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The Checklist: Health, nutrition and safety advice for July

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It’s the peak of summer. Here are ways to stay at your personal best through July.

Pick a pepper:

Bell peppers, now coming into season at area farms and backyard gardens, are nutritious summer vegetables – and they’re pretty, too.

Angela Ginn, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says peppers are “rich in antioxidants,” vitamins that are thought to help fight disease by disarming inflammation-causing rogue oxygen molecules in the body.

Fairfax County dietitian Danielle Omar points out that a red pepper has 1.5 to two times as much Vitamin C as an orange; similar size green peppers also have more than oranges. The red variety, which is really just a ripened green pepper, also has lycopene, which may help reduce the risk of some cancers.

Peppers of all varieties make great summer snacks, Ginn says, because their taste and crunch are satisfying, but their calorie count — about 25 to 30 per medium pepper — is so low, you can even splurge a few calories on a dip.

Alas, peppers aren’t nature’s highest-fiber vegetables. But Ginn says they play well with fiber-rich foods such as salad, whole-grain pasta, brown rice and barley.

Both Ginn and Omar love roasting peppers. Ginn suggests removing the stem and seeds, brushing the outside of the peppers with a little olive oil or spraying with a vegetable-oil spray such as Pam, and placing them in the oven on a roasting pan for 40 to 50 minutes till they “have lost their shape and are tender and pliable.” Eat them as is or use them to top one of the fibery foods above.

For more ideas on cooking with peppers, go to The Washington Post’s Recipe Finder at washingtonpost.com/recipes and look up the following: Avocado Bravado, Paprikish Pork Skewers, Beef and Black-Bean Picadillo, Grilled Vegetable Salad, Jalapeno-Spiked Corn Chowder With Red Pepper Coulis, Nutty Beefy Noodles and Penne With Grill-Roasted Peppers.

Look up the Yellow Book:

If you plan to travel abroad this summer (and maybe even if you don’t), you’ll want to spend time skimming through the Yellow Book. The publication, issued every other year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and so named for the color of its cover, tells you everything you need to know about the potential health perils of travel.

The publication, officially named CDC Health Information for International Travel 2012, is available for $45, but it just went up online at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel, where you can consult it free of charge.

Phyllis Kozarsky of the CDC has worked on the Yellow Book since its inception in the 1960s, when it was “a booklet that outlined just what was required for international travel, like smallpox vaccination,” she says. Today the book is “mainly written for the provider of health care or clinician,” she says, but laypeople might also find plenty of relevant material.

The book takes a broad view of how to stay not just healthy but also safe when visiting parts afar. That means common-sense information about everything from motor-vehicle safety to getting tattooed in foreign lands, Kozarsky says. “You would never get in the back of a pickup truck on the New Jersey Turnpike,” she says. “But somehow, when you’re in Mexico and everybody’s doing it, you have a few beers and you find yourself in the back of a pickup truck.” The Yellow Book, naturally, advises against such behavior.

The 2012 edition features expanded information about food and water safety, Kozarsky says, plus new sections on studying abroad and traveling to mass gatherings such as the Hajj pilgrimage, World Cup soccer tournament or the Olympics.

The book has increased its emphasis on avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. “Frequent travelers around the world have much higher rates of STDs than the general at-home population,” Kozarsky says. Who knew?

Test your teen driver:

Your 16-year-old may be itching to get his driver’s license. But just because he’s reached that magic age doesn’t mean he’s ready to get behind the wheel. Beyond making sure they know how to parallel park and merge onto the highway, parents need to make sure their kids are developmentally ready to get on the road, says Vicki Harper, a spokeswoman for State Farm.

“The number one thing parents need to know,” Harper says, is that “research shows that the older the child, the lower their overall crash risk. That means that if a child starts driving at 17 rather than 16, he has a much lower risk of being in an accident.”

