Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine: Why Should We Care?

            While I am grateful to have been born in the world of modern medicine, there is plenty of merit in looking back at the health practices of our past. Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine originated in and are based on principles of the distant past, but they somehow survive in today’s culture and among modern medicine. It is important to ask how, and why?

            Before discussing how they are related and how they have persevered, we must define each discipline individually. Ayurveda and TCM have many commonalities. The focus of both the systems is on the patient rather than disease. Both systems fundamentally aim to promote health and enhance the quality of life, with therapeutic strategies for treatment of specific diseases or symptoms in holistic fashion. Almost half of the botanical sources (such as Gotu Kola) used as medicines have similarities; moreover, both systems have similar philosophies geared towards enabling classification of individuals, materials and diseases. TCM considers the human at the center of the universe as an antenna between celestial and earthly elements. Water, earth, metal, wood and fire are the five elements of the material world. The world is a single unit and its movement gives rise to yin and yang, the two main antithetic aspects. The actual meaning of the term yin and yang is ‘opposites’, such as the positive and the negative. However, Chinese believe that yin and yang is not absolute but relative. The four bodily humors (qi, blood, moisture and essence) and internal organ systems (zang fu) play an important role in balancing the yin and yang in human body. When the two energies fall out of harmony, disease develops. The physician takes into account this concept while treating patients. Drugs or herbs are used to correct this imbalance of yin–yang in the human body.

            Ayurveda considers that the universe is made up of combinations of the five elements (pancha mahabhutas). These are akasha (ether), vayu (air), teja (fire), aap (water) and prithvi (earth). The five elements can be seen to exist in the material universe at all scales of life and in both organic and inorganic things. In biological system, such as humans, elements are coded into three forces, which govern all life processes. These three forces (kapha, pitta and vata) are known as the three doshas or simply the tridosha. Each of the doshas is composed of one or two elements. Vata is composed of space and air, Pitta of fire, and kapha of water and earth. Vata dosha has the mobility and quickness of space and air; pitta dosha the metabolic qualities of fire; kapha dosha the stability and solidity of water and earth. The tridosha regulates every physiological and psychological process in the living organism. The interplay among them determines the qualities and conditions of the individual. A harmonious state of the three doshas creates balance and health; an imbalance, which might be an excess (vriddhi) or deficiency (kshaya), manifests as a sign or symptom of disease.

            Ayurveda and TCM remain the most ancient yet living traditions. These are the two ‘great traditions’ with sound philosophical, experiential and experimental basis. Increased side effects, lack of curative treatment for several chronic diseases, high cost of new drugs, microbial resistance and emerging diseases are some reasons for renewed public interest in complementary and alternative medicines. It has been postulated that by 2010 at least two-thirds of the United States population will be using one or more of the alternative therapeutic approaches. Use of indigenous drugs of natural origin forms a major part of such therapies; more than 1500 herbals are sold as dietary supplements or ethnic traditional medicines. Pharmaceutical companies have renewed their strategies in favor of natural product drug development and discovery. There is much we can learn from these traditions and their practitioners that will inform us how to better use modern-day medicine.

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The Wondrous World of Neuroscience

            Some say that outer space is the last great frontier to be explored. Others say that it is the deep sea. While both are great contenders, I believe we have just as much to learn still about the brain. It may not be as physically vast as the sea or space, but it is just as complicated, and far more relevant to our lives.

            The brain has been a topic of interest, mystery, and research for almost all of human history. However, we did not know really anything about the functions of the brain until relatively recently. Ancient philosophers and anatomists largely understood that the brain plays an important role, but they often attributed its working to magical and spiritual elements. In the past, a brain disorder or tumor (if diagnosed) would be said to have been placed there by divine intervention. Science has certainly come a long way since then, but there is clearly much further to go.

            The discovery of a certain area of the brain (now called Broca’s area) which controls speech production by Dr. Broca was instrumental in our understanding of the brain. It shone light on the fact that certain areas of the brain play specific roles in certain activities or actions. Other such areas include the lobes of the cerebrum. The frontal lobe controls thought and decision-making, the parietal lobe controls movement, the temporal lobe controls language, and the occipital lobe controls sight. The cerebrum is part of an even larger structure called the forebrain, which also includes the cerebellum (in charge of balance), the thalamus (sensory center of the brain), the hypothalamus, the pineal gland, and the limbic system (controls emotions and memory). There is also the midbrain and hindbrain, which mostly control critical functions such as breathing. To learn more about your brain and how to supplement it, visit Natural Healthy Concept’s Neuroscience page.

