Archive for September, 2013

15 Superfoods for Fall

 This variety of superfoods, was picked by Health.com. They are either hitting their peak in the garden or can easily be found in your local farmers market or grocery store.

 

Apples: Sweet or tart, apples are satisfying eaten raw or baked into a delicious dish. Just be sure to eat the skin — it contains hearty-healthy flavonoids. 



Health benefits include: 
• Full of antioxidants 
• 4 grams of dietary fiber per serving

Harvest season: August to November

 

Brussels sprouts: Made the correct way, these veggies taste divine. They have a mild, somewhat bitter taste, so combine them with tangy or savory sauces, like balsamic vinegar. 



Health benefits include: 
• 1/2 cup contains more than your DRI of vitamin K 
• Very good source of folate 
• Good source of iron

Harvest season: September to March

 

Parsnips: Though these veggies may resemble carrots, they have a lighter color and sweeter, almost nutty flavor. Use them to flavor rice and potatoes or puree them into soups and sauces. 



Health benefits include: 
• Rich in potassium 
• Good source of fiber 


Harvest season: October to April

 

Pears: The sweet and juicy taste makes this fruit a crowd-pleaser. Cooking can really bring out their fabulous flavor, so try them baked or poached. 



Health benefits include: 
• Good source of vitamin C and copper 
• 4 grams of fiber per serving 



Harvest season: August to February 


 

Turnips: Tender and mild, these root vegetables are a great alternative to radishes and cabbage. To flavor these veggies, use fennel, bread crumbs, or even brown sugar. Turnip leaves, which taste like mustard leaves, are easy to cook and dense in nutrients. 



Health benefits include: 
• The roots are a good source of vitamin C 
• Turnip leaves are an excellent source of vitamins A, K, and folate 



Harvest season: September to April

 

Cauliflower: The sweet, slightly nutty flavor of cauliflower is perfect for winter side dishes. It’s wonderful steamed, but it can also be blended to create a mashed potato-like texture or pureed into soup. 



Health benefits include: 
• Compounds that may help to prevent cancer 
• Phytonutrients may lower cholesterol 
• Excellent source of vitamin C 



Harvest season: September to June

 

Squash: Unlike summer squash, winter squash has a fine texture and a slightly sweet flavor. Because of its thick skin, it can be stored for months. It tastes best with other fall flavorings, like cinnamon and ginger. 


Health benefits include: 
• Contains omega-3 fatty acids 
• Excellent source of vitamin A 



Harvest season: October to February

 

Pumpkin: A type of winter squash, pumpkin can be used for much more than jack-o’-lanterns. Its sweet taste and moist texture make it ideal for pies, cakes, and even pudding! 

Health benefits include: 
• Rich in potassium 
• More than 20% of your DRI of fiber 
• Good source of B vitamins 


Harvest season: October to February

 

Sweet potatoes: These veggies are for much more than Thanksgiving casseroles. More nutritionally dense than their white-potato counterparts, try roasting them—they’ll taste delicious, and you may maintain more vitamins than boiling. 



Health benefits include: 
• Excellent source of vitamin A 
• Good source of iron 
• Anti-inflammatory benefits 



Harvest season: September to December

 

Rutabaga: A cross between a turnip and a cabbage, rutabagas are a popular Swedish dish. To utilize their earthy flavor, add them to casseroles, puree them with turnips and carrots to make a sweet soup, or roast them with ginger, honey, or lemon. 


Health benefits include: • Good source of fiber • Good source of vitamin C

Harvest season: October to April

 

Pomegranates: This slightly sour fruit has gotten a lot of press as an antioxidant powerhouse. The juice provides a tangy base for marinades, and the seeds can be tossed into salads to amp up the flavor. 



Health benefits include: 
• A UCLA study showed pomegranate juice has higher antioxidant levels than red wine 
• Good source of vitamin C and folate 


Harvest season: August to December

 

Dates: This Middle Eastern favorite is a sweet fruit that is perfect braised in stews, chopped up in desserts, or stuffed with cream cheese or almonds. 


