Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mediterranean Diet Puts Out the Flames

Inflammation. This is the newest marker for heart disease.

This article summary indicates that the Mediterranean diet decreases the markers for inflammation more than the standard Western diet. Chronic inflammation has been linked to range of conditions linked to heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's, type-2 diabetes, and arthritis. The findings are published online ahead of print in the journal Atherosclerosis.

The Mediterranean diet, therefore, helps reduce systemic inflammation, which can help decrease your liklihood of getting a heart attack.
All this attention on the Mediterranean Diet is great, and here's why. This traditional way of eating -- the diet, if you will -- consists of food. The standard Western diet consists of faux foods.

When you eat real food, your body will respond by "righting itself", nutritionally. Your body is built to be healthy, and you allow it to achieve optimal health by getting out of its way ... and just eating food.

Monday, December 22, 2008

UK Color Free? How US?

It took this scientific article in the journal Lancet to get anything moving.

The Food Standards Agency oversees the food safety in the UK. They are calling on companies to identify all products without food additives ... particularly food dyes.

Is it not incredible to you that anyone would have to prove that chemical dyes are something you should remove from the food chain?

That said, it is heartening to see that we're starting to develop a healthy skepticism for synthetics in our foods. This represents a wonderful change in the attitude, and this new demand will drive supply into a healthy direction.

This news story represents a case in point. The FSA is pushing a voluntary phase-out of these colors by the end of 2009, after the above study showed that feeding kids these dyes can degrade their behavior, leading to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The research was carried out at the University of Southampton and published in The Lancet in September 2007.

The summary is here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What To Serve Santa!!

Every year we lay out the food for the big guy. What’s should we be leaving for him on his passage across the globe? What are the healthiest choices we could make for him?

(please note the dietary restrictions … NO reindeer burgers).

1. Ginger Cookies

GINGER HEALTH PROPERTIES – derived from the ginger oils
Can reduce nausea caused by motion sickness of wild sleigh rides.
Can eliminate harmful intestinal bacteria while protecting good bacteria. May improve Santa's cholesterol levels – in case anyone is worried about his LDL counts.
Raw ginger is thermogenic – increasing metabolic activity for those long evening flybys over Chicago. And dried ginger has been given in traditional medicine to alleviate colds, coughs, inflammations, headaches and even flatulence (so be sure to give some to the upwind reindeer!!).

2. Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk

Anti-platelet, Anti-biotic, Raises good Cholesterol, lowers bad cholesterol, prevents DNA damage that can lead to tumors. Not bad, eh?

Vitamin D … Santa is sun deprived up there in the North Pole, so be sure to give him a small glass of milk. Make your own cookies for him, because they have egg yolks that contain even more Vitamin D.
Or combine the Vitamin D and chocolate with a mug of steaming cocoa – it’s the cocoa itself that makes the chocolate good for you (and Santa).

3. Cranberries and carrots for the reindeer!!

Traditionally, cranberries were used medicinally to relieve a variety of ailments: like urinary tract infections gum disease, ulcers, heart disease and cancer.

SO, the bottom line is that Santa wants anything made with love. When you make your chocolate chip cookies or Ginger Snaps or cranberries and carrots for Rudolph and the rest, do it with love and it will be received that way.
Santa knows.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Santa Foods?

With all the concern over food and health today, one particular individual comes to mind at this time of year that we all want safe and sound … Santa Claus.

And it’s not just what’s going on back at the North Pole (I’m sure Mrs. Claus makes healthy meals 364 days of the year), because there’s one day in which the big guy is fed by all of us.

Millions of kids all over the world leave milk and cookies and other goodies out for Santa, and he loves every bit of it. In the UK alone, he gets mince pies on Christmas eve and, if he ate every single mince pie left for him by these kids, he would gain 721,000 lbs.

No wonder Santa is portrayed as having the “bowl full of jelly” belly fat, which certainly keeps him warm at the North Pole, but his belly fat and BMI the size of Godzilla on steroids might get him saddled with a plastic vial of Lipitor in his stocking this year.

