Thursday, February 18, 2010

Consumer Alert: Aspartame

Aspartame (also known to you as Nutrasweet and little blue packets of Equal) is an artificial sweetener used in a variety of products. Most people associate it with diet soft drinks and the little packets for coffee and tea. In fact, it's in a lot of products you might not even think about (certain cereals, yogurt, etc.).

Depending on who you ask, aspartame is either perfectly safe or very dangerous. I will be upfront (as I sit here and type this while drinking a Diet Coke) and say that I don't think it is dangerous per se, although probably there are people who are sensitive to it and may react. And it's probably not good in excess, like pretty much anything else. There's even some evidence that using artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain. But that's not what I'm blogging about today.

A producer of aspartame, Ajinomoto, has rebranded its product as AminoSweet. According to the website, "AminoSweet is made from two amino acids, the building blocks of protein found in many of the foods and drinks we eat every day, such as fish, meat, eggs, cheese and cereals."

I have a problem with the marketing approach here. It's misleading to imply that AminoSweet is somehow a "natural" sweetener because it's "made from two building blocks of protein just like those found naturally in many everyday foods." Is Ajinomoto trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Or do they think we are stupid? We've known for years that aspartame (or Nutrasweet or Equal) is an artificial sweetener. Key word: Artificial. As in, not found in nature.

If you avoid artificial sweeteners for any reason, be sure to read labels carefully. Shady marketing practices like this are sure to multiply as the trend of "natural" products increases.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week: Feb. 7-14

Did you know that heart abnormalities are the most common birth defect? I didn't, until a few weeks ago. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Cora's Story blog and I casually clicked over to see what it was about. Cora died suddenly in her mama's arms at just 5 days old from an undetected congenital heart defect (CHD). I can't imagine suffering such a devastating loss, and I thank my lucky stars for my kids' healthy hearts. But Cora's mother Kristine has turned her pain into a wonderful mission in her daughter's name: to raise awareness about CHD and how easily it can be detected. With Kristine and Cora's help, hopefully more CHDs will be caught and treated early, saving babies' and children's lives.

Another fact I learned from Cora is how easily many CHDs can be detected. A simple pulse oximetry test (aka "pulse ox") done 24-48 hours after birth in conjunction with a newborn exam can detect a large proportion of CHDs, with a low false-positive rate. A pulse ox test is noninvasive and very simple: the reader is typically attached to the baby's toe and determines the oxygen saturation of the blood. An abnormal reading (typically below 95) is indicative of a problem. The research on pulse ox screening bears out the effectiveness of pulse ox screening tests for newborns.*

So why hasn't pulse ox testing become routine for all newborns? As I mentioned, the test is completely non-invasive and hospitals already have the equipment. Portable pulse ox readers are also available, which means both birth center and homebirth midwives could also easily carry them. Kristine is working on Cora's behalf to get laws passed nationwide mandating a pulse ox to be done on every newborn. I applaud her efforts and admire her strength at turning her pain into an effort to save lives.

What can YOU do? Request this test for your own babies and tell the pregnant moms in your life to request it when their babies are born. Pass this information on, and tell others to pass it on too. Write your Congressman and your state representatives and tell them you want pulse ox testing to be mandatory for all newborns. You might just save a baby's life.

*More information and research:
Medscape Medical News
British Medical Journal
University of Michigan
Medical News Today

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You're Doing It All Wrong

Confession: I cringe when I see your back drooping down in a plank pose. I die a little bit inside when you do a lat pulldown behind your neck. I get a shiver up my spine as you fling your legs forward on the leg extension machine.

I see people performing ineffective exercises and executing exercises with poor form all. the. time. And every time, I am seized by the same dilemma: Do I say something, or shut my mouth and pretend I didn't notice?

I don't want anyone to get injured, that's for sure. And I want people to see the results of their efforts. Performing an exercise improperly increases the likelihood of the former and decreases the likelihood of the latter. But....

I am a trainer, but I am not your trainer. If a member hasn't asked my advice, why should I offer it unsolicited? And by barging in on someone's workout, I might make him or her uncomfortable, and in fact LESS likely to seek advice or assistance from me in the future.

Not to mention, it galls me to no end to see trainers walking up to members and telling them they "should" be doing this exercise or that one. I find that highly irresponsible. Before recommending any exercise, I need to know at least a basic exercise and health history. Otherwise, how would I know about that torn rotator cuff back in '07 or those arthritic knees? I don't want to recommend any movement that is contraindicated for a person's health condition. I also don't want to recommend something that is far beyond a person's current level of ability, leaving open the possibility of injury. As a consumer, I would be suspicious of any trainer who tries to "recruit" new clients in this manner.

What do you think? Do you want someone to correct you if you're doing something incorrectly? Or would you prefer to just do your own thing without interruption?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Worst Cycle Class Ever

On Friday morning I got a desperate call from the group ex director at a gym where I'm on their instructor sub list. Could I please sub a cycle class at 10:30? I reluctantly said yes... 10:30 is Rebecca's morning nap time and I had never subbed at this particular location. The director gave me some helpful information, such as the entry code for the cycle room and how to plug my iPod into the boombox being used while the stereo is being fixed.

Right away I thought, iPod? Though I have one, I am a relic who prefers to use CDs. I know, I know, I need to step into the 21st century. But I gamely charged up my iPod and got myself and the kids ready to go.

I left myself plenty of time, so I thought, to get the kids into the childcare area and get myself set up for class. I brought the kids in and was confronted with a barrage of paperwork to fill out. I hadn't done this at the other club in the chain so I didn't realize it would be necessary. I apologized to the girl and told her the copy of my driver's license (!) would have to wait until after class.

Then I headed down the steps in search of the cycle room. I successfully used the keypad to open the little lockbox containing the key to the door. But then I had a hard time using the key in the lock, while about 10 members waited around looking at me. It didn't get better once I got inside the cycle room. There was no boombox in sight and I couldn't get the microphone to work. I ran back up the steps in search of someone, anyone, at the club who could help me. The girl at the front desk pointed me to the manager and he followed me down the stairs.

The boombox, as it turns out, was in a little locked closet nowhere near the cycle room. He got that working with my iPod, thankfully, and then started tinkering with the microphone. He couldn't get it to work either. (At least it wasn't user error!) By now we were more than 5 minutes past the start time if the class, and I'm pretty sure the members were convinced I'm an idiot.

I had to conduct class with 16 attendees by shouting at them over the music. Not the first time I've ever had to do that, mind you, but still. Then for some reason my iPod was not playing the songs in the playlist in order. The playlist was ordered correctly on the menu, but the songs came out randomly (I guess I had some kind of "shuffle" setting on?) and I had to keep flicking through the songs to do them in the right order. Not easy when I was out of breath and had sweaty fingers. The class just didn't flow.

From start to finish it was pretty much a catastrophe. I wish I could say I had some sort of "lesson" in all this, but I thought I was pretty well prepared to go into a new situation. I don't know if I'll be too anxious to go back there anytime soon though.