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Consumer Reports lists items every house should have

You may not have known some of them WERE health items

Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 12:01 am

Do you ever wonder what your doctor keeps on hand in case of a medical emergency?

ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, recently asked a bunch of experts what some of their most unexpected must-have health items are and why they use them.

The items are in addition to the basic stuff you should have on hand, including cold compresses, latex-free gloves and an antihistamine such as Benadryl.

•100 percent pure shea butter ($10 to $40). Keep it on hand to help soothe rashes and dry skin (and even frizzy hair in a pinch). Make sure it's 100 percent shea butter by looking at the ingredient list.

•Coconut oil (about $10 to $25). The fat in coconut oil makes it another great body lotion. Apply it to damp skin to help seal in moisture.

•Distilled white vinegar (about $6 a gallon). Rubbing on pure vinegar can take the itch out of bug bites. Mixing with a few drops of rubbing alcohol might also help swimmer's ear. If you're worried about the fumes that can come from chemical-filled cleaning products, consider using distilled vinegar instead. ShopSmart has found in its tests that a home brew of equal parts water and vinegar beat our big-name cleaners.

•Baking soda (about $3 for a 1-pound box). Baking soda makes a good toothpaste because it's a mild abrasive and will whiten like a mild bleach. Put some dry baking soda into your palm, moisten your toothbrush, press it into the baking soda and brush normally.

•Chewable baby aspirin (around $3 for 36 tablets). If you think you're having a heart attack (or someone near you is having one), the best thing to do is call 911 right away and chew – don't gulp them down! – four 81-milligram baby aspirin.

•Cigarette rolling papers (about $1 per pack). They're great for clumsy shavers – these little sheets help stop the bleeding from shaving cuts and work better than tissues or gauze.

•Plain petroleum jelly (about $4). Grab this home remedy for minor cuts and scrapes instead of triple antibiotic ointment. It protects against infection without the risk of allergic reaction you can get with over-the-counter ointments like bacitracin, neomycin and polymyxin.

•Meat thermometer ($6 and up). Always cook with a meat thermometer to reduce the risk for foodborne illness. The Department of Agriculture recommends cooking steaks and roasts to 145 degrees F; ground meats (beef, lamb, pork and veal) and egg dishes to 160 degrees F; and all poultry to 165 degrees F. For more information, check out isitdoneyet.gov; call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854; or send email to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov.

•Measuring tape (about $4). Hate getting on the scale? Measuring your waist circumference every few months is a great way to keep track of your weight. Check the distance around your natural waist, which is just above your hip bones. People who are apple-shaped and carry weight in their belly are more likely to develop health problems than pear-shaped adults who carry extra pounds in their thighs and hips. Women with a waist larger than 35 inches and men with a waist larger than 40 inches are at a higher risk for heart disease.

•Neti pot (around $15 for a starter kit). Some research shows that nasal irrigation can help relieve some allergy symptoms. ShopSmart notes that you should be sure to use a saline rinse, distilled water or tap water that has been boiled and cooled to avoid a dangerous infection.

•Witch hazel (around $5 for a 16-ounce bottle). Got hemorrhoids? Dabbing your sore backside with witch hazel might help ease your discomfort. Witch hazel is the active ingredient in products like Tucks Medicated Cooling Pads. It also helps relieve stinging and swelling from insect bites.