Want to cut gluten out of your diet? Use these tips – and recipe sites – to get started

In recent years, there’s been a lot of attention focused on gluten and its effects on the body and on health in general. Gluten has been associated with several disorders and conditions, including digestive-related conditions such as celiac disease. People who have gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance) have reported a host of symptoms, including abdominal cramping, diffuse aches and pains, and other symptoms that can take a big toll on the activities of daily life. But what is gluten, and how could eliminating gluten from your diet help you enjoy better health? Here’s some background.

What is gluten?

Gluten refers to a group of proteins found in some grains, including wheat, rye and barley. Gluten has certain elastic properties that help foods hold their shape, and it can be found in a wealth of foods — some expected, like breads, pastas and cereals, and some unexpected, like many bottled sauces, canned foods, and even chips and cookies. Because so many products contain gluten, learning to read labels and cook from scratch are essential when following a gluten-free diet.shutterstock_245254981.jpg

What are the benefits of a gluten-free diet?

Gluten has been suggested as a cause for many conditions, including:

  • Gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea and constipation.
  • Fatigue or “brain fog,” especially after eating gluten.
  • Feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Migraines or other headaches.
  • Swelling or discomfort in the joints.
  • Fibromyalgia or chronic regional pain syndrome.
  • Problems with mood, including irritability, anxiety or depression.

Where can I find gluten-free recipes?

If you’re ready to give gluten-free cooking a try, the Internet has a wealth of recipes to help you cut out gluten without losing out on nutrition — or flavor. Here are three top sites to check:

  • com is the Internet’s leading recipe site, and it has lots of gluten-free recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts, plus the forum offers lots of cooking advice and tips.
  • com is where you’ll find plenty of gluten-free recipes from television’s top cooks and cooking experts.
  • The Celiac Disease Foundation provides almost 800 gluten-free recipes as well as plenty of information about the reported health effects related to gluten.

Before making any permanent change to your diet, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor, especially if you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity. But you can start today by trying a few recipes and incorporating them into your regular roster of meals. It’s easier than you think to start cooking gluten-free.

From Returning Christmas Presents to Redeeming Gift Cards, These Tips Can Help You make the Most of Your Holiday Gifts

If you’re like most people in the U.S., chances are pretty good you’re facing one of two dilemmas – or maybe both – following the 2015 Christmas holiday season:

  • You received at least one Christmas gift that’s just not to your liking and you want to return it.
  • You received a gift card – either to a specific retailer or a generic card – and you’re wondering what’s the best way to use it.

Luckily for you, we’ve got some tips to help you out:

Returning Gifts

  • If a gift receipt wasn’t included, ask the giver if you can have the receipt to make returns a lot easier. Don’t feel comfortable asking? Most retailers will make a return even without a receipt – but chances are you’ll only get the lowest price, which means if the item has ever gone on sale, you may not recapture the price that was actually paid.
  • Return the item as soon as possible to ensure you’re well within the return deadlines set by the store. Some items like electronics have short return deadlines, while other items may be returned up to 90 days or sometimes longer, depending on the retailer.
  • If an item was purchased online but has a brick and mortar store near you, returning in person can result in far fewer hassles than trying to return an item online, especially if you don’t have the receipt or order slip. Most online retailers require the order number in order to process a return.
  • To avoid the crush of shoppers returning items after Christmas, try to hit the stores early in the day or later in the evening if possible. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a wait.

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  • Be mindful of expiration dates. Most cards are good for at least five years and some never expire, but check the dates and any fees associated with the card to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • Combine your card with a coupon or sale to get the most “bang for your buck.”
  • If you received a card to a retailer you don’t like, use it to buy gifts for someone else during the year or regift the card directly (just be sure the recipient doesn’t know the original giver, and only regift it if the card doesn’t have a holiday theme).
  • Another option for unwanted cards: Sell the cards online. There are several reputable sites for reselling gift cards to reap some cash. Two to consider: GiftCardGranny.com and PlasticJungle.com.

Of course, another option is to donate the gift or card to a charity and take a tax deduction. And remember: Even when a gift isn’t exactly what you’d choose for yourself, just the thought, time and effort a person placed into your gift should be plenty to make you smile.