What about obesity, heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and all the other health concerns?!?

Well, in our haste to slim-size Santa, just keep three things in mind:

  • First, our latest fad ideas about nutrition come and go (remember when margarine was GOOD for you, remember when eggs were BAD for you?). Santa has been around for a long time, still ticking, and keeps spreading joy to kids all over the world.
  • Second, whatever he’s doing, it’s working for him, even if it doesn’t agree with our current theories. Sometimes we should relax and just embrace the joy of the season – even if we don’t have a clinical trial to back it up.
  • Finally. Dude, Santa’s an elf. Cookies and milk could be nutritious to his elfish blood – like broccoli and Brussels sprouts to us! We could be doing more harm than good by trying to re-create him in our own image of health.

Here’s the bottom line: We need to let the jolly man be the jolly man.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Salty Business

The food industry has again come under fire for the amount of salt used in products, as this survey found that sodium levels had remained ‘essentially the same’ over the past three years.

That the salt levels mined from processed food products are the same as they have been in the past is unsurprising. If you are a food company, you must produce products that have the shelf life of steel belted radials. Otherwise, there is no profit to be made if your food products are going bad all the time.

Given that, if a company is not using salt (to preserve the time before even bacteria can eat their products), they will certainly use something else (hydrogenated oils, BHT, BHA, Nitrates, etc).

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is fussing at food companies, sounding a bit shrill actually, saying that companies “could easily lower sodium levels and still have perfectly marketable products”.

Sure, and cigarette makers could easily make their carcinogens without the addictive nicotene -- a drug that makes you want to smell like an ash tray. However, they wouldn't sell any product then, so don't expect that any time soon.

If you purchase cigarettes, you know what you're getting. If you purchase processed food products, you also know what you're getting. It may not be a bad idea to have food companies label their foods for the amount of salt (in square meters) they are packing into their Ramen Noodles, but no one should guess that complaints about what they should or should not do with their own products is going to have much of an effect.

A good solution is to just eat normal food, made at home. Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mediterranean Diet Lays Low Fat Low

The Mediterranean Diet works.

This research is from the Archives of Internal Medicine: A traditional Mediterranean diet that includes a healthy serving of nuts each day may help reverse a cluster of risk factors for heart disease.

Over 1,200 older adults who followed the diet had lower rates of metabolic syndrome -- a clustering of risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, which includes high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, elevated blood sugar and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

This study also showed that the traditional Mediterranean diet was 7 times better at reducing metabolic syndrome than our theoretical approach (eating a "prudent" low fat diet), especially when you add in the consumption of nuts.

The findings suggest that the Mediterranean diet can help manage metabolic syndrome, even without weight loss or exercise, the researchers report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Do Less, Do More

Many people believe they must do more and more and more and more.

This article argues that there are diminishing returns on this kind of "hamster wheel" idea. In other words, "doing more" doesn't get you more.

In fact, according to this research, when you push through to the point of losing sleep -- either because you're working when you should be sleeping, or because you're so worried about whatever is going on that you can't sleep -- you also lose memory.

It actually makes it harder for you to function.

You're not doing yourself any favors by burning the candle at both ends. Structured breaks within your day, between days (aka, sleep), and in your life (aka, vacations), turn out to be the best long term solution for productivity.

And THAT productivity includes the quantity as well as quality of your work.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

La Prima

There is something refreshingly square about La Prima coffe. It's on my standard Saturday shopping trail at the "Strip District" in Pittsburgh.

Older Italian men come in and play some card game that only THEY know. They speak Italian. They gesture. There are lots of families with kids who get sips of their parent's coffees between bites of the homemade Melee (right next door in the adjoining bakery).

No seating tables here ... only the tall ones that you stand at, and talk to the people you see packed in here each week -- Angelo, Carmen, Cara, Melissa. They see you, say hey loudly; acquaintences wave, kids get kissed.

Every store should be like La Prima.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

The "prevent" defense

You can either prevent fires from happening ... or you can just wait until you get a good blaze working, and handle it from there.