            As you can tell, there are many parts within the brain, and I have only scratched the surface of those parts. However, none of these would matter without the brain’s amazing ability to communicate across all portions to synthesize information and relay action. Signaling occurs both electrically and chemically, and there are massive amounts of neurons handling the communications. The different types of touch sensations, such as temperature, pressure, vibration, stretching, etc. are all handled by different mechanoreceptors that function for specific sensory inputs. Malfunctions in receptors, neurons, or just about any part of communication can lead to breakdown and brain disorders. The systems are incredibly elaborate, and we have so much more to learn.

            Learning how each specific part of the brain contributed to function birthed a discipline or theory called localization. It is quite straightforward; it posits that every piece of the brain has a specific function, and they are at the same location in every brain. The discoveries made through localization are what brought neuroscience to what it is today. However, more and more scientists are now utilizing the understanding of plasticity, which says that the brain has much more capability than we thought possible, and that localization is far from the end of the story. Through plasticity, if a certain area of the brain is damaged, it is possible for the brain to devise an entirely new pathway to recover the affected function. If we can gain a better understanding of plasticity and how to implement it as a treatment, we will be able to solve countless problems accompanying brain injuries, tumors, disorders, and more.

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Health Disparities in the U.S.: Part 4

As I explained in part one of this series of posts, minority racial and ethnic groups in the United States experience widespread and severe disparities in healthcare. Over the last few years, I have dedicated my time to researching health and treatment disparities in America that affect racial minorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exaggerated the issues, and I therefore feel that it is prudent to explore some of my research in multiple posts.

In my previous post, I began to delve into interpersonal barriers to equal healthcare. While structural barriers play a significant role in the decision to seek treatment, it is possible that interpersonal barriers may moderate the relationship between structural barriers and healthcare seeking behavior (Burgess et al., 2018; Betancourt et al., 2003; Mkandawire-Valhmu, 2018). For instance, after the state of Massachusetts implemented healthcare reform to decrease rates of uninsurance among racial and ethnic minorities, researchers found that the logistical reform alone was insufficient in decreasing health disparities; efforts beyond greater insurance coverage would be necessary to create real, lasting change (McCormick et al., 2015). Research on interpersonal barriers to healthcare has focused on factors (e.g. trust, representation, and cultural competence) affecting the quality of the physician-patient relationship. A good physician-patient relationship makes patients more likely to seek healthcare–leading to the idea that interpersonal factors may moderate the relationship between structural barriers and healthcare seeking.

Given the low levels of representation of racial minority groups in healthcare settings, some researchers have investigated the role of racial bias or lack of cultural competence among medical professionals. Cultural competence is “the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients” (Betancourt et al., 2003). In the 2008 National Healthcare Disparities Report, Black Americans reported significantly lower quality of care than White Americans on 19 of 38 measures and poorer physician-patient communication than White patients (American College of Physicians, 2010). Racial discrimination and the resulting unequal treatment decreases care seeking behavior, regardless of SES and insurance. Furthermore, a study by Obermeyer et al. (2019) investigated an algorithm widely used in US hospitals to allocate healthcare to patients. The algorithm was found to assign Black patients at the same sickness level as their White counterparts lower health risk scores. Obermeyer et al. (2019) found that should an unbiased algorithm be used, the percentage of Black patients referred for care would increase from 17.7% to 46.5%. It is clear that interpersonal variables can moderate the relationship between structural barriers and care seeking in either direction.

In summary, health disparities affecting those of racial and ethnic minorities in the US are a result of widespread and systemic issues. The problems behind unequal treatment and lack of utilization of treatment can be split into logistical and interpersonal categories. The logistical side refers to insurance, socioeconomic status, and social determinants of health, whereas the interpersonal aspects involve trust and cultural competence. Understanding the relationship between these variables is important in order to increase healthcare utilization.

