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With all the convenience foods marketed as healthy options for your child, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out what to send in their lunch kit. Here are some healthy lunch basics to help you make an informed decision about what’s going into your child’s lunchbox.

Sugar!

Have you ever noticed that sugar is the only item on the nutrition facts chart that doesn’t have a listed daily recommended intake value? This is because food manufacturers lobbied the government to keep this information away from Canadians. A lot of foods and beverages give a person way over the daily limit with just one serving — and that includes foods and beverages we often think of as healthy. Your child should be eating a maximum of 25 grams of sugar in processed foods every day. What that means is the sugar in a raw apple is fair game and doesn’t need to be counted, but the sugar in apple juice is counted against their 25 grams total. Instead of juice, pack your child plain white milk or water, and snacks should have no more than 9 grams of sugar and no less than 2 grams of fibre. Raw, whole fruits, cheese, and certain, high fibre granola bars are good choices.

Balanced.

It can seem so convenient to just throw pre-made foods or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into your child’s lunch box. It takes 30 seconds, doesn’t go bad, and your kid actually eats it. The problem is that most of the time these foods are high in carbohydrates (ie: sugar), fats, and (if you’re lucky) some protein. However, they don’t offer much in the way of veggies. A balanced meal for your child should have twice as much vegetables as everything else. If your family prefers a meat substitute like eggs or legumes, you’ll need to experiment a bit to find out what balanced looks like for you.

Often the best lunch is leftover dinner. Most school aged children have access to a microwave, and balanced homemade suppers with a meat (or protein substitute), veggie, and starch make great lunches when warmed up. For cold lunches, offer wraps, sandwiches, salads, and finger foods — always with lots of vegetables. Carrot sticks, snow peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and fresh beans are often popular with kids when raw and dipped in a little ranch.

We know that you care a lot about your child and that you want them to eat well. We also understand that Canadians are as busy as ever. If you need help coming up with healthy ways to feed your child without resorting to convenience foods, we recommend speaking with a nutritionist. If you’re covered by one of our great health benefits packages, your visit should be partially or fully covered! Contact us today if you need health coverage that actually meets your basic needs.

We know that some of you are looking at this blog title and thinking we missed our mark. After all, September has just begun, and that means summer is coming to a close and everyone is already packing away their sunscreen. But maybe you shouldn’t be.

Sunscreen doesn’t protect you from the temperature; it protects your skin from the damage done by ultraviolet radiation (UV light). While it would be so much simpler if UV and temperature were linked, Canadians can actually be exposed to dangerous levels of UV radiation in the middle of winter as well. In fact, skiers and other winter athletes who spend all day outdoors often mistake red, chapped cheeks for frostbite when it’s actually a sunburn!

The easiest way to know if you should wear sunscreen today is just to lookup the UV index for your municipality online. The UV index is a linear scale which is very useful for individuals. What we mean by that is that it’s very easy for someone to figure out how quickly they’ll burn based off of past experiences. If you burned after 1 hour with a UV index of 3, you can assume you’ll burn in 30 minutes at a UV index of 6 (the sun is twice as strong, so you burn in half the time) and in 15 minutes at a UV index of 12.

A UV of 1 or 2 is low. Adults of all complexions should be fine, but you should still be cautious with infants and young children who burn easily. We find 3 is the cut off point. If you’re staying out less than 30 minutes, you should be fine. If you’re staying out for an hour or more, you should put on sunscreen if you burn easily. At ratings of 4 and above, it’s really hard to give general advice. We recommend avoiding sun during the peak UV hours of 11 AM – 4 PM and wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30, but what you really need is going to depend on your skin type. You may find wearing loose, light clothing with long sleeve, a broad hat, and pants is the only sure way to avoid a burn. You may be just fine without sunscreen as long as you avoid the peak hours. Talk with your doctor and use your knowledge of your past burns to make an informed decision.

When it comes to wearing sunscreen, it pays to remember that the temperature doesn’t tell you much about the UV index. In fact, bright, snowy conditions can actually increase the UV rating. So whether it’s winter or summer, check the rating before you go out, and choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that’s water resistant and at least SPF 30.

Many Canadians, especially members the younger generation who have just entered the workforce in the last decade, may not have ever heard of employee assistance programs. That’s because it’s actually quite an old program that just isn’t appreciated the way it used to be.