Most people would assume that it is a better strategy to prevent problems from arising in the first place.

However, we have a health care system in our country that is so expensive, so burdensome for many, that they postpone basic preventative tests -- and even treatments!!

This study from the Harris Interactive poll (just released by the National Women's Health Resource Center), found some disturbing results:

  • Almost half the women failed to seek medical care in the year before the survey, citing health care costs.

  • They reported skimping on doctor visits, recommended medical procedures and medication, both for themselves and for family members.

  • Cultural differences emerged, with 58 percent of Hispanic women reporting they skipped health care, compared to 43 percent of white women and 42 percent of black women.
We must have the resources, the smarts, and the political will to devise some form of a Health Care System that does not simply amount to Health Treatment. From every standpoint -- from cost containment to the personal impact on the lives of our people -- it makes sense to clear every obstacle that preventing disease from happening in the first place.

This is not difficult logic. In fact, it's just common sense.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Screen Burn

It does not matter whether it is TV or Video or Internet or Gaming.

Experts from the U.S. National Institutes of Health analyzed 173 studies done since 1980 in one of the most comprehensive assessments to date on how media exposure impacts the physical health of children and adolescents.

Across the board, they found that more media exposure leads to more obesity, smoking at an earlier age, earlier sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, as well as poorer school performance.

"I think we were pretty surprised by how overwhelming the number of studies was that showed this negative health impact," NIH bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the researchers in the report released by the advocacy group Common Sense Media.

For example, in of the one studies, children who watched more than eight hours of TV per week at age 3 were more likely to be obese at 7.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Health Halo Hides Calories

Let's say you're Keebler ... and you have an Elf. Furthermore, you have to sell cookies, but the current market is anti-fat.

This is an incredible dilemma!! You still have to make it taste good, but it can't have a smidge of butter in it because you are marketing it as a "healthy low fat" option.

How do you make it taste good? Add sugar, and lots of it ... principally in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (because it's about 11 times cheaper as an industrial sweetener than normal sugar).

So, you get something that is low in fat, so you reason, based on all you have heard, that this will be a great option for you. Very healthy, right??


In today's NYTimes Health section, John Tierney writes about "The Health Halo" effect. That is, food manufacturers HAVE to label their products as healthy, or you won't buy them. But that labelling can focus on one aspect (low fat ... leading you to believe you can eat tons of it), while avoiding the unhealthy aspect (high sugar ... leading you to be hungrier for more, while consuming WAY too many calories in the process).

This is a perfect example of our Culture of Health at work, in this case against us.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dairy foods help kids build stronger bones

One of the biggest dietary changes that has taken hold in our culture -- over the past 40 years -- is that milk has been replaced by sodas as the kids' drink of choice.

Now, according to new research reported in the Journal of Pediatrics, when you eat dairy foods, meat, and other high-protein foods in childhood, you get stronger and healthier bones in adolescence.

This was true for boys and girls. And, you don't have to overconsume dairy, but have about two servings per day throughout childhood. These kids had a higher bone mineral content, greater bone area, and greater bone mineral density than those who ate less.

In fact, dairy and protein seemed to have additive effects, with children who consumed the most of both types of food having the densest, largest bones; those who consumed the least had the thinnest bones.

So. A bit of cheese, a glass of milk, a breakfast of (real) yogurt, these do the body good ... in the long term!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!!

There are so many wonderful things about this day, and I just want to wish everyone the warmest of wishes.

And today, of all days, we will most likely be feasting on Turkey. So, let's look at the nutritional properties of this bird that Ben Franklin wanted to become our national bird!!

Turkey is a very good source of selenium, which is fundamentally important to optimal health. It is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function.

More and more evidence on animal models of cancer have suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence -- eat more selenium, get less cancer.

For the full story on turkey and nutrition, you have to visit this site.

But if you just want a quick snapshot, check out the chart below:

The Original George Dubya

Before Thanksgiving was a national holiday, it had to be assigned as one, each year, by an act of congress. Can you imagine?