Offering Group Health Insurance to Employees Has Major Advantages for Employers, Too

If you’ve ever held a job, you know just how vitally important it can be to have an employer who offers health insurance.  Although the Affordable Care Act was designed to help everyone find affordable healthcare insurance, having an employer who offers health insurance at a reduced rate isn’t just convenient – it can also be a huge money-saver for the men and women who help you build your business day in and day out.

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The benefits of offering group health insurance for your employees go well beyond your workers; there are plenty of advantages for employers, as well.  For instance, by offering group insurance for your employees:

  • You can attract employees with the highest qualifications. Today’s employees understand and appreciate the value of work-based healthcare insurance, and that means the best employees are going to look for employers who offer health insurance as part of their benefits package.  Plus, offering insurance also helps ensure that you retain your top employees, reducing turnover that can have a major impact on your productivity and your bottom line.
  • You gain important tax advantages. Employers who offer insurance can deduct the costs of that insurance as a business expense, and if the business is incorporated, the owner’s insurance costs can also be deducted.
  • You may qualify for a tax credit. If you have fewer than 25 employees, your company might qualify for a small business healthcare tax credit equivalent to as much as 50 percent of your premium costs.
  • You can increase employee loyalty – and that can lead to greater productivity. Employees appreciate having insurance at lower rates and they also appreciate not having to navigate the healthcare marketplace to find insurance year in and year out.  As a result, they’re more likely to be happier while on the job, and that can translate into higher productivity and improved employee morale.
  • You demonstrate your commitment to your employees’ health and financial well-being. This last one is hard to measure outside of personal “feel good” points, but offering insurance does position your company as one that cares about its employees – and that can set you far above many of your competitors.

Group health insurance doesn’t have to be costly; in fact, with current tax incentives, offering insurance for your employees can make tremendous financial sense for businesses of all sizes, even those with just a few employees.  To learn more about group health insurance and to see how affordable it can be, give us a call and let us review your needs.

Score Black Friday Deals Safely, at the Shopping Mall or Online, with These Simple ID Theft Prevention Tips

Thanksgiving is close upon us, and that means it’s almost time for turkey, football and family gatherings.  Of course, it also means Black Friday isn’t far behind, with its amazing Black Friday deals, just waiting to be snapped up.  Come Thursday night, once the last slice of pumpkin pie is eaten and all the dishes have been cleared away, millions of normally calm men and women will be setting their alarms to wake up bright and early so they can join the frenzied antics that have become as much a part of the holiday weekend as college football games. Matsen November

If you count yourself among those hardy shoppers intent on scoring the best of this year’s Black Friday deals, we have a few tips that can help you stay safe, whether you choose to head to the local shopping mall or score your deals online – or both.

  • You may have multiple credit cards, but to keep shopping simpler and safer, try to restrict your spending to one card. Using just one card makes it easier to track activity on your card once you get home so you can reduce the risks of credit card fraud.
  • Shield your card information from view when using it to check out in stores, and don’t leave your credit card in your car; shopping mall parking lots are favorite targets for thieves, especially on busy shopping days like Black Friday.
  • Be careful when using ATMs – some thieves place small devices on ATMs that scan card information. Once the device has been in place for a while, the thieves return, grab the device and download ATM card information.  Before inserting your card, check the device opening to make sure it doesn’t look unusual.
  • When shopping online, see if your credit card issuer offers temporary or “virtual” card numbers that can be used for a specific amount of money or for a single purchase. Virtual card numbers let you use your credit card without exposing your card information to potential identity thieves online.
  • Be careful when clicking on special offer or coupon codes, especially ones that arrive in your email box from an unknown sender. Some “clickable” codes download spyware that can steal your credit card information.  Instead, stick to reputable coupon sites like Ebates.com, CouponCabin.com and RetailMeNot.com, or see if your credit card offers coupon codes.
  • Use gift cards. You can avoid identity theft entirely (and avoid the hassle of toting a lot of cash to the shopping mall) by buying gift cards ahead of time and using them to purchase Black Friday deals.  Gift cards also help you curb your spending so you don’t wind up with nasty surprises when the January credit card bills start rolling in.

Holiday shopping can be fun and exciting, and by taking these few extra precautions to protect your identity, it can be safe, too.

