Everyday health dilemmas

WHEN it comes to taking the healthy option, sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees. Should we eat fresh or frozen vegetables? Stay at home with a cold or get on with our day as normal?

WHEN it comes to taking the healthy option, sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees. Should we eat fresh or frozen vegetables? Stay at home with a cold or get on with our day as normal? STACIA BRIGGS solves everyday health dilemmas.

White bread or brown bread?

Just like a tan, being brown isn't always as healthy as it looks. Some brown bread is given its “healthy” appearance by using brown colouring in the cooking process - look on the label for “caramel colouring”. The extra health benefits of brown bread come from the wheat grains which are a good source of fibre, protein and vitamin B - however, there are different types of brown bread. The healthiest bread contain much or all of the wheat grains (and are often called wholemeal or granary bread). Other types of brown bread are made from finely milled wheat where all the bran, and therefore most of the protein and vitamins, has been extracted - this bread isn't very different to white bread and it's certainly mot worth the battle to get your children to eat it. White bread can still be good for you, incidentally. UK law states that white bread must be fortified with extra minerals and vitamins to replenish its losses during the refining process meaning that it can sometimes have twice the calcium of wholemeal bread (although wholemeal has more iron and up to three times more zinc).

· The Breadmaker Bible by Karen Saunders, is published by Edbury Press and costs £16.99.

Stay at home with a cold or go to work suffering?

The average adult suffers as many as five colds every single year, meaning that advising people to take time off sick would rapidly cause the economy to grind to a halt.

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Obviously if you have flu and are physically incapable of getting into work you must listen to your body and take time to get better.

But if you have the classic common cold, it's best to get on with your life and take some over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen.

Make sure you take plenty of tissues to work in order to trap the virus in your handkerchief before you spread it around your colleagues. You're most at risk of infection in crowded public places, rather than sitting at a desk or behind a counter, so going into work with a cold will not greatly increase the risk of spreading infection to other colleagues. Sorry!

· For a whole host of common cold remedies, visit Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre website at www.cardiff.ac.uk/biosi/associates/cold/alt.html

Fifteen minutes in the sun without sunscreen or two hours wearing SPF30?

Every year almost 2,000 people die of skin cancer and a further 60,000 are diagnosed with the disease. In addition to cancer, overexposure to the sun can also cause premature ageing of the skin leading to wrinkles and age spots - it's a big price to pay for a golden tan in your 20s and 30s.

If you can do the maths, staying out in the sun for two hours wearing an adequate sunscreen is far more sensible than soaking up the rays for quarter of an hour with unprotected skin.

Wearing an SPF30 reduces the burning strength of the sun's UVB rays by 30 times. This means that if you're in the sun for 120 minutes wearing SPF30 the cream reduces the amount of time your skin has been exposed to a thirtieth of 120 - in other words you'll only have been exposed for four minutes.

Make sure, however, that you're using enough sun cream: a blob the size of a £2 coin is enough for one arm. Also make sure that you use products with at least a four star rating to be sure it will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

And if you do find yourself out in the sun without any sun cream, keep in the shade and wear a hat, sunglasses and cotton clothes.

· For advice about sunburn, visit www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

Walking for an hour, or running for 30 minutes?

If you're looking for gentle exercise to keep you fit, walking is the perfect exercise.

Exercise experts stress the importance of finding an exercise regime which you will be able to stick to, once your initial enthusiasm has worn off, and walking fits the bill because it can be slotted into daily life without any major adjustments.

Walking is a low-impact activity which won't damage joints or muscles and which gives the cardiovascular system a good work out.

It's relatively easy to incorporate the recommended 10,000 steps into daily life simply by walking as much as possible as often as possible.

Running can damage the joints of your lower limbs which can lead to hip and knee problems later in life, particularly if you don't wear trainers with good shock absorbency.

It can, however, be the answer if you want to increase your fitness levels because it increases heart and lung capacity in addition to endurance. If you want to jog, ensure you wear the correct footwear and build up your stamina gently.

· The Runners Centre, 145 - 147 Nelson St, Norwich 665398.

Organically produced or locally produced?

Going organic may seem the obviously healthy choice, but the air miles involved in transporting the 70 per cent of organic fruit and vegetables from overseas may cancel out your environmentally-friendly option due to carbon emissions during transportation.

Locally produced food is likely to be fresher and therefore it may contain more vitamins.

For the greatest environmental impact, look to eat food from a 12 mile radius to cut down on the number of “road miles” used in transportation (these can be even more damaging than air miles).

If you would prefer to stick to organic options, look at the packaging on the products which will tell you the country of origin and therefore how far the product has travelled. The Green Grocers at Earlham House shopping centre offsets all its food miles to cancel carbon emissions. The organic supermarket invests in projects which involve tree planting.

· Contact The Green Grocer on Norwich 250000.

A glass of red wine or a vodka and tonic?

Bearing in mind that the Department of Health recommends women limit their alcohol intake to two to three units a day, it's worth remembering that both a glass of red wine (125ml) or a shot of vodka (25ml) both amount to one unit of alcohol.

Many people believe that vodka is “healthier” than other alcoholic drinks because it is clear, but red wine may offer more health benefits.

Research suggests that drinking a glass of red wine may actually keep the heart healthy because it contains antioxidants, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol and can even help fight the common cold. Sinking an entire bottle is not such a great idea, however (and remember that each glass is around 160 calories, too).

· For alcohol guidelines, visit the policy and guidance section on www.dh.gov.uk

Fresh or frozen vegetables?

It may come as a surprise, but frozen can often be a better option than fresh. Certain types of frozen vegetables, such as peas, retain more of their vitamin content than fresh because they are frozen as soon as they are harvested. The longer a fresh vegetable has been on the supermarket shelf, or if it has been cut or chopped in any way, the greater the chances that it will have lost a high proportion of its vitamin content. Make sure you eat a rich variety of vegetables, particularly brightly coloured ones like carrots and sweetcorn which are packed with vitamins. Bags of mixed, frozen vegetables can often offer the best variety and vitamin content in addition to being highly convenient. If you can buy seasonal, local vegetables you may offset the problem of nutrient content being lost during harvesting and transportation.

· Visit the British Frozen Food Federation at www.bfff.co.uk

“Little and often” or sticking to three main meals?

Nutritionists suggest that a healthy diet includes three main meals AND at least two snacks a day. The key is to eat healthy, energy-giving snacks such as two oatcakes spread with cottage cheese, smoothies, low fat cereal bars or rice cakes spread with a little mashed banana. Make sure you don't fall victim to a snack attack by planning snacks at regular intervals during the day - if you allow yourself to get over-hungry you're more likely to end up grabbing an unhealthy snack or overeating at your next meal. Plan ahead, make sure your fridge and cupboards are stocked with plenty of healthy snacks and don't use them as a substitute for a proper meal; grazing throughout the day can easily lead to unnecessary calorie intake. Make the right choices for your main meals, breakfasting on foods with a low glycemic index, such as porridge topped with summer fruits, as these will release energy throughout the morning. Skip heavy, starch-laden lunches so you don't get a mid-afternoon blood-sugar crash - try a baked potato with tuna and salad. Evening meals need to be a balanced combination of protein and carbohydrate.

· Visit www.breakfastandbrunch.com for more healthy ideas.


How does all the confusion about food make you feel? Did food used to be better in times gone by?

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