Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

Chocolate Does Come With Some Health Benefits

Photo by Louis Hansel

Who doesn’t love chocolate? We all have our favorites, be it milk, dark, white chocolate, or another. Most of us are also careful about our chocolate intake due to worries of the calories and sugar that come along with the chocolate bliss.

Mild chocolate and white chocolate have more calcium and protein because of more milk powder content but may also have more sugar. Luckily, chocolate, particularly dark, also comes with some health benefits.

  • Contain antioxidants-the darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cocoa and higher the level of antioxidants
  • Contain flavonoids which help stimulate blood flow
    • Increased blood circulation to scalp results in thicker hair
  • Natural source of magnesium (mineral essential for brain health)
    • Can help with concentration and alertness
    • Helps with pituitary gland function, lowers cortisol production, relieving stress and also stimulates serotonin production which makes you feel happy
  • Contains phenolics, an antioxidant that boosts the immune system
  • Can reduce bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and improved good cholesterol (HDL)

National Chocolate Day is on October 28th so don’t forget to enjoy a piece and don’t feel too guilty about it! Yes, it does has sugar and calories, but smart choices can be made, for example chocolate with nuts. Like everything else…moderation.

An Apple a Day

Photo by Javier Balseiro

We’ve all heard “an apple a day keeps the doctor away". This proverb initially appeared in the 19th century to get people to eat nutritious foods to stay healthy.

National Apple day, October 21st, gives us the opportunity to review the health benefits of apples.

  • Helps to maintain weight or even lose weight-makes you feel full, on average apple is about 95 calories
  • Contains antioxidants
  • Heart healthy-contains flavonoids which reduces inflammation
  • Helps in digestion as it contains fiber
  • Helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes-soluble fiber can help slow the absorption of sugar
  • Helps with memory and may prevent Alzheimer’s disease because it contains plant pigment quercetin, a flavonoid which protects cells including brain cells
  • Promotes bone density and strength
  • Keep the peel on if you can-it contains fiber and antioxidants
  • Helps your immunity-contains about 10–14% of the Vitamin C you need, also has the flavonoid quercetin which reduces inflammation and regulates the immune system, helps with asthma and allergic reactions

Apples are healthiest when you eat them fresh but get creative if you need. Try out all those apple recipes, be it apple pie, apple crisp, apple sauce….or grab another fruit! Remember that the whole point is to get those nutrients, whatever fruit it may be, so you can reap those health benefits.

How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?

Photo by Caroline Attwood

What is protein?

Protein is one of three macronutrients the body needs in large amounts along with fat and carbohydrates.

Proteins are made of smaller components known as amino acids which attach to each other to form chains. The sequence of these amino acid chains determine the specific structure and function of the protein. Proteins are found through out the body and are needed for growth and maintenance of our tissues, serve as enzymes that work on biochemical reactions, regulate body processes including fluid balance, help form antibodies to fight infection, and serve as transport proteins for nutrients and oxygen.

How much protein should you be eating?

The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 to 1 gram/kg of body weight or 0.36 gram/pound of body weight. The protein need depends on activity level, age, muscle mass, and overall health. Those who exercise regularly and the elderly require more protein.

The elderly and protein

After the age of 40, studies show that skeletal muscle mass and strength decline. The involuntary age-related loss of muscle mass and strength is known as sarcopenia.

50% of elderly adults do not get enough protein which is an alarming number as muscle mass is important in maintaining strength, function, and preventing falls.

Most elderly adults require more protein, about 1.0 – 1.2 grams of protein/kg body weight

Sources of protein

The body does not store protein so it’s important to get it from your diet. Protein in diet is broken down into amino acids. There are two sources of protein: animal proteins and plant proteins.

Animal proteins

Plant proteins

  • Incomplete as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that the body needs
  • Beans, nuts, lentils, tofu, edamame, quinoa, peanut butter, chia seeds, chickpeas, green peas, oats, vegetables(broccoli, spinach, potatoes)
  • Diet high in plant protein is associated with lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes

Most people don’t keep track of how much protein they are eating a day but it is one of the things that we really should be doing. Although it is always good to try to get protein from your diet, sometimes that is not enough and you may need to supplement it with protein bars, protein shakes, or eating an extra yogurt serving (be sure to read labels because of the hidden sugar content that can be found in yogurt, protein shakes, etc.).

FDA Urging Less Salt

Finally!!! The salt content in processed food and restaurant food has been incredibly high and contributing to poor overall health for us all. Although the goal to cut average sodium level from 3400 mg to 3000 mg a day over the next 2.5 years is still above the recommended allowance of about 2300 mg a day, this is an important step in the right direction and will make a difference in preventing chronic illnesses.

Hand Washing 101

Photo by Mélissa Jeanty

Throughout the day, we touch surfaces, objects, as well as other people and may accumulate germs which we can then spread to others as well as ourselves by touching our eyes, mouth, or nose. Hand washing keeps us safe and healthy by killing germs. The pandemic has brought the limelight to hand hygiene in the prevention of spread of COVID. Global handwashing day is observed each year on October 15th and is a good time to go over some quick pointers.

When should you wash your hands?