Health benefits include: 
• Low in fat 
• Good source of fiber 
• Good source of potassium 



Harvest season: September to December

 

Kiwi: Use this sweet fruit to add a tropical flavor to your recipes. It’s great mixed with strawberries, cantaloupe, or oranges and can be combined with pineapple to make a tangy chutney. 



Health benefits include: • More vitamin C than an orange • Good source of potassium and copper 


Harvest season: September to March

 

Grapefruit: The signature tartness of grapefruit provides a contrast to other citrus fruit. Add it to mixed greens, combine it with avocado and shrimp, or enjoy a fresh glass of its antioxidant-rich juice. 



Health benefits include: • More than 75% of your daily recommended intake (DRI) of vitamin C • Good source of lycopene • Contains pectin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol 


Harvest season: September to April

 

Tangerines: The small and sweet citrus fruits are positively refreshing for fall recipes. Favorite flavor combos include almonds, dates, and honey. Juice them with oil, vinegar, and ginger for a to-die-for dressing. 



Health benefits include: 
• Good source of vitamin C 
• Good source of beta-carotene 



Harvest season: November to April

The Health Risks of Tattoos

I am a lover of all art forms including tattoos. A tattoo is a permanent mark or design made on your skin with pigments inserted through pricks into the skin’s top layer. Typically, the tattoo artist uses a hand-held machine that acts much like a sewing machine, with one or more needles piercing the skin repeatedly. With every puncture, the needles insert tiny ink droplets. The process is done without anesthetics and can cause bleeding and slight to significant pain.

 

Tattoos breach the skin, which means that skin infections and other complications are possible.   Specific risks include:

  • Allergic reactions. Tattoo dyes — especially red, green, yellow and blue dyes — can cause allergic skin reactions, such as an itchy rash at the tattoo site. This can occur even years after you get the tattoo.
  •  Skin infections. A skin infection — which might cause redness, swelling, pain and a pus-like drainage — is possible after tattooing.
  •  Other skin problems. Sometimes bumps called granulomas form around tattoo ink. Tattooing can also lead to keloids — raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue.   
  •  Bloodborne diseases. If the equipment used to create your tattoo is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract various bloodborne diseases — including tetanus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
  •  MRI complications. Rarely, tattoos or permanent makeup might cause swelling or burning in the affected areas during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. In some cases, tattoo pigments can interfere with the quality of the image — such as when a person who has permanent eyeliner has an MRI of the eye.

 

Medication or other treatment including possible removal of the tattoo might be needed if you experience an allergic reaction to the tattoo ink or you develop an infection or other skin problem near a tattoo.

 

For all of the above reasons it is imperative that before getting a tattoo you should:

  • Research your tattoo artist
  • Verify credentials
  • Inquire about the ingredients in the ink the artist will be using
  • Confirm the equipment is new and sterile
  • View tattoo portfolio
  • Get a Hepatitis C shot (if you have any body piercings or tattoos)

 

Taking these steps will help eliminate potential health risks.  If you a have a severe allergic reaction to the tattoo or choose to get it removed I have included some information below in regards to the laser tattoo removal process.

 

Laser treatment for tattoo removal has improved significantly over the years, making it easier and less painful to remove unwanted tattoos. However, it is important to note that complete tattoo removal is difficult in many cases, especially for people who have dark skin or multicolored tattoos.

 

Lasers use a powerful burst of energy to shatter the pigments, or inks, within a tattoo into tiny particles which are then easily removed. Different types of lasers are used for each color of ink. 

 

Preparation

If you are considering laser tattoo removal, you will first meet with a dermatologic surgeon for a consultation to discuss your cosmetic goals. You will also discuss your medical history, including previous surgeries, present and past health problems, medications, as well as nutritional and herbal supplements you are taking or have taken at some time.

