Seasonal Allergies and Nutrition

RVNAhealth seasonal allergies

Is there a link between seasonal allergies and diet?

I get this question all the time. And the short answer is YES!  There is a relationship between a person’s diet/nutrition and their seasonal allergies and the connection can best be understood with an explanation of “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”

Also known as “pollen-food syndrome,” Oral Allergy Syndrome is when a person exhibits an allergic reaction in response to certain food items, typically foods that are high in pollen and allergens, such as tree nuts, raw vegetables, and raw fruits. Different foods cause trouble for different people, and typically relate to their specific seasonal allergies.  But first, it’s important to note the difference between Oral Allergy Syndrome and more traditional food allergies to be sure you’re seeking the right help if you respond allergically to certain foods. Let’s start by breaking it down….

Oral Allergy What?

Those who suffer from seasonal allergies due to tree pollen, grass pollen, or ragweed can also experience a type of allergic reaction when eating foods that contain those allergens, as well.  Reactions can range from mild itching and tingling of the lips and tongue to extreme itching of the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. This kind of reaction is called Oral Allergy Syndrome. It is common in older children, teens, and young adults, and is most frequently found in people who have grass pollen, birch, and ragweed allergies.

What to Watch Out For

Allergic to ragweed? You may find yourself reacting to bananas, melon, or zucchini.  Sensitive to grass pollen? Dates, oranges, potatoes, or peanuts could cause trouble.  Is tree pollen your nemesis? The list of potential trouble makers is long, and includes apples, strawberries, cherries, beans, carrots, almonds, sunflower seeds, and more. The good news is that people who suffer from Oral Allergy Syndrome may be able to eat foods that typically trigger an allergic reaction if they’re cooked. Cooking alters the proteins that cause the reactions, so the immune system no longer triggers a responseCheck with your doctor before trying this approach.

Food Allergies – Nothing to Sneeze At

It’s important to make the distinction between a reaction caused by the presence of pollen in certain foods, and a full-blown food allergy, which can be much more serious. There are eight major food allergens – fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. In allergic individuals, these foods cause symptoms ranging from mild itching of the skin that comes in contact with the allergen, stomach upset, diarrhea, vomiting, swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, and hives to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction.

While those with Oral Allergy Syndrome can sometimes eat bothersome foods by cooking them, this is NOT the case for those with a traditional food allergy. If you are having any concerns with reactions to food, it is always best to see your doctor or allergist to confirm whether or not there is a true allergy present.

As a dietitian, I work with many clients who have food allergies and intolerances. We work together to examine symptoms and see what foods work best for them. I’m also able to give clients alternatives to the foods that they really miss and help create menus to be sure they’re getting the proper nutrition for their needs.

If you suspect you have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s critical to get tested by a professional, as opposed to trying to solve the problem yourself. Once you have your results, you can work with both your doctor and a dietitian to stay safe and find foods that you enjoy.

It’s allergy season.  Be careful out there!

If you need help getting started on your nutritional journey, feel free to contact me for a private consultation at 203-438-5555.

Arthritis and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

RVNAhealth Arthritis in Hands, elder care programs

I know nutrition can help with conditions like heart disease and diabetes, but what about arthritis. Will changing my diet help my condition?

I’m sorry to hear about your arthritis but am happy to report that there are definitely things you can do nutritionally to protect against the development of the condition or lessen the severity of symptoms. Simply put, arthritis is inflammation in the joints that worsens over time. Several types of arthritis together affect millions of Americans and limit their daily activities. So, what’s the nutritional approach to help with the inflammation of arthritis? An anti-inflammatory diet. Here are key elements to keep in mind.

Out with the Bad — Foods that Promote Inflammation
Higher intake of meat and alcohol contributes to increased inflammation in the body. Lower consumption of vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, whether in combination with high meat and alcohol intake or not, also contributes.

In with the Good – Foods that Help
Evidence suggests that increasing consumption of vitamin C, vitamin D found in fatty fish, omega 3s found in ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help with arthritic symptoms. Phytochemicals found in a wide variety of foods such as fennel, garlic, basil, rosemary, pomegranate, turmeric, red pepper, cloves, anise, and ginger can also fight inflammation.