Despite the large number of studies investigating the role of structural versus interpersonal barriers to accessing healthcare, few studies have investigated the complex relationship between the two types of barriers. It is possible that while logistical barriers are the major limiting factor in a decision of whether or not to seek treatment, interpersonal aspects have a significant moderating effect in that decision.

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Eating Out in South Bend: Part 3

            As I head into my last semester at Notre Dame, I believe it is time to continue a series of posts that I began early in my blog. That series began as a list of places to eat when you are tired of the dining hall; now, it has grown into an appreciation of the quality and variety of food that South Bend has to offer! Not only is this information important for younger Notre Dame students, but it also allows me to take a break from discussing COVID and thereby tackle health and wellness on a lighter note.

            My first post about food in South Bend was focused on where to get ethnic food in the area.  I touched on Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese.  Because South Bend is a mostly white area, finding the little pockets of ethnic food was important to me.  However, it’s been just as fun exploring the more usual restaurants that South Bend has to offer.

            In my most recent post of the series, I discussed two restaurants that continue to be in my top ten: Original Pancake House and Evil Czech Brewery. However, now that I live off campus and no longer eat at the dining hall, I have been exploring South Bend much more often. Furthermore, I don’t want to leave South Bend after graduation without having experienced all it has to offer!

            First on our agenda is breakfast. Although Original Pancake House satisfies all my breakfast desires, I was delighted by my new favorite Uptown Kitchen as well. Their menu is extensive, and my friends and I especially love their cinnamon roll pancakes and fried chicken benedict! Everyone is sure to find something they like, and the prices are fair as well. Next is Peggs, a South Bend classic. I had always been reluctant to try Peggs because it is so often frequented by students, but after having gone several times I can say that it lives up to the hype. Along with food that is very well done, Peggs has a wonderful seasonal coffee/drink menu!

            When it’s time to celebrate an occasion with a nice dinner, Corn Dance is always a great bet. It is pricy and classy, but also unique. We love the seafood mac and cheese, and you can’t go wrong with any of their steak options. Corn Dance is a cousin to Evil Czech, so its success makes sense. A third restaurant in the Evil Czech family is Jesús, which is also unique and delightful. Their Latin-American food is very well done, and their extensive margarita selection is even better for those who are 21! They also have healthy options that are no less satisfying than their most decadent plates.

            Woochi, the best sushi place in South Bend, remains a staple for myself and my friend group. Their sushi is great, but their sides such as Bitter Melon deserve attention too. My favorite South Bend restaurant of all time, Livery, was recently replaced by another named Bru Burger. Although I miss Livery, I will concede that Bru Burger is actually amazing. Additionally, for being a burger place, they have some great vegan and vegetarian options!

            Finally, a COVID side note. Eating out isn’t the safest option right now, and isn’t even an option in many places. Takeout is good, but never as good as the real thing. If you’re looking for a home-made meal that feels gourmet, definitely get your ingredients and sides from Martin’s—it’s like South Bend’s Whole Foods. Hopefully this post has given you some food options to add to your list for the spring semester! Until then, stay safe and go Irish!

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The Highs and Lows of a Semester During COVID-19

            Students at the University of Notre Dame have just completed a historic semester. While everything that happens these days seems historic and momentous (usually because it is), Notre Dame is still worth talking about. We served as one of the very first colleges to operate during a pandemic that is not near to being done, and we did so in a public way, meaning the rest of the country had access to our infection statistics and progress. Whether it was done successfully or not will be discussed in this post.

            Dedicated readers may notice that this is my third post on the subject; that is because it an experience that all Notre Dame students lived through together, and I believe the experiment needs to be recounted. A good scientific experiment includes excessive and complete documentation, in order for future researchers to be able to learn from both the good and the bad of the experiment. In this case, there certainly is both good and bad to be gleaned.

            As of December 12th, Notre Dame has had 1,846 COVID-19 cases. Of that number, 156 cases were in graduate students, 252 were Notre Dame employees, and a stunning 1,436 cases occurred among undergraduate students. That amounts an average of 360 cases per undergraduate year (freshman, sophomore, etc.). A few of those cases were from the (wisely) required entrance testing prior to the beginning of the semester. However, a majority of those cases were from the outbreak that occurred about three weeks into school starting. At that point, we had to shut down for two weeks, cancel a football game, and take extreme precautions. At least 20 of my friends were put into isolation units. When the school ran out of isolation units, COVID-positive off-campus seniors were forced to isolate in their apartments with their healthy roommates. This happened to me, and it was quite a low point in my trust in Notre Dame. I did not blame my infected roommate, as she had been as careful as possible, but it was quite frustrating that my fellow healthy roommate and I were put at risk because Notre Dame had miscalculated the seriousness and contagiousness of the virus.

