Like many things in the past two and a half years, Pap tests were put on hold to limit close contact. And we can’t say we missed them—hopping into the stirrups and bracing for the cold speculum is no one’s idea of a good time. But just how necessary are they?

Pap smears screen for cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cells in the cervix. Typically, abnormal cervical cells are caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and often resolve on their own. If they don’t, these abnormal cells need to be treated or they could cause cervical cancer (1 in 168 women are expected to develop the disease in their lifetime—but it is highly treatable when detected early). Since it takes about five years or longer for abnormal cells to potentially cause cervical cancer, Health Canada changed its recommendation for screenings from every two years to every three years. But, even with this increased time frame, regular screenings are still not feasible for many women. Work obligations, child care burdens, financial restraints, and now pandemics—not to mention embarrassment and fear—are among the many barriers preventing women from getting their Pap tests. Could there be a better way to screen for cervical cancer?

Dr. Gina Ogilvie, affiliate scientist for BC Cancer and one of Canada’s leading experts on HPV, is answering that question with a resounding yes. It’s actually possible to administer a test yourself, in the convenience of your own home, and get accurate results—and some women in B.C. are already doing just that.

Earlier this year, BC Cancer launched an at-home cervix screening pilot project to test what happens when screenings are made more accessible. The agency is targeting a mix of remote and urban areas of the province where there are many people who have never been screened or are overdue for screening. Participants are mailed a self-collection kit that includes a swab and a container (no cold, daunting metal speculum in sight). Then, participants mail their sample to a lab, where technicians determine whether the cells are infected with the specific high-risk strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

We chatted with Ogilvie to learn more about the pilot and how it might help women across the country.

(Related: Questions You Should Ask Your Gynecologist)

Why is it important to test for cervical cancer every three years, and not more often?

A Pap test is a screening—meaning it’s done when there are no symptoms present. We use it to look for changes in the cells that could potentially lead to cancer. The fortunate thing about cervical cancer is that it’s a very slow-growing condition. So we have to balance finding precancerous lesions while not over-calling benign lesions that may look a little funny but that, if we gave them time, would actually resolve. What we’ve found over the years is that by extending the interval from two years to three, we reduce the rate of false positives, so we don’t send women for unnecessary follow-up procedures.

Why can the cervix screening in your pilot be done at home but a Pap smear can’t?

With the Pap, women have to undergo a pelvic examination so the practitioner can see the cervix to get the cells. In contrast, the HPV test can be collected by women themselves because the sample does not have to come from a specific part of their anatomy, but rather from vaginal secretions.

How else does cervix screening differ from a Pap test?

Unlike Pap tests, cervix screenings check for HPV specifically. Like pap tests, HPV testing is recommended every three years. But we’ll soon be able to extend that interval to five years because the HPV test is even better than Pap tests at detecting the potential of developing precancerous and cancerous lesions. When someone has a negative HPV test, we can be confident that, in the next five years, it’s very unlikely they will develop any precancerous lesions. We have very good evidence that, even with the extended screening interval, HPV testing performed better than Pap smears, thereby limiting iatrogenesis illness, which is an illness caused by the health system.

How do women conduct the test themselves, exactly?

It’s like putting in a tampon—insert the cotton swab, twirl it around, get secretion on it, take it out, put it in a container, mail it in, and it’s examined by a lab.

Are there any risks involved with an at-home cervix screening? Is it possible to do it incorrectly?

Women can do this very safely, they can do very accurately. It’s also been rolled out in places like Australia and Wales, so we have even more proof that it works.

What happens if the test comes back positive?

We’re doing this screening to get women who are positive into treatment. If someone’s positive, they would go for a follow-up Pap smear, because that helps us understand whether the HPV has progressed. Alternatively, if they have a certain HPV, like types 16 or 18, they would go right to treatment because we know those HPV infections are very likely to progress to precancerous lesions. Treatment for those would include a colposcopy exam, where a practitioner examines the cervix, looks to see if there’s anything concerning, and, if there is, they remove that tissue.

Would a Pap smear ever be preferred over an at-home cervix screening?

Some folks will choose to go to a practitioner because they want a full genital examination. Or maybe they see something they’re worried about—lesions, bleeding, abnormal discharge. For anything like that, you should always see a practitioner.

A common misconception is that Pap smears also test for ovarian cancer and sexually transmitted infections. Is there concern that, by limiting the need for women to visit their doctor, cases are being missed?

All the important things that happen during a practitioner exam—say, STI testing or reminder about mammograms—still need to happen. You still need your check-ups, and if you’re sexually active, you still need your STI screenings.

Is there a timeline for when the at-home test will be the standard for cervical cancer screening and available across Canada?