While this may seem like a Parlimentary Pain in the Pantaloons (and I'm certain it was), one good aspect about it was that each President -- in this case Washington himself -- listed the things they were thankful for.

I like that.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:

"Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted' for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1789.
G. Washington

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Congress Gives Thanksgiving Official Stamp

There was a lot to be grateful for, in 1782. With the help of France (who loved us because they hated England ... the enemy of my enemy is my friend), we won. We beat the unbeatable nation and stood isolated by oceans and united in our determination to gut it out here in the wilderness, and make it work.

So the Congress took up the pen and made an official day of Thanksgiving to God.

It is weary prose to read, but very interesting. Also, this was not a proclamation for a standing National Holiday, but a one-off, that had to be repeated each year.

IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf:

Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these States, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war, in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their Allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:-----

Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, AD 1782.

JOHN HANSON, PresidentCharles Thomson, Secretary

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

First Pilgrim Proclamation of Thanksgiving

On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts met to decide how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established.

By unanimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving. That proclamation is reproduced here in the same language (and spelling) as the original.

Basically, the Pilgrims had been sent out of England because the politics no longer agreed with their religion. After ample death, starvation, and disease, it seemed like the remnants were finally getting on their feet. They hoped they had turned a corner and, for that basic survival, they wanted to show thanks.

It is interesting to read this (below), to see their antipathy toward the "Heathen Natives" with whom they were at "Warr", and the fact that it was these very Enemies who saved them by showing these foreiners how to plant, reap, and prosper.

History is in no short supply of irony.

"The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Week starts with "Mary Had A Little Lamb"

Throughout Thanksgiving week, we will be talking about our traditions, trivia, and even turkey nutrition.

You may not know this, but had it not been for the author of the poem "Mary had a little lamb", we may not have Thanksgiving at all!!

This person essentially pestered the President with eloquence until she finally got (what I believe is) our best holiday enshrined as a national day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Data glut. Information overload. Knowing more and more about less and less.

Isn't this how it feels when you look at the encyclopedic information on the back of a food label?

It's not helpful ... but we have to do something. Our problem with Overweight and Obesity threatens to overtake tobacco as our #1 preventable cause of death.

But, what to do? Apparently, if you are a congressman, you make laws to put more in more and more information to micromanage the molecules of our foods. Here's the Reuters report.

Laws requiring that calories and other nutritional information be posted in fast food restaurants and on menus have become increasingly popular. And, lawmakers in Washington are struggling to get the practice adopted nationwide.

In fact, last September, California became the first U.S. state to require fast-food restaurant chains to list calories on their menus. New York City followed, and more than a dozen states are considering similar health code provisions.

What's the Deal?
Labeling everything, and giving us more and more information is not an awful thing in itself. But after a while, the overload makes it hard to process any of it. At all.

It may be best to use the simple solution, and leave the molecular parsing to the grad students who are happy to do all that number crunching for nothing more than pizza and a beer.

Expect to see labeling on all your menus, but remember the basic principles. Eat food. Learn to love your food again. When you do this, the background noise of molecular micromanagement become, truly, an academic issue.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Timing on Thanksgiving Day

If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place stuffed turkey in oven immediately. You may also cook the stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Judging cooking time for your turkey will be easier if the following chart is used. The times listed are for a fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325°F. These times are approximate.

Size of Turkey - Hours to Prepare
8 to 12 pounds - 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds
- 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds - 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds - 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds - 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Size of Turkey - Hours to Prepare

8 to 12 pounds - 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds - 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds - 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds - 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds - 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

o A little more than an hour beforehand, prepare the stuffing and put it in about one hour before you’re ready to serve (it takes about 45 minutes).
o 30 minutes beforehand, put the potatoes in boiling water
o 10-15 minutes beforehand, start the fresh veggies.
(source: USDA)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Milk and Melamine

The U.S. FDA is blocking the import of all milk products from China.

Not just
milk, but "milk-derived ingredients and finished food products containing milk from China due to the presence of melamine and/or melamine analogs".

