Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring Cleaning: Make-at-Home Cleaning Solutions


Spring has finally arrived. The flowers are beginning to bloom and the warmer weather begs you to open the windows and let the fresh air in. You may also feel the need to do a thorough cleaning of your home. If the Spring cleaning bug has bitten, consider making your own cleaning solutions this year.


Why choose make-at-home solutions?

  • Cost: Generally, make-at-home cleaning products are less expensive than store bought products.
  • Healthier: Non-toxic products can be made simply and easily with products you already have at home.
  • Choice of fragrance(s): By adding (or omitting) essential oils or other ingredients, you can create one-of-a-kind products that are pleasing to you and your family. In addition, the ability to add or omit fragrances(s) is helpful for any type of allergy or sensitivity within your household.
Products you already have in your home often make great cleaning solutions. For example, baking soda alone can serve as a toothpaste, laundry freshener, and carpet deodorizer.

Want more great ideas? Here are some great make-at-home cleaning solutions from Mother Earth Living to get you started: 
  

All-Purpose Cleaner 


Ingredients:
  • 1 gallon hot water
  • ½ cup liquid Castile soap (What is Castile soap? It’s a soap made from 100% plant oils, typically olive oil or coconut oil, with no animal fat or chemicals.)
  • 10 drops essential oil of your choice
Combine ingredients and mix well. Pour into a spray bottle and shake well before using. 
This all-purpose cleaner works great on a number of surfaces in both your kitchen and bathroom.  

Window and Glass Cleaner

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white vinegar

 Mix ingredients together and pour into a spray bottle.  Shake well before using.

Wood Furniture Polish 


Ingredients:
  • ½ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in a reusable spray bottle. Shake well. Spray onto wood furniture surfaces. Wipe off with a clean, dry cloth.

Stain Remover 


Ingredients:
  • Equal parts coconut oil and baking soda 
Mix ingredients well. Apply directly to stains on upholstery or carpets. Let set for a few minutes. Thoroughly wipe off mixture and allow the area to dry.

All-Purpose Scrub 


Ingredients:
  
  • 2 cups baking soda
  • ½ cup liquid Castile soap
  • ½ cup water
Mix ingredients well and use in hard-to-clean spots.

While the make-at-home solutions listed are a great start for all your cleaning needs, you can learn more by checking out books such as “Homemade Cleaners.” In addition, sources such as Rodale Organic Life and The Old Farmers’ Almanac offer many ideas for cleaning solutions you can make at home.

The possibilities are endless. Happy Spring cleaning!

Live Healthy. Live Smart.
-FamilyWize

Monday, March 21, 2016

Five Budget-Friendly Tips for Spring Family Vacations

Financial pressures can take the wind out of your Spring vacation’s sails. But if you heed these tips, you’ll make wonderful and lasting memories for you and your family – without blowing your bank account.


Tip #1 – Take a Spring Staycation 


Staying local can not only save you a lot (because lodging and transportation costs drop to nearly zero!) but it can also introduce your family to local opportunities you might otherwise not even be aware of. Save even more when looking local by packing lunches to cut down on the expense of dining out.

To add a level of interest and another level of good memories, consider shared activities with another local family. This is especially useful when bigger numbers of participants open up options. For example, some friendly family vs. family (or adults vs. kids) volleyball or badminton tourneys will make for some special memories.

Spring is a time of transition for nature, so be prepared. When the weather is cooperative, scout out local trails to enjoy the warming weather, or watch the effect of the Spring on wildlife at your local zoo. More fair-weather activities to consider:
  • Concerts 
  • Picnic-in-the-park events
  • Biking, rollerblading or skateboarding of local paved trails
  • Family fishing trip
  • Backyard campouts
  • Historic monuments (maybe renting a movie about the event too)
  • Zoo visit
And if the weather turns afoul, consider:
  • Museum
  • Library
  • Art gallery
  • Farmer’s market
  • Movie theater
  • Sleepovers!