What the Heck are Employee Assistance Programs? - Health Risk Services - EAPs for Canadian Employers

During the early 40s and World War II, Canada saw an alcohol shortage. This lead to an attitude of drink-it-while-you-can and binge drinking became common. As a result, alcoholism was also a rising issue. At the time, those with a drinking problem weren’t treated. Instead, they were arrested for fighting, loitering, or just public drunkenness and tossed in jail. Others were sent to mental institutions for “nervous breakdowns.” Employers took matters into their own hands, and the industrial alcoholism programs of 40s is what has now become employee assistance programs or EAPs.

Today, EAPs are short-term counseling programs offered by employers to help their employees work through any personal problems that are affecting their performance on the job. But don’t think that EAPs are just for employees suffering from substance abuse! Many of today’s programs help workers with relationship stress (such as a divorce or the stress of becoming a new parent), job stress, harassment, balancing work-life, and more. These programs were invented to help struggling employees become good, productive workers again. Which is important for both workers and employers. Many businesses recognize this, and offer these amazing programs. Unfortunately, word often doesn’t get out, and many employees may not realize that these services are available.

Here at Health Risk we definitely recommend employers offer EAPs. They are an affordable way to deal with an employee’s small problem before it becomes a big problem. Firing, hiring, and training new employees all takes time and money. That doesn’t count time and revenue lost to the months or years of subpar work before the underperforming employee is let go. EAPs can help stop your employee’s personal problems ever developing into a business problem.

At Health Risk, we offer a wide range of EAPs for Canadian employers. If you’d like to see how EAPs and other health plans could benefit your business, we invite you to discuss your options with one of our advisors today.

Canadians are always keeping one health problem or another in mind. June is brain injury awareness month, and last month we focused on a variety of problems from celiac disease to brain tumours. May also had a couple important health days and weeks for mental health awareness. Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel as though mental health is still a taboo topic in Canada, so we think it’s important to talk about the importance of self care whether it’s mental health week or not. While self care generally refers to both the body and the mind, today we’ll be focusing a little more on the mental aspects.

Self-Care is Important - Health Risk Services - Health Insurance Plan Canada

Process Your Emotions.

Whether you need to talk it out with your spouse, best friend, or therapist, or prefer to work through your emotions by yourself, it’s important to understand and process your feelings regularly. Some people love to write about what’s frustrating them; others prefer to run until they feel in control of their life again. It makes no difference whether you paint, slam dunk, or talk your feelings out. What matters is you spend a little time each day acknowledging your feelings and find a way to express them without anyone (including yourself!) getting hurt.

Eat well, Exercise, and Get Enough Sleep.

While we’re focusing on mental health, it’s impossible to entirely separate body from mind. In order to have a healthy psyche, you’re also going to have to take care of your body. We’re not saying it’s impossible to be happy and get the most out of life when you’re hungry or tired, but it’s definitely harder. Try to clock at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Stay away from highly processed foods, and eat a healthy diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Finally, make sure to get a bit of exercise in each day. You don’t need to be running a marathon, but take a brisk walk or go for a bike ride every day.

Take Mental Health Days.

No one feels guilty taking a sick day when they’re bedridden (or worse bathroom-ridden!), try to be as kind to your mental health needs as you are to your physical health needs. Just like a broken arm needs a sling, high levels of anxiety might need a hot bath or a day curled up on the couch reading. If you’re a generally healthy person, dealing with a little anxiety or stress when it’s still a small problem can go a long ways to being a more productive and happier person when you go back to work tomorrow. If you suffer from chronic mental illness, things are going to be harder for you. Try to be kind to yourself. Depression isn’t any less real than two broken legs. If you really can’t function in the “real world” today, try to get out of bed, shower, and put on some fresh pyjamas. Own your mental health day. Turn a symptom into a decision to spend a day loving yourself.

Canadians are kind and selfless people. It’s why we’re so respected around the globe. We send financial support to those in need in other countries, we open our doors to strangers during states of emergency — just ask the citizens dealing with the recent Fort McMurray fire. Try to extend that kindness to yourself too. It’s not selfish or unprofessional to take a Me-day. It’s just an important part of self-care.

If you’ve never had the incredibly nasty displeasure of experiencing heat stroke, take it from us you really don’t want to. Heatstroke is the opposite of hypothermia (caused when the body’s core temperature is too low), but it doesn’t generally receive the same level of respect from Canadians. If you tried to go out in a blizzard with runners and no coat, your mom or spouse would wonder if you were crazy. Those of us living North of the 49th parallel understand the killing power of cold. But heat can kill too.