We’re first committed to spreading information so people understand this can be done safely and effectively. In B.C., we’re going to continue to expand and offer it and then summarize the data. Then, hopefully, we can use that to inform our provincial policy and to urge other provinces to move forward.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Next: This Canadian Company Made Pregnancy and Ovulation Tests So Much Better

I’m an active gal. When I run or do yoga, my thin little bob gets sweaty, so I’m tempted to wash it every day. But I also swim laps, so washing plus chlorine dries my hair to a crispy mess.

The rising ‘no ‘poo’ movement caught my attention. Followers are ditching their shampoo bottle and using brushes and talc. They profess to having gorgeous locks and say hair in its natural state is healthier, better for the environment and looks fabulous with little work.

I gave the shampoo-free life a try for a little while. Here are five reasons why you might want to ditch the ‘poo, too:

1. Avoid chemicals

Many of the unpronounceable ingredients on shampoo and conditioner labels come with safety concerns. Possible carcinogen and hormone disrupter diethyl phthalate (DEP) helps hair products hold fragrance. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) makes shampoo foam up, but it irritates skin and could be cancer-causing. Parabens work as a preservative, but they’ve been found in breast cancer tumour tissue, says Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, and coauthor of Slow Death By Rubber Duck. He suggests washing less often or buying products without these ingredients.

2. Use less water

When you’re not washing your hair every day, you reduce your water consumption, which has environmental benefits. (I’ve found, on non-hair-wash days, a quick splash on my body from the tub faucet is all I need.) But also, reducing how much water your hair is exposed to is good for your locks, especially if you colour as the heat and minerals in your shower water strips colour from your strands. “Water alone can be responsible for 80 percent of colour fade,”  says Jeni Thomas, principal scientist for P&G Beauty and Grooming in Cincinnati, OH. She recommends that when you do wash your hair, you expose it to as little water as possible.

(Also, learn how bad it is to go straight to bed with wet hair.)

3. Save time

Washing, conditioning and styling takes up a heck of a lot of time in the morning. When you wash your hair less often, you gain time to do other healthful things like taking a morning jog or sleeping in. Having some tricks to extend the time between hair washings lets you be more flexible. For instance, hold off on washing before a midday swim (a favourite trick of mine) or take a full shower after an evening tennis game.

4. Get healthier hair

The folks who don’t wash their hair for months on end claim that when they stop washing, their hair eventually produces less scalp oil, which is called sebum. The result: hair that’s shiny, moist and healthy ‘ never greasy. Thomas agrees that sebum is good for your hair: “Scalp oils have a naturally protective quality — they’re nature’s conditioner.”

However, Thomas says there are no published studies showing sebum works on a supply and demand model. “What you do when you remove oils is more of an external effect,” she says. “I don’t know of any proof that this can impact the underlying biological process.”

(See what happened when we tried Everist’s Waterless Shampoo.)

5. Get to know your locks

In the end, I was able to go just two weeks without washing my hair. But brushing and talc was enough to keep grease at bay for about a week at a time. After a summer of infrequent washing, I improved my scalp health (all that brushing removed traces of dandruff), but I mainly learned a whole lot about my hair and let go of my own rigid rules about when it needed to be washed. I found my locks had more body when dirty than clean, and I could easily go three days without washing. But as a regular lap swimmer with thin hair, I also found that shampoo was something I did need, at least a few times a week.

How you can stretch the time between washes

  • When you do wash, Toronto hairstylist Harry Josh says to really clean your scalp to rid it of oils.
  • Brush your hair nightly with a boar bristle brush. This redistributes the sebum in your hair, moving it from your oily scalp down to the dry ends.
  • Use dry shampoo on bangs to tame oil. Find a coloured talc so you don’t get a funny white residue at your roots.
  • When things get nasty, “wash” your hair with a baking soda and water paste and rinse it out with diluted vinegar.

Next: How to Do a 90s Blowout at Home

Composed salads are a great way to dress up the odds and ends in your fridge, and make for an easy all-in-one meal. While I adore potatoes (a key ingredient in a classic niçoise), some people do not like them at all, so this is for them. In place of potatoes, I use farro, a chewy form of wheat available at Italian markets, health food stores, and many supermarkets.

Farro Niçoise Salad

Makes: 2 servings
Active Time: 5 minutes 
Total Time: 15 minutes + cooking farro

Tip: This salad can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. Or get a jump on it by cooking the farro and storing it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Hard-boiled eggs can also be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Ingredients

Tarragon Dressing

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1½ Tbsp red wine vinegar 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp packed chopped fresh tarragon, fine stems and leaves only
  • 1 Tbsp sliced green onions, light parts only
  • ⅛ tsp finely minced garlic Salt and pepper

Salad

  • Small handful green beans, trimmed
  • 1 can olive-oil-packed tuna, drained
  • 3 cups leafy salad greens 2 cups cooked and cooled
  • farro (see Note)
  • ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, halved Olives
  • Pickled onions (optional)

Directions

  1. Make the dressing: Place the dressing ingredients in a small blender or a tall jar suitable for use with an immersion blender. Blend for about 90 seconds, until combined into a lemon-yellow dressing with tiny flecks of green. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed (see Note below).
  2. Place the beans in a microwave-safe dish, cover, and microwave on high for 90 seconds to steam and soften them a little. Break the tuna up into chunks using a fork.
  3. Make a bed of the salad greens in your lunch bowl and top with the farro, softened green beans, cherry tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and pickled onions. Pack the dressing in a separate container and toss with the rest of the salad at lunchtime.