 Tip #2 – Visit friends or relatives


If you are determined to get away from the home turf, choose locations where friends or relatives have offered accommodations. This can reduce your out-of-pocket costs while enriching your Spring vacation with shared memories.


Tip #3 – Investigate lodging alternatives


If you wish to do your Spring vacation in a place where you know no one, you can still save on lodging by looking into alternatives to standard motel lodging. For example, thousands have listed their guest bedrooms, guest cabin, or summer cottage online, and the rates are often far less than you’ll pay for a standard bed & breakfast or motel. Airbnb.com is the most well-known, but many other reliable alternatives include:

 Tip #4 – TAKE a Make-a-Difference Vacation


Use your vacation time to perform a public service as a family. Ideas include:
  • Visit nursing homes. Many residents get little or no visitation. Being a friendly stranger with hugs, hand-holding, or conversation can make their week special.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
  • Go on a church mission trip. Missions trips are often the most affordable vacations because you can raise funds to cover costs, and many of out-of-pocket expenses may be tax deductible.


 Tip #5 – Go camping!


Camp sites are usually much more affordable than motel/hotel lodging, and are a great way to make family memories. If you don’t already have camping gear, you may be able to borrow supplies from camper friends to save costs.
Share your own tips!
Have you found creative ways to save money on family Spring break vacations? Please share them here, using the comments section below!

Contributing Writer

Monday, March 14, 2016

5 Simple Steps to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy


The kidneys have a big job to do, but we often take them for granted. With March as National Kidney Month (and March 14 World Kidney Day), it’s time to consider giving your kidneys a checkup.
 
Kidneys are prone to disease. According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), a third of Americans – more than 26 million people are in danger from kidney disease – the 9th leading cause of death in the U.S. Most of us don’t realize it, since there normally are no outward signs until the disease progresses.  

Since more than a half million Americans have kidney failure today and more than 95,000 people are waiting for kidney transplants, raising kidney health awareness is important. 

What your kidneys do

Every day your kidneys – two fist-sized organs located in the lower part of your back – filter about 200 liters of your body’s circulating blood. Your kidneys also work to maintain your blood pressure and manage red blood cell production, salt and potassium levels, and your body’s acid content. 
 
Your kidneys also expel drugs from your body, balance your body's fluids, and strengthen bones by producing vitamin D. 
 

5 simple steps to ensure kidney health


The NKF advises us to all do the following simple things to protect our kidneys:
  1. Get tested
    Your doctor can give you an ACR urine test or a GFR blood test once a year if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, are over age 60, or have a family history of kidney failure – all common risks for kidney disease. You can also get screened for free via the National Kidney Foundation’s KEEP Healthy program: www.kidney.org.
  2. Go easy on the NSAIDs
    If you take any of the common over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), be aware that they can harm your kidneys. For safety, especially if you’re already in a high risk group, reduce your use of NSAIDs.
  3. Cut the processed foods
    Processed foods may be easy on your food prep time, but they are hard on your kidneys. Many common processed foods are often a source of high levels of sodium, nitrates, and phosphates in your body.
  4. Get physical
    Your kidneys respond well to exercise. Exercising regularly keeps your blood vessels, bones, muscles, heart, and kidneys healthy. The NKF recommends being active at least 30 minutes daily.
  5. Drink plenty
    Your kidneys clear sodium, urea, and toxins from your body, but they need plenty of water to do this. Avoid getting hydrated via sugary beverages though, which will also help you avoid getting kidney stones. For most adults, aim to drink 3 to 4 pints of water/day.
During National Kidney Month the NKF offers other health activities to promote awareness of the risk factors for kidney disease:
  • Free Screenings: Throughout March, the NKF is giving free kidney screenings. Locations and information are on their website.
  • Take the “Are You at Risk” Kidney Quiz, which can help you with early detection – important in preventing kidney disease! Kidney Quiz.
  • Join the live NKF Twitter Chat: NKF Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vassalotti will be online March 14, from 12-2 pm ET to answer questions live at www.twitter.com/nkf using the hashtag #WorldKidneyDayNKF.
To learn more, check out this Six step kidney disease primer or read up on World chronic kidney disease statistics.