  • When you have been out (touched public doors, elevator buttons, gas pumps, grocery shopping)
  • Preparing food (also before and after eating)
  • After using the restroom
  • After blowing your nose or sneezing
  • Handling garbage
  • Touching your mask
  • Pet care

How to wash your hands?

Use clean, running water for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, forming a good lather and scrubbing the front and back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your finger nails, and wrist. Rinse well afterwards and dry with a clean towel or air-dryer.

Are hand sanitizers okay?

Hand sanitizers are a good alternative when out and about. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Hand washing is always better than using a hand sanitizer as hand sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.

Should we moisturize our hands?

For those who wash their hands frequently, like healthcare workers, it is important to keep up with moisturizing their hands to prevent dry skin.

Waning Immunity Against COVID-19

Photo by Parang Mehta

On July 30, 2021, Israel became the first nation in the world to initiate a third booster dose of the BNT162b2 vaccine against COVID for those above 60 years of age who had been vaccinated at least 5 months earlier. Now, it has been extended to the whole population. A study published in NEJM found that the confirmed infection rate and severe illness were lower among those who received a booster dose of the BNT162b2 vaccine.

Now another study has looked into waning immunity:

In a retrospective cohort study, electronic health records of about 3.4 million patients 12 years and older from Kaiser Permanente in Southern California from December 14, 2020 to August 8, 2021 were reviewed for SARS-CoV-2 PCR-positive tests and COVID-19-related hospital admissions. This Pfizer funded study published on 10/4/21 in The Lancet showed that vaccine effectiveness dropped from 88% in the first month post full vaccination to about 47% after five months.

Although this shows the reasoning behind the booster dose recommendation for those eligible for it, there are limitations to this study. We don’t know the risk level of those that had breakthrough infections such as occupational risk as seen with healthcare professionals. It also does not take into account adherence to masks or social distancing. It will be interesting to see what conclusions come about from other studies.

What 30 Day Challenge Do You Plan on Taking On?

A good reminder to think of all the things you have always wanted to do but haven’t gotten to yet. Use the next 30 days to do something new. Who knows where this new adventure can take you….

A Healthy Breakfast

Photo by Melissa Belanger

We have all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Although most people agree that breakfast is important, about a quarter of people tend to skip breakfast, be it time constraint, not feeling hungry, or taking part in a diet or fasting routine.

Breakfast is the meal that breaks the fast after a night of sleep. Our bodies have been deprived of calories, bodily functions have slowed, and metabolism has also slowed down. By having breakfast, the body gets fueled with calories to give it energy and it also kickstarts metabolism to start the day.

Here are some benefits of having breakfast:

Boost in brain function

  • Studies show it improves alertness, concentration, problem-solving ability, and memory. It Improves focus in both work and school. Students who have breakfast tend to get better grades.

Manages weight

  • Breakfast kickstarts your metabolism, helping you burn calories throughout the day.
  • Having breakfast also keeps your appetite in check.

Decreases risk of obesity and related chronic illness due to obesity.

Promotes cardiovascular health

  • Skipping breakfast is associated with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease

Decreases risk of developing Type 2 diabetes mellitus

Reduces cholesterol

Helps you get those well needed nutrients

  • Those who eat breakfast tend to get more fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, iron, and, zinc than breakfast-skippers

September is Better Breakfast Month and thus a good time to reflect on ways to do better with breakfast habits, be it getting a grab and go breakfast, incorporating healthier foods, or just making an effort to have breakfast.

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” - Adele Davis

Smart Choices

What you become and where you go in life is not one choice but a series of choices spanning several years.

Honey and Its Health Benefits

Photo by Benyamin Bohlouli

September marks National Honey Month bringing the spotlight to all the hard work bees put in to give us HONEY. There are many different types of honey depending on the variety of bees and the flower nectar used. Here is a video on how honey is made (in case you are interested).

There are two types of honey

  • Raw Honey
    • natural
    • honey is filtered to remove small bits of debris, pollen, beeswax, and parts of dead bees
    • not pasteurized and may contain spores of bacteria and should not be given to children who are less than 12 months of age due to risk of it containing clostridium botulinum and causing a food poisoning known as botulism
  • Processed Honey
    • heated and bottled
    • Pasteurization does reduce the number of nutrients and antioxidants though

Raw honey, has long been linked to health benefits

  • Antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory
  • Rich in antioxidants as it contains organic acids and flavonoids
  • Contains Vitamins C, E, B, riboflavin, thiamin, iron, calcium, and selenium
  • Natural sweetener, although it can increase blood sugar level, not as much as refined sugar so need to be careful if you are diabetic
  • Can improve cholesterol, studies show honey can decrease LDL and triglyceride levels and increase HDL
  • Improves memory
  • Manuka honey helps heal wounds
  • Helps in digestion
  • Acts as a natural cough suppressant
  • Soothes sore throat, add it to hot water or tea with lemon
  • Skin-face masks, skin moisturizer, pore cleaner, heals acne and scars, brightens skin complexion, smooths lips
  • Hair-relieves itching, dandruff
  • Improves and promotes sleep

With all these health benefits, it may be worthwhile to reach for the honey instead of sugar in your next cup of tea. Remember honey at the end of the day is a sweetener so you need to be careful of how much you have. The American Heart Association recommends less than 3 tablespoons of sugar per day for men and less than 2 tablespoons of sugar per day for women.