Note: Some red wine vinegars can be very acidic; if the dressing catches you at the back of your throat, add ½ to 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and blend again to mollify the acidic flavor. If you can’t get your hands on farro, feel free to substitute with quinoa or, of course, some boiled baby potatoes.

Lunchbox Cover

Excerpted from Lunchbox by Aviva Wittenberg. Copyright © 2022 Aviva Wittenberg. Photography © 2022 Aviva Wittenberg. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Next: Fun Lunch Idea: Baked Pear, Vanilla, & Spiced Donuts With Seeds and Fruit

A traumatized workforce—that’s what HR expert and advocate Allison Venditti says we’re dealing with in the back half of 2022. “There was no time to process anything in the middle of a disaster,” she says. “But now, people are re-evaluating what they want.” And what Canadian employees want most, according to a study by wellness firm LifeWorks, is flexibility.

It’s the key to work-life balance, says Bryan Smale, professor emeritus of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Waterloo: “The more flexibility you have to allocate your time in a way that best suits your lifestyle, the happier you are.” (He should know—he’s also the director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.) But flexibility in the workplace can contort itself into many forms: where you work, when you work, how you’re compensated. “There are a lot of ways to work within a budget to give people the things they want,” Venditti says. “But the days of ‘good job, here’s a pen’ are over.”

Here’s how to create a better work-life balance.

Work Life Banalnce 4 Day Workweek

Take your time back with the four-day work week

It was the summer of 2021—well past the one-year anniversary of the global pandemic that transformed the future of work—and the employees of a Winnipeg branding and strategy agency were burnt out. “People were just done,” says Lee Waltham, managing partner at Brandish. He and his leadership team knew their staff needed a break, but the idea of closing up shop for a week felt too drastic. So they shut down for seven.

Well, overall. After a two-month experiment ditching Fridays, Brandish made the permanent switch to a four-day work week last fall, joining Canadian employers like environmental non-profit EcoSuperior, software firm Coconut and Toronto’s Juno College (who could not be reached for comment as they had closed for a week “to give our employees a break”). “That’s 52 days you’re getting back,” says Waltham. Fifty-two days, or seven and a half weeks—but who’s counting?

Joe O’Connor, for one. The Irish labour advocate is the CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit that is in the middle of the largest-ever trial of reduced work hours, involving 3,500 employees across 70 U.K. companies. (Other trials are in the works for the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Canada’s kicks off October 3.) He saw an uptick in interest in the four-day week about the time Waltham noticed his employees burning out. “The first 12 months of the pandemic were all about the shift to remote work and putting out fires,” says O’Connor. “Then people could start thinking about what’s next.”

The four-day week isn’t the only way companies are trying to lessen the load on workers; some offer increased personal and sick days. But O’Connor emphasizes that universal leave can be extremely discretionary. “An individual’s gender, their seniority, how much agency they feel they have, their manager’s belief in the policy,” he says, “all of that affects whether someone actually takes leave.” A four-day work week, on the other hand, is a structural shift that requires change at the departmental level—tackling meeting bloat, eliminating interruptions, making use of productivity tools—to enable a team to work smarter. And if done right—the 4 Day Week Global team spends months preparing companies for the shift—it doesn’t lead to work intensification, either. Before starting their trial, 50 percent of employees at one company felt they had enough time to complete their work. After the trial, that number rose to 80 percent. Waltham concurs: “There was really no disruption, in terms of productivity or performance. People were happier and less stressed.”

And it can help keep future burnout at bay. “This is something we can do long term,” Waltham says. “It’s sustainable.” It’s also contagious: One of Brandish’s clients implemented a four-day week, and now some 800 more Winnipeggers enjoy a steady supply of long weekends.

One of the main objections to the four-day week is that it won’t suit certain industries, so O’Connor made sure to recruit care services, manufacturers and fast-food establishments to the pilots. “We can point to case studies where a shorter work week has worked in pretty much every industry that exists,” he says.

When workers packed up and went home in March of 2020, they unknowingly launched a years-long experiment between employers and employees that has resulted in a desire for more autonomy and flexibility at work. “Managers have been forced to trust workers a lot more,” says O’Connor. “As a result, the four-day week is a much less radical concept to get your head around. It’s the next logical step.”

