You'll be seeing more of these postage-stamp-shaped "quick response" graphics in and around the grocery store in the coming year as retailers and food manufacturers learn how to put this relatively new technology to work. Download any QR reader app for your smartphone and scan the code on food packages. The reader will send you directly to such information as nutrition facts and recipes. Learn more about QR codes at wapo.st/wapoqr .
Do you love your elliptical trainer but wish you didn't have to be stuck in the gym when the weather turns warm? The makers of this "elliptical exercise cycle," which costs about $2,500, promise the same low-impact workout that many people now do instead of running, coupled with the speed, handling and pleasure of a bike ride. For more information, visit www.elliptigo.com .
By the time you read this, new dietary guidelines, revised for the first time since 2005, should be released. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans shape U.S. food policy, governing everything from school lunches to military provisions, and they are online at www.dietaryguidelines.gov for you to read. You may not agree with the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services' recommendations, but they're a great springboard for eating more healthfully. Be one of those well-informed Americans who actually reads the document.
In their new book, "The New Rules of Lifting for Abs," authors Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove say that the time-honored exercise really isn't efficient. "They work very little muscle through a minuscule range of motion with minimal effort," Schuler, a journalist and strength and conditioning coach, wrote in an e-mail. "In the same amount of time, you could do a series of plank-type exercises, which build strength and endurance throughout your core muscles - the abdominals, lower back, hips, and upper thighs - and protect your spine from the types of movements that cause injury." Besides, he said, "we already spend much of our time each day flexed forward while we drive, work on laptops or send texts. Why would we go into the gym and do an exercise that exacerbates a problem our work creates?"
Want to control the fat content and the flavor of your meats? Get a grinder, says Cooking Light nutrition editor Sidney Fry. When you grind your own meat, she says, "you know exactly what you are getting." Store-bought ground turkey, for instance, can contain more dark meat than white and even the skin, boosting its fat content. Grind your own turkey breast, sans skin, to cut the amount of fat. "Take a whole lean sirloin steak (or ask your butcher for tenderloin tips) and grind it yourself with a little onion and seasoning for the best burger you'll ever eat," Fry said in an e-mail.
Invite a buddy
We all know exercise goes better with a partner or a group. Life Fitness ( www.lifefitness.com ) has a feature on its stationary bikes that allows you to invite anyone, anywhere to "virtually" join your workouts. Compete or cooperate over the same course, distance or calorie count from home or a gym. Other social networking sites, including Facebook, will be used increasingly to help you stay motivated.
Eat 400-calorie meals
Counting calories can get tedious. Plus, it's hard to know how best to divvy up your daily allotment. One new solution: Think in 400-calorie chunks. The book "400 Calorie Fix" by Liz Vaccariello gives tons of examples of 400-calorie meals. A sample breakfast: a whole-wheat English muffin with butter, low-fat yogurt with honey, and strawberries. Put four meals together for a healthful, weight-friendly 1,600-calorie day.
These aren't new, but they are an alternative to the increasingly popular foam rollers. A set of 10 or 12, ranging in size from golf ball to bowling ball, allows for a thorough self-massage, especially in hard-to-reach places where rollers are ineffective, says Maggie Wong, who teaches their use at Yoga Plus in Bethesda and sells them. "Many people would like to have a massage daily, but it is both expensive and time-consuming," she says. "The balls are a healthy, affordable alternative."
Check the IF
A lot of the nutrition-related applications for smartphones and other electronic devices are pretty much the same. The IF Tracker app ( www.lookingglass.mobi/if ), though, evaluates foods for their "inflammation factor," or the degree to which they're likely to cause inflammation in your body. Noted nutritionist Monica Reinagel is among those studying the relationship between inflammation and such diseases as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. She developed the database for the app, currently available only for iPhone and iPod Touch, but looking to expand to other systems.
Include the kids
Recognition of the childhood obesity epidemic has reached gyms and fitness centers, according to the nonprofit American Council on Exercise. "Expect to see more youth-focused classes and clients popping up in gyms," the organization says. "Schools and fitness centers will also incorporate more exercise" curricula for youngsters and tweens.
Sign up for food safety
It will take time for all the provisions of the landmark food-safety bill signed by President Obama on Jan. 4 to take hold. In the meantime, your best protection against food-borne illness, which strikes one in six Americans each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is to stay informed. Go to FoodSafety.gov to sign up for e-mail alerts (or your preferred way of receiving notification) of food recalls and other food-safety news.
4Chat Thursday at noon Join the authors for a live Q&A about this story at washingtonpost.com/wellness. Follow @postmisfits and @jhuget on Twitter. And get more nutrition news on the Checkup blog at voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup.