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Originally published Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 8:00 PM

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Living well despite the stress

In difficult times, a helping hand is better than a heaping plate.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Difficult times can make it hard to keep a handle on unhealthful behaviors, but a few reminders can be helpful.

A study from the University of Miami School of Business Administration found that people exposed to bad news about the economy tended to seek out high-calorie foods and to eat 40 percent more than a control group that had not been prompted to think about bad news.

We definitely get enough bad economic news to add a few pounds, but it’s not just economics that troubles us. There are lots of stressors out there, and food has always been a refuge.

I just read yet another reminder that some foods, far from being a comfort, can be an affliction in themselves. A researcher from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, put some meat on the bones of warnings about Southern cooking. She found that people who eat Southern food six times a week had a 41 percent higher chance of having a stroke than people who ate it about once a month. There’s no mystery why — lots of fat and salt washed down by sugary drinks.

Even here in the Northwest there are folks who have an affinity for Southern food. Last week I had chicken, cornbread and greens, but I cooked it myself, except for the chicken, which was baked not fried.

You can control what goes into food if you make it yourself. Salt, which is a significant health problem for many Americans, is hard to avoid in prepared food. Between 280,000 and 500,000 lives could be saved over 10 years by gradually reducing salt consumption in the United States by 40 percent. That’s according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco. The study said the food industry makes it hard for people to cut back. About 80 percent of Americans’ daily intake of sodium comes from commercially prepared or processed foods.

Eating isn’t the answer, but people still have to deal with stress. A new Swedish study found that middle-aged men who reported constant stress were 45 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men who reported occasional stress.

That’s just one of the ways in which stress is bad. Sometimes people deal by self-medicating, which can go bad in all kinds of ways. Here’s something to be aware of now that Washington is figuring out how to manage legal marijuana: The drug may double the risk of stroke in young adults.

Researchers in New Zealand discovered the possible connection by testing urine from people hospitalized after a stroke. More study is necessary, but it suggests a need for caution.

Washington has also made some changes in the way alcohol is sold, so another study may be of interest here. Researchers in British Columbia report a 10 percent increase in the cost of alcohol was followed by a 32 percent drop in deaths attributable to alcohol.

The researchers also found a 10 percent increase in private liquor stores was associated with a 2 percent increase in acute, chronic and total alcohol-attributable mortality rates.

I don’t want to leave you stressed out, so let’s end with a positive study.

The online American Journal of Public Health reported that a five-year study of 846 people in the Detroit area found that those who actively helped other people reaped health benefits, including lower levels of stress and longer lives that didn’t accrue to those who didn’t spend time helping other people.

That’s a kind of helping that won’t leave you with indigestion.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com Twitter @jerrylarge

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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