(Related: 5 Canadians with Disabilities on the Upsides of Working from Home)

Work Life Balance Sick Day

Amp up your benefits

The increased demand for flexibility doesn’t just apply to time. “A lot of companies are moving towards more flexible benefits,” says Tiana Field-Ridley, senior program manager for workplace mental health at the Mental Health Commission of Canada. “Flex packages” let you allocate contributions to the services you need and use, so you don’t max out your therapy allowance or massage treatments while leaving $750 of acupuncture untouched. Some providers offer a perk for employers, too: They only pay for what employees use (minus an administration fee).

These savings might help make benefits more widely available in industries that haven’t typically offered them. Toronto restaurants Marben and Barque Smokehouse recently started providing flex packages for all their staff; both use Olympia Benefits for physical health services. As part of the change in compensation model, David Neinstein, owner of Barque Smokehouse, eliminated tipping and instead paid staff a higher hourly wage. “We talked about the new model, and I said I understand if you want to go elsewhere,” Neinstein says. “No one did. The benefits made the difference.”

Then there are companies whose benefits take a broad, inclusive view of what people might need. SAP, a German software company with offices in Canada, includes support for employees with diabetes and cancer, on top of coverage for fertility treatments, gender affirmation therapies and procedures, adoption costs and telehealth. For Field-Ridley, a robust benefits package is about more than just good dental (though that’s key, too). It can help create a workplace that’s protective. “And one that recognizes it’s not just the work that’s important anymore,” says FieldRidley. “People are important.”

Go on that vacation

Compressed days and reduced hours address the need for flexibility on an ongoing basis, but sometimes you just need a week—or three—off. Unlimited paid time off gets a bad rap, since workers offered this policy take fewer days off than employees with a fixed allocation. “Sometimes, it’s because of guilt,” says Field-Ridley. “Or because their workload is too much.” Plus, with no balance to use or lose, vacations just aren’t prioritized. “There need to be parameters around these policies,” she says, “like minimum weeks employees must take or mandatory time off where the whole organization shuts down.”

Marketing agency Peachy has a minimum—there’s no maximum—paid vacation policy of 15 days; marketing software company Hubspot has a “global week of rest” on top of unlimited days and a “vacation quota relief” policy to ensure salespeople take a break, too. Organization app Evernote encourages employees to take advantage of its unlimited days policy with a $1,000 vacation stipend, provided the break is at least five days long. Streaming service Roku’s unlimited time off policy states that “you can take what you think is appropriate, as long as you get your job done and don’t impact the team’s work,” which reflects the trust and autonomy workers are looking for. “People want to get their projects done,” says Field-Ridley. “They just don’t want to feel like they’re owned by a company anymore.”

(Related: Vacation Doesn’t Solve Burnout)

Work Life Balance Worth

Know your worth

We tapped Allison Venditti, HR expert and founder of advocacy group Moms at Work, to answer our questions on the value of pay transparency.

Why do we need pay transparency? We’re programmed to not talk about money, and that only benefits companies. Women are systemically underpaid, which continues through your whole career, because every time you apply for a new job, your salary is based on your last job. It’s a cycle. Pay transparency ensures that women, people of colour, people with disabilities— whoever—are able to decide if they would like to work for an organization in a way that they never were before

Has there been a shift in interest since the pandemic? The number of LinkedIn posts that list salary rose by 44 percent compared to a year ago. It’s an employee market, and if I’m going to jump through the ridiculous hoops of the recruitment process—write a cover letter, do a project, meet the whole team—all of it usually unpaid, tell me what you’re going to pay me.

How does it impact employee satisfaction? Pay transparency builds trust and helps with retention. Companies are screaming “We need to retain women!” To close the leak in your talent pipeline, you need to pay women. And if a woman finds out she’s making 30 percent less than a male counterpart—well, bad HR is bad PR, and people will talk about it.

And know the worth of your profession: Female-dominated jobs—customer support or HR, for instance— tend to have the lowest salaries, and this not so-fun fact doesn’t get addressed simply by making sure everyone in the same role is (under)paid equally. Unito, a Montreal software start-up that also has a policy of pay transparency, ran the numbers and increased the base salary for these roles by 4 percent to try to further close the industry wage gap.

Work Life Banalnce Colleagues

Support your colleagues

For many, the past few years of remote work have been a long-overdue break from the racist aggressions (micro and otherwise) of the office. That’s probably why a recent study by Slackled consortium Future Forum found that the desire for a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement was stronger in Asian, Black and Hispanic/Latinx employees than in white employees. “When you remove yourself from an environment that’s hurting you a little bit every day,” says Dr. Helen Ofosu, a career coach and HR consultant, “you realize how much better you feel.” The Ottawa expert cautions that as employees return to the office, it’s more important than ever to level the uneven playing field created by systemic inequities in the workplace.

