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skyline-with-birdsA new report from the Environmental Protection Agency brings good news for public health. According to the EPA, in just over two decades the organization has taken great strides toward its goal of significantly reducing toxic air pollution as required under the 1990 updates to the Clean Air Act.

Even as the economy has grown, there has been a reduction in the emissions of six common pollutants (including benzene, mercury and lead) by an average of 72 percent nationwide—and Americans today breathe less pollution and face lower risks of premature death and other serious health effects.i Environmental damage from air pollution is also significantly lower; many plants and factories are cleaner; and countless new vehicles feature improved emission control technologies. (The EPA also hopes to reduce motor vehicle air toxin emissions by 80 percent by the year 2030.)

“It shows that we’ve made considerable gains in improving air quality across the country,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a recent article, though the organization says there is still much more work to be done. Among the major challenges are limiting climate change, reducing health and environmental risks from toxic air pollutants, and protecting the fragile ozone layer against degradation.

In working toward improving air quality and public health, the EPA says it also plans to increase public awareness about air pollution—in part by requiring companies that produce large amounts of emissions to report to EPA officials, who will then make sure the public has access to the information.

i http://www.epa.gov/air/caa/progress.html

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almonds-heartNuts are high in protein and make a delicious, satisfying snack—but did you know they can also help lower your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes? Using data collected over a five-year period through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), researchers from Louisiana State University analyzed the diets of more than 13,000 adults, specifically their daily intake of “tree nuts” including pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews. Here’s what they found:

Regular tree nut consumers—those who ate at least a quarter of an ounce of nuts daily—were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, the term given to a group of risk factors associated with heart disease and diabetes (including obesity, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels). The lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome may be linked to the fact that nut eaters also had lower levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, which signals inflammation in the body and is one of the markers doctors use to evaluate the risk of developing coronary artery disease. The same group also had higher levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood, along with lower body mass indexes.

Adding a handful of nuts to the daily diet is a simple thing we can all do to support our daily health. Certain nuts (walnuts in particular) contain beneficial Omega-3 fats that can help balance the body’s inflammation response, along with heart-healthy fiber, vitamin E, potassium and amino acids, which is why Brenda Watson recommends them as part of her Love Your Heart eating plan. Just remember to watch your portion sizes, since nuts do contain some starch—and choose raw nuts that aren’t covered in sugar and salt (which can undermine their health benefits).

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