Trinitas News

Making the Most of the Season

The sun sets at 9 pm, the thermometer never sinks below 70°F, and the smell of your neighbor's fresh-cut grass is in the air. Summer is the most wonderful time of the year to bond with friends and family over food and drinks in the great outdoors. But, before you fire up your grill and entertain your guests, sink your teeth into the following facts.

Approximately 127 million adults in the US are overweight, while 60 million are obese. (According to the Body Mass Index, or BMI, one is considered obese if his/her body mass index is greater than 30.) An estimated 400,000 deaths per year may be attributed to poor diet and infrequent physical activity. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. (Cigarette smoking is the first.)

So, if you want to be a health-conscious host, here are a few tips to keep in mind when entertaining guests this summer. Leave greasy hamburgers and artery-clogging ribs at the supermarket. Lean turkey burgers with nominal fat and calories, salmon, or tuna burgers are adventurous alternatives. If you're passionate about red meat, choose lean cuts such as sirloin, rather than chopped meat for hamburgers.

Strip the skin from chicken before you grill it and you'll avoid 150 calories and four grams of saturated fat. Packed with vitamins A and C, corn is great on the grill, especially if you substitute light olive oil instead of butter while grilling.

When you're planning to dine or picnic outside, take some precautions so that your dining adventures are happy ones. Be mindful of the potential hazards the blazing summer sun can cause on foods you plan to prepare, serve and eat during the summer months. Here are a few common myths about food contamination.

Myth: It's OK to keep raw meat with other ready-to-eat foods, as long as they are kept on ice.

Fact: Raw meat should be sealed securely in a zip lock bag away from fruit, vegetables, and other prepared food, in order to avoid contamination.

Michele Ali, MPA, RD, Director of Food & Nutrition Services at Trinitas Regional Medical Center suggests that coolers should be maintained at 40° F or below to avoid bacterial growth. "The temperature danger zone for food is between 40° F and 140° F. When outside, meals should always be covered with a plastic wrap, foil, or lid."

Myth: Blackened vegetables cause cancer.

Fact: Although it is still unclear, research suggests that there may be an increased risk of cancer affiliated with charcoal grilling and broiling red meat and poultry. Michelle explains, "It is believed that during the grilling, broiling and pan-searing process, chemicals called Heterocyclic Amines (HAs), are formed when high heat breaks down the amino acid, creatine. While research shows that HAs cause cancer in animals, it is unclear whether the amounts found on grilled meat may actually cause cancer in humans."

Grilling and broiling are still healthy methods of cooking; however, Michelle recommends limiting grilling on a charcoal grill and avoid the burned or blackened parts of meat and poultry. If those luscious grill marks are what you crave, she suggests pre-cooking red meat and poultry in the oven and then dropping them on the grill for only a few minutes to reduce the effects of the HAs.

Finally, she suggests eating small portions of grilled meats with grilled cruciferous vegetables to complete the main course. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, vegetables and Brussels sprouts. They are high in fiber and low in calories and rich in nutrients such as Vitamin c, E and K as well as folate. Studies have shown that these vegetables may be beneficial in reducing cancer risk in certain people.

There are even unseen health hazards hiding where we may least suspect them. Sodas and sugary drinks, even those posing as "100% Real Juice," cause blood sugar levels to spike and, in turn, a rise in insulin levels, prompting the liver to turn sugar into fat. Skip these beverages and you'll be halfway to beating the battle of the bulge.

If you're in a rush in the morning, grab a healthy snack to start your day. At lunchtime, opt for a salad and avoid a gargantuan burger. You'll be saving 760 calories and 47 grams of fat, to be exact! And don’t forget to add a piece of fresh fruit.

Ms. Ali cautions that most calories in a salad come from the dressing. When you pick up a salad "to go," pre-packaged salad dressings can help you control how much you use. "Try to stick to lighter dressings that are vinaigrette-based since cream dressings contain more calories." If greens won't satisfy you, eat a meat-based sandwich that's either grilled or baked. And replace the mayonnaise on the sandwich with a brown or spicy mustard which adds much flavor.

The sun is our main source of vitamin D for healthier bones. It doesn't take the body long to absorb the vitamin D we need. Unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can cause skin and eye damage, immune system suppression and worst of all - cancer.

Although the general public is educated about the hazardous effects of overexposure to the sun, skin cancer rates are on the rise. This increase is attributed to a number of causes -- the most prevalent being the thinning of the ozone layer. As a result, UV energy found in UVA, UVB and UVC rays can penetrate the earth's surface more readily. In fact, by the year 2050, it is speculated that there may be a 12-36 percent increase in skin cancer rates. Dangerous sun exposure doesn't stop in the outdoors. A growing number of Americans use tanning beds each year where they are exposed to harmful UVB and UVA rays.

As awareness of the harmful effects of UVB radiation became well known, tanning salons began to introduce tanning beds that emit mostly UVA light sources. However, the safety of tanning bed exposure still exists and is suspected to have links to malignant melanoma and immune system damage.

Joseph D. Alkon, MD, Chief of the Division of Reconstructive and Plastic Surgery at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, has been witnessing skin cancers appearing in younger patients - many who admit to frequent use of tanning salons. Dr. Alkon is concerned by this pattern of behavior.

"I always instruct my patients on the importance of sunscreen, sun avoidance, and I often counsel them on the potential dangers of tanning beds," notes Dr. Alkon. "With an estimated 30 million Americans using indoor tanning salons annually, I suspect we shall see an even more dramatic rise in the number of skin cancers in the years to come, including the appearance in an increasingly younger patient population who experience this type of cancer."

Dr. Alkon explains that it's still possible to achieve a healthy glow without exposure to these potential dangers. "I recommend sunless tanning sprays to my patients as a substitute for time in a tanning bed or sunbathing outdoors," he notes. Many nationally marketed tanning sprays last for several days. Some tanning salons also offer sunless tanning sprays; in 30 seconds, your body is sprayed with a tanning formula that remains on the skin for approximately four days.

Protect yourself and loved ones from the devastating effects of ultraviolet rays to ensure many more relaxing days in summers to come.

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