In September 2008, several companies were implicated in a scandal involving milk and infant formula contaminated with melamine, leading to kidney stones and renal failure especially among young children.

By 22 September, nearly 53,000 people had become ill, with more than 12,800 hospitalizations and four infant deaths.

Okay. But, first of all, what is Melamine? We know they have put it
in milk products, but what is it actually?? Here is the exhaustive Wikipedia definition.

Basically, it is a close chemical relative of cyanamide, can be used to make fire retardants, thermoplastics, and foams. You also find it in countertops, dry erase boards, fabrics, glues, housewares and milk from China.

The Chineese companies put melamine into our pet food (causing serious illness or death), and also in our feed stock. Why? Melamine may have been added to fool government protein content tests. Because of melamine's high nitrogen content (66% by mass versus approx. 10-12% for typical protein), it can cause the protein content of food to appear higher than the true value.

Officials estimate that about 20 percent of the dairy companies tested in China sell products tainted with melamine.

For these companies, melamine allows them to sell cheaper product. They just add in more filler in the dog food (or formula for babies), or more water in their milk. Just sprinkle in a little melamine and it appears as if its normal.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smelling Flavor

Unilever Food and Health Research Institute wants to put chemical odorants in your food, so you will perceive it as a healthy food option.

Here's the article.

Their researchers picked commercially available odorants that corresponded to 15 salty food tastes.

These included:
sardine, bacon, anchovy, peanuts, tuna, Roquefort cheese, ham, chicken, Compte cheese, soy sauce, sotolon, concentrated cheese, tomato, goat’s cheese, and carrot.

The goal was to make the food smell like something salty, fool your tastes into thinking there was less salt in the food, which would allow food processors to put less actual salt in the product.

They found that their odors do in fact influence taste. So, in the processed food product world of the future, when the label says Low Salt ... it may also mean High Odorant.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Schedule troubles

I was teaching a group on the Path program a couple of nights ago. One of the participants, who is really doing well, nevertheless has a wicked schedule.

She's always moving from one asdpect of her job to another, with only a 10 minute break -- where she can actually sit down and eat -- throughout the day.

Again, she's doing great, but is having trouble eating well because of her crazy work schedule. She either has to eat on her feet, or eat too fast!

When I talk about our culture of health, whose "Class-5 Rapids" current swooshes us away from health, this is a prime example.

I believe we don't have to live this way ... To be this way ... As a culture.

What would it be like if we had employers who allowed a schedule in which these folks could just sit for a second. Breathe. And avoid the harried consumption that leads to weight and health problems?

That would be an environment that favored optimal health -- and how would our teachers like that?? Our nurses?? From one end to the other, this single change would facilitate a vast improvement in our culture of health.

Genetically Modified ANIMALS for Food

You're never going to believe this (here's the article).

You know how genetic engineers can take recombinant DNA of one plant, and splice it into another, and give us GMO corn?

And, weirder still, they can even put fish genes into our corn (and do!!).

Now there are hopes among some to have GMAs -- Genetically Modified Animals. I have seen animals that are made to glow under a UV lamp, animals with multiple heads or eyes.

All things seem to be possible with a little DNA here or there.

The FDA claims that GE animals include food-use animals with new traits such as improved nutrition, faster growth or lower emission levels of environmentally harmful substances such as phosphate in their manure.

In September, the FDA released draft guidelines on the regulation of Genetically Altered animals in the marketplace. As of now, the agency is seeking public comments on the guidance until the 18 of November.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Diet and Fat

We have to confront one of our must cherished notions about weight and health -- regarding the dietary demon of fat.

This article, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (reviewed in this article), helps to unlinking fat in the diet from fat on your hips.

Researchers followed 125 men and women, ages 18 to 35, who had lost more than 8 percent of their initial body weight and were trying to keep it off.

