ten years there has been a great awakening, so to speak, that has illuminated the issue of Christmas depression. People have become more educated and more understanding about the phenomenon and often already know that someone they love is suffering from depression before there is any actual confession.

If you are alone at Christmastime and you realize that you are coming down with holiday depression, reach out to someone by phone, whether it is a friend, a relative, or a professional, just call someone. This is so important. There is nothing to be ashamed of and there are plenty of people willing and able to assist you. A bad moment (even a really long one that last several weeks) does not have to ruin a future. Unfortunately people who find themselves depressed and do nothing about it are prone to staying depressed. Depression can interfere with job performance, friendships, romantic relationships, parenting ability, self care, and even the ability to take care of the dog. It can lead to losses of these very important things if the depression becomes serious enough.

The onset of Christmas depression can sneak up on you in numerous forms. You may simply start to feel more tired than normal or start sleeping through the alarm. You may procrastinate on holiday shopping, even when those events that require your participation are only a few days away. You may start to feel randomly irritable, or snap at people without provocation. You may start to feel disconnected with the world and withdraw from those around you, even children. These are all signs that you are experiencing at least some form of holiday depression, and warning signs that you may need help in dealing with whatever is making you feel this way.

Dealing with a holiday depression once you are able to recognize it is a vital step in returning to a better state of health. Naturally, my first recommendation is that you find a good counselor to speak with. The onset of holiday depression doesn’t have to mean that you require long term counseling or even medication. It may just mean you have to learn to set better boundaries or learn to let go of the past or learn better coping skills when it comes to dealing with a tragedy. Nothing that you are experiencing is so terribly abnormal, and no one is going to react terribly to you if you ask for help.

A good counselor can help you learn to set “holiday boundaries” while you are coping with holiday depression. “Holiday boundaries” include things like limiting the number of holiday party invitations you and your family accept, scaling down Christmas to a level that feels more reasonable to everyone, asking for help in the Christmas preparations, and perhaps dealing a little differently with the specific tasks that tend to depress you more. If wrapping presents creates a huge sadness in you because it triggers and emotion or a memory, then perhaps you can get a significant other, an older child, or another relative to help you so that you don’t have to wrap nearly as many. Sometimes just doing it with someone is enough to help keep your depression away.

A Christmas depression is usually more than just a simple case of the holiday blues, and it really should be treated with more respect than that. It is better to go to a counselor and have them tell you that you just have the “blues” and it will pass than to sit on a serious depression and slowly watch your world around you disassemble. A holiday depression requires attention, especially one that develops annually. While it may seem logical to believe that because it happens every year that it will just keep leaving every year.

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