Lighten Up
For osteoarthritis in particular, weight loss is effective because excess weight strains the joints. As little as a 5% reduction in weight from a sensible diet— in an overweight person — can bring an 18% gain in overall functioning. While it’s not recommended that people at a healthy weight attempt to lose weight, everyone benefits from vitamins A, C, D, E and omega-3s.

Translating it to the Kitchen Table
The anti-inflammatory diet isn’t new. In essence, it’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, which has myriad health benefits beyond reduction of inflammation. The recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include:

  • Fish: 3-4 oz. fatty fish (cold water fish like salmon, tuna, scallops, sardines, herring) twice a week. If you’re not a fish fan, try taking 600-1,000 mg of fish oil daily. Omega-3s found in these foods and supplements can help with pain, swelling, stiffness, and tenderness.
  • Nuts: 1 ounce per day to provides benefit from vitamins B6 and Omega-3s. Choose walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pine nuts.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Nine or more 1-cup servings per day helps due to the antioxidants and phytochemicals they offer. Quick tip — the brighter the color, the higher the antioxidants, so choose broccoli, spinach, kale, blueberries, cherries.
  • Beans: 1 cup at least twice per week. Beans contain fiber and phytonutrients that can help lower a key marker of inflammation in the blood, and are filled with protein which helps with muscle health. Best choices include red kidney beans, pinto beans, and small red beans.
  • Whole grains: 6 oz. of grains per day (at LEAST 3 oz. should be whole grains). A serving boils down to a cup of cooked brown rice or one slice whole grain bread. Much like beans, the fiber here is key.
  • A word about night shade vegetables: Some people report more pain when consuming tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and red bell peppers, sometimes referred to as nightshade vegetables. If they cause discomfort for you, avoid them. Otherwise, feel free to eat them as they contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals!

By following an anti-inflammatory diet, you can keep inflammation and arthritic symptoms at bay. As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor or healthcare team about supplementation and what’s the best fit for you.

Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD, counsels patients in disease management through nutrition. For more information or to schedule a private consultation, contact RVNA at 203-438-5555

2018–2019 Annual Appeal

December 2018

Dear Friends,

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that is 100% fatal. More than 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS every year. The average life expectancy is 2-5 years, but some live longer. There is no cure.

RVNA is caring for a growing number of patients with neuromuscular disorders, including ALS. In fact, over the last six months, we have cared for six ALS patients. One of these patients, a beloved wife and mother of two, passed away in April after receiving our services for two and a half years.

Ann was diagnosed with bulbar onset ALS in April 2014, a form of ALS that first affects speech and swallowing, before spreading to other parts of the body. She was a young and vibrant woman, a human welcome wagon in her community. She was a voracious reader and lover of books, librarian, teacher, coach and fabulous cook. She was an active member in her church and sang in the choir. She was an outstanding athlete — a force to be reckoned with on the golf course and tennis courts, the slopes and the ice. She played competitive ice hockey until muscle weakness and atrophy made it too difficult to skate. Her disease was managed for a year and a half, before frequent choking and trips to the ER necessitated a tracheostomy. Her life then changed forever.

It takes a village to care for someone with ALS. For Ann, RVNA was this village. Weakness, immobility and a feeding tube required round-the-clock care. She received this from her loving family and routine visits from her RVNA nurse, occupational therapist, speech therapist and physical therapist. As she struggled with the complications of this progressive disease, our clinical team made it possible for Ann to remain living safely in the comforts of home, alongside her family, the only place she wanted to be.

Each and every day, RVNA is in the homes of people in your community, caring for many diverse medical needs, thanks to you. RVNA now provides home healthcare to more than 1,600 patients annually, 60% more patients than five years ago. We need your continued help to pay for programs and services which are not covered or reimbursed by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Your contributions also help to keep our nurses and therapists trained and certified in the latest medical skills and caregiving techniques, so that patients like Ann can receive the specialized care they need.

It was RVNA’s privilege to care for Ann — to protect her independence and honor her desire to live out her days with dignity at home. For Ann, RVNA gave her the best quality of life possible. We are here to do the same for you and your loved ones.