They assigned them randomly to follow one of three diets based on fat content:
  1. HIGH 35-45 % of total calories were from fat
  2. LOW 20 - 30 % of total calories were from fat
  3. MEDIUM 35 % of total calories were from fat
Every group failed to keep from regaining their weight after 6 months.
  1. HIGH gained back 5.5 lbs
  2. LOW gained back 4.8 lbs
  3. MEDIUM gained back 8.3 lbs
In other words, increased fat in the diet does not equal increased fat on the hips.

But what about risk factors for diabetes such as blood sugar levels and insulin? The diet that allowed 35 percent to 45 percent of total intake as fat, with most of it olive oil-type fat, seemed to improve glucose compared to a normal Western diet, according to the study author.

What was not assessed here was the overall consumption -- how much food were these people eating. Obviously, since they were gaining back their previously lost weight, they are overconsuming their food.

The reason we are so confused by fat and its (lack of) effect in weight control is that we don't focus on behavioral habits as much as the macromolecular breakdown of the meal (what percent of diet came in the form of fats).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dose-up the Children

Our culture of health seems to adopt a "give pills first, ask questions later" mentality.

In other words, treat with a product (drugs), rather than with a process (behavioral therapy).

I know, I know, this is not universally true. However, it is alarmingly common.

For example, this article reports on data from the November issue Journal Pediatrics, showing that medication use among children across the United States is dramatically increasing.

Increased prescribing may be due in large part to increasing obesity among children and the health consequences of that trend, researchers say.

"Across all the medication classes we looked at, the rates of use increased -- sometimes dramatically," said study co-author Dr. Donna Halloran, an assistant professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University. "This is particularly concerning, given that several of these diagnoses have been linked to obesity -- diabetes, hypertension, depression, asthma."

Medication is important, obviously, but perhaps as a last resort, not a one-size-fits-all first pass. Handing out Ritalin, or anti-depressants that can produce suicidal tendencies, or any other pharmaceutical -- particularly to our children -- seems risky and invasive.

The onus, unfortunately, is on us. We have to be the ones to firmly request alternatives ... non-invasive procedures for ourselves and our children because, as you can see by these numbers, pills are being thrown at our kids at an alarmingly increased rate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Concert Waif

I'm at the idina Menzel concert. The person selling the T-shirts for the warmup act is a waif.

Nice girl, but a complete bird, with wrists like pencils. you just hope that she's that way because of the genetic cards she was dealt, and not because she's trying.

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Foods To Help Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is not just about the sodium anymore. The factor you can increase … to decrease … your blood pressure, turns out to be foods with Potassium.

Blood pressure is increased by eating more Sodium (please note: the principle source of Sodium in the U.S. diet comes from processed food products, NOT the salt in your kitchen).

Click here to read the article:

The following list include HIGH potassium foods (more than 225 milligrams per 1/2 c. serving), which would also be beneficial to athletes or to others who incur heavy fluid loss.

All meats, poultry and fish are high in potassium.
Apricots (fresh more so than canned)
Lima beans
Oranges and orange juice
Potatoes (can be reduced to moderate by soaking peeled, sliced potatoes overnight before cooking)
Vegetable juice
Winter squash

Monday, November 10, 2008

Faking it

The Dow Chemical company wants to sell you a new fat blocker as a way to allow you to eat unhealthy foods.

Forget that the last fat blocker on the market was Olestra, which had to have a warning label attached to it because of the nasty greasy stool leaking it caused.

Forget that your body needs healthy fats to be healthy.

Forget that the absorption of vitamins such as the carotenoids you get from pumpkin, carrot, and squash -- which help reduce the incidence to breast cancer -- is assisted by those healthy fats.

According to this report, the product "Satisfit" has undergone internal trials at Dow Chemical (still unpublished) focusing on hamsters fed a diet of hamburgers, fries and pound cake. The researchers claim that the animals gained 7% less weight than those on a control diet.

If we ate real food, and did so in control, Dow Chemical would have to focus on making chemicals to strip wax from your floor, rather than applying those chemicals as a workaround for bad eating habits.

If we ate real food, and did so in control, those healthy fats would not be a liability for your weight or your health in the first place.

