Ask the Nurse: To Detox or Not to Detox

Detox advice

Dear Nurse Chris: I see all these television and newspaper advertisements for colon “detox” products. It seems to make sense what we clean out the toxins in our systems every once in a while. But are they safe and do they actually work? Nancy in Arlington Heights.

Dear Nancy:  In shorthand, the answers are probably no and even more probably no.

Remember what your mom used to say about not believing everything you hear or read?  Well, the same goes for believing what you are being told by TV advertisements is good medicine for you.

The worst medicine is the kind that “seems” to be true but for which there is no evidence. “Colon cleansers” are a big business but there’s not much evidence they work and because most are herbal-based, the government doesn’t regulate them the same as they do for other medicine. So it’s not even sure they’re safe.

First, “colon cleansing” doesn’t really address how the body works.  Fecal matter and toxins— parasites, pesticides, or chemicals—do not accumulate and stick to the colon wall, causing assorted ailments. In fact, fecal matter does not cling to the colon wall, and experts have found no evidence that toxins build up there. Richard Harkness, a consultant pharmacist and author of five books on evidence-based natural medicine, backs natural treatments, but he’s dead set against this one.

He says colon cleansing itself carries health risks, including side effects from questionable ingredients, dehydration, impaired bowel function, and disruption of normal, protective intestinal flora. Some laxatives can even worsen heart failure or cause kidney failure, while colonic irrigation or enemas could tear the rectum. Steer clear of all of these. Your body detoxifies itself perfectly well, thanks to your kidneys and liver. True, you may “feel” better after one of these cleansings but it’s because you stuffed yourself with junk food and are now eating better.

The best advice I can give is do some research on the product that you have seen advertised. When you use an Internet search engine for the product, always include the word “scam.” That will tell you what customers are saying
Talk to your doctor. In most cases I advise people to talk to their pharmacists because they have the most current information about the latest things to hit the market. I hesitate to encourage research on the web unless you go to reliable health care sites that have good, solid medical advice.

Summertime Crockpot Cooking - Smart and Healthy

Don't tuck your trusty crockpot away in a bottom cabinet or the pantry just because the weather is getting warmer. It's a practical and healthy cooking alternative for summertime, too.

  • No one likes to cook over a hot stove in the summer, but many people prefer a warm meal for dinner. The crockpot solves the overheated kitchen problem, as there's no need to turn on heat-generating oven or burners. All cooking heat is isolated to one small appliance on your kitchen countertop.
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Savor the Flavor for Better Health

As Americans, we tend to be a nation of gobblers when it comes to eating.  In other cultures, meals and conversation can run on into the evening, with family members enjoying conversation and sharing the news of the day.  On average, our meals last a whopping 11 minutes—and that's for dinner.  Breakfast and lunch clock in at under 5 minutes for some people. The good news is, to realize an abundance of health benefits all we need to do is slooooooow dooooooown.  And here are few good reasons why:

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Summertime Crockpot Cooking - Smart and Healthy

Summertime Crockpot CookingDon't tuck your trusty crockpot away in a bottom cabinet or the pantry just because the weather is getting warmer. It's a practical and healthy cooking alternative for summertime, too.

  • No one likes to cook over a hot stove in the summer, but many people prefer a warm meal for dinner. The crockpot solves the overheated kitchen problem, as there's no need to turn on heat-generating oven or burners. All cooking heat is isolated to one small appliance on your kitchen countertop.
  • The crockpot also allows you to take advantage of the bounty of fresh vegetables that summertime offers. Main dishes, side dishes, casseroles, soups and more are perfect for cooking in the crockpot and a brilliant way to get your daily quota of vitamins and nutrients.
  • A crockpot meal paired with a crisp, cool salad is perfect for a taste tempting summer dinner menu. Use the crockpot to prepare tasty chillable summer soups. Guests coming for a barbecue in the evening? Start a tasty crockpot side dish earlier in the day. You can even use your crockpot to make delicious desserts!
  • Would you rather be outside having some fun in the sun? Save time by keeping prep time and cleanup to a minimum using your crockpot - no multiple pots and pans throwing heat on the stove top, just gather your fresh ingredients and place them in the pot, put the lid on and walk away for a few hours. What could be simpler.

