IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  March 1, 2013

Skillet lasagna is delicious, nutritious, fast!

Luscious lasagna is a perennial favorite for family dinners and holiday get-togethers.

Most classic recipes call for extensive preparation and baking. That just doesn't cut it for an after-work family dinner.

But here is an easy take on classic lasagna. This recipe is made in a skillet and takes half an hour from start to finish.

Hunt's Classic Skillet Lasagna

8 ounces dry bow tie pasta, uncooked
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 ounces Italian pork sausage
1/3 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cans Hunt's Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic and Oregano (14.5 ounce, undrained)
1 can of tomato paste, 6 ounce
1-1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. Meanwhile, combine ricotta cheese, water and pepper in small bowl; set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and onion; cook 3 to 5 minutes or until sausage is crumbled and onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Add undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and cooked pasta to skillet. Stir to combine.

Drop spoonfuls of ricotta mixture on top of pasta mixture. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until ricotta mixture is hot and mozzarella cheese melts.

Serves six.

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Lycopene can easily cut stroke risk by more than half.

It's time to stop criticizing guys who like to put ketchup on their food. A new study shows it's not a bad idea, nor is eating a plate of spaghetti with a tomato-based sauce.

Research done at Eastern Finland University indicates that, for men only, a high intake of lycopene from tomatoes can reduce stroke risk by 55 percent or more.

The study included more than 1,000 men between the ages of 46 and 65 who were given blood tests for lycopene levels, then tested again in 12 years.

During that time, 65 men in the study had a stroke, but among the 259 men with the highest levels of lycopene, only 11 suffered a stroke. The findings were published in a recent issue of Neurology.

Study leaders, quoted by Tufts University, say lycopene is the most effective killer of the oxygen free radicals that damage blood vessels. It also reduces inflammation and bad cholesterol, prevents blood clots and boosts immune function.

Lycopene is fat-soluble, so it's better absorbed with a little fat, such as olive oil in a pasta sauce or salad dressing. Cooking increases the body's ability to absorb it. Doctors say even cutting and chopping can boost the amount your body absorbs from tomatoes. The more colorful a tomato is, the more lycopene it contains.

Mayo Clinic studies show lycopene also correlates with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.

About 795,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year, about 137,000 will die and others will be disabled.

Stroke is caused by a clot blocking blood flow to the brain or by a blood vessel rupturing and preventing blood flow to the brain.

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Chuckles Corner

The generic may not be as good as the branded drug

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration declared that the generic version of Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, was not its "biological" equivalent. Its maker, Teva Pharmaceuticals, stopped selling it.

About 80 percent of prescriptions filled in 2012 were for generics, saving Americans $193 billion, says the Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

Generics can be more different from the originals than people believe. One reason is that, although the generic may state that it contains the same ingredients, the original makers have not revealed their manufacturing processes.

The processing and the additional ingredients to aid it, can make a difference, in such areas as the amount of the drug that will be absorbed into the bloodstream and how fast it will happen.

The FDA rules for bioequivalence say the active ingredient in the blood must not fall more than 20 percent or be 25 percent above the brand name.

This is a potential range of 45 percent among generics labeled as being the same.

According to Fortune magazine, the FDA standards don't regulate how quickly the medicine reaches peak concentration in the blood. It can be a big issue for patients taking generic versions of time-release medications.

If the generic drug you are taking seems to be doing the job, that's fine. If not, it could be time to switch to the branded product.

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Many high BMI people are 'metabolically healthy'

In case you wondered, it's definitely possible to be fit and heavy at the same time. In fact, many obese Americans in one large study were found to be more fit than those who weighed less.

Healthy obese participants were found to be free of metabolical syndrome conditions such as insulin resistance, unhealthy cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Research reported by Tufts University and published in the European Heart Journal shows that these metabolically healthy people are at no greater risk of heart disease or cancer than normal-weight people.

There is apparently a subset of obese people who are protected from metabolic complications. More than one-third of obese participants in this study were metabolically healthy.

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Info on the big four pain relievers

If that old ankle injury bothers you after a day's work, you might take a couple of ibuprofen tablets. Or maybe your back starts to ache during the day, so you take a couple of naproxens.

Modern over-the-counter pain medications work well and are safe to use as long as your follow instructions. Here's a rundown by the Mayo Clinic on what kind of pain each one treats best, along with their cautions.

Acetaminophen: (Tylenol, others). The safest choice when taken at or below recommended doses. Taking two 500 mg pills a day is safe for most people. The risk of liver damage may increase if you already have a liver problem, if you exceed the maximum dosage, or if you have more than three alcoholic drinks a day while taking it.

Many prescriptions and cold and flu drugs contain acetaminophen. Account for "hidden" doses when adding up daily intake.