Ann never gave up on life and her effort to live. She fought to the very end. Together, we can help more patients live through the challenges of degenerative disease, sustain those living with chronic illness, and care for those acutely ill or recovering from surgery — from birth to end-of-life.

RVNA meets you wherever you are in life, whatever your healthcare needs might be. Please consider a gift to RVNA today.

With gratitude,

Theresa Santoro, MSN, RN, CHCA
President and CEO

P.S. A gift match from your employer will make your gift go twice as far. Check here to find out if your company has a matching gift program.  Please be as generous as your means allow.

Introducing Meg Whitbeck, MS RDN

Meg Whitbeck

Meg Whitbeck with the men in her life: (l to r) her husband Drew and sons Luke and Parker

One of the great things about Meg Whitbeck, MS RDN, is that even though she’s a registered dietitian and nutrition educator — and an excellent one at that — she doesn’t make you feel bad if she catches you eating a piece of decadent cheese. Or a malted milk ball.  If she catches you doing a juice-only fast, however, Meg may look at you askance.

Meg knows that good nutrition is a critical component to feeling your best, and that means eating a breadth of the right things for you, not depriving yourself altogether.

Another great thing about Meg is that she is deeply and genuinely kind, and one of the more comedic people in the world.  Which makes it pretty spectacular that she’s right here at RVNAhealth.

Meet Meg Whitbeck …

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Brewster, NY and now live in Ridgefield, CT.

How long have you been at RVNAhealth?
I began working here in January 2016.

What brought you to RVNAhealth?
The opportunity to be a part of RVNAhealth’s center for excellence and to spearhead our nutrition program.

Describe your role at RVNAhealth.
I am the Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Educator. I support our clinical staff by offering outpatient nutrition counseling and education. In addition, I hold classes and seminars throughout the year and offer community-based nutrition events.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Definitely spending time with my patients and improving the quality of their lives.

Did you ever consider becoming a nurse?
Mmmmm. No.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a dietitian?
At age 23, when I was diagnosed with celiac disease and met my dietitian  — this amazing woman who helped me to eat again.  I realized that — behold! — I could merge science, healthcare, and people. I never looked back.  At the time, I was a molecular genetics technician, so my career changed dramatically.  I still have a soft spot for genetics, though!

What do you love to do when you’re not working?
Run, bake, dance, volunteer!

What is your hidden talent?
I sing and play the piano.

What would you do if you won the lottery?
I have nine siblings and would pay off all of their mortgages. In addition, I would buy a big house in Ridgefield and host many wonderful parties! I would definitely keep working because I LOVE my job!

Do you have a favorite RVNAhealth moment or story?
There have been so many! Lately, I have been inspired by my colleagues who work so tirelessly to provide exceptional care. I am in awe of the skill sets and expertise that I am surrounded by here at RVNAhealth. From marketing to development, nursing to occupational therapy, rehab to hospice – we have the best of the best here.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving*?
I am helping with a new effort in town: The Ridgefield Community Thanksgiving Dinner for local people looking for a nice meal to share. I will be overseeing food handling and food prep as part of a collaboration between a collection of local organizations, including St. Mary’s Parish, Meals on Wheels, Jesse Lee, Dimitri’s Diner, Melillo Farms, Bernard’s, Adam Broderick, Caraluzzi’s, Genoa Deli, JK’s Original Texas Hot Weiners, and RVNAhealth, of course! Plus, some lovely anonymous supporters.

I will be there with my husband and sons and we are going to have a ball!
*This post was prepared in November 2018.

What is your favorite book? Movie?
My favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo and my favorite movie is The Princess Bride.

If you had a racehorse, what would you name it?
Slow Poke

If you could eat one food for a year, what would it be?

Eating to Sleep

RVNAhealth nutrition programs

Are You as Tired as We Are?!

The old concept that you can’t catch up on lost sleep is a dismaying one, particularly if you’re already a few months – or years! – behind.  Fortunately, time and attention can help reverse the course and side effects of sleep deprivation. Which is a good thing because sleep deprivation can lead to chronic weight issues, fatigue, brain fog, chronic pain, trouble fighting off illnesses, depression, anxiety and more. Not to mention dark circles and crabbiness.