A lot can be accomplished through clear communication. A 2022 study by Hue, a U.S. non-profit that works to amplify BIPOC voices and visibility in the workplace, found that while 80 percent of responding companies had implemented diversity initiatives, only a quarter of BIPOC employees knew about them. According to Dr. Ofosu, the same lack of transparency exists around training budgets. “So some people get most of the money and others go without,” she says, “creating a differential in who gets access to training and professional development.” Targeted, formal mentorship programs can help over time. “When you have someone who’s looking out for you, willing to vouch for you, share lessons learned along the way—all those things add up,” says Dr. Ofosu.

The Hue study found that BIPOC employees are three times as likely as their white colleagues to consider leaving their job due to the emotional burden related to their race at work. One way to reduce that load would be to recognize the labour performed by certain staff—those who participate in employee resource groups, for instance—for what it is: work. “At some companies, those employees get a reduction in their other duties,” says Dr. Ofosu. “If an organization is serious about improving inclusion, those extra activities should be built into someone’s role—not added on top of it.

Next: How to Make Time for Yourself, According to Science

I first heard about allergic reactions to adhesive bandages on—how most of us learn about weird things these days—TikTok. I was delivered an alarming video of a woman whose skin was oozing a golden yellow liquid after wearing a bandage for a few days. So when I recently saw the same yellowness (among other attractive symptoms) on my leg after peeling off a Band-Aid, I had a hunch about what had happened. How common, and serious, is this allergy?

According to Sandy Skotnicki, a dermatologist in Toronto, it’s not rare. “The most common bandage adhesive comes from the naturally occurring ingredient called colophony or rosin,” she says, which is a sticky golden resin that comes from the sap of pine trees. “Its stickiness lends itself to being used in a wide range of products,” says Skotnicki. People sometimes assume a natural ingredient is better for skin than a synthetic one, but both can lead to allergic dermatitis.

It took my reaction six weeks to heal—don’t be like me. Here’s how to prevent, spot and soothe an allergic reaction from an adhesive bandage.

How do you identify allergic dermatitis to adhesive bandages?

A tell-tale sign of a reaction is if you develop a red, itchy and scaly eruption in the exact location under a bandage, says Skotnicki. But it doesn’t appear right away—it can take 24-48 hours to develop.

“Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed type of allergy,” she says. “There are two phases: In the first, a sensitization where the immune system in the skin recognizes the chemical in contact with it as foreign and develops an immune response against it. And in the second phase, every time the skin is in contact with the chemical going forward, an allergic contact dermatitis results as the immune system recognizes this chemical as foreign.”

What does it mean if skin reacts by also expelling a yellowish liquid?

“The more severe the contact allergy, the more severe the resulting allergic dermatitis,” says Skotnicki. This often means blisters develop in the top layer of skin and release yellow fluid.

How can you treat the reaction?

“Any allergic contact dermatitis can be treated with topical hydrocortisone,” says Skotnicki. Mild versions can be purchased over-the-counter at any drugstore, but a higher strength can be prescribed by a doctor, if necessary.

What can I use instead of Band-Aids?

Not all adhesive bandages contain colophony or rosin. Skotnicki recommends Band-Aid Tough Strips. Also, Patch bandages, available at Whole Foods, don’t contain the allergen either.

Are there any other potential allergens I should be aware of?

“Many newer bandage adhesives are made from the chemical class called acrylates,” says Skotnicki, “and many acrylates can also cause contact allergic reactions.” The good news is most bandages use proprietary acrylate adhesives, she says, and reports of allergies to them are low.

Next: Layering Skin Care Products—Am I Doing It Right?

You don’t have to be a nutritionist to realize that apples are good for you. Not only do they come in their own packaging—meaning you can eat the skin—they are also full of nutrients that give them a huge list of health benefits.

Whiter, healthier teeth

Apples won’t replace your toothbrush, but biting and chewing an apple can stimulate the production of saliva in your mouth and reduce tooth decay by lowering the levels of bacteria.

Avoid Alzheimer’s

A study on the benefits of apples shows that drinking apple juice could keep Alzheimer’s away and fight the effects of aging on the brain. The mice in the study that were fed an apple-enhanced diet showed higher levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and did better in maze tests than those on a regular diet.

Curb all sorts of cancers

Scientists from the American Association for Cancer Research agree that the consumption of flavonol-rich apples could help reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 23 percent. Researchers at Cornell University have identified several compounds in apple peel that have potent anti-growth activities against cancer cells in the liver, colon, and breast. Their earlier research found that extracts from whole apples can reduce the number and size of mammary tumours in rats. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. has recommended a high fibre intake to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Decrease your risk of diabetes

Women who eat at least one apple a day are 28 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who don’t eat apples. According to the Ontario Apple Growers, this fruit is extremely high in pectin—a soluble fibre—and is the key to blunting blood sugar swings.