            After our lockdown period, things got a lot better. Some students who had been throwing parties were expelled for the semester or for good; that was a wake-up call for seniors who had been denying reality. However, I will maintain that Notre Dame was woefully unprepared at the most important moment. After our lockdown, they became much more efficient and diligent with testing. Their policies strengthened, and they were able to adequately take care of those students in isolation. At the end of the day, Notre Dame is lucky that none of our students became deathly ill from the virus. There is a high chance that a death would have been their fault, as everything was so poorly mismanaged during our late August outbreak.

            As I mentioned, students began taking everything more seriously after our lockdown. Leading up to the highly-anticipated Clemson game, everyone I know was looking after their health; people self-isolated and even took care of their health in other ways, through healthy food and supplements such as Xymogen. It certainly paid off in the end—besides not getting COVID, we were all able to watch one of the most historic games in Notre Dame’s history. In addition, although we received a lot of bad press for storming the field, our infection numbers did not go up in the weeks following the game! Every student was PCR tested before we went home for Thanksgiving, in a necessary effort to avoid bringing the virus back to our families and hometowns. By the end of the semester, I was proud of how Notre Dame (both students and administration) had learned to handle virus safety. However, there is always room for improvement next semester.

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Health Disparities in the U.S.: Part 3

As I explained in part one of this series of posts, minority racial and ethnic groups in the United States experience widespread and severe disparities in healthcare. Over the last few years, I have dedicated my time to researching health and treatment disparities in America that affect racial minorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exaggerated the issues, and I therefore feel that it is prudent to explore some of my research in multiple posts.

While structural barriers play a significant role in the decision to seek treatment, it is possible that interpersonal barriers may moderate the relationship between structural barriers and healthcare seeking behavior (Burgess et al., 2018; Betancourt et al., 2003; Mkandawire-Valhmu, 2018). For instance, after the state of Massachusetts implemented healthcare reform to decrease rates of uninsurance among racial and ethnic minorities, researchers found that the logistical reform alone was insufficient in decreasing health disparities; efforts beyond greater insurance coverage would be necessary to create real, lasting change (McCormick et al., 2015). Research on interpersonal barriers to healthcare has focused on factors (e.g. trust, representation, and cultural competence) affecting the quality of the physician-patient relationship. A good physician-patient relationship makes patients more likely to seek healthcare–leading to the idea that interpersonal factors may moderate the relationship between structural barriers and healthcare seeking.

A study by Betancourt et al. (2003) found that the quality of the physician-patient relationship is strongly correlated with patient satisfaction, adherence to medications and medical advice, and health outcomes. A factor contributing to the quality of physician-patient relationship is trust (Burgess et al., 2018). Powell et al., (2019) found that men with increased medical mistrust and exposure to perceived racism in health care were more likely to delay cholesterol and blood pressure screenings. In investigating factors that contributed to higher levels of trust within the physician-patient relationship, Jacobs et al. (2006) found that patients’ trust is determined by the interpersonal and technical competence of physicians, and contributing factors include lack of competence, perceived desire for profit, and patients’ expectations of racism and experimentation during routine healthcare. Without medical trust, patients of racial and ethnic minorities often will not seek healthcare, even if they have the financial means to do so. On the other hand, patients of low SES become more likely to seek healthcare if they score highly in medical trust and financial literacy (Powell et al., 2019). Therefore, the addition of medical trust is an example of how interpersonal factors may moderate the healthcare seeking schema.