If you currently take a medication for your kidneys, visit FamilyWize.org where you can download a free Prescription Savings Card – and save an average of 43% on all medications – or use our Price Lookup Tool to compare prices at local pharmacies. 

Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Top 7 Ways to Stay Safe with Medications

Medications. They can be life-savers, but they can also be dangerous. To stay safe, avoid these risks when choosing, taking, and storing medications.



1. Avoid rogue online pharmacies 

Don’t be tempted by the too-good-to-be-true cheap price of drugs at some online pharmacies. A 2013 report by The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy said that 97% of them were not in compliance with U.S. laws, and that many pretend to be Canadian or American – even though their drugs are of foreign origin or have not been approved by the FDA as safe or accurate in contents. That’s a big risk since, according to an FDA report, even a minor difference in your medicine can make a big difference in safety.

You can easily verify if an online pharmacy is licensed to do business in your state from the FDA’s state-by-state pharmacy licensing database.

2. Safely save money on your prescriptions with a discount card

Whether you seek to save by buying your prescription drugs online or at your neighborhood drug store, you can save up to 75% on prescription medication just by presenting your FREE prescription card from FamilyWize.org. To learn more, see How the FamilyWize Card Works and look up participating pharmacies.
https://www.familywize.org/prescription-savings-card/get-your-free-card/

3. Comparison-shop local pharmacies by drug prices

Why risk paying more than you need to for medications? The price difference for the same drug may differ significantly from one pharmacy to the next in your own neighborhood. Finding the best price is easy; just compare drug prices with the FamilyWize Drug Price Lookup tool.

https://www.familywize.org/drug-price-look-up-tool/

4. Follow directions

Did you know that drug treatment admissions for prescription painkillers grew more than 300% between 1995 and 2005, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America? And even common over-the-counter drugs, like acetaminophen, can cause poisoning and liver damage when taken in the wrong quantities.

5. Get rid of the old drugs!

Drugs beyond their expiration date are no longer safe. Expired drugs can lose potency, no longer providing you their intended benefit. Even worse, expired prescription drugs can become unpredictable in how they affect you. Time can alter the chemical composition of the drug. Even ordinary, over-the-counter aspirin breaks down with humidity, leading to toxicity.

It's important to dispose of the old drugs safely. See No Drugs Down the Drain – a public outreach program about the risks of flushing unused, expired medications down the toilet or drain. It provides safe and proper disposal alternatives, as does the FDA’s How to Dispose of Unused Medicines.

6. Keep drugs away from kids

According to Safe Kids Worldwide research, every single minute, a poison control center gets a call about potential medicine poisoning for a child age five or younger. And every 8 minutes, a youngster is admitted to an ER for medicine poisoning. In 67% of these cases, the medicine was within reach of the child: in a purse, on a counter, on a couch.... Remember, children are curious and unaware of dangers. Keep drugs out of reach!

7. Beware of the effect of sun and heat on drugs

Sun and heat can cause pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs to lose potency or become unstable. Also, dangerous physical conditions can result from sun exposure to your skin when taking certain medications. Similarly, skin rashes may result from sun exposure with certain drugs. Read about these and other sun and heat risks with medications here.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer









Monday, February 29, 2016

Warm Recipes for Cold Nights


For a cold, rainy night, there’s nothing like a belly-warming soup and hot entrée. Happily, there are many seasonally-appropriate yet healthy dishes to get you through the chill.

No matter what time of year it is, it is always better to purchase vegetables that are in-season. They tend to be fresher, and many times are more locally grown. Look for broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale and onions, which can generally withstand a hard frost. Here’s a more comprehensive list of frost-tolerant vegetables.


Healthy recipes for a cold day


When a hot food is what the doctor ordered, try one of these:

Healthy Winter Soup Recipes

If you want a super-healthy raw soup, and have a high-powered blender, such as a VitaMix (which can actually heat up the recipe through the force of its blade action), try this raw sweet corn and cashew chowder or this raw cream of celery soup recipe.