Reduce cholesterol

The soluble fibre found in apples binds with fats in the intestine, which translates into lower cholesterol levels. (Here’s what doctors do to lower their high cholesterol.)

Get a healthier heart

An extensive body of research has linked high soluble fibre intake with a slower buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque in arteries. The phenolic compound found in apple skins also prevents the cholesterol that gets into your system from solidifying on your artery walls. When plaque builds inside your arteries, it reduces blood flow to your heart, leading to coronary artery disease.

Prevent gallstones

Gallstones form when there’s too much cholesterol in your bile for it to remain as a liquid, so it solidifies. They are particularly prevalent in the obese. To prevent gallstones, doctors recommend a diet high in fibre (ahem, apples again) to help you control your weight and cholesterol levels. 

Beat diarrhea and constipation

Whether you can’t go to the bathroom or you just can’t stop, fibre found in apples can help. Fibre can either pull water out of your colon to keep things moving along when you’re backed up, or absorb excess water from your stool to slow your bowels down.

Neutralize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is characterized by constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. To control these symptoms doctors recommend staying away from dairy and fatty foods. People with IBS understand all too well how food can make symptoms worse. (Here are the diet changes you need to make if you have IBS.)

Prevent hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are a swollen vein in the anal canal. While not life threatening, these veins can be very painful. They are caused by too much pressure in the pelvic and rectal areas. Part and parcel with controlling constipation, fibre can help keep your bowel movements regular and prevent you from straining too much when going to the bathroom.

Control your weight

Many health problems are associated with being overweight, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea. To manage weight and improve overall health, doctors recommend a diet rich in fibre.

Detoxify your liver

Your liver is responsible for clearing these toxins out of your body. Many doctors are skeptical of fad detox diets, saying they have the potential to do more harm than good. Luckily, one of the best (and easiest) things you can eat to help detoxify your liver is to incorporate fruits, like apples, into your diet.

Boost your immune system

Red apples contain an antioxidant called quercetin. Recent studies have found that quercetin can help boost and fortify your immune system—especially when you’re stressed out.

Next: Delicious Apple Recipes to Make This Fall

Thirty years ago, a couple enterprising scientists from NASA decided to investigate whether a class of pollutants called volatile organic chemicals—found in common products like paint, nail polish and shampoo—could be removed from the air by indoor house plants. Results looked good: In just 24 hours, English ivy, for example, seemed to absorb two-thirds of the formaldehyde it encountered. NASA was chuffed. “If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space,” the report declared, “he must take along nature’s life support system.”

The study propagated a thousand articles about the air-purifying potential of indoor plants. There was just one problem: These experiments worked in super-closed environments, like an airtight lab or, you know, a rocket ship. But man currently lives in something a little larger, and to replicate these effects in your own home, researchers estimate you’d need to deposit roughly 10 plants into each square foot.

Still! Don’t go dumping your ferns just yet. While plants might not meaningfully transform the air quality of your semi-detached, they do offer a host of health benefits that could help both professionally (concentration, creativity) and personally (composure, stress relief). Better still, you don’t have to blast off in a spacecraft to reap these rewards.

Of course, some academic papers tend to be a tad vague about which exact house plant they used in, say, their big productivity experiment, and that doesn’t help much on a trip to the garden store. That’s why we scoured the journals to find specific, science-backed recommendations—so you can tailor your set-up to whatever perk you need. Read on to see which studies plant the right seed.

(Related: 4 Times in Your Life You Should Definitely Be Using an Air Purifier)

Large, leafy plants

In one study of UK office workers, researchers scattered around “an array of green, large-leafed plants” with an average height of 3 feet—at least two of which were in the direct sightline of each desk. After just three weeks, the academics from four universities in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands determined that workers were 15 percent more productive in a green space.

Those same academics repeated their experiment in both a Dutch call centre and a large British consultancy firm, finding that plant life increased self-reported levels of workplace satisfaction and concentration—which might be handy if the pandemic has wreaked havoc on your attention span.

Corn plant

A small Japanese study found that participants in a work-association task came up with more creative answers sitting next to a five-foot-high massangeana dracaena (or corn plant) than they did in an empty room. Plant-adjacent participants also showed more creativity than those who—and it gives us no pleasure to report this—completed their task next to a stack of magazines instead.

ZZ Plant

Nobody likes a hospital waiting room—but for Dutch patients with an appointment in the radiology department, the mere presence of a Zamioculcas (or ZZ plant) led them to report lower levels of stress.

Ivy

Boost your energy or provide tranquility? Get you a plant that can do both. An Egyptian study found that hedera helix (or English ivy) affected different emotions based on the colour of its leaves. Bright green and greenish-yellow varieties were associated with feelings of calm and comfort, while reddish or darker green leaves lent a bit more oomph.