In addition to mistrust, another factor contributing to the quality of the physician-patient relationship is the level of representation patients experience in the medical setting. Although African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans make up over a quarter of the nation’s population, in 2007 African Americans accounted for only 3.5%, Hispanics 5%, and Native Americans/Native Alaskans 0.2% of physicians (American College of Physicians, 2010). To examine the effects of racial concordance in medical treatment, Alsan et al. (2018) paired black men in Oakland with black or non-black doctors for a conversation about preventive care in order to under the effect of physician race on physician-patient relationship. They found that participants were much more likely to support every preventive service, especially invasive services, after meeting with a racially concordant doctor. While speaking with black doctors, participants were much more open, brought up more issues, and were more likely to seek advice. Unfortunately, the medical workforce is extremely lacking in diversity (Alsan et al., 2018).  Faculty in medical schools and larger healthcare organizations are similarly lacking in diversity. In regards to increasing diversity of physicians alone, it is possible that an increase in black doctors in the workforce could reduce the black-white male gap in cardiovascular mortality by 19%, and the life expectancy gap by 8% (Alsan et al., 2018). Such a significant reduction is possible because racial concordance increases preventive care-seeking.

However, that is not to say that doctors who are not of the same race of their patients cannot deliver effective care. In a future post, I will delve into the issue of cultural competency, compassionate care, and how to strengthen the physician-patient relationship.

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Your Next Quarantine Show: GBBO

One of my favorite hobbies is baking. I’ve always said that when I retire from medicine, I want to become a baker. However, when I’m at school and don’t have access to baking ingredients or equipment, I turn to the next best thing: watching the Great British Baking Show. Over the last decade or so, this show (which was originally called the Great British Bake-off and is colloquially referred to as GBBO), has become a global sensation. If you haven’t gotten into it yet, now is the time to start! In this post I will explain the layout of the show, how it differs from American cooking/baking shows, and some interesting facts for those who do watch the show.

            Each season of GBBO takes place in Britain, in a giant white tent on an open field. The competition starts off with 12 bakers, and one is voted off each week until 3 bakers arrive at the finale on week 10. While the judges and hosts have been shuffled around throughout the years and different iterations of the show, the famously particular judge and baker Paul Hollywood has been a fixture since the beginning. Receiving a handshake from Paul Hollywood after he’s thoroughly enjoyed your food is almost as much of an accomplishment as winning Star Baker.

            Speaking of Star Baker, at the end of each week, the contestant who did the best in that week’s challenges is named the Star Baker. Each week has a different baking theme, ranging from biscuits, to bread, to chocolate, to cake. Two challenges (the signature and the technical) take place on Saturday, while the third challenge (the showstopper) takes place on Sunday. In the signature challenge, the amateur bakers to show off their tried-and-tested recipes for bakes they might make for their friends and family. Next, in the technical, the bakers are all given the same recipe and are not told beforehand what the challenge will be. The finished products are judged blind and ranked from worst to best. They place their bakes behind the person’s photo. This challenge requires enough technical knowledge and experience to produce a certain finished product when given only limited – or even minimal – instructions. Finally, in the showstopper, the bakers must show off their skills and talent by creating a masterpiece bake based on the judge’s instructions and that week’s theme. It should have a professional appearance, but should also be outstanding in flavors.

            Speaking of flavors, it is important is important to mention that GBBO differs from American cooking/baking shows in a few ways. One of the most striking for me has been the ingredients that the bakers use, as some of them are almost unheard of in baked goods in the United States. Examples include rosewater, bubblegum flavoring, passionfruit, lavender, Chaste Tree, treacle, cream soda flavoring, sultanas, sage, and many others that I can’t recall at the moment!

            Another important difference in GBBO deals with an overall culture difference. American culture, and consequently, American competition shows, are highly based on fierce competitiveness, individualism, and the importance of the prize. Most Americans who begin watching GBBO are rather shocked to witness the bakers acting fairly calm, helping their competitors when something goes wrong, and even crying when a competitor they have befriended is voted off instead of them. Even weirder, the contestants go through a truly grueling application process and 10 weeks of competition, all for the prize of a glass plate. Of course, the real prize is being the best amateur baker, but it was quite the shock after watching all the money and prize-based shows in America!

            In sum, if you’re feeling stressed or bored, I would highly recommend sitting down with a cookie and a cup of tea to watch this absurd, addicting, and highly enjoyable show.

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Health Disparities in the U.S.: Part 2

As I explained in part one of this series of posts, minority racial and ethnic groups in the United States experience widespread and severe disparities in healthcare. Over the last few years, I have dedicated my time to researching health and treatment disparities in America that affect racial minorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exaggerated the issues, and I therefore feel that it is prudent to explore some of my research in multiple posts.