In a mood for a hearty but healthy chili? Then try this heart-healthy chili from American Heart Association, or this recipe for insanely easy vegetarian chili:

Ingredients:

· 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
· 1 cup chopped onions
· 3/4 cup chopped carrots
· 3 cloves garlic, minced
· 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
· 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
· 3/4 cup chopped celery
· 1 tablespoon chili powder
· 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
· 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with liquid, chopped
· 1 (19 ounce) can kidney beans with liquid
· 1 (11 ounce) can whole kernel corn, undrained
· 1 tablespoon ground cumin
· 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
· 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

Directions:

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onions, carrots, and garlic until tender. Stir in green pepper, red pepper, celery, and chili powder. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

2. Stir in mushrooms, and cook 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, kidney beans, and corn. Season with cumin, oregano, and basil. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Healthy, Warm Entrées

It doesn’t get much heartier or heart-warming than a main dish of chicken breasts with mushroom cream sauce, especially with a side of balsamic & parmesan roasted cauliflower.

But then again, this cabbage roll recipe might be just as hearty, and pairs nicely with this roasted beet and kale salad:

Ingredients:

· 3 large beets
· 1 tablespoon olive oil
· salt and ground black pepper to taste
· 1 bunch fresh kale, cut into bite-size pieces
· 1/2 cup chopped cashews
· 1/4 cup dried cherries
· 2 tablespoons golden raisins
· 1/2 cup apple cider
· 1/2 lemon, juiced
· 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
· 2 cloves garlic, minced
· 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
· 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. Trim roots and stems from beets. Coat beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place beets onto prepared baking sheet.

3. Roast beets for 30 minutes; turn beets over and continue roasting until tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour more. Let beets cool. Peel skins from beets and cut into 1-inch cubes. Toss cooked beets with kale, cashews, dried cherries, and golden raisins in a large salad bowl.

4. Whisk apple cider, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, and cider vinegar in a bowl. Slowly drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil into apple cider mixture, whisking constantly, until dressing is combined. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate at least 1 hour for flavors to blend before serving.

Healthy, Warm Desserts

There’s something about chocolate that feels “just right” during cold weather. Two good options are cashew & 3-seed chocolate bark or a low-fat warm chocolate pudding. For a warm, fruity dessert, try this topsy-turvy apple pie.


Do you have favorite healthy recipe of your own? Use the comments below to share and help us all warm up!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, February 22, 2016

10 Effective Tips to Fight the Common Cold

 
With millions of cases of the common cold reported each year, colds are the number one reason that children miss school and adults miss work. In addition to pesky symptoms such as congestion, sneezing and sore throats, colds can be costly. Lost time at work, doctor’s visits and cold remedies adds up to a billion dollar industry in the U.S.
 
 
With that in mind, what are the most effective steps in preventing a cold? And once a cold starts, how can we treat it in an effective way? 
 
These tips can help prevent a cold and avoid expensive trips to the doctor or prescription medication: 
 