 

Procedure

Each tattoo is unique and requires a different number of treatment sessions. While many patients want to know the exact number of treatments they will need, this is difficult to predict. The number of sessions required depends on a variety of factors, including tattoo size, color, location, age of the tattoo and amount of ink in the skin.

Some patients are able to complete their treatments with five to 10 sessions. However, many patients need additional treatment sessions, up to 20 sessions in some instances. Typically, treatment sessions are scheduled six to eight weeks apart.

Tattoo laser removal can be uncomfortable. To make you more comfortable,  the skin can be numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic before treatment begins.

You will be given protective eye goggles to wear during treatment. The procedure can last from five to 20 minutes depending on the size and type of your tattoo.

You will need repeated sessions to lighten the tattoo, and it may not be possible to completely remove all the ink. Bright, multicolored tattoos are the most difficult to remove and frequently require the most sessions.

 

Recovery

After the procedure, you may experience swelling and possibly blistering or bleeding. It is very important to keep the area as clean as possible by washing and using a petrolatum ointment for several days to promote healing. You must also keep the area covered with a clean, sterile bandage for about one week following treatment until the skin heals.

 

Risks

As with any procedure, there are risks and benefits. The most common side effect is an incomplete removal of the tattoo ink, despite undergoing multiple treatments. It is impossible to predict which tattoos will respond completely and which will not.

Occasionally, the texture or pigment of the treated skin may change. Certain tattoo colors, such as white, bright colors, and flesh colors can have a reaction that makes them turn black immediately following treatment. These black reactions can be treated with laser, but this will increase the number of treatment sessions required.

Hip-Hop Health, a ‘Party with a Purpose’

Hip-Hop Health, a ‘Party with a Purpose’

Hip Hop Public Health is the brainchild of Dr. Olajide Williams. I had heard of this before, but this article from CNN gave me a lot more background information and program updates.  Please read and share! We want our child to health healthy and health literate!  

 

The classroom walls tremble as a room full of 8-year-olds bob heads, shrug shoulders and wriggle around in sync with the thud of the bass.  An emcee runs up to the front of the room and yells “hip,” to which the children respond, “hop.” And with that, the “party” has begun.  This is obviously not a typical class. It is more like what one organizer calls, “a party with a purpose”: a program called Hip Hop Public Health, which uses music as a vehicle to communicate health messages to children.

 

“Music is an extremely powerful medium,” said Dr. Olajide Williams, founder of the program. “Great poets have described music as being the bridge between heaven and Earth, but I see music as the bridge between health education and the streets.”

 

For nearly a decade, Hip Hop Public Health has taken public health messages — which, let’s face it, can sound boring if you’re a kid (or an adult, for that matter) — and transformed them using clever rap lyrics and infectious beats.  When Williams — whose day job is chief of staff in the Department of Neurology at NY-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center — had the idea of fusing hip-hop and public health, his next thought was that he needed serious help.  “I’m really hopeless,” he said, laughing. “I’m a neurologist; I’m not a rapper.”  Williams needed a partner, someone with hip-hop credibility, which he knew was essential to get through to inner city children.  After a relentless pursuit, Williams scored a major coup when legendary rapper Doug E. Fresh (also known as the “Human Beat Box”) agreed to work with him.

 

Their first project, in 2005, was presented at 10 schools in Harlem, teaching children how to recognize a stroke.  The main instrument of the interventions was a video populated by colorful animated characters doing a dance called “The Stroke.”  The song’s catchy refrain is, “If he don’t sound right, then he’s doing the stroke. Sway when he walks, then he’s doing the stroke. Slur when he talks, then he’s doing the stroke.” It then urges the children to “call 911” if they recognize those symptoms.  After several months, the pilot program seemed to be working, according to Williams.  Not only were kids excited — yes, excited — to learn about stroke, they tended to share the messages they learned with family members at home.

