Family health you can afford

Here's the latest on how to keep your household going strong -- without breaking the bank.

Guest editor Dennie Hughes is the RelationTips columnist for USA WEEKEND. Here, she shares the latest health news for you and your kids.

In these tough times, it's getting harder and harder for families to stay healthy. Many have stopped getting regular medical checkups. In 2008, for the first time ever, the Internet surpassed doctors as the top source of health information. And even more startling, more than 40 million Americans did not fill prescriptions last year in order to save money.

If there's one thing I can tell you after writing USA WEEKEND's RelationTips column for eight years and reading thousands of letters from readers of all ages about their personal issues, it's this: Regardless of what other challenges families face, good health is key to happiness. Skimping on our health is the very thing we must avoid in times like these.

Over the past year, I've been keeping a file of the latest news and tips on how to keep your loved ones healthy -- in good and not-so-good times. Read on for family health news that you can't afford to miss.

DIABETES: HELP FROM CINNAMON AND CYBERSPACE

More than 21 million American adults and children suffer from type 2 diabetes. What's encouraging: Studies indicate good nutrition can turn those numbers around. Who knew that simply adding a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon a day to your diet can safely drop blood sugar levels? Other surprising tips and ways to eat can be found via your cellphone or computer. Sensei.com offers a budget-friendly wellness plan, and dtour.com, "Prevention" magazine's new online program, helps drop pounds and control blood sugar.

EXPENSES: HELP TO LOWER YOUR MEDICAL BILLS

Parents might be willing to cut corners when it comes to their own health needs, especially if it means being able to provide better for their children. But how do you know where to save and where to spend? Pediatrician Andrew Racine has eight great tips for reducing costs without compromising your family's health. For example, see whether you can simply e-mail or call your doctor with questions for routine issues.

For more of Racine's advice, go to webmd.com and search for "cutting children's health care costs."

GROCERIES: SURPRISING IDEAS FOR SHOPPING AND STORAGE

Did you know it's better to store pasta and cereal in the original containers rather than in clear plastic? Light zaps nutrients and can promote the production of damaging free radicals. Also, don't load up on fresh fruit and veggies. Produce starts losing nutrients the moment it's harvested. Best bet: Shop more frequently and buy less. Or buy frozen.

For more tips, go to shape.com and search for "9 healthy mistakes."

FLOSS: AN EASY FAMILY FIX

More than 75 percent of U.S. adults have gum disease, but only 3 percent seek treatment, according to "Dental Economics" magazine. That's especially disturbing news considering that new studies link gum disease to other ailments, including oral and lung cancers. Traditional treatment often required painful surgery. A newly approved laser method that's less invasive and more patient-friendly is welcome news. But as always, prevention still is the best -- and cheapest -- option. Get the family flossing, my friends!

For more info, go to ada.org and click on "Cleaning your teeth and gums."

WORKOUTS: FUEL YOUR FAMILY WITH WATER

The popularity of sports and energy drinks has been on the rise, along with a surge in tooth decay, reports the Academy of General Dentistry. New studies reveal the drinks erode tooth enamel even more than soda does.

The fix is simple. Keep your family hydrated with the best drink of all: water. For energy before a game or gym class, fuel up with protein and carbs, followed up with a good brushing.

To learn more, go to agd.org and search for "sports drinks 2008."

SHOES: RESPECT YOUR FEET

Now that warm weather is here, at least someone in your family probably is donning comfy flip-flops. But podiatrists have taken a stand against the ubiquitous sandals: Flip-flopping is out. Over time, these summertime standards can cause sore feet, ankles and legs, according to a study cited by "Women's Health" magazine.

You can learn more on the Web about the body part we treat so callously. "Women's Health" has an up-to-date foot owner's guide online that addresses everything from hammertoes to, yes, calluses that are so common in adults and children alike.

To read the foot owner's guide, go online to womenshealthmag.com/health/stop-foot-pain.

MEALTIME: HOME IS WHERE THE HEALTH IS

The next time your child wants to eat dinner at someone else's house, don't be so quick to say yes. A San Diego State University study published last spring found that more time spent eating away from home could put children at higher risk for obesity.

The study found that children who spent time eating at a friend's, neighbor's or relative's house at least once a week consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and junk foods.

So, when possible, try to get everyone back to the family table, or at least discuss your dietary concerns with your friends and relatives.
For more information, go to sdsu.edu and search for "obesity."

SNACKS: A NUT THE FAMILY CAN LOVE

I was happy to find this good snack news: A recent Penn State study says that one or two handfuls of pistachios per day may help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol as much as 12 percent. This delicious, satisfying nut, which is loaded with fiber, has more antioxidants than a cup of green tea.

Pistachios have been dubbed the "skinny nut" by nutrition experts because you get so many nuts per serving (about 30 for 100 calories).

For more information, go to pistachiohealth.com.


PETS: MORE GREAT NEWS

Listen up, Mr. President: Getting a "first pet" is smarter than you realize. Recent studies show a pack of surprising health benefits from having a pet. People with pets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol than those without. Plus, regular exposure to cats and dogs may help prevent the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Dogs are especially healthful for their human friends. They can be trained to give you a heads-up about oncoming seizures and other diseases, and, because you've got to walk them, they're also social catalysts.

To read more, go to deltasociety.org and search for "human-animal bond."