National Diabetes Month; Hazardous Brown Food/Beverage Coloring; Destressing; "Good" Foods

By Mary Jane Dittmar

November is National Diabetes Month, and November 14 is World Diabetes Day. This is a good time to focus on this disease and ways we can act to prevent it and its serious consequences. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's National Institutes of Health (NIH) is urging us to “make a plan to prevent diabetes and complications.”

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), an initiative of the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is offering tools and resources to help us achieve goals for improving our health if we have diabetes or are at risk for it. 

More than one-quarter of the nearly 26 million Americans who have diabetes do not know it. If untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation. An estimated 79 million adults have prediabetes, which places them at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The NDEP suggests the following tips for making a health-improvement plan that involves taking small, but important, steps to help us reach our goal:

1. Think about what is important to you and your health.
2. Decide which changes you are willing and able to make.
3. Decide what steps will help you reach your health goals.
4. Choose one goal to work on first, and start to work on it this week.   
5. Don't give up. It's common to run into some problems along the way. If things don't go as planned, think about other ways to reach your goal.

Videos, tips sheets, and other educational materials are available from NDEP's online library of behavior-change resources, Diabetes HealthSense, at  Other resources include
<>,, and You can also call toll-free (888) 693-NDEP (6337). The above press release is at


Photos courtesy of






NIH encourages annual dilated eye exams. National Diabetes Months is also a good time to schedule an eye exam to protect against diabetic retinopathy, a common and debilitating complication of diabetes. The National Eye Institute (NEI), a part of the NIH, recommends that people with diabetes get an annual dilated eye exam. 

About 28.5 percent of U.S. adults age 40 and older with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, which causes blood vessels of the retina to swell and leak fluid. As the disease progresses, blood vessels become blocked and rupture, or new vessels grow on the retina, leading to permanent and sometimes profound vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually has no symptoms until vision loss occurs. Ninety percent of diabetes-related blindness is preventable through early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care.  (A Real-Life Note: It was only through an annual eye exam that one of my relatives learned he was leaking blood behind one of his eyes. That finding led to consultation with eye specialists and led to the diagnosing of a blocked-carotid artery on that side of the head. Dilated eye exams can identify many health problems in the body, not only in the eyes.) Additional information is available at,, and


If you are a soda fan, here is some food for thought. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban “caramel coloring” in brown-colored sodas (and some other foods such as some beers and soy sauce) because animal studies conducted by the National Toxicology Program, a division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, found “clear evidence” that the coloring agent can be considered carcinogenic.

According to the CSPI, although the artificial brown coloring is referred to as “caramel” coloring, it really has no relation to candy caramel. It says the coloring is made “by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures, resulting in the formation of 2-methylimidazole (2-MI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) and, therefore, should more accurately be called “ammonia process caramel” or “ammonia sulfite process caramel.” The National Toxicology Program studies found these chemicals to cause cancer in animals and, hence, are considered as potential cancer threats for humans. Additional information is at








For those times when we feel that stress might be overtaking us and interfering with our well-being and performance, Dr.  Helen Lee, practitioner (, offers the following ways to remain stay calm and relaxed and “connected to the self.”

1.  Breathe, taking deep breaths. Often when stressed, we tend to engage in shallow chest-breathing, which causes the body to operate in the highly stressful “fight or flight” mode. “Taking deep abdominal breaths,” she reminds us, “stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, optimizes digestion, relaxation, and detoxification while keeping hormones balanced.”

2.  Be grateful and think positively. Remembering those things for which we are grateful relax the mind and body. “Positive thinking releases chemicals that help with digestion, euphoria, relaxation, and overall well-being.”

3.  Laugh. In addition to being contagious, laughing for 10 minutes a day will do amazing things for the entire body. It can “increase circulation,” release ‘happy’ chemicals, reduce stress, help the heart, and even burn calories.”

4.  Sit in silence. Putting 10 to 30 minutes aside to do this can help clear your thoughts and help make you more relaxed as the day wears on and stress rises. You do not have to meditate; you can visualize your goals for the day, focusing on your personal needs.

5.  Take a 15-20 minute walk outside. Getting into the fresh air and sunshine and away from your computer, phone, and work environment can “calm you and clear your thinking.”







Flaxseed. It contains the Omega-3 fatty acid known alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), soluble fiber, and lignans (plant estrogens). Flaxseed may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, inflammation, and blood triglyceride levels and by helping to prevent clots from forming in some arteries.

Note: Some of the functions attributed to ALA (also referred to as lipoic acid or thioctic acid) are involvement with metabolizing carbohydrates, fighting free radicals, regenerating other antioxidants in the body (vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione), increasing blood flow to the nerve cells, preventing toxicity from metals (mercury), chemicals, and drugs; preventing tissue damage after radiation exposure; boosting the immune system; improving insulin sensitivity; and improving blood vessels. David Juan, MD, Doctors Health Press e-bulletin, Aug 31, 2011.

Lentils. They are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, protein, magnesium, folate, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, and a variety of antioxidants. The fiber in lentils and other legumes helps lower blood cholesterol, especially LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. It also helps to maintain intestinal regularity, prevents blood sugar spikes, and reduces the risk of diverticulosis and several kinds of gastrointestinal cancers.

Walnuts. Rich in fiber and antioxidants, walnuts contain ALA, which promotes cardiovascular health. Replace one of your snacks each day with a serving of walnuts. In addition of any cardiovascular benefits, they will help you stay calm and help fill you up.

Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.



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