April 25th, 2008 cate
“I came home from work last night and my wife handed me the May issue of Parents magazine. She pointed out an articled called “25 Ways to Save Money on Health Care” by Teri Cettina. She thought I might like it, and she was right!
I am going to share the 25 ways here, but if you want the full detail you’ll have to check out the magazine — their web site is down so I can’t check to see if it’s available online or not. I’ll keep this brief, but there are a few that I will elaborate on.
1. Shop for the best health plan.
2. Consider a high deductible (HD) plan — I think HD works well for some people, especially in combination with a health savings account (HSA). However, I don’t think it’s a good fit for parents-to-be, new parents, and people who need a lot of medical attention.
3. Take advantage of perks offered by your health plan.
4. ring a list of covered prescription medications (”formulary”) to the doctor.
5. Be willing to ask your doctor about the cost and seek less expensive alternatives.
6. Stay up-to-date with routine and well-child checkups.
7. Stay in-network.
8. Slice your pills into two halves — Teri said that it might be possible to slice high-dose prescription pills to save money. Be sure to clear this with your doctor.
9. Look for special services — this is the same thing with #3?
10. Wear helmet and protective gears.
11. Opt for less expensive generic drugs.
12. Ask your doctor for drug samples.
13. Take advantage of tax-sheltered flexible spending account (FSA).
14. Split the cost between two plan years — I don’t think this works well for most situations, unless you are trying to take advantage of FSA.
15. Watch your hygiene. Wash your hands often….”
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April 22nd, 2008 cate
On this day paying hommage to the Earth, let’s read something by the awesome Michael Pollan:
“Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it’s not an easy one to answer. I don’t know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.
But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?
A sense of personal virtue, you might suggest, somewhat sheepishly. But what good is that when virtue itself is quickly becoming a term of derision? And not just on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal or on the lips of the vice president, who famously dismissed energy conservation as a “sign of personal virtue.” No, even in the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker, it seems the epithet “virtuous,” when applied to an act of personal environmental responsibility, may be used only ironically. Tell me: How did it come to pass that virtue — a quality that for most of history has generally been deemed, well, a virtue — became a mark of liberal softheadedness? How peculiar, that doing the right thing by the environment — buying the hybrid, eating like a locavore — should now set you up for the Ed Begley Jr. treatment.
And even if in the face of this derision I decide I am going to bother, there arises the whole vexed question of…”
April 10th, 2008 cate
“While some vitamin supplements can boost your health, others may actually harm.
Google “vitamins” and you get 50 million results and the wildest claims you can imagine. That’s almost six times more than what you get for “Brad Pitt,” but the descriptions are just as breathless. As you navigate the maze of sites, you see phrases claiming vitamin supplements can “increase energy,” “stimulate brain function” and “improve sex drive.” There are promises of “reversing cancer” and “removing plaque” from your arteries. It all helps explain why Americans shell out $7.5 billion a year on vitamins, hoping to prolong life, slow aging and protect against a bevy of illnesses.
But new research not only refutes many of these claims, it also shows that some of these vitamins may in fact be harmful.
A February report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking antioxidant vitamins actually increased a person’s risk of dying by up to 16 percent.
A study by researchers at the University of Washington last May found that high doses of vitamin E taken over ten years slightly elevated lung cancer risk in smokers.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that men who took more than one multivitamin daily had a higher risk of prostate cancer.
The antioxidant study, in particular, surprised a lot of people and has prompted a heated debate. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, beta carotene (another form of vitamin A), E and C have long enjoyed a reputation as disease fighters because they’re thought to protect against free radicals that can damage….”
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April 5th, 2008 cate
“Products containing high fructose corn syrup cannot be considered ‘natural’ and should not be labeled as such, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said.
The decision is likely to cause a massive stir in the food and beverage industry, where a discreet battle has been raging over the status of the controversial sweetener.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is derived from corn, and used primarily to sweeten beverages. The trade group Corn Refiners Association and numerous industry members have long maintained that HFCS is a natural sweetener.
However, the sugar industry is more critical, as HFCS comes into direct competition with sugar as a sweetener. Industry group Sugar Association, as well as consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest categorically maintain that HFCS cannot be considered natural because its chemical bonds are broken and rearranged in the manufacturing process.
The debate raged on for one simple reason: FDA does not define the term ‘natural’, and it has therefore been left open to different interpretations.
However, in response to an inquiry from FoodNavigator-USA.com, the regulatory agency examined the composition of HFCS, which it said is produced using synthetic fixing agents.
“Consequently, we would object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing HFCS,” the agency’s Geraldine June said in an e-mail to FoodNavigator-USA.com. June is Supervisor of the Product Evaluation and Labeling team at FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements.
FDA on ‘natural’
FDA has received two petitions to define the term ‘natural’ – one from the Sugar Association, and one from bakery firm Sara Lee.
Although the agency had not provided a formal response to these petitions, it told this publication that it has no plans to define the term in the near future, due to limited resources. “We’re not sure how high of an issue it is for consumers,” it said.
Nevertheless, FDA does have a longstanding policy regarding the use of the term. This states that a ‘natural’ product is one that has not had any artificial or synthetic substances added to the product that would not normally be expected to be in the food – including artificial flavors or color additives, regardless of source.
FDA also does not currently restrict the use of the term ‘natural’ except on products that contain added color, synthetic substances and flavors as provided for in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 101.22.
FDA on HFCS
Although FDA provides no definition or detailed guidelines for the use of the term ‘natural’, it said it has a system in place for manufacturers with doubts to approach it and ask for guidance on the use of particular ingredients.
Under this system, FoodNavigator-USA.com submitted an inquiry about HFCS.
FDA responded that HFCS is prepared from a high dextrose equivalent corn starch hydrolysate by partial enzymatic conversion of glucose (dextrose) to fructose using an insoluble glucose isomerase enzyme preparation.
The glucose isomerase enzyme preparation is fixed (rendered insoluble) using safe and suitable immobilization/fixing agents, it said.
“The use of synthetic fixing agents in the enzyme preparation, which is then used to produce HFCS, would not be consistent with our (…) policy regarding the use of the term ‘natural’,” said Geraldine June.
“Moreover, the corn starch hydrolysate, which is the substrate used in the production of HFCS, may be obtained through the use of safe and suitable acids or enzymes. Depending on the type of acid(s) used to obtain the corn starch hydrolysate, this substrate itself may not fit within the description of ‘natural’ and, therefore, HCFS produced from such corn starch hydrolysate would not qualify for a ‘natural’ labeling term,” she concluded.
HFCS and industry
Although FDA’s conclusion may not be welcome by some industry members, who would have liked to have promoted their HFCS-containing products as ‘natural’, it will at least prevent any future misinterpretations.
Last year for example, both Cadbury Schweppes and Kraft faced lawsuits after making ‘natural’ label claims on beverages that contained high fructose corn syrup. Both companies changed the labeling of their products before any legal action was taken.
The market for ‘natural’
The quest for natural foods and beverages has burgeoned on the back of an overall consumer move towards healthier nutrition.
According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, ‘All Natural’ was the third most frequent claim made on food products launched in the US in 2007, appearing on 2,617 products. It ranked fourth most popular claim for beverages, used on 542 items.
In Europe, 878 ‘All Natural’ food products and 509 beverage products were launched last year.
Additionally, the Natural Marketing Institute reported in 2004 that 63 percent of US consumers have a preference for natural foods and beverages. In 2006, a Harris Interactive survey found that 83 percent of people wanted a government definition of the term.”