In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

Instead of looking back over the events of the past year (everyone does that), let’s take a positive look to the future and concentrate on how we can become healthier, wealthier and wise.

FOOD! Gaylord Houser was right: we are what we eat, but unwisely we eat much of what we like and reject the rest, never really thinking of what the eventual effect will be. For this new year, what about a few ideas on how we can eat with an eye to a long, healthy life:

Now that cities like The Big Apple have curbed the selling of huge sugar-laden drinks, how about bypassing a 16-oz. bloater for a good cup of hot cocoa? A new study supports the idea that cocoa flavanols (found in all cocoa products, the best of which comes from dark chocolate) could – no kidding – boost brainpower, especially for the elderly. Another study reported that cocoa flavanols are also associated with improvements in blood pressure. So sip away, a couple of cups of the good brew daily – but don’t overdo the calories.

Worried about colon cancer? A new study tells us that dietary magnesium is linked to lower colon cancer rates. Wheat bran, nuts, spinach, soybeans, pinto beans, brown rice, lentils & bananas are among the foods rich in magnesium.

  • Sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but check their source. Pacific ocean fish are healthiest since they come from less polluted or drastically over-fished Atlantic waters.

Don’t count sheep to fall asleep; try non-arousing mental tasks (reciting lyrics from favorite songs, poems, or plots from books or movies) while trying to fall asleep or when waking up during the night. A glass of warm milk also helps – plain or with cocoa or milk-enriched Ovaltine-type drinks.

Sodium (salt) intake is foremost in the minds of US nutrition policy makers. We continue to use too much of it and so increase risk of heart disease and stroke. To help cut down, Congress has called for new standards for an acceptable level of sodium in restaurants and in canned foods from manufacturers. At home, we must get a grip, cutting back little by little until the taste of salt becomes, well, too salty .

Surprise! In a test with women, it was found that drinking alcoholic products may have two benefits: they increase bone health and joint health. BUT beware: Excess does more harm than good.

And now, check your supermarket IQ with the following True or False statements:

1. The best way to shop in a supermarket is around its perimeter (true, that’s where many whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruit and veggies are usually found, while interior aisles contain processed, less heathy, foods, like those canned or bottled, cookies, chips, and sodas).

2. If a product has quantity sale pricing (5 for $5, for example) you must always buy that number to get the sale price. (false: it’s only true if the fine print on the tag specifically says so).

3. Brown breads are always more healthful than lighter-colored breads (false: darker is not necessarily more nutritious or higher in fiber. Molasses or caramel coloring usually make them look that way. Read the ingredients label).

4. Dry-roasted nuts have about as many calories as oil-roasted (true: the calorie difference is negligible).

5. “Atlantic salmon” are wild salmon (false: they are farmed; the “wild” Atlantic salmon, sorry to say, have been so over-fished, they are no longer caught commercially. Don’t pay extra for them).

6. Brown eggs are less nutritious than white eggs (false: the color has nothing to do with nutrition or taste).

7. Cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut palm sugar, and barley malt are healthful ingredients (false: they’re all basically just sugars, empty calories, no better than white sugar).

Remember: when shopping, the key is to keep healthful eating in mind in every aisle. Check ingredients carefully; they’re cleverly written to confuse.

For guidance, check out the $24.95, 90-page “Wellness Supermarket Buying Guide” (call 800-829-9170 for a trial inspection). Money will be refunded if returned unsatisfied.

Note: You have radio choices on NPR: for unbiased talk news shows mid-morning and mid-afternoon weekdays It’s WGGL (91.1 FM). For all music and Sat. Metropolitan Opera, it’s WMNU (90.1 FM). Can’t get WNMU? Call for help at 1-800-227-WNMU.

Rotten Tomato average: “Lincoln,” A; “Zero Dark Thirty,” B+, “Gangster Squad,” C-.