Monday, September 28, 2009


Eat right to avoid the dreaded ‘freshman 15’

The discovery of our babysitter driving was one thing. But recently we shared in the excitement of her going off to college. A great loss to us begins a new journey for Jess.

I can’t help but to reminisce on my own experiences as a freshman off to college. Raman noodles, Nescafé and grinders (as I learned New Englander’s call them) were on my weekly menu. It is no surprise that the freshman 15 was real for me. The opportunity to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, had its ramifications.

According to a study at Cornell University, college students gain an average of four pounds during their first 12 weeks on campus. The cause of weight gain is linked to all-you-can-eat dining facilities, evening snacks and empty-calorie food choices.

So what healthy advice can I give to Jess as she heads off to college? Follow my Eat Your P.E.A.S. advice for college students.

Planning is Power
Sometimes the poor food choices we make on campus come from poor planning. Don’t wait until you’re too hungry to grab something to eat. Chances are that something won’t be good for you.

If your schedule is packed, take a few minutes once a week to come up with a plan (make this one of your easy weekly assignments).

If Monday and Thursdays have back-to-back classes, plan on packing some fresh fruit and nuts to go. Pick up a yogurt on your way by to café to balance it out.

If weekly planning is overwhelming, planning day-to-day can be just as advantageous.
Three meals and two healthy snacks each day is an ideal pattern. Planning ahead can be as simple as taking an extra piece of fruit with dinner to go to save as part of an evening snack.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast Everyday
This is a big one. The Big B! You’ve got to fuel yourself well with breakfast to start a busy day.
If your class schedule is crammed in the morning, giving yourself time to eat is a must. If going to the dining hall doesn’t fit into your day, stock up your “dorm room pantry” with fresh fruit, yogurt, granola or whole grain cereals and low fat milk.

The brain works most efficiently with a steady supply of fuel. So don’t jip your brain from the start. Give your mind and body what it needs.

Appropriate Portions Balanced with Activity
Watch your plate! As a guide try to aim for 1⁄2 your plate as produce, 1⁄4 whole grains and 1⁄4 lean protein.
Also visit and" for visual guides on portions and balance.

Ask for what you want. Most food service staff members are happy to accommodate you where they are able. Don’t be afraid to ask for something on the side or to hold it all together.

Eat from a plate. Eating straight from the box is a rebel norm in college. But what it does is skew your awareness of how much you are actually eating.

Regular physical activity is another piece of the puzzle. It helps maintain energy as well as manage weight. You need all the energy you can get. Extending your walk to or from class is one easy way to work in a few extra miles. Take advantage of any campus resources like a gym or running track, etc… You get the idea…move more.

Shop Smart to stock up on healthy foods/snacks
Shopping at a grocery store may give you a greater variety of produce than a quick campus market. Shop the perimeter of the store to stock up on produce, whole grains and low fat dairy. Buy in-season produce to save.

Trader Joes is a terrific option to fit a college budget. Visit to see if a location is near campus. Jess is lucky to have one in her neighborhood. You can get everything you need there to stock a healthy dorm room pantry. See my list below.

Check out local resources. Maybe your campus has a local listing of farmers’ markets and restaurants. My university (UNH) now offers an online guide to help navigate your way around eating on campus. If not, check out your city online. Hartford, for example, has an online dining guide, which also lists farmers’ markets in the area.

Good luck to Jess and all those freshman off to college. I’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail feedback or questions to me at

Dorm room pantry
Your pantry could be as simple as a crate or tote under your desk.
- all-fruit spreads
- rice cake
- dried fruits (raisin, apricots, cherries)
- whole grain baked crackers
- bananas, pears
- cereal (high fiber, low sugar)
- nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut)
- granola bars, granola
- nuts (almonds, walnuts)
- whole wheat bread or English muffins
- seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
- graham crackers
- pretzels
- multi-grain tortilla chips

Smart snacks for the refrigerator
A refrigerator in the dorm rooms offers a way to keep perishable items and a wider variety of smart snacks.
- Fruit – grapes, apples, kiwi, clementines
- hummus
- veggies – baby carrots, snow PEAS
- low-fat or fat-free milk or soy milk
- salsa
- yogurt
- string cheese
- light cream cheese


Renee Frechette is a registered dietitian who serves as the outpatient oncology dietitian in the The William W. Backus Hospital’s Radiation Therapy Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Frechette and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on this blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Vaccines provide shot in the arm against flu

Novel H1N1 influenza, or Swine flu, is on a lot of minds lately and it’s not surprising. The chance of it becoming a large public health problem is very real.

Because of this threat, our health officials have worked very closely with pharmaceutical manufacturers to quickly develop, test, and release a specific vaccine aimed at preventing the Swine flu. Does the word “quickly” make you nervous?

Like many things, be it toaster ovens, cars, or medications, the idea of quickly developing something conjures up the thought of cutting corners and not fully testing the final product.

Consumer advocates often caution us not to be the first one to purchase a new model -- you might be the one to discover the bugs the manufacturer failed to find.

In healthcare we have a similar rule of thumb, if possible, wait at least one year after a new medication is released so the medical community can learn more about how it works and what side effects will occur.

I recently had a similar conversation with a co-worker; we discussed how comfortable we were with the news that a new Swine flu vaccine will be available in just a few weeks after only spending a few months in testing and development. Should we be? My simple answer is yes, feel comfortable, because it is not truly a new vaccine.