Ficus

The Royal Horticultural Society and the University of Reading held a beauty contest, and one plant ran away with it: The Ficus benjamina (or weeping fig) had the greatest impact on respondents’ feelings of well-being. Still, researchers noted that any lush green plant with a rounded canopy should provide an emotional lift.

Pilea, Palms and Philodendron

Do you want to feel a little more resilient? Or at least a little more willing to submerge your hand in ice water for five minutes? Researchers from Washington State University found that the presence of Pilea nummulariifolia (creeping Charlie), bamboo palms or a heart-leafed philodendron may significantly increase subjects’ pain tolerance, compared to an empty room and a room filled with brightly coloured objects.

Pothos

South Korean researchers busted out the brain monitors and determined that our oxyhemoglobin concentration dips in the prefrontal cortex when we look at plants, which just means we become far more physiologically relaxed. They used a pothos for their study—always a good choice, since the Royal Horticultural Society paper suggests that unhealthy plants have a negative effect on our sense of well-being, and these suckers are notoriously hard to kill.

Next: How to Start a Vegetable Garden, No Matter the Size of Your Home

If you ever find yourself, as I often do every autumn, with an abundance of ripe, juicy pears, these baked donuts are for you! The sweet pear and gentle, warming spices taste delicious alongside a cup of tea mid-morning or as a sweet treat in your lunchbox. I use either Anjou or Bartlett pears but substitute with whatever you have on hand.

Baked Pear, Vanilla, & Spiced Donuts

Makes: 12 ( 4-inch) donuts
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Tip: These donuts can be made ahead and stored at room temperature for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Ingredients

  • 4 pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped (see Note below)
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup melted butter, cooled
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Note: Store leftover sauce in the fridge for up to 5 days and use as you would apple sauce. No time to make pear sauce? Substitute puréed pear from the baby-food aisle.

Directions

  1. Place the pears, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are soft. Remove the lid and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool. When cool, mash with a fork or masher to create a smooth sauce.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare your donut pan by spraying it with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of the pear sauce, with the buttermilk, egg, vanilla, and brown sugar and stir with a rubber spatula until the mixture is uniform. Add the flour, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder and stir until well combined.
  4. Pour the melted butter into the bowl and carefully fold it into the rest of the batter. It takes about a minute to integrate the butter, but it will mix in!
  5. Fill a piping bag with the donut batter and pipe it into the prepared pan. Fill each section about halfway. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can also spoon the batter into the pan. Bake the donuts for 12 to 15 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a sharp knife inserted into one comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a cooling rack and dust with icing sugar. Once cool, enjoy one and pack the rest.

Packing Tip: Tuck one of these indulgent donuts into your lunchbox for a sweet treat, or pack one with some sliced fruit (try apples and pears) for a tasty afternoon treat.

Lunchbox Cover

Excerpted from Lunchbox by Aviva Wittenberg. Copyright © 2022 Aviva Wittenberg. Photography © 2022 Aviva Wittenberg. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Next: Expert Tips for Packing Healthy, Fresh and Satisfying Lunches

Take the nightshade vegetables or Solanaceae, a plant family that includes eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. (The term “nightshade” may have been coined because some of these plants prefer to grow in shady areas, and some flower at night.) An online search of “nightshade vegetables” yields results linking them to a host of health ailments from arthritis to migraines. Naturo­paths sometimes recommend that people with arthritis avoid nightshades. And Patricia J. Wales, a naturopathic doctor in Calgary, says naturopaths may suggest that people with osteoarthritis eliminate nightshades. These vegetables are also excluded from certain eating plans. Dr. Joshi’s Holistic Detox — endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss — claims nightshades are related to poison ivy and potentially poisonous. “But poison ivy isn’t even in the same plant family,” explains Barry Micallef, a plant biochemistry expert at the University of Guelph.

Why the bad reputation? Some people may think nightshade vegetables are harmful because they’re confusing them with “deadly nightshade” or Atrope belladonna, an inedible weed that’s also part of the Solanaceae family, explains Micallef. Historically, the deadly nightshade has been associated with witchcraft. When ingested in large amounts, it may cause convulsions or even death. But that has nothing to do with these vegetables. Here, we bust four other myths:

1. Myth: Nightshades contribute to osteo­porosis

Certain macrobiotic diets recommend that people with health challenges avoid nightshade vegetables and that even healthy people should eat them infrequently, says Judy MacKenney, a counsellor at the Kushi Institute, a macrobiotic edu­cational institute in Becket, Mass. “Nightshade vegetables are high in oxalic acid,” she claims, “Which inhibits the absorption of calcium, and can weaken bones and lead to osteoporosis.” But Stephanie Atkinson, a member of the scientific advisory committee for Osteoporosis Canada, says that while oxalates are known to bind calcium in the intestine, reducing calcium absorption, this occurs only when calcium intakes are very low and oxalate intakes very high. Nightshades, however, are not high in oxalic acid, she says. “The alkali contributed by vege­tables and fruits is bene­ficial for bones as it protects them from using bone to neutralize blood acid.”