Now begin planning all the fun things you can do with the time that you saved in the kitchen this summer. You can visit The Summer Crockpot at for more than 100 summertime recipe ideas, and dozens of other great crockpot-oriented sites abound. Enjoy!

"Speaking of Healthcare" is the official blog of Assured Healthcare Staffing.  Please LIKE us on Facebook to receive health and wellness tips and more!  Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

Make Lunchtime Fun with a Bento Box

Whether you're seven or forty-seven, toting the old standby brown bag lunch to school or work has probably lost a lot of its allure.  Meet the bento box, a fun and creative way to revitalize lunchtime that lends itself well to integrating diverse and healthy foods into your daily diet.  

Bento boxes are a Japanese innovation, typically consisting of a compartmentalized and/or layered box containing single portion servings of an assortment of foods.  The boxes can range from cardboard containers (found in Japan at carry-out restaurants or convenience stores) to simple plastic versions to ornate laquered boxes.  Some bento boxes include small bottles or flasks to hold sauces or dressings and others come complete with chopsticks; if you prefer a hot meal at lunchtime, there are also microwaveable styles available (the variations are endless; see some helpful shopping links at the end of this  post).      

What a boon to  lunchtime nutrition.  With those little compartments just waiting to be filled, it's easy to become creative.  Add leftovers and tidbits from from all the food groups:  some pasta salad, a few baby carrots, olives, noodles or rice, your favorite sushi, walnuts or almonds, sliced fresh fruit and cheese, a cookie or two -- the sky's the limit for taste and visual appeal. 

And what child wouldn't love to open a brightly colored bento box of his or her own, and explore the compartments to see what surprises Mom or Dad packed for them.  The presentation of smaller portions and varied selections may also encourage picky eaters to expand their horizons and try different foods. 

Home meal leftovers and restaurant doggie bags suddenly become much more appealing when you imagine them repurposed as next day's lunch in your new bento box -- enjoy!   

Interested in learning more about the beauty of bento box meals?  Here a few resource links for shopping, information and ideas:

SHOPPING - Just enter bento box into the Search box, add variables as needed (microwaveable, kids, etc.) 

Pottery Barn for Kids - Bento Lunch Boxes

Google Product Search


Laptop Lunches - Bento Menu Library (also has a Shopping page AND a great Photo Gallery of lunch ideas)

20 Easy Bento Box Lunches for Kids

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

A Great Interactive Nutrition Site for Kids

In researching helpful information sources for National Nutrition Month, I came across a great website dedicated to teaching children about healthy eating. Founded by a former ICU nurse who became concerned about the number of young teenagers she encountered professionally who were already suffering morbid obesity, the site displays this mission statement:

Nourish Interactive’s mission is to offer fun, innovative solutions that empower children to make healthy choices. We support parents and teachers with free interactive games and tools that promote a healthier lifestyle.

The teaching resources the site provides for parents and teachers are extensive and well organized, the children's games and activities both entertaining and informative.  The site mascot is the cute and engaging Chef Solus, who leads kids through a variety of games, food choice scenarios and recipes. 

The sheer volume of activities and learning exercises could keep adults and children occupied for hours -- but the site addresses that issue also, periodically reminding kids that they need to take a break from the computer after 20 minutes and participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

I have to say, this is one of the best designed educational sites I have found in many thousands of hours on the Internet, and its mission is an important one.  But don't take my word for it, visit yourself.  If you agree, please pass the word by sharing it with other parents and educators.

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

Spice Up Your Life - It's Good for You!


