Archive for October, 2010

Halloween is a mixture of Celtic, Roman, and Catholic holidays and rituals. The new year for Celts began on November 1. They believed the dead returned to earth on October 31 and caused trouble. To observe the holiday, Samhain, priest lighted sacred bonfires and Celts wore costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.  

In 43 A.D. Romans conquered Celtic lands extending from Ireland to northern France. Romans joined their fall festival of Feralia—commemorating the dead and honoring the goddess, Pomona, whose symbol was the apple—with the Samhain celebration. This may account for the “bobbing of apples” at Halloween.  

Christianity spread in the Celtic lands in the late seventh century. The Pope designated November 1 as All Saints Day—from the word Alholowmesse—to honor saints and martyrs. The celebration of Samhain the day before became All-hallows Eve, and eventually, Halloween.

Europeans migrating to America brought traditions with them. Ghost stories and mischief replaced remembering the dead. Celebrations moved toward community gatherings and home parties. In the early twentieth century, the religious tone waned and the holiday became secular.  

Marketing of costumes, parties, and special treats created a retail business windfall. Americans spend nearly $10 billion annually on Halloween, making it the second largest commercial holiday.

Because of its history, many find the holiday the antithesis of Christianity.  Churches and others celebrate October 31 with fall harvests, festivals, and organized fun for children.

However you perceive this occasion and choose to celebrate, more nutritional fare can replace the American custom of handing candies to trick-or-treaters. Better choices include sugar-free chewing gum, individual servings of boxed raisins, or offers of fresh fruit and nuts.

If you prepare your own treats such as granola mix, popcorn, or other nutritious goodies, put each serving into sealable sandwich bags. While this holiday is fun, help make it healthier for those little door-knockers and tiny spooks on your door step.

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The white patches on the caps of these Amanita...

Image via Wikipedia

In the southwestern corner of China, an estimated 400 people of all ages died in the past 30 years of cardiac arrest. Ninety percent of those sudden deaths occurred during the rainy season in July and August.

The suspected culprit—small mushrooms known as Little Whites. Health investigators warned residents about their toxic effects. Deaths from cardiac arrest drastically decreased.

Thousands of varieties of wild mushrooms exist in North America. Of those, some 250 species contain toxins. Eight categories typically divide  toxic containing mushrooms based on their toxin chemistry and the symptoms they produce.

The most deadly toxins are found in Death Cap, Destroying Angel, and Deadly Galerina—a little brown mushroom. The body may completely absorb the toxin before symptoms appear six to 24 hours after ingestion. Initial symptoms mimic those of influenza or a stomach virus: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea. Symptoms tend to subside after 24 hours, followed quickly by liver and kidney failure. Coma, debilitating liver/kidney damage, or death often occurs. Regardless of treatment, many surviving victims never fully recover.

Several varieties, including species of gilled mushrooms, cause intestinal irritations that are more troublesome than fatal. Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps appear within an hour after eating. These toxins don’t affect everyone the same, and some who consume the same quantity remain free of illness.

A few species of mushrooms contain toxins that cause visual disturbance, difficulty breathing, and a drop in blood pressure. Symptoms occur within 30 minutes and usually abate within 24 hours. Atropine is used to treat these toxins.

Several species—Fly Agaric, Panther, and others—produce toxins that affect the central nervous system and cause delirium and manic behavior. Symptoms occur from 30 minutes to two hours after ingestion and last for four hours or more.

Species of mushrooms with other types of toxins cause similar symptoms of some of those listed above. Whether eaten cooked or raw or consumed concurrently with alcohol determines reactions to other varieties of mushrooms.

Many families enjoy mushroom hunts during the damp spring days. Some wild varieties are edible, but many containing toxins closely resemble harmless varieties. To be safe, avoid wild mushrooms.

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Weight problems among children continue to escalate. In the United States, nearly seventeen percent have a body mass index (BMI) that constitutes obesity. Boys aged six through nineteen years seem to represent the most vulnerable group. Obese children more often become obese adults and susceptible to a multitude of weight-related health problems.  

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the top five energy (calorie) sources for one to eighteen-year-olds included grain desserts (cookies, cakes, and granola bars), pizza, carbonated beverages, yeast breads, and chicken. Nearly forty percent of total calories excluded nutrient-dense healthful foods. Instead, solid fats and added sugar provided empty calories with little to no nutritive value.   

Sweetened carbonated beverages topped the list of sources for added sugar. Those, plus fruit drinks, made up nearly fifty percent of added sugars in the diets of most age and demographic groups. Five-year-old girls who consumed carbonated drinks had higher percentages of body fat, greater waist circumferences, and higher BMIs than their counterpart non-consumers. Diets of those same five-year-olds included fewer foods with essential nutrients, less milk, and higher levels of sugar.

How can trends of escalating high-fat, high-sugar foods among children be changed? Taste, acquired at an early age, is a powerful contributor to high intakes of sugar. Repeated early exposure to specific foods influences choices of infants and children. Preferences in early years prevail in later life.

Adults involved in the care and training of children serve as role models. Their influence on food patterns helps determine whether children will develop food habits to help them become healthier adults.  

Initial steps for change begin with education of parents. Second, communities and schools have responsibilities for making healthful foods available. Sweetened beverages shipped to schools increased eighty-eight percent from the 2004-2005 school year to the 2009-2010 school year. Altered policies to limit availability of less-healthy choices in vending machine and access to high-sugar drinks can help reduce the increasing incidence of obesity.   

Source:  Rae-Ellen W. Kavey. “How Sweet It Is: Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Risk in Childhood.” J Amer Dietetic Assoc. 110:10 (2010): 1456-1460.

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