The H1N1 vaccine is merely the same traditional seasonal flu vaccine made with a new strain of the flu virus. The same exact manufactures using the same manufacturing process that has been FDA-approved and proven safe for many years is being used.

Every year the manufacturers of the seasonal flu vaccine change the viral strains (usually a total of three strains) contained in the vaccine to match what health officials believe will be the major viruses causing illness in the coming fall.

This year, they simply used a different strain -- H1N1 -- in the same process (officially known this year as the A/California/7/09-like virus). Like all flu vaccines, the virus is actually killed by the process and the vaccine cannot give you the flu.

Since the new vaccine is the same as the old vaccine, the same warnings apply. You should not receive either flu vaccines if you have an allergy to eggs or egg products or a history of a life-threatening reaction to the vaccine in the past.

Common side effects of the vaccine include soreness at the injection site, and possibly a mild fever and fatigue, but again, you cannot catch the flu from the vaccine.

Should you get the vaccine? Not everybody needs the seasonal flu vaccine or the Swine flu vaccine. Ask your doctor and pay attention to the many public health announcements that will be released.

Do note that each vaccine is unique, and the seasonal vaccine will not protect you from Swine flu and the Swine flu vaccine will not protect you from seasonal flu. Current recommendations are for adults to receive a single dose for each for protection, children may need two doses.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, go to the Healthy Living blog at or E-mail Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Lessen weight in child's backpack to avoid injuries

With school back in session and the homework load getting heavier, the chance for a backpack-related injury is high. Approximately 40 million children head to school each day with backpacks, and about half of them sustain injuries as a result, according to the North American Spine Association.

In recognition of National Backpack Awareness Day on Wednesday, The William W. Backus Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services Department offers these important backpack tips to keep children safe:

Never let a child carry more than 15 percent of his/her body weight. Use a scale to weigh the backpack if you need to.

The heaviest items should be loaded closest to the child’s back. Compartmentalize belongings so all the weight is not in one place. Arrange books/material so they will not slide around.

Check your child’s backpack daily and only include items that are needed for the day’s activities.

If the backpack is too heavy, consider having your child carry a book or item in his/her arms to lessen the load.

Always have your child wear both shoulder straps because if just one is worn it can lead to discomfort and injury.

To avoid tingling in the neck, select a backpack with well-padded shoulder straps.

Shoulder straps should be adjusted so that the backpack rests in the middle of the child’s back and does not hang lower than four inches below his/her waist.

Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one, to help distribute the weight more evenly.

There are many kinds of backpacks that come in different shapes and sizes. Just remember to choose one with multiple compartments, padded, contoured shoulder straps and waist and chest straps. Always try the backpack on before you buy it.

Kristin Hilliard is a physical therapist in the Backus Hospital Rehabilitation Services Department. This advice should not replace advice from your physician. E-mail Hilliard and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Kids who eat a healthy breakfast do better in school

The days are slowly becoming shorter, the temperatures are falling and our children are back to school.

With school underway parents’ thoughts turn toward bus schedules, homework and report cards. Give your child an extra edge toward better grades by helping them start their day with a nutritious breakfast.

There are many benefits to be had by eating breakfast. This very important meal can provide up to 25% of the recommended daily allowance for key nutrients, such as calcium, protein, vitamins A and B6, magnesium, iron and zinc.

Eating breakfast helps children to perform better at school. This first meal of the day can improve attention, memory and cognitive function. Children who eat breakfast make fewer mistakes and work faster in math and number checking tests. They perform better in vocabulary and better handle frustration. School breakfast programs can lower absence and tardiness rates and improve standardized test scores. Adolescents who eat breakfast tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) – higher BMIs can indicate obesity.

The challenge with breakfast is that is falls at a very hectic time in the day. Parents are trying to get ready for work while also getting the kids up and out the door to catch the bus. This frenzy is coupled with the last minute drama of “I can’t find my shoes” and, “Where’s the library book?”

With this in mind, keep breakfast simple and plan ahead; prepare as much as possible the night before.

Breakfast should include foods from several food groups to provide the most benefit to children, both educationally and physically. You want to balance protein, carbohydrates and fat. This balance will prevent a drop in blood sugar for several hours. A drop in blood sugar can mean a decline in energy and symptoms of hunger that will distract your child from learning.

The following are some fast breakfast ideas that will help you and your child start the day off right.
• Whole grain cereal with 1% milk.
• 100% whole wheat bread or English muffin with peanut butter and a piece of fruit.
• Hard boiled egg with a small bagel.
• 6-8 oz of low fat yogurt with fresh or frozen blueberries and a 1⁄4 cup of granola.
• 1-2 whole grain frozen waffles, toasted with peanut butter and sliced bananas with honey drizzled on top.
• Oatmeal (made with milk) with sliced strawberries and a tablespoon of sliced almonds.
• Yogurt and fruit smoothie.
• On the fly: Carnation Instant Breakfast made with skim or 1% and a piece of fruit.
• String cheese with a piece of fruit.
• Toasted whole grain English muffin with sliced tomato and a slice of cheese melted on top.

If making breakfast at home still proves to be a challenge, contact your school office to inquire about the School Breakfast Program.

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. E-mail Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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