Death by Sunstroke

In 2015, India experienced one of the worst heat waves of all time. Temperatures neared 50 C, and over 2,500 people died that May from heat exposure. By June, the heatwave had moved from India to Pakistan. Temperatures crawled even higher, and another 2,000 deaths were attributed to heatstroke. We’d like to hope our readers aren’t the sort of people to think, “Yeah, but that was in developing nations. Things like that don’t happen in first world countries.” But on the off chance, let’s not forget that in 2003, Europe was struck by a heatwave of its own. Drought caused mass crop failures. France experienced nearly 15,000 heat­ related deaths, and a study in Spain suggests the heat was responsible for a further 13,000 death there. In all, the heatwave struck 10 European countries and was responsible for more than 70,000 dead. So when we say that heat kills as well as cold, believe us.

What Causes Heat Stroke?

So now that you know sunstroke can kill, it’s important to know how. If you think you can deduce the cause of death from the name, I’m afraid you’ll be heading the wrong direction. Sunstroke is a misnomer, and its deaths are not caused by any blockages or hemorrhaging in the brain. Instead, heat stroke is the result of internal organs overheating. Think of it this way, when you fry an egg, some of proteins change from clear to white and other changes cause the yoke to become solid. The heat from the pan permanently alters and denatures the egg’s chemical makeup. Heat stroke works similarly, except instead of frying up an egg, you’re heating your liver, lungs, kidneys, heart, etc.

Stay Hydrated

Now that you understand why heat stroke is not something to take lightly, it’s time to understand how you can prevent it. The most important thing to do is stay hydrated. Water acts like a coolant for the body. Water is able to absorb and hold a lot of heat, so your body uses water to soak up heat from your organs and then sends that warm water to your extremities. Drinking cold water is best! Not only does cool water taste nicer, but you’ll body will use up some of its excess heat to warm the water up. Remember almost all beverages (including coffee!) will help you to stay hydrated and safe from heat stroke. Eating juicy fruits and veggies like watermelon or cucumber also helps! The big exception is alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates the body, so individuals are at a higher risk for sunstroke when they are drinking or hungover. Heat stroke needs to be taken seriously by Canadians. Our summers are only getting hotter and that could mean serious dangers for the elderly, young children, and even those of us in between. You can help yourself keep cool this summer by wearing loose light clothing, staying hydrated, and sticking to the shade. And don’t forget to wear a hat and use sunscreen! From everyone here at Health Risk, we hope you all have a great summer and stay safe!

Here at Health Risk, we’re finally finishing up our series on the 7 major nutrients. The unfortunate fact is many Canadian health plans don’t cover access to a nutritionist, so we want to make sure this information is as widely available as possible. We hope that in the future employers will choose to cover nutritionists as part of their employee health plans. That way their staff will be able to eat better, make more informed decisions, and live healthier lives. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about micro and macro nutrients.

Macronutrients.

If you’ve been keeping up on our blogs, you’ll actually know quite a bit about macronutrients already. These nutrients are the calorie dense foods that humans consume for the bulk of our energy. They include carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat. Some people also include alcohol as alcoholic drinks have a ton of calories, but as alcohol is hardly necessary for the body, its inclusion is questionable at best. If you want to learn more about carbs, fiber, and protein, you can check part one of the 7 major nutrient series. And follow up with part 2 which takes a look at fats.

Micronutrients.

Just given that the name contains “micro” and we’ve already told you that macronutrients make up the bulk of the human diet, you’ve probably already figured out that micronutrients are the chemicals, minerals, and elements that we need in only tiny amounts. For humans, a micronutrient is classified as a trace mineral that we need in quantities of less than 100 milligrams / day. And if that sounds like a lot, it isn’t. One hundred milligrams is equivalent to 1/10 of a gram or the weight of roughly half a paperclip.

You’ll likely have heard of many of the trace-elements and minerals that humans need. Micronutrients include everything from Vitamin A to zinc. Metals like copper, iron, and cobalt among others are important in trace amounts and are easily found in the foods we eat. Other non-metal elements, like iodine, are harder to get but just as necessary. When you don’t eat enough iodine, your thyroid (responsible for your metabolism) won’t run properly. In the past, iodine deficiency commonly caused goiters. Today, table salt is often iodized to prevent deficiency.

Micronutrients, unlike macronutrients, should only be eaten in small doses. While you can eat as much vitamin C as you want (you just pee out the excess), too much vitamin A or iron can cause major problems. The human body is a complicated machine of intricately balanced chemical reactions, and it can be hard to keep it running optimally. A nutritionist can help. More knowledge about food, nutrition, and how are bodies works means that Canadians will have the power to make informed decisions and live better. At Health Risk, we recommend that employers offer their staff the opportunity to talk with a nutritionist.

If you want to add nutritionists to your employees’ benefit plan, contact Health Risk today!

 

When it comes to fat, there’s a lot of confusion. Is fat bad for us? Good for us? What is fat? What are oils? Are they lipids? What is a lipid?

Along with carbohydrates and proteins, fats make up the majority of our diet. The fats humans consume are known as triglycerides, which is a fancy way of saying they contain three fatty acids. Often, people will use the word “fat” specifically to refer to saturated (typically animal-sourced) fats that are solid at room temperature. Oils are the opposite and generally refer to as unsaturated (typically plant-sourced) fats that are liquid at room temperature.

Lipids, on the other hand, is a vague term that includes many different molecules. Both fats and oils are within the lipid family, but so are waxes (like crayons) and various other chemical families that aren’t consumed by people. Using lipid when you specifically mean a fat or oil would be like saying “carnivore” when you specifically mean a cat. Yes, cats are carnivores, but so are crocodiles, snakes, and sharks, so saying carnivore is no guarantee that everyone will understand you mean a cat.

Most fats (fatty acids) are nonessential. This means that our bodies have processes for creating them from other things in our diet. However, there are at least two essential fatty acids that mammals (including people!) cannot synthesize and must consume. These fats are commonly referred to as omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid. Fortunately for us, other critters (like fish) and some plants are able to create these essential fatty acids, so we can just eat them. Fish and shellfish are a rich source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid. But for the vegetarians, carefully choosing oils (including olive and canola), seeds (such as pumpkin or sunflower), leafy greens, and walnuts will get the job done too.

Fats are an important source of energy for many animals including humans. Breast milk is rich in fat because it’s necessary for growing healthy brains, and as adults, we still need essential fats in order to be healthy. While too much fat may lead to weight gain, demonizing fats is not the way to combat obesity.

If you want to learn more about health eat and taking care of your body, you should book time with a nutritionist. The experts at Health Risk can help you find the health coverage you need to stay informed and feeling your best. Call us today!

The Canadian Food Guide has certainly changed quite a bit since the 1940s when it recommended a daily serving of potatoes and a weekly serving of liver, heart, or kidney. But since 1992, the guide has remained unaltered, so most Canadians are familiar with the 4 food group rainbow. However, while it may be well known, it’s not really the best guide to nutrition at this point. Instead, it may be better to think of food through the lens of nutrients.

Carbohydrates come from plants and are generally found in grains. Food like bread, pasta, and rice are filled with carbs. Carbohydrates come in a few varieties, some are easily broken down by the body and can cause blood sugar spikes. Other, more complex carbs, take longer for the body to break down and absorb. Complex carbs are great. They provide your body (and brain!) with the high count of calories you need, but they also don’t cause spikes in insulin. Simple carbs should be avoided. Try to eat only whole grain varieties for bread, pasta, and rice. Other plant foods like fruits and veggies contain some carbs as well.

Proteins are super important for all animals including humans. Our bodies use proteins to create our muscles, send messages, and even grow hair. Protein is dense with energy, and it’s thought that one of the reasons humans have such big brains and are so clever is we began eating cooked meat. All the energy from that meat gave us the extra resources to grow big brains and complex nervous systems. Because of this energy, a diet rich in protein is super important for children, pregnant and lactating women, and those recovering from an injury.

There are also 10 essential proteins that humans need to live and cannot create themselves. That means the only way for us to get these necessary proteins is to consume them in our diet. Sources of protein include meat, dairy, eggs, whole grains, soy products, and legumes.

Fiber is actually a type of carbohydrate. Fiber mostly comes from cellulose, a long, complex carb that people (unlike cows and other herbivores) cannot digest.That’s okay though, because we don’t eat fiber for energy. Instead, fiber helps to keep everything in the digestive tract moving along properly. A diet high in fiber reduces your chance for colon cancer and helps to keep bowel movements regular. It slows down the digestion of other foods, preventing insulin spikes. A good rule of thumb for snacks is more than 2 grams of fiber for every 10 grams of sugar. Of course, the more fiber and the less sugar the better! Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all good sources for fiber.