In order to reform the healthcare system in a way that will finally achieve equality, a deep understanding of the barriers contributing to unequal access and care is required.  This is where we left off last time, so I will now delve into the logistical side of these barriers. The first of these contributors is low socioeconomic status and insurance issues.  According to a literature review from the Kaiser Family Foundation, health insurance was the single most significant factor explaining racial disparities in having a usual source of care, and uninsured adults among all racial/ethnic groups were twice as likely to go without a doctor visit in the past year (National Research Council, 2004).  Although other racial/ethnic groups face an even larger disparity in levels of insurance coverage, still 19% of black Americans are uninsured compared to 10% of whites (American College of Physicians, 2010). 

Prospects have improved with the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid, but many barriers to equal care remain.  Medicare does not cover prescription drugs, dental care, or long-term care and imposes other out-of-pocket medical expenses such as deductibles and copayments on appointment charges.  The addition of Medicaid can offset some of these charges, but less than 15% of Medicare beneficiaries are able to receive both (National Research Council, 2004).  Additionally, not all doctors accept these forms of insurance.  Relying on specific providers can lead to horrible waiting times for appointments, inefficient intake of patients, lower quality of care, and major problems getting referrals to specialists.  With the colossal charges associated with medicine in the United States, it is easy to see why lack of insurance would force one into bankruptcy or lead to avoidance of medical care in the first place.

            The lower levels of socioeconomic status (SES) of minorities has many implications for access and quality of health care besides through its effect on insurance level.  Black Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States with the lowest median household income in the USA for the past 50 years (Noonan et al., 2016).  The negative effects of poverty on health are numerous and include lack of clean water, clothing, shelter, education, and nutrition.  It is known that poverty is highly correlated with poor health outcomes and poorer individuals have higher levels of heart disease, obesity, elevated blood lead levels, low birth weight, and many other issues (Noonan et al., 2016).  However, lower SES that is still far above the poverty line can contribute to health disparities in less obvious ways.  Those with lower incomes tend to live in worse neighborhoods with higher rates of violence and crime, lower quality of shelter, water, and food, and less numerous and viable options for good medical care (Pathman, Fowler-Brown, & Corbie-Smith, 2006).  Additionally, low-income jobs usually involve longer hours and more dangerous working conditions.  Long hours may be a hidden factor in one’s ability to visit a doctor or urgent care during doctors’ working hours, and dangerous working conditions obviously contribute to injuries and poor health outcomes (Betancourt, Green, Carrillo, & Ananeh-Firempong, 2003).  While the structural barriers of insurance and low SES are huge, a discussion of cultural differences is required as well—stay tuned for this discussion in a later post.

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Do These “Healthy” Foods Live Up To Their Reputation?

Eating healthy is essential for overall health. However, it can be challenging; companies often mislead customers with health buzzwords such as “organic,” “low-fat,” and many others. For example, an organic cheese puff or a candy bar that’s packed with fat or sugar is just as likely to contribute to your weight gain as a non-organic one. To aid your understanding of the health content of common “health” foods, I’ve compiled this list of some of the most famous ones. There are hundreds more, but this is a start!

While yogurt may be touted as a superfood for weight loss and gut health, it’s not quite the cure-all you might imagine. Flavored yogurt is loaded with potentially-carcinogenic artificial colors, flavors, and loads of sugar. It can be just as bad as ice cream!

Next, that dried fruit you’ve been snacking on (in trail mix or on its own) could be adding tons of sugar to your diet. Many commercially-prepared dried fruits are coated with added sugar and preserved using sulfites, one of the most common food allergens.

Onto a crowd favorite: spicy tuna rolls. While certain types of sushi can load your diet with anti-inflammatory omega-3s, that spicy tuna roll is also loading it with saturated fat. The mayo-based sauce used to give the spicy tuna roll its heat adds a significant amount of fat to the recipe, as well as making it nearly twice as caloric as a traditional tuna roll. Unfortunately, this applies to many kinds of sushi rolls.