 

In addition, there are several stories of children saving family members in the grips of a brain attack. One child recognized that his grandmother was having a stroke and called 911, saving her life.  “That’s the power of children, the potential role that children can play within the public health chain of survival,” Williams said. “That (story) has always stayed with me, and that’s one of the things that really keeps me going.”  With the stroke program, Williams realized he had tripped over a powerful communication model that could work for a whole host of diseases and conditions.  So, he deepened his bench, adding rappers like Easy A.D., a former member of the Cold Crush Brothers; Chuck D of Public Enemy; and D.M.C., of Run D.M.C., to his roster. The crew then dug into one the of the most pressing health problems facing minority communities: obesity. The challenges are formidable.

 

Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that obesity rates are falling overall, but the rates among Hispanic and African-American children are still troublingly high. Those children also tend to live in areas saturated with fast food chains, with little access to healthy foods.

 

“Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S.,” or Healthy Eating and Living in Schools, the program Williams and his rapper colleagues developed, tries to chip away at those issues.

 

“Everyone remembers their favorite song growing up,” said Easy A.D., director of programming for Hip Hop Public Health. “Even if you’re 5, 6, 7 years old, you always remember the words, the melody, how it made you feel when you listened to it. “That’s what we’re doing with our program,” he added. “We take health messages and attach them to good feelings, good memories, and that makes (children) incorporate those messages into their lives.” In one video titled “Watch Your Calories,” a cartoon character, voiced by rapper Artie Green, admonishes two children who are about to eat fatty fast food meals to “stop right there for a second. Before you super-size that No. 5 now, check it. See, there’s a whole lot of stuff in that meal you don’t need.” A menu appears, showing the sugars, carbohydrates and fats contained in their meals. An embedded message in the video is menu board literacy, providing children whose main option may be fast food with the information they need to make healthier choices. Williams admits that teaching children the importance of cooking meals at home and purchasing healthy groceries would also be effective, but he says that teaching “caloric literacy” can also provide a substantive impact.  For example, he says, cutting 100 calories a day using better menu board literacy could translate to a few thousand calories over a few weeks.  “These small changes are meaningful, and on a population level, these small changes could have very significant impact,” he said.

 

Another video developed for the obesity program teaches children how to achieve their anaerobic threshold, a measure of optimal performance while exercising.  The video, titled “Hip Hop FEET,” uses a set of musical beats as a measuring stick for how effectively a child is exercising.  If they breathe before the beats count is up, they are over-exerting themselves. If they don’t breathe enough, that means they’re not trying hard enough. And if they breathe once at the conclusion of the beats, they’ve hit their anaerobic threshold.

 

It is a complex concept simplified for young people.

 

“It’s using hip-hop in a positive way, to have real impact,” Doug E. Fresh said. “We use beats that make you really wanna move. You’re not just gonna sit there; you wanna get up and do something.” As it turns out, the programs for healthier eating and exercise are doing much more than simply making children move. Peer-reviewed studies conducted by Williams and colleagues found that immediately after caloric literacy interventions, children changed their food purchases. “We found that caloric purchases declined by about 25%,” Williams said. “So they were buying more healthy items as a result of the intervention.” The lingering question for this intervention — and for the Hip Hop Public Health program more generally — is how to sustain this change.

 

After reaching tens of thousands of children in New York, Hip Hop Public Health got a shout-out — and a request to collaborate — from the Partnership for a Healthier America, whose ambassador is first lady Michelle Obama.What evolved from that partnership is an album, releasing Monday, called “Songs for a Healthier America.” The album moves the songs beyond hip-hop into other genres (some of the artists contributing to the album include Ashanti, Travis Barker and Matisyahu) and will be distributed, along with a curriculum, to schools nationwide. Williams is convinced the model that began in New York, with a neurologist and a few rappers, could make a powerful impact in schools across the country.”This really teaches us how impressionable kids are and how we have an opportunity to shape their behaviors at a young age,” he said.

Reproductive Health: Yeast Infections

I decided to try a new way of studying for my microbiology and anatomy classes.  I am going to begin posting a few blogs a week similar to what I am learning about to improve my real life applications of this information.  This week in microbiology we learned about bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses.   Yeast infections are caused by all of these organisms.