In this blog we covered three of the major classes of nutrients. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll talk about fats, essential fatty acids, and the difference between macro and micro nutrients. If you want to start eating better, the best thing to do is get informed! The experts at Health Risk are here to help Canadians live better, call us today!

If you’re like a lot of Canadians, the months between November and March might be some of the hardest. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, is a mood disorder that disproportionately affects individuals living in polar regions. And, while you don’t see any polar bears running around Calgary, we still qualify as a polar region when it comes to SAD, and that means many Calgarians (likely over 5% or 1 in 20) suffer from symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, reduced labido, and depression during these winter months. So what’s happening?

Doctors aren’t sure, but the best guess we have presently is that symptoms are caused by low vitamin D levels and the absence of sunshine. But, even if these aren’t the cause, they’re certainly part of finding the solution. Here are two easy things you can do to help combat winter depression.

Start Taking Vitamin D.

Humans aren’t able to absorb enough vitamin D from just diet. During the summer months, the vast majority of our vitamin D comes from sunshine, but during the winter months it can be hard or even impossible to get enough sunlight. This is because the angle that light hits Canada during the winter, makes it difficult to absorb ultraviolet B light even if you spend all day outside. Because of this, many Canadians need to find a different source of vitamin D such as a daily supplement.

But before you start taking vitamin D, you may want to get a blood test from your doctor to confirm that you need it. It’s pretty difficult to overdose on this vitamin — but it is possible, so while you’d likely be alright either way, it’s always best to check.

Use a Sun Lamp.

Because SAD is so common (further north it can be as prevalent as 1 in 10), sun lamps have become increasingly popular, and you can now purchase one pretty easily using amazon. Sun lamps, unlike regular lamps, are created to mimic normal sunlight. This means they produce a larger spectrum of light including ultraviolet B, so Canadians can use these lamps to meet their sunshine quota.

While we may not know what causes SAD, many people have benefited from using vitamin D and sun lamps. You can also try to get outside for a walk, but when you’re bundled up with mitts and a scarf, you won’t have much bare skin available to absorb light anyways.

With a lamp and supplement, many people find that their energy levels return to normal, and they feel better. If you’re suffering from winter depression, our team at Health Risk hopes that you’ll start feeling better soon.

Talking about mental health is kind of a taboo subject. A lot of people would rather talk about sex or how much they make than discuss their mental health. And that’s a big problem because mental health doesn’t just refer to people struggling with chronic depression or schizophrenia. Every single person has to deal with their own mental health. We need to understand our anxieties and our emotions, and when we’re reaching our limits and how to deal with difficult things in a constructive way. One of the best things an employer can do for their employees is start the conversation about mental health before problems arise and grant employees paid mental health days.

Mental Health is Just as Important as Physical Health.

The way we treat individuals struggling with depression is very different than how we treat those who are fighting cancer. That makes sense. Physical sickness is much easier to see and wrap our brains around. When someone who is (or seems) physically fit has no energy or motivation, it’s hard not to just feel like they should “stop being lazy” or “snap out of it.” But mental health problems aren’t mended through “sucking it up” any more than a broken arm is. And just because our society doesn’t like talking about mental health doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Employees are Already Taking Mental Health Days.

If you offer your employees the opportunity to take sick days, then they’re likely already taking mental health days. But, instead of being able to be honest about feeling burned out, they’ll lie when they call in sick to blame a physical ailment. Often, the guilt of lying causes additional anxiety and makes everything worse. At Health Risk, we suggest offering employees “wellness and health days.” These paid days should be available for physical illness but also mental health days. That way employees can take the time they need to feel better without needing to lie.

According to research, better health benefits and more paid sick days are some of the top priorities of today’s employees. Just under 80% of employees would rather see better benefits than a pay raise, so it’s important to keep in mind what your employees actually want from you and your company. At Health Risk, we recommend offering your employees paid mental health days because an employee who feels like they can take a day to unwind will be more productive and grateful for their job in the long run.

At Health Risk, we want to see employees across Canada having access to the benefits they want and need. If you want to offer your employees a better health plan, than Health Risk is here to help. Call us today.