Thus ... if we ate real food, and did so in control, we could head off our weight and health problems before they happen, rather than applying designer drugs created to "trick" your body into not absorbing the fats, and trick your mind into thinking its okay to eat unhealthy food.

Maybe that should be our focus.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Your Brain on Portions and Pleasure

This report speaks directly to the message we are trying to get across: that overweight and obesity is about more than just molecule micromanagment.

To love your food and reintroduce pleasurable eating, can lead to neural changes that can help reduce overconsumption.

In this study, they used chocolate milkshakes, actually, to test the pleasure centers in the brain. It turns out that the subjects who had less activity in this area (while eating the milkshake) were more likely to overconsume and become overweight.

If you look at this link, you'll see that the researchers have great data, but interpret their results backwards (I believe). They say that the pleasure center neurochemical, dopamine, may cause consumption -- either too much or too little.

But I think these brain changes are not the cause of disordered eating, but the effect of disordered eating. They simply reflect the fact that these people already eat for the wrong reasons -- their consumption is not about food and pleasure, it's about filling some other need.

What does this have to do with portions?
Mindless eating leads to "passive overconsumption". If you are eating in the car, while walking back to your desk, or playing video games, you tend to overeat. This, obviously, leads to overweight.

A big part of our Mediterranean approach is to include the eating behaviors that lead to more appreciation of your food, and so more control over pacing, and so more control over portions in the process.

Your goal is to eat all you want ... but just want less. This can only be accomplished with the combination of health food selection (a la the Mediterranean food pyramid) along with new healthy eating behaviors that limit overconsumption.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Pace Controls Portions

It is important to say it again: Pace Controls Portions.

This simple principle can be found in the healthy habits of the
Mediterranean people, and has been replicated in this study published in the British Medical Journal.

Over 3,000 Japanese volunteers (aged from 30 to 69) were
asked about about their eating behaviors. About half of the men and a little more than half of the women said they ate until full. About 45 percent of the men and 36 percent of the women said they ate quickly.

The Result?
Those who ate until full and ate quickly were three times more likely to be fat than people who did not, the researchers found.

The Mediterranean diet is more than just the food pyramind. It is more than just the assembly of foods you can eat because, if you overconsume your foods -- whether they are modified food products (low fat, low carb, etc), you will gain weight.

The reason our Mediterranean approach works, then, is because it combines healthy foods with the healthy behaviors that limit their consumption.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bottomless Bowls

WHY is it that larger portions = larger consumption.

This GREAT article, from Dr. Brian Wansink, used self-refilling bowls to see how portions create consumption.

I love psychologists because they're so sneaky. They gave one group of subjects soup bowls that, slowly and imperceptibly, refilled as their contents were consumed.

The people who were unknowingly eating from self-refilling bowls ate more soup than those eating from normal soup bowls. Here's the kicker -- even though they ate a whopping 73% more soup, they did not believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated than those eating from normal bowls.

If you see it, you will eat it. More food in front of you = more consumption.

Unintentional Portion Distortion: How do you head this off?
  • Serve your food on smaller plates.
  • Start small, and plan on going back if you are still hungry.
  • At restaurants, ask for the To-Go box with the meal.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Today is election day. I am standing in line 30 minutes early, having been made to bo frightened by the stories of long lines and marathon 6 hour delays in Florida and in other sites.

How will this election affect our health? More importantly, how will it impact our Culture of Health?

We know a lot about the McCain and Obama healthcare plans, but that is different than the change we need in our own weight and health.

15 more minutes to open the polls.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Editorial: Portion Distortion

How did it happen?
How did the sense that “volume equals value” become so much a part of our way of thinking that it has made us the world leaders in overweight, diabetes, and all the other health problems that ride on its coattails.

How did we get here?
Can we not have the presence of mind to keep from eating an entire pizza at a sitting, an entire sleeve of cookies, or an entire pie?

Maybe the reason why is as simple as our listening to clever marketers. They say 39 cents justifies twice the volume (the actor on the screen is so thin and beautiful).