 

Over 30 million women a year are diagnosed with yeast infections.  According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 75% of all adult women will have
 had at least 1 vaginal yeast infection.  Of the 75%, 40-45% develop 2 or more infections in their lifetime. There are many vaginal yeast infections women can get for different reasons.

 

Leukorrheais a yeasty infection when normal vaginal acidity is disrupted. Leukorrhea symptoms are of inflamed, itchy vaginal tissues, a yeasty foul
discharge, and sex is painful.

 

Candidiasis or Vaginal Candida: is a vaginal smell of beer or bread, at times fishy, and a vaginal discharge with redness and itching all around the genitalia.

 

Vulvitis: is an allergic reaction, fungal or bacterial infection that brings on a vulva inflammation. Vulvitis shows signs of swelling, itching, and redness with
fluid-filled blisters in the vagina.

 

Trichomonas: is known as a parasite passed on during intercourse. With Trichomonas the discharge is foamy, severely itchy, yellow and has a foul odor.

 

 

Bacterial Vaginosis: grows and thrives when vaginal pH is disturbed and thrown out of balance. A woman must be careful if she has anal sex. If fecal
matter enters the vaginal tract, this bacteria can bring upon Bacterial Vaginosis and develop moderate itchiness and have a foul, fishy odor with white discharge. It may be surprising to many, but men get yeast infections! That’s right. As much as 13-16% of men get yeast infections. If a man has exposed himself, and had unprotected intercourse with an infected partner he can develop a Candida Penis Infection.

 

Candida Penis Infection: infects the tip of the penis. And this infection is like a ping-pong effect. When one person gets treated, the other re-infects that partner and the infection keeps bouncing back and forth between them. This infection can cause: prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), frequent urination, an inability to urinate, a dribble effect when urinating, and even a loss of sexual interest. Men who are most at risk are those with Diabetes. So what are the causes of yeast infections? Using antibiotics for long periods of time, or prolonged exposure to antibiotics that weaken the immune system and cause imbalanced hormones. Spermicidal cream Nonoxynol 9 which aggravates Candida infections and kills the good friendly bacteria that protects the vagina and maintain good balanced pH. Candida is also caused by birth control pills and steroid drugs, eating TOO MUCH bread, a high sugar, refined carbohydrate rich diet, and a lifestyle very short on rest. 

CDC Sets Threat Levels for Drug-resistant ‘Superbugs’

CDC Sets Threat Levels for Drug-resistant ‘Superbugs’

By Miriam Falco, CNN

 

Health officials have been warning us about antibiotic overuse and drug-resistant “superbugs” for a long time. But today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sounding the alarm in a new way.

 

For the first time, the CDC is categorizing drug-resistant superbugs by threat level. That’s because, in their conservative estimates, more than 2 million people get antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and at least 23,000 die because current drugs no longer stop their infections.

 

Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria that cause infection. However, in the process they can also kill so-called good bacteria (the human body hosts about 100 trillion).

 

The Missouri Department of Health explains it this way: “Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.”Some bad bacteria are naturally resistant to certain types of antibiotics, according to Tufts University. Others can become resistant by spontaneous genetic mutation or by swapping genes with other bugs.

 

So the CDC is ranking the worst drug-resistant bacteria according to how many people get sick, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths caused by each. They also took into account how many, if any, existing antibiotics still work on the bacteria.

 

Instead of red, orange or yellow — the levels once used to describe terrorism threats — the CDC is using “urgent,” “serious” and “concerning.”

 

Fatal brain disease may have infected 13

 

Knowing the specific names of the deadly bacteria may not be essential for the average person, but CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said Monday that the CDC is warning the public about these health threats before they get out of control.

 

“For the first time,” said Frieden, ” we have a snapshot of antimicrobial threats that have the most impact on human health.”