(Related: Health Conditions That Can Increase Your Risk of Osteoporosis)

2. Myth: Nightshade vegetables contain a toxic alkaloid

Many alternative medi­cine websites allege that nightshade vegetables contain a toxic alkaloid compound called solanine, a defence mechanism in some Solanaceae plants that protects against natural threats such as insects. It’s true that solanine may develop in potatoes, which turn green when they are exposed to light during growth, says Micallef. (That’s why potatoes with green areas should be discarded.)

Contrary to the rumours, however, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes — even the green ones — do not produce solanine and are perfectly safe to eat, he says.

(Related: 6 Antinutrients in Beans, Grains, and Veggies and How to Avoid Them)

3. Myth: Nightshade vegetables worsen arthritis pain

Much of the online dis­cussion concerns nightshade vegetables and arthritis, and the notion that eating these vegetables causes an increase in pain or inflammation. But no scientific evidence supports that theory. “I’m not aware of any studies in peer-reviewed journals that prove or disprove that they affect arthritis,” says arthritis expert Mark Erwin, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Toronto. “There are a lot of references to it, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal.” There’s also no scientific reason to avoid nightshades even if you have arth­ritis, says Pamela Piotrowski, a registered dietitian at the Arthritis Society of Ontario. “Many people have food intolerances. If you start to feel achy every time you eat tomatoes, then maybe, for you, tomatoes are a contributing factor.” But even if your symptoms disappear after eliminating tomatoes, it would be hard to pinpoint that as the cause since many factors can affect arthritis.

4. Myth: They cause migraines

Linking nightshades to migraines is also without merit, according to Dr. Jonathan Gladstone, director of the Gladstone Headache Clinic and director of neurology at Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto. “I am certain that headache experts internationally would be in agreement that there is no evidence that tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes cause migraines,” he says.

The health benefits of nightshade vegetables “far outweigh any risks,” says Piotrowski. Tomatoes and peppers are amazing sources of antioxidants that lower the risk of cancer and heart disease; potatoes are high in vitamin C; and eggplant is a source of vitamin K. All are high in fibre. If you do want to elimin­ate them, make sure you get this nutritional value from other foods.

Next, learn why it’s important to eat colourful foods.

Reddit, a popular online destination for strangers to discuss topics like cryptocurrency and weddings, also happens to be a place people go to discuss spicier topics—like their sexual fantasies. After sifting through countless threads, I realized thinking about something that’s considered taboo is common. Like, wildly so.

Sex educator Dr. Justin Lehmiller came to the same conclusion. Through research he conducted for his 2018 book Tell Me What You Want, he found about 97 percent of people have had some kind of sexual fantasy. And when he asked over 4,000 people to share their favourite ones, he found seven common themes: multi-partner sex (i.e. threesomes, orgies, gangbangs); power, control and rough sex (i.e. bondage, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism); novelty, adventure and variety (i.e. trying sex in a new position or place); passion, romance and intimacy (i.e. connecting through emotional needs); being in a non-monogamous relationship (i.e. swinging, polyamory, cuckolding); gender-bending and homoeroticism (i.e. cross-dressing and same-sex fantasizing); and taboo activities (i.e. anything you’re not “supposed” to do, which can include any of the above).

(Related: You Know Your Love Language—How About Your Sex Language?)

The reason many Reddit users are inclined to share their sexual fantasies appears to be, judging by some comments, because they feel a sense of shame around them. According to Theresa L. Thomas, a Vancouver-based clinical psychologist and sex therapist, it’s common to feel this way because some fantasies aren’t socially acceptable—which can therefore make us feel abnormal. But in reality, what turns us on isn’t always a reflection of our wants.

Thomas says fantasy and desire are two different things. Fantasizing about a sexual act is not necessarily the same as desiring it in real life. “We always assume that if something is in our brain that it’s actionable,” says Thomas. “Thoughts can remain thoughts.” For example, a 2009 study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine found 62 percent of participants had a fantasy about rape, which they actually found to be equally arousing and off-putting.

The goal of a fantasy is to become aroused by envisioning it and not necessarily acting on it, explains Sandra Byers, a human sexuality and psychology professor at the University of New Brunswick. “A lot of our fantasies are based on prior experiences we’ve had or seen on a TV series or the internet,” she says.

It’s common to be aroused by taboos. “Doing something that’s taboo gets our heart racing and our blood pressure up,” says Byers, which is exactly what happens during sex. “So there’s a physiological connection between the reaction to the taboo and the reaction to being pleasured—one can facilitate the other.”

So cut yourself some slack. And use your wildest fantasies to your advantage.

Next: What to Know if You’re Worried About a Smell Down There