5 Quick Tips to Help You Share the Road Safely with Bike Riders

More than a quarter million cars are registered in the U.S., and every year, between 16 million and 18 million bicycles are purchased by American consumers.  That means two things: Americans like to go places, and the roads are becoming more and more crowded as drivers and bicyclists vie for space on the nation’s highways and byways.Matsen october

Learning to “get along” with bicyclists is the best way to avoid accidents.  Accidents between bicycles and cars are much more likely to result in serious injury than accidents between two cars, and if you have an accident with a bicyclist and you’re at fault, you can face stiff penalties, including fines and jail time, the loss of your license and the loss of your auto insurance.

You may have learned a little bit about sharing the road with bike riders when you studied for your driving test.  Depending on how long it’s been since you took that driving test, you may need a little refresher on tips you can use to avoid accidents and stay safe:

  • Take care turning right. When you make a right turn, you look for pedestrians crossing the road, right?  Well, you should also look for bike riders approaching on your right.  They have the right-of-way, and that means if you turn and wind up cutting them off, you’re at fault.
  • Understand the signals bike riders use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a “cheat sheet” to help you learn the signals for right and left turns and stopping.
  • Treat a bicyclist as any other slow-moving vehicle. Under the law, bike riders have the same rights as motorists when on the roads.  Don’t drive aggressively, cut them off or crowd them off the road.
  • Use your horn sparingly. Although most bicyclists are aware you’re approaching, not all of them are as “tuned in” to the sounds of an approaching car.  Without windows and doors around them, they’re subjected to a steady stream of noise.  If you want to let a bicyclist know you’re about to pass them, use your horn gently – don’t lean on it.
  • Stay out of bike lanes. Don’t drive in them and don’t park in them.  Parking in a bike lane means bicyclists have to swerve into traffic lanes where their presence will be unexpected.  That increases the accident risk for bicyclists as well as motorists.

Above all, be patient and be aware.  Bicyclists have a right to the road just as car drivers do.  Keep an eye out for behavior that could cause accidents and you’ll help ensure everyone on the roadways stays safe.

Staying Healthy at Every Age: Know When to Have a Cancer Screening

Annual physicals are the key to maintaining a healthy life.  Not only do annual exams provide an opportunity for doctors to evaluate your overall health and wellness, but they also offer a chance to perform important screenings including cancer screenings as you get older.  The matsen septAmerican Cancer Society has established guidelines to help you determine which screening exams you need:

Colon cancer

Men and women should begin regular screening at age 50 using one of these methods:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
  • Virtual colonoscopy every five years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years

Lung cancer

The ACS recommends screening for men and women at increased risk for lung cancer, including those who:

  • Are 55 to 74 years of age
  • Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking and are a current smoker, or quit within the past 15 years (A pack year is the number of packs smoked per day times the number of years you’ve smoked, so 2 packs a day for 15 years is 30 pack years)

Breast cancer

The ACS recommends mammograms and clinical breast exams every year for women age 40 and older, and clinical breast exams every three years for women in their 20s and 30s.

Cervical cancer

Pap tests should be performed every three years beginning at age 21 until age 30. From 30 to 65, Pap tests and HV tests should be performed every five years.

Prostate cancer

Screening should begin at age 50 for men who have weighed the pros and cons of testing and have decided it’s the right choice for them.  Men with an immediate family history of prostate cancer and African American men should consider testing at age 45.

Oral cancer

Oral cancer exams are typically performed with every dental checkup.  If you have a family history of oral cancers or other factors like tobacco use that increase your risk for developing cancer, be sure to let your dentist know, and ask your dentist if you need to be screened more frequently.

In addition to annual checkups, here are some other important steps you can take to improve your health and reduce your risk for developing cancer:

  • Be more physically active.  Studies have shown sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of developing many types of cancer.  You don’t have to be an athlete – all it takes is walking a little more and spending more time moving around.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and follow a healthy diet full of fiber and low in unhealthy fats.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you consume.
  • Know your family history and your personal risks.
  • Use sunscreen and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
  • Give up tobacco products of all kinds.

Teach your child to make healthy diet choices to avoid illnesses this school year

The back-to-school season is upon us, and that means pretty soon your kidsmatsen august will be exposed to lots of germs: on the bus, in the classroom, in the cafeteria and just through increased interactions with kids and teachers in enclosed spaces.  This year when you’re preparing your child to head back to school, make sure they’re as healthy as possible to make it harder for illnesses to take hold.