 

According to the CDC, the following bacteria are the most “Urgent Threats”:

 

CRE bacteria — a family of germs called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which includes E. Coli. Some CRE bacteria are resistant to all existing antibiotics. The CDC reports more than 9,000 infections are contracted in hospitals and other health care settings from these bacteria. As many as 50% of the patients who are infected with CRE end up dying because there is nothing to help them fight the infections.

 

Clostridium Difficile (C-Diff for short) — a bacteria that can cause life-threatening diarrhea. It kills up to 14,000 people and causes a quarter million hospitalizations each year. Most patients who get this potentially deadly infection are on antibiotics for other infections. The problem is that while antibiotics kill bad bugs, they also kill good bacteria in your gastrointestinal system that help fight off bad bacteria, C-Diff included.

 

Fecal transplant cures woman’s bacterial infection

 

Neisseria gonorrhoeae — the drug-resistant form of this bacteria causes gonorrhea, the second most commonly reported infection in the United States. Gonorrhea can cause a variety of illnesses in men and women, including infertility. The CDC estimates there are 820,000 infections each year. In nearly a third of the cases, treatment of the sexually-transmitted disease, is hampered by growing antibiotic resistance.

 

Sexually-transmitted superbug could be major crisis

 

Frieden said if the current trends continue, “the medicine cabinet may be empty for patients who need them in the coming months and years.” To avoid what Frieden calls a “post-antibiotic” era, where none of the existing drugs work anymore and new ones haven’t been approved, the CDC has created a four-step plan to stem the tide of antibiotic resistance.

 

The government agency hopes to better track infections in the future to know when a bacteria is becoming drug-resistant. By spotting the trend earlier, scientists may be able to develop new antibiotics quicker.

 

You can also do your part, the CDC said, by preventing infections in the first place. Preventing infection starts with practicing good hand hygiene and safe food-handling, so you don’t get sick in the first place. Since many antibiotic-resistant infections are spread in hospital settings, patients and their families should feel empowered to ask doctors and other health care personnel coming into their rooms if they have washed their hands.

 

Patients should also only take antibiotics when they are really necessary. Changing the way antibiotics are used is perhaps “the single most important action needed to greatly slow the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant infections,” Frieden said.

 

Patients need to demand fewer antibiotics and doctors have to resist patients requests for them when they know they won’t work. Also, lowering the use of antibiotics in animals to only when it’s absolutely necessary can contribute to stretching the life and usefulness of available drugs, Frieden said.

 

Hot Tubs and Infertility

Studies have shown that being exposed to “wet heat” for prolonged periods of time may cause infertility. Studies done by the University of California have determined that as little as 30 minutes a week can significantly lower a man’s sperm count and motility. In other words a man winds up with super lazy swimmers. The same holds true for dry heat exposure like that of a sauna.

 

Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. The good news is that in most cases these effects are completely reversible within three to six months.

 

If you are a “daily dipper”, there are some things you can do to avoid any drop in motility. First, turn the temperature setting on your hot tub to ninety-nine degrees or lower*. This will complement your body temperature and keep your swimmers from slowing down. Secondly, take the ultra tight Speedo off. Tight clothing will interfere with sperm production

 

Sitting in a hot tub is supposed to be a relaxing, stress relieving experience.   Hot tubs are designed to achieve an all around mental, physical and emotional well being. Fact is, we use them because they relieve stress, bring back pain relief, increase circulation and help us to sleep better. But moderation is the key to everything in life. 

Panera CEO Learns About Hunger on His Food Stamp Diet

Panera CEO Learns About Hunger on His Food Stamp Diet

I came across this amazing and inspiring article on CNN and I had to share it! 

By: Ron Shaich

 

(CNN) — I thought I knew a thing or two about hunger. I’ve met thousands of people who struggle to feed themselves and their families, visited dozens of soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters and food banks, and worked closely with nonprofit organizations in trying to find new ways to end hunger.

 

I really thought I understood the scope of the problem.