  1. Add moisture to your home: Germs travel faster in colder, less-humid environments. When your home is dry from the heat, it’s a breeding ground for cold germs. Experts recommend using a humidifier in your home if the air is overly dry. Humidifiers are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. 
  2. Treat your nasal passages: Your chances of getting sick are increased when your nasal passages are dry. Saline nasal spray flushes out mucus and bacteria, while keeping nasal passages moist. You can also try a neti pot. This device helps keep sinuses irrigated and may help ward off colds. 
  3. Exercise: Experts agree that exercise boosts the immune cells throughout your body, which is important for preventing colds. 
  4. Sleep: Get plenty of rest, especially during cold season, to keep your immune system strong. 
  5. Hand washing: Washing your hands thoroughly throughout the day is one of the best ways to prevent catching a cold this season. Remember to wash your hands after touching particularly germy items such as the refrigerator handle, remote controls and doorknobs.
If you’ve already developed cold symptoms, don’t despair. Check out these effective tips for treating a cold:
  1. Throat lozenges: Black currant, in particular, contains gamma-linoleic acid, a fatty acid that soothes the throat and decreases inflammation. This type of throat lozenges might be more effective in fighting sore throats associated with the common cold.
  2. Healthy foods: Try incorporating buckwheat honey into your diet. This honey is high in antioxidants and iron and filled with immune-boosting power. Chicken soup is an age-old remedy with anti-inflammatory effects that may help soothe a sore throat. Inhaling the steam from the soup may help clear nasal passages, too.
  3. Tea: Try one with medicinal mushrooms and help stop germs before they take over.
  4. Turmeric: This yellow spice is a disease-fighter against bacteria and viruses. It’s a good source of manganese and potassium, and both help overall immunity.
  5. Vitamin C and zinc: Check with your doctor or pharmacist regarding supplements such as vitamin C and zinc. They might be helpful in fighting the common cold.
By practicing sound prevention and treatment options, you can effectively tackle the common cold this season.   
 
If you do require cold or flu medication this winter, remember that the FamilyWize Prescription Savings Card may help you save money on these prescriptions. For a FREE card, visit www.familywize.org/card or download a free card in the App Store.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Top Tips for Heart Health


February is National Heart Month, a smart time to check your heart health and assess the degree to which your lifestyle is affecting your risk of heart attack, heart disease or stroke, and make positive changes for better cardiovascular health.

How?

Good heart health is all about the basics: diet, exercise and genetics.
  • Diet: What you put into your body
  • Exercise: What you do, or don’t do, when it comes to physical activity
  • Genetics: Your family history
While you cannot redefine your genetic history, you have the ability to influence your own health and longevity by making smart lifestyle choices, and using what you know about your background to improve your odds. Let’s look at each of these three factors in terms of strengthening your heart and reducing your risk of heart disease.


Diet 

Dietitians and other experts recommend reducing your sodium (salt) intake to less than 1,500 mg/day. Other heart-healthy diet recommendations include eating lots of high-fiber foods, foods with omega-6 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, certain oils), and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout).
 
Foods to avoid include those with low nutrients, foods that are high in saturated fats (red meat, whole-fat dairy, egg yolks), fast food (which often is high in trans fats) and limiting alcohol to just a drink or two per day. 

For a more complete list of heart-healthy foods see University of Maryland Medical Center’s heart healthy diet list.

Exercise

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends regular physical activity to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. AHA’s recommendation is to get “at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.” 
 
An easy-to-remember and effective plan is 30 min./day for 5 days/week. If your schedule or current health condition makes the thought of doing a daily 30-minute routine overwhelming, you can break that 30 minutes up into two or three daily sessions of just 10-15 minutes each for positive results. 
 
These levels will, for most people, ensure good maintenance of heart health. But if you need to also lower your blood pressure or reduce bad cholesterol levels, shoot instead for at least 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise for 3-to-4 days/week. Try walking, running, swimming or biking – as these exercises naturally maintain an elevated heart rate for an extended time.
 
For more recommendations on heart-healthy physical activity, check out AHA’s Heart-Healthy Recommendations for Physical Activity.

Genetics

Your genetic background – your family tree and racial/geographic roots – can influence your risk of heart disease. But two recent studies from Northwestern Medicine suggest that a healthy lifestyle of good diet and exercise is far more influential in reducing your risk of heart disease:
  • A 2010 study showed that cardiovascular health in middle age and beyond is less a gift from your genes and more earned by a healthy lifestyle.
  • A second study showed that only a small percent of cardiovascular health is passed from parent to child; the bulk of negative or positive cardiovascular health resulted from lifestyle behaviors.
That said, if incidences of heart disease or stroke are in your family, the AHA cautions that your own risks are higher. So while knowing your family’s health history can help you avoid a heart attack or stroke, the AHA agrees that you can reduce your risk by making heart-healthy lifestyle changes.


Live Healthy. Live Smart.
- FamilyWize


Ric Moxley 
Contributing Writer