Maybe the reason why is as simple as performing the right dietary calculations (if we just micromanage carbs or calories, points or proteins, we’ll be okay again).

Maybe the reason why is as simple as a nation that has drifted from the importance of the family table, moving toward a search for more important things.

Maybe the reason why is as simple as the fact that we’re filling some other yawning internal need ... with food.

Maybe, in this way, our culture tends to encourage overconsumption, then punish us for the results of it, which can lead to more emotional eating.

Maybe maybe maybe.
In the end, the reason WHY matters less than what we do about it. We need a solution that solves the portion distortion problem. This approach must lead to a set of behaviors that constrain consumption.
  • Practice eating small at the bite.
  • Practice taking your time at every meal.
  • Practice mindful eating (not in the car, for example).

When you practice these healthy eating behaviors, you find that the amount you are hungry for drops, and your portions naturally decrease.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Portions Then and Now

Over the past few decades, we have seen portion sizes go through the roof.

It's no surprise that our increasing weight problems have mirrored these increases in portion size.

In the 1970s, for example, around 47% of Americans were overweight or obese; now 66 percent of us are. Likewise, the number of obese people has doubled, from 15% to 30%. percent.

We used to eat burgers, but weren't overweight.
We used to drink coffee, but didn't drink out of a Venti Bucket 'o caramel frappuccino.

Of course, there are many aspects to our weight and health problems, but one of the main aspects are these increasing portion sizes.

These portion comparisons, adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Portion Distortion Quiz, give a visual representation of what sizes used to be compared to what they are today.

3-inch diameter (140 calories)
5 to 6 inches (350 calories or more)

1 oz. bag (150 calories)
1.75 oz. "Grab Bag"(about 260 calories)

2 cups(280 calories withoutsauce or fat)
4 cups. or more(560 calories or more without sauce or fat)

French Fries
2 ounces(210 calories)
5 ounces(540 calories)

Dinner Plate
10-inch diameter
12-1/2 inch diameter

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Parents, Kids, and Weight

This article argues the obvious: our weight and health problems are best solved within families.

According to UK researchers, found benefits for both children and their parents. The children, who were all overweight or obese at the study's start, became less sedentary and managed to lose some weight.

Their parents, meanwhile, reported improvements in their relationships with their children, and in their own mental well-being.

Does this surprise anyone? What surprises me is the need to prove the obvious -- that improving the health of any members of a family will trickle down to all those with relationships with that person.

One thing that was novel about this study was the effect, not just of teaching healthy behaviors, but of showing parents how to set boundaries (on faux food consumption, for example) and enforce those consistently.

When parents set clear guidelines, and did so in the context of positive, constructive support, the kids responded by eating better, being more active and -- no surprise -- lowering BMI.

Those are lessons we all could use a little reinforcement on.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Red Wine Pill: FDA takes a closer look

Good for the FDA. They stepped up and smacked down a Georgia-based supplements manufacturer for making unfounded (read, rediculous) drug claims about one of its resveratrol pills. Read the report here.

The FDA told the company, Natural Biology, that its Red Wine
Resveratrol pills were being marketed as a cure and therefore violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which controls such claims.

For example, this miracle pill was said to fix the following:
· Anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory claims (by inhibiting cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1))
· Improved insulin signaling for those with diabetes
· Improved fat metabolism
· Controls high blood pressure
· Inhibits blood clots
· Reduces risk of breast cancer
· Causes aptosis (death of cancer cells)
· Reduces the risk of prostate cancer
· Works as anti-depressant

The FDA said this elixer vitae blatantly marketed itself as a cancer cure on the company website, including a section called ‘Health News and Research’, where reference was made to scientific papers.

There are so many times when the FDA is forced -- after the fact -- to recall products that have oversold themselves, or turn out to be harmful, that it is good to see them take these misleading claims to task, right up front.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yea tho' I walk through the shadow ...

Temptation is not often easily avoided. Halloween is a perfect example.

Every year, the confection flood gates open, and test the mettle of your dreams of moderation. Just keep in mind that moderation can come in many forms