The difference lies in the teenage brain, Harper says. “It has to do with brain development, decision-making and all those things they’re still working on when they’re teenagers.”

How can you tell whether your kid’s brain is sufficiently developed? Here are Harper’s tips:

Rules. Does your teen follow rules well? When a child starts using a car, parents need to have rules about cellphone use, passengers, seat belts and other concerns. If your kid is rebellious and doesn’t follow the rules in other realms, he or she isn’t likely to follow them driving.

Focus. Is your teen able to focus on tasks and pay attention to a task at hand? “As they mature, this gets better,” Harper says. “They get less scatterbrained.” Driving requires people to focus and to be aware of their surroundings. If you sense your kid is still “scatterbrained,” you might want to wait on the license.

Control. Harper says teen drivers’ troubles often stem from their difficulty controlling their emotions. “If they fight with their boyfriend or get mad at someone and drive, it’s very unsafe,” she says. Ask yourself, “Is your teen someone who knows how to control emotions when he’s angry or upset? Is he going to get himself and his passengers home safe” despite a fight?

Harper encourages parents to assess these traits in their kids before handing over the keys. “It’s not just a date on the calendar,” she says.

Shun sandholes:

Digging holes in the sand is a time-honored beach tradition. It can also be mighty dangerous, unless you follow some simple rules.

Butch Arbin, captain of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, says lifeguards spend a lot of time warning people against creating sand craters. “Beach sand is not very stable,” Arbin says. “If you dig down, it keeps filling back in.”

That can prove treacherous for the digger inside the hole or the person being buried in sand, Arbin says. In fact, he points out, a 2007 report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that from 1990 to 2006, more people in the U.S. died as a result of sand-hole collapses than from shark attacks. (Granted, that was 16 fatalities vs. 11, but still.)

Sand-hole deaths typically result from suffocation, Arbin says. Problems set in when sand surrounds the body; each time you inhale, sand shifts in, squeezing you tighter. “With every breath, you breathe less and less freely,” he explains.

Sand holes are one of those things beachgoing adults like to argue about, Arbin says. “They’ll say, ‘I’m right here watching,’ ” he says. But the lifeguards are obliged to suggest that “if something happens, you won’t be able to do anything about it,” he says.

But there is something you can do to keep sand holes safe, Arbin says. “We say a safe depth is knee-deep for the smallest person in the hole,” he explains.

Know the codes:

So you check the weather forecast and see that there’s a Code Orange air-quality alert. What exactly does that mean, and what are you supposed to do about it?

You might be surprised — as I was — that those alerts aren’t issued by the National Weather Service but by state or local agencies. In the Washington area, they’re the work of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. That organization’s Web site, www.mwcog.org/environment/air/forecast, offers lots of information about air quality and the alerts system.

In short, Code Orange means that the air is polluted enough that “sensitive” people, such as those with asthma or other respiratory problems, should limit their time outdoors, explains Jennifer Desimone, an environmental planner with the Council of Governments. That caution extends to healthy adults who do vigorous activities, including exercise, outdoors. Ignoring that advice can make breathing more difficult or even trigger asthma attacks.

When the code shifts to red, the air has enough pollutants that it’s considered “unhealthy for everyone,” Desimone says. That means that we all should avoid spending time outside than we need to. Children are especially vulnerable to pollution-related respiratory problems, Desimone notes, because “they breathe in more air per pound of body weight” than adults do.

The codes are based on the air-quality index, which assesses the amounts of six key pollutants in the air. Locally, the worst offenders are ground-level ozone and particulate matter, Desimone explains. Things are worse in the summer because emissions from cars, lawn equipment and the like react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, she says.

Lest you think a red alert is as bad as things get, you should know that there are purple alerts, too, during which people are advised to avoid any outdoor activity. The Washington area hasn’t seen one of those since the early 2000s, Desimone says.

More from Wellness: For nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog at voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup, follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean and Fit newsletter by going to washingtonpost.com/wellness.

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