Some people tend to equate gluten-free with higher health content or less carbs. While going gluten-free can be a lifesaver for those suffering from celiac or gluten sensitivity, the gluten-free treats at your grocery store aren’t always a bargain when it comes to your health. Many gluten-free treats have just as much sugar, if not more, than their gluten-filled counterparts, and the flours in place of wheat are often significantly more caloric and not any lower in carbs. The majority of products that are created specifically to be marketed as gluten-free generally tend to be much more processed, contain more calories and added sugar, and less fiber and protein than the similar products that contain gluten.

Additionally, whole wheat bread likely isn’t the health food you were hoping for. Many loaves are packed with high fructose corn syrup and molasses, especially those that are marketed as “honey whole wheat.” Choose a sprouted bread such as Ezekiel make sure you’re getting added nutrients without added sugar.

Granola’s reputation as a health food isn’t exactly well-earned either. Many of the granolas at your grocery store are made using butter, vegetable oil, and white sugar. Just a half-cup of Kellogg’s Special K Touch of Honey Granola packs 9 grams of sugar coming from four different sources, including white sugar, honey, corn syrup, and molasses. Depending on the brand you buy, you may be consuming far more calories than you’d expect; many granolas have upwards of 400 calories per cup before adding milk.

Finally, don’t try to improve your health by ditching full-fat peanut butter for the low-fat kinds. Many brands make up for the flavor they’ve taken out of your PB with tons of extra sugar and salt while reducing the amount of heart health-promoting monounsaturated fat. Go for an all-natural, no added sugar jar of peanut butter.

Of course, it is important to take all of these warnings with a grain of salt. Don’t stop eating your favorite foods because they are on this list! The most important thing is awareness of what you are putting into your body, but you deserve to treat yourself once in a while. Maintain your intake of fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy foods, good fats, and supplements and vitamins (such as Host Defense), and you’ll be invincible!

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Update: A Semester During COVID-19

Once in a while, during a global pandemic, it is necessary to take a second and reflect. Being a college student is especially unique at this time, and I therefore hope to reflect further on the experience of being a college senior during this unprecedented era. Although things have calmed down at Notre Dame, there is still a feeling of dread and false security in the air.
As I mentioned, the situation at Notre Dame is no longer dire. At the beginning of the semester, we had around 500 cases, and we had to shut down all school events for two weeks. Through improved testing protocols and smarter choices made by students, we brought our numbers down and kept them down. While I could once name at least thirty friends who were positive for COVID-19 at one time, now there are rarely (at least of my friends). It also helps that so many of us have already had it; although I would have never advocated for this in the first place, the antibodies of those who have already had it make it less susceptible for transmission to the rest of us. Additionally, increased random surveillance testing has been a huge help. While this should have been done from the beginning, it is great now.
The false sense of security created by our repression of the virus at our school has led some students to return to their previous risky behaviors. Gatherings are getting larger (both with and without the university’s permission), people are less scared, and students are going back to bars in droves. A decrease in fear in a population is usually a good thing, but in this scenario, a decrease in urgency can increase danger. Although we are not yet seeing increased infection rates from these changes in behavior, that does not mean we are safe.
Despite many of Notre Dame Football’s members being either infected or put into isolation, and a game being canceled because of it, our team is back to playing now. They had a poor showing on Saturday, even though we pulled out the win. Several of my friends who are close to the team members blamed the poor quality of play on the fact that the coaches seriously overworked their players leading up to the game, in order to make up for lost practice time. This can be extremely dangerous physically, and hopefully the team’s performance will discourage the coaches from doing that in the future.
Another way in which Notre Dame let down its students recently was with our president, Father John Jenkins’s, journey to the White House recently. He was pictured in a gathering of far more than 20 people, maskless, congregating and shaking hands with many people. This was viewed as an extreme disappointment by most students, because of how directly it contradicts the standards that he holds his students to. Notre Dame students have been suspended and expelled this semester for disobeying less rules than he did at the White House on that fateful day.
To close off my reflection on the state of things at Notre Dame, I will look towards the future. As more of us are coming down with the common cold and regular sicknesses common to this time of year, we must remember to take extra precautions to keep ourselves healthy. Isolate and wear masks as much as possible, get lots of sleep, and eat healthy food and supplements (check out Source Naturals). Above all, we cannot afford to bring COVID back to our respective communities and families when we leave for Thanksgiving and Christmas. With our families in mind, I say: Go Irish, continue beating COVID!

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