  • Start by establishing healthy diet habits. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason: It provides your child with the nutrients he or she needs to power through classwork and stay focused and energized until the next important meal: lunch.  Include protein and whole grains for long-lasting nutrition that keeps your child feeling full and satisfied.
  • Incorporate healthy diet habits at lunch, too. Skip the school lunches and pack at home, including protein, whole grains, fruit and veggies.  Don’t forget calcium – if your child doesn’t like milk, consider yogurt or cheese.  Slip in an icepack to keep everything cool.
  • When your child gets home, provide a high-quality snack to stave off snacking until supper and to avoid sabotaging all your healthy diet efforts.
  • Let your child take control of their own healthy diet by allowing them to make at least some food choices on their own. Provide them with lots of healthy alternatives and occasional treats and let them help you prepare their school lunches so they’re more likely to eat them.  Include crunchy foods like nuts or raw veggie sticks, or make some homemade granola.  Cut foods in bite-sized pieces for easier eating.
  • Schedule a back-to-school physical to make sure your child is in optimal health before the school year begins. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends annual checkups for kids to help them stay healthy as they grow.
  • Don’t forget the vision test. The vision test your child gets at school is not comprehensive; to make sure your child’s vision is as healthy as possible, schedule a checkup with an ophthalmologist, especially if it’s been some time since your child’s last visit.  Having a comprehensive vision test is the best way to find minor problems before they have a chance to affect your child’s school performance.
  • Make sure your child is equipped with hand sanitizer and uses it throughout the day. Touching a germy pencil and then rubbing the eyes – or eating lunch without washing up – are major causes of illness in school-age kids.

Keeping your child healthy this school year begins with you.  Make the effort to help your child establish good eating habits and other healthy behaviors to avoid the colds and flus that can make both of you feel miserable.

When the Local Weather Is Warm, It’s Time to Grill! Use These Tips to Stay Safe

The local weather calls for warm, sunny skies, and that means grilling season is upon us.  Get the most from your grill this season by minimizing potential accidents.  Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most important personal safety tips to keep in mind while grilling out:

  • Start with a clean grill. Use a grill brush to remove baked-on grime to avoid grease fires (and potential contamination).
  • century julyReview your owner’s manual. You may have used the grill dozens of times, but after two or three seasons of no use, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the unit before firing it up for the first time this season.
  • Give it the once-over. Check the legs and supports, make sure any fuel lines are in good shape and look for other issues that might need some tending before use.
  • Only grill outside. Don’t be tempted to grill in your garage when the local weather calls for rain. Keep the grill away from siding, overhangs, branches and decks – and anything else flammable.
  • Keep a three- to four-foot personal safety zone around your grill and make sure kids and pets steer clear.
  • Invest in a chimney starter. They’re inexpensive and they can eliminate the need for highly flammable (and poisonous) lighter fluid.
  • Create hot spots and cool spots. Corralling your coals into one general area of your grill helps you control how much heat your food is exposed to, and that can avoid dangerous flare-ups.
  • Be prepared for accidents. Keep a bucket of sand on hand to put out fires, just in case.  Sand smothers grease fires while water can spread grease-fueled flames around.
  • Keep your prep area divided. Don’t cut raw meat where you cut your veggies, and vice versa.
  • Keep it cool. When the local weather calls for warm temperatures, it doesn’t take long for dangerous bacteria to build up.  Have a cooler on hand, and keep cool side dishes cool.
  • Respect the coals. Once the cookout is over, wait for coals to cool and then place them in a metal trash can.  Don’t be tempted to put them in a non-metal container that could catch fire, and don’t leave them unattended while they’re cooling.

So go ahead – this year when the local weather calls for clear skies, fire up that grill and get cooking. Just remember to follow a few simple personal safety precautions to avoid dangerous accidents that can quickly put a damper on the fun.