 

But let me tell you something — I had no clue. My SNAP Challenge last week taught me that merely observing someone else’s plight does not hold a candle to consciously altering your habits to better understand what it might be like to live someone else’s life.The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly called the food stamp program. In the SNAP challenge, you live on a food and beverage budget of $4.50 a day, the average amount a recipient of food stamps gets in benefits.

 

I was hungry last week — laser-focused on how much food was left in the fridge and how many dollars were left in my wallet. I was scared about eating portions that were too big, and wasn’t sure what to do if my food ran out. I canceled two scheduled dinners, knowing they were way beyond my budget.

 

But I was doing this challenge on my own. Eighty percent of households that have problems putting food on the table include the most vulnerable — children, the elderly and the disabled. Most people in the SNAP program would have considered my challenge as a “household of one” to be a luxury.

 

My approach to grocery shopping was to try to stay full. That meant carbohydrates. In retrospect, it was a poor choice. I ended up with a diet largely based around pasta, lentils, chickpeas and cereal. While it wasn’t a ton of food, I could mix and match for various meals and find myself not quite full — but enough to get by. Breakfast and snacks were Toasted Oats. Lunch and dinner varied between chickpea, jalapeno and tomato soup, lentil casserole and pasta with tomato sauce and garlic. Fresh fruit, vegetables and yogurt were too expensive.

 

I also gave up coffee because it didn’t fit within the budget. I only drank water. My drastic change in diet made me listless and grumpy.

 

But the seven days of this challenge happened in a vacuum. It was really just an imitation of a very real problem facing millions of Americans — it wasn’t my real life. It was over in a week. No other pressures weighed on my shoulders the way they do on those of people who use food stamps. I wasn’t worrying about my car breaking down or not being able to pay for gas or having my electricity turned off or finding work or paying an unforeseen medical bill.food stamp fraud

 

All I had to worry about was my food, and that was challenging enough.

 

One in six people in this country, or roughly 48 million Americans, face this reality. At the same time, they confront other obstacles and manage to deal with more pressing challenges every day. The statistics are alarming. However, it wasn’t until I participated in the challenge and heard stories from the hundreds of people who responded to my blog posts that I really understood what a life of food insecurity means.

 

One person wrote me, “It’s not about a weeklong ‘challenge.’ It’s about months. It’s about deciding whether to eat or buy heart medicine or diabetic drugs. … It’s about knowing that this week is followed by another and another and another. It’s not about (whether or not food is) boring. It’s about living.”

 

I believed at first that by taking the challenge to eat on $4.50 a day diet, I could raise awareness about hunger. What has become clear is that those who are “food insecure” — or even those living close to that edge — are all too aware of their circumstances.

 

Helping the hungry is not a zero sum game. We can discuss policy, and undoubtedly each of us will land on one side or the other of the political debate. Unfortunately, the debate we often hear in Washington leads to thinking that the issue can be seen in black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.

 

We all know there are people who abuse the system. I have no doubt that there are some people who accept SNAP benefits when they either don’t need the assistance or may not use them appropriately. But SNAP is really an efficient program. There are small problems with the system — but there always are in large, complex systems.

Tens of millions of people, most of whom are elderly or have children, rely on this safety net to help them cope with very difficult situations beyond their control. And we can all acknowledge our shared responsibility to help these fellow citizens survive and ultimately create productive lives of dignity.

 

Throughout my SNAP Challenge, I kept returning to the same questions: What kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country that turns a cold shoulder to the problem of hunger, or one in which we work together to face it head on?

We, in corporate America, must be part of the solution. At Panera, we have tried to stretch ourselves to think of how to address hunger in new ways and challenge others to do the same. We have developed five nonprofit “Panera Cares” community cafes with no set prices and have donated hundreds of millions of dollars in products to food banks. Our view is that unless we at Panera take care of the world that we live in, there won’t be any society left to support us.

If the past week has taught me anything, it’s that hunger is not a problem of “them,” it’s a problem of “us.” Hunger exists in every community, in every county, in every state. Simply put, this is our problem to solve, and it’s time to do so.