Aspirin: Provides pain relief, and low doses can prevent blood clots that cause a heart attack or stroke. But even the 81 mg low dose can increase the risk of stomach bleeding.

If you take low-dose aspirin, avoid ibuprofen and naproxen to keep stomach risk as low as possible. Avoid aspirin if you are taking other medications to prevent blood clots, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Taking both increases the risk of stomach bleeding.

Ibuprofen: (Advil, Motrin IB) and Naproxen sodium (Aleve). In addition to providing pain relief, these drugs help to reduce inflammation. But they can increase the risk of stomach bleeding and could also carry a low risk of worsening high blood pressure and kidney problems.

An increased heart attack risk is possibly associated with higher doses. Avoid ibuprofen and naproxen if you've had a heart attack. Also avoid them if you take a medication like Coumadin or aspirin to prevent blood clots.

If you take ACE inhibitors at the same time, your risk of a kidney problem could increase.

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Avoid inhaling spray cleaners

If you use a lot of sprays to clean furniture, polish glass and perfume rooms, maybe you should consider cutting back on their use. At least try to avoid inhaling the spray.

Researchers in Europe found that adults who used these household products once a week or more increased their risk of developing asthma by 30 to 50 percent.

Most of these cleaning products come in forms other than aerosol sprays. Consider choosing one of those.

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Cities are creating outdoor gyms called fitness parks

Free outdoor gyms are sprouting up across the country. They're open 24 hours a day and have traditional fitness equipment like elliptical machines, leg press and sit-up benches, and more sophisticated equipment. They are appearing in city parks, often in neighborhoods that may not have access to healthful options .

Florida has 17 open-air gyms; Los Angeles County has 41. They do tend to be in warmer-weather cities, but are also being installed in Newark, Denver and Minneapolis.

Leading the effort is The Trust for Public Land, a non-profit land conservation group that created its Fitness Zones program about three years ago to help cities fund outdoor health playgrounds.

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Weekly type 2 diabetes drug in final testing

Pharmaceutical company Merck has announced that its new once-a-week diabetes medication is in stage three of testing, the final stage before being submitted to the Federal Drug Administration for approval.

The drug is a DPP-4 inhibitor called MK-3102. Phase I and II testing were secret from the public until recently when a Chinese investigator was convicted of stealing several grams of the drug and selling them on the Internet for a few thousand dollars.

Research shows the drug lowered average blood sugar levels by 0.71 percent compared with other type 2 diabetes drugs that were taken daily.

More than 40 percent of type 2 patients aren't reaching their blood sugar goals, but weekly dosing could help.

The FDA has set a high standard on safety for any new diabetes therapy. Investigators will be expected to produce a solid set of long-term safety data before this drug makes it to the market.

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In the future, a flu shot will last for a decade

Top researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy say today's flu vaccine technology is much like it was in the 1950s.

Today's methods make a good vaccine but not a great one. The flu vaccine released in 2012 was found to be 62 percent effective, down from 70 percent effective the previous year.

Now and for some years to come, however, an annual flu shot is still the best bet for preventing the disease.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they say a game-changing vaccine would produce immunity by including parts of the flu virus that don't change from year to year These parts are common in most strains of flu virus.

The shot should protect people for a decade or more.

Researchers say they are "guardedly optimistic" that the "universal" flu shot will be available in about five years.

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What your LDL number means, how to lower it

The American Heart Association says the lower your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. It's a better gauge of risk than total blood cholesterol.

When your doctor orders a cholesterol test, be sure to ask specifically what your LDL reading is. It will fall into one of these categories:

Less than 100 mg/dl Optimal
100 to 129 mg/dl Near Optimal
130 to 159 mg/dl Close to high
160 to 189 mg/dl High
190 mg/dl or more Very high

If you number is high, it can be lowered by a prescription medication.

To lower LDL with diet, try this:

  • Have a cup of old fashioned oatmeal for breakfast.
  • Eat nuts. An ounce and a half of walnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamias or pecans contain vitamin E and flavonoids, two powerful antioxidants that reduce LDL levels in the blood.
  • Choose fresh fruits, vegetables. They contain plant sterols and stanols that cause LDL cholesterol to be excreted. Other sources are sesame seeds, 714 mg, olive oil, 221 mg and peanuts, 220.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week. Fish like salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower LDL cholesterol.

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    New devices improve posture

    Devices that attach to the back or legs promise to help people keep their posture by emitting a vibration. Golfers like them, and office workers are avoiding back strain by using them.

    The LUMOback ($149) is worn against the lower back and vibrates when the back isn't kept straight. At Forrester Research, they say the "Big Mother" devices will soon be part of employer wellness programs.

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