Meg Whitbeck, MS, RDN, RVNA’s nutrition educator and registered dietitian has two young sons, ages 4 and 7, and – like many of us – has had her share of sleepless nights. Our question to Meg:  Can we eat our way to better sleep?

“Yes!” says Whitbeck. “Of course, diet alone won’t get you on a regular cycle of seven to nine hours of sleep per night, which is what you need to do to get your circadian rhythms back on track,” she adds, “but there are definitely dietary dos and don’ts that will help you along the way.”

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Eat Well: There’s no way around it. Nutritious meals rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein support good sleep. Feed your body what it needs and it will respond in kind.
  • Timing:  Digestion takes a back seat when we sleep, so be sure to give yourself at least two hours from your last main meal before hitting the hay. Going to bed with a full stomach can lead to acid reflux (heartburn) and subsequent tossing and turning.
  • Relax with a warm drink: Sipping on a beverage like herbal tea helps us relax and tames tension, which encourages a peaceful rest. Our body can fall asleep more readily when we are warm and cozy. Wouldn’t you agree?
  • Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol: Both disturb sleep cycles, so skip alcohol and late-day caffeine if you need a good night’s sleep. If a cocktail or glass of wine is on the agenda for your nightly social activities, abstain from alcohol for 2 hours before going to sleep to allow your body to process out some of that ethanol.
  • Sweet Dreams, just not sweet desserts:  If we have sweets before bed, we can literally jolt ourselves awake with a sugar rush, compromising our ability to fall and stay asleep. Avoid sweets in the evening and you will notice that your sleep quality improves.
  • Try a Supplement: Several supplements available on the market offer improved quality sleep. The top two are L-theanine, an amino acid, and the hormone melatonin. L-theanine, when taken in doses of about 200mg, provides a calming effect to most users. L-theanine is often suggested to reduce anxiety and promote more restful sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies make. It helps to regulate our circadian rhythms and help our bodies differentiate between day and night. It is by far and wide the most popular “sleep” supplement available. Melatonin can also be found in many foods, with grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and mushrooms topping the list. The thing is, there is no way to be sure that the melatonin that we take via supplement or are exposed to in our food actually gets absorbed into our bodies. The only way to know if it helps you? Try it. Please note that melatonin interacts with several medications, including blood pressure medications – so check with your doctor before you start taking it!

Getting Started with Caregivers

Every day, RVNA’s Melissa Woodhouse, RRT, MOT, OTR/L and Deidre Sommerer, LPN, MS, spend time speaking and meeting with families who find themselves in the position of arranging care and aides for a loved one who has begun to encounter challenges with living independently.

“Sometimes people are planning for the future,’ says Sommerer, Home Health Aide Supervisor, “but more often they need help right away because situations can get serious quickly, yet the activities and needs of daily life must go on. They may need just a little bit of help doing errands and preparing meals, or they might need assistance with medication management and personal care.”

“We have absolute respect for both the needs of the family and the desires of the individual receiving care.”

Melissa Woodhouse, RRT, MOT, OTR/L

For families new to this – which are most – they often need help determining the right level and type of care that will make the difference. Plus, they are often in a position of arranging care for someone who may not really want it! RVNA understands this.

“We have absolute respect for both the needs of the family and the desires of the individual receiving care,” Woodhouse, director of RVNA Homecare services, elaborates. “Our aim is to encourage and maintain the highest level of independence and quality of life while ensuring comfort and safety — to offer peace of mind all around.”

RVNA does this in many ways: by carefully matching caregivers to individuals; by creating a smooth transition to care; by developing individual plans of care that focus on areas where help is needed most, recognizing any medical or cognitive needs; and by staying in close contact with families and caregivers .. at all times.

“Individual needs change all the time,” says Woodhouse, “so we stay in close touch with our caregivers and families to ensure we’re providing the assistance that is needed and escalating any new concerns that may need attention.”

To learn more about RVNA’s non-medical caregiving services, call 203-438-5555.

Keri Linardi

A headshot of Keri Lindardi, RVNAhealth Chief Clinical Officer
Chief Clinical Officer
Hometown: Stony Point, NY A mom to three , Trevor, Tiffany and Antonio, Keri treasures time with family and friends .. and looks forward to a long beach vacation when life permits. Continue reading