Help your teen avoid road rage accidents: Check out these tips from the DMV

Having a teen driver in the house can be a nerve-wracking experience; every time your teen gets behind the wheel, you worry for their safety.  This is not necessarily because of their own behaviors, but because of the behavior of other drivers.  It’s not an unfounded fear: Road rage incidents are up across the U.S.  In fact, a survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found half of the drivers it surveyed reported they’d driven aggressively at some point, and 60 percent of drivers say they’ve felt threatened by road rage behavior.

matsen juneOnce your teen has that coveted license, it’s more important than ever to talk with your teen driver about aggressive driving and how to respond to other drivers to avoid road rage incidents that can cause accidents, injury and even death.  Here are a few important tips from DMV websites across the country:

  • Avoid distractions. Everyone knows you shouldn’t text and drive, but there are other things that can also cause distractions, like eating or drinking, passengers who are loud or boisterous, looking at a GPS, or even glancing down to change the radio station.  Teach your teen that when they’re behind the wheel, they should remain 100 percent focused on the road and keep both hands on the wheel.
  • Leave early. If you’re worried about being late, you’re much more likely to speed, weave in and out of traffic, tailgate and engage in other types of aggressive and risky behaviors.
  • Avoid making gestures. You may feel justified in giving someone the middle finger, but it’s a sure way to escalate things to the next level.  Keep your hands on the wheel, and if someone makes a gesture at you, ignore it and take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Don’t make eye contact. If someone yells at you or tries to start a fight, don’t acknowledge them by looking at them; instead, look straight ahead and move out of their way.
  • Go easy on the horn. Don’t lay on the horn just because the driver in front of you doesn’t speed off the moment the light turns green.  One little horn honk can be all it takes to push an angry driver over the edge into full-blown road rage.
  • Know when to seek help. If a driver becomes persistently aggressive even after you try to stay out of their way, head to a police station or ask a passenger to call 911.
  • Watch your own behavior. If you feel yourself becoming stressed out or angry, pull off the road to a safe place and calm down before heading back out.
  • Keep your head. Above all, remember: This is your safety and your life.  A few moments of anger and retaliation is all it takes to put your life and the lives of your passengers in serious jeopardy, so keep things in perspective, focus on your own safety and well-being and keep your cool.

Want more tips on how to talk to your teen about aggressive driving?  Check out the California DMV website.

Skin Cancer Screenings Offer Significant Health Benefits

More than 3.5 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year, and about 75,000 of those cases will be melanoma, an invasive, deadly form of skin cancer.  With summer just around the corner, now is the ideal time to learn a little bit about how to protect yourself from skin cancer.

First, schedule a skin cancer screening.  It’s quick – usually no more than five minutes.  Because skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, the doctor will check you from head to toe to look for suspicious spots or lesions.  If the doctor locates a spot that looks suspicious, a tiny sample will be taken for evaluation by a lab.  If the evaluation determines the lesion is cancerous, your doctor will discuss the options for removing the lesion to make sure all the cancerous cells are removed.

matsen may blogThe health benefits of a skin cancer screening can’t be overstated.  After your exam is complete, the dermatologist can provide you with a recommendation of how often you should be screened to check for developing cancers.  Some people may benefit from annual screenings, while others may need more frequent screenings based on their personal and family health histories or other factors.

Most health insurance plans include health benefits that cover several types of skin cancer procedures as well as regular skin cancer screenings.  If your health benefits don’t cover the cost of screenings or if you’d just rather avoid the copay, you can also find free screening events at many hospitals and health centers.  The American Academy of Dermatology website also provides a tool to help you find screening sites in your state.

In addition to screenings, there are other skin cancer prevention steps you can take to reduce your risks for cancer:

  • Wear sunscreen and lip balm every day. Make sure both provide adequate protection: look for sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30 and provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays (it may be labeled “broad spectrum). Reapply sunscreen and lip balm throughout the day, especially if you’re swimming or perspiring.  Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the back of your neck and your ears.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection to prevent sun damage to your eyes.
  • Avoid going out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., as this is when the sun’s rays are their most intense.
  • Wear clothing that protects you from the sun. How can you tell if your clothes offer enough protection?  Hold them up to the sun, and if you can see light through them, some of the sun’s rays are getting through.  Don’t forget a hat.

If you’re not sure if your health benefits include skin cancer screenings, review your benefits or give our office a call at 707-444-9292 and we’ll help you determine your coverage.  Most importantly, don’t put off having a skin cancer screening.  It’s five minutes of your time that could help save your life.