One of the best ways to enhance nutrition and improve your health is to bypass processed and pre-packaged foods in favor of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins.  Oftentimes the challenge is convincing our taste buds of that fact.  Many people have become accustomed to the artifically enhanced flavors of most processed foods, not to mention the excessive and addictive amounts of sodium and fat they contain. Spices to the rescue!  The use of natural spices in our food preparation can enhance our taste experience across the board, and spices have other health benfits as well.  So put the can opener back in the drawer and the salt shaker away in the cabinet, and flavor up this week's meals with some of these palate-pleasing spices:

Tumeric - Hailing primarily from India, tumeric is derived from a root that is first boiled and steamed, then dried and ground.  It is a staple of Indian cuisine and provides both rich, golden color (similar to that of saffron) and pungent flavor to grain and meat dishes.  It is also used medicinally throughout Asia for stomach and liver ailments.

Cinnamon - Cinnamon sticks are actually the dried bark of laurel  trees in the cinnamomun family.  Ground cinnamon is probably the most common of the baking spices and is also frequently paired with apples and other fruits.  In the Middle East cinnamon is also used as savory seasoning in chicken and lamb dishes.  Popular since ancient times, the Romans considered cinnamon to be sacred; more recently, studies have suggested that cinnamon may be helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol and help in the regulation of blood sugar for Type 2 diabetics.

Coriander - Another ancient spice, coriander is a seed that comes primarily from Romania and Morocco.  Though its plant is in the cilantro family, coriander is not interchangeable with cilantro in recipes; its distinctive flavor is more reminiscent of lemony sage and lends itself well to Mediterranean, South American, Indian and African dishes as well as stews and marinades.  In parts of Europe, coriander has reputed health benefits for diabetics and is used in India as an anti-inflammatory.  It has more recently been studied in the United States for its cholesterol-lowering effects.

Cooking Tip:  To find flavorful recipes incorporating these spices and others, go to and use the Ingredients search function at the top of the page.  It will return descriptions and article links about the spices, along with a nutritional overview of the recipes themselves.

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

Make Common Sense Part of Nutrition Planning

Yes, it's National Nutrition Month, so be prepared to be presented with a smorgasbord of nutritional tips and resources throughout the month. As with almost any health-related topic, we find ourselves bombarded with "expert" and frequently conflicting advice from all quarters -- nutrition is no exception.  How many meals a day are the best?  How many servings of vegetables?  Of grains and cereals?  Is white sugar ever okay?  Is high fructose corn syrup the cause of all mankind's ills?  Does deciding what fats are GOOD or BAD make feel like you're spinning a dietary roulette wheel?  When it comes to good nutrition choices, what's a well-meaning, intelligent person to do?

Of course we're never going to get the so-called experts to agree.  Trends in nutrition can be like trends in clothing, what's in and out can change from year to year or decade to decade (remember the food pyramid we boomers grew up with?).  And let's not delve into the dark underbelly of food industry lobbying, that calls for a blog all its own.

Thank goodness for Common Sense.  Here are some fundamental questions to ask yourself when you decide what, when and how much to eat: 

How hungry are you, really?  The American Dietetic Association tells us that skipping meals can have adverse effects.  It suggests that eating meals at regular intervals helps avoid trigger the "store calories" response in our bodies.  On the other hand, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition maintains that three meals or six meals a day is not the question, that the deciding factor in unwanted weight gain is the total number of calories consumed.

Here's a sensible suggestion.  Is a three-meal a day schedule working for you, or do you find yourself needing to refuel more frequently?  Listen to your body, and take the time identify your own metabolic rhythm; we each have different physiologies and levels of activity. What works for your best friend may be far off the mark for you.

What to choose, what to choose?  I bet that most of us -- confronted with momentous decisions such as what to eat for lunch -- could readily identify the healthier options.  Let's face it:  Our nation's obesity problem is not a result of making the wrong choice between the tuna on whole wheat and the Caesar salad -- it's choosing the high-fat, high-sodium, high-carbohydrate over-processed drive-thru fast food value meal over almost anything else.  It's reaching for just about any beverage except good, old-fashioned water when we have a thirst.  It's eating foods from the color palette of brown-browner-brownest.  It's forgetting that what we put into us is going to have to come out in some way, shape or form (ideally, as expended energy), or we're going to end up carrying it around with us on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the nutrition issue is this:  Our daily food choices are actually critical decisions about how we fuel our bodies to generate the energy we need to live the best lives we can in the time that we have here.

This National Nutrition Month I'm going to begin taking my own advice and ask myself this question before every meal:  Is what I am about to consume going to serve me in pursuing my goals and passions?  Will eating this meal help me to achieve my dreams?

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

Best Health Secrets - Hot Tomatoes


Hot tomatoes are what you pick out of your garden in August, if you're lucky. And hot tomatoes are just about the hottest and most popular vegetable out there, surpassed in consumption each year only by potatoes. Needless to say, tomatoes beat potatoes in nutrition by miles. Filled with vitamins A and C, tomatoes are high in dietary fiber and low in sodium, with no saturated fat or cholesterol. They are also a good source of vitamin K, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, potassium, and manganese. Whew! Tomatoes are one of the best nutritional packages around and are commonly available to nearly everyone.

Think of all the different ways you eat tomatoes today. Start with sliced on your plate at a picnic on a hot summer day. Move to piled on a sandwich, then to wedges nestled around a salad, and then to hollowed out and stuffed full of tuna or crab salad on a restaurant plate. Tomatoes cubed into spicy chili. Tomatoes diced up tiny into tacos.

Then start thinking about tomato products. Ketchup, of course. Tomato sauce poured over meatloaf. Tomatoes chopped up with onions and cilantro into salsa for a burrito. Tomatoes simmered with oregano, basil, and garlic into rich goodness to top spaghetti. Tomatoes drowning with molasses and chili peppers in your favorite barbeque sauce. Tomato juice, tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, canned crushed tomatoes, Italian-style, Mexican-style, stewed. Is your mouth watering yet?

Producing tomatoes to fill all these needs is big business. Commercial farms in California grow tomatoes on acres of sun-drenched soil. Their harvesting machines can gather over a ton of tomatoes each minute, and the tomatoes are then sent to a processing plant that can handle over a million pounds of tomatoes every hour. Tomatoes from these farms are specially developed to ripen simultaneously, maximizing yield and efficiency in harvest. The fruits are fleshy, with small seed compartments and thick skins to withstand machine harvesting. The varieties grown here, with names like Heinz 2401, are resistant to viruses and fungi that plague home gardeners, as well as to nematodes and beetles. Corporate giants like Heinz, Campbell's, Pizza Hut, and Ragu pay for the research that turns out these commercial crops, and they reap the rewards of the harvest.

At the other end of the spectrum lie heirloom tomatoes, with names like Brandywine, Marvel Stripe, and Green Zebra. To be classified as an heirloom, the seeds must have bred true for at least 40 years. Heirlooms have become increasingly popular in the last few years and they turn up in organic bistros as well as pricey fine-dining establishments. These varieties are not suitable for commercial production and are usually grown by individuals in small gardens. But individuals cannot supply the growing demand for these tasty reminders of days past, and organic farms, much smaller than the giant commercial operations and often family-operated, are beginning to offer a more reliable supply to restaurateurs and grocers.

The escalating demand for heirlooms is based mostly on flavor, although increasing awareness of pesticides, pollution, and Big Farming have swayed some converts. Consumers have grown tired of the "green baseballs" found on produce shelves these days and long for the flavor of real tomatoes, the kind their parents picked out of the family garden a generation ago. Heirloom varieties offer both flavor and a greener footprint.

Whether out of a can or from an organic garden, tomatoes hold a place--indeed, many places--in today's menus and lifestyles. Lest we forget, the tomato is the basis of that lovely invention, the Bloody Mary. Linda Manley, a retired university research director, writes website articles on topics that interest her, such as retiring in warm places, staying fit and healthy, and saving money while doing both. You can find more of her articles at | Article Source: | Article Source:

Are you what you eat? Information about produce and pesticide exposure

Many Americans are in a nutritional quandary.  On the one hand, frequently published studies and nutritional experts bombard us with the fact that we don't eat enough vegetables and fruit - the "good stuff" -  to provide proper nutrition; on the other, proponents of organic farming and anti-pesticide activists strive to alert us to the dangers of many of the chemical compounds that are used in commercial agriculture and conventional farming methods.  Will consuming more of the good stuff pump a lot of the bad stuff into our bodies?  Will eating "right" sap the household budget because of the higher costs associated with bringing organic produce to market and our dinner table?  Will consuming fewer pesticides that have been approved for use on our produce make enough of a difference to justify the effort and added cost of buying organic? As with any controversy involving studies and the conflicting opinions of many analysts, it pays to step back and take a common sense approach when making real-world decisions.  One source that may prove helpful is the website of the Environmental Working Group (EWG).   A non-profit organization founded in 1993, the group states on its website that "The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment."  One of the initiatives it has taken toward that end is creation of a Shopper's Guide to assist in balancing the benefits of organic produce consumption with the realities of real-world family food budgets.  In a handy wallet-sized format, the list identifies "The Dirty Dozen" (produce found to have the most pesticides) and "The Clean Fifteen" (those that have lesser amounts of the chemicals and residue that cause concern).  By identifying the propensity of commonly consumed fruits and vegetables to carry pesticides from the fields to our tables, the guide can help consumers decide where their buy-organic food dollars will help the most in reducing consumption of pesticides.

Below are some links to provide more information about EWG and the Shopper's Guide:

When shopping organic is not an affordable option, there are other steps you can take to help reduce the intake of pesticides from the produce you purchase.  Buy a small vegetable brush in the kitchen gadgets aisle and use it on thicker-skinned fruits and vegetables; for more easily bruised produce, there are a variety of non-toxic produce washes available to help reduce pesticide residue.  Making these small tasks a regular part of your meal preparation routine will not only help you to stay healthier, it may even enhance the flavor of the meals you are making!

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2011. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.

The Truth About the "5-Second Rule"

Did you grow up in a family that observed the '5-second rule"?  If you dropped food on the floor, but picked it up in less than five seconds, it was OK to eat. The 5-second rule was not observed in our house - if it fell on the floor, it was tossed out.  Thank goodness our bodies are made the way they are. because the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs has saved most 5-second rule observers from many an illness.

There’s good science for this view.   It's probably not even safe to follow a 1-second rule: The transfer of bacteria from a contaminated surface to food is almost instantaneous - or, at the very least, quicker than human reflexes. In a recent study, Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson, and students contaminated several surfaces (ceramic tile, wood flooring, and carpet) with salmonella. They then dropped pieces of bologna and slices of bread on the surfaces for as little as 5 seconds and as long as 60 seconds. After just 5 seconds, both foods had already picked up as many as 1,800 bacteria (more bad bugs adhered to the bologna than the bread. After 60 seconds, it was up to 18,000 bacteria.

There are 76 million cases of foodborne illness annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control - so unless you're the only family on the block that sterilizes your floors hourly, stop eating dropped food. "Let's not forget what comes into contact with floors--people bring animal feces on their shoes into their homes," Dawson said.

And don't assume that countertops are clean. Dawson's team also found that the Salmonella actually survived as long as four weeks on the test surfaces.  Also, never use the dishcloth or a towel for drying dishes to wipe up spills on the floor unless of course you put it in the dirty laundry immediately.

I am a stickler about hand washing; I always have been and always will be. Many potential illnesses can be avoided when washing hands with soap and water.  Children (and adults) should be educated to these good habits:  Hand washing before meals, after using the restroom, after playing outside, after coughing and blowing your nose, before preparing food and after touching food (such as raw meat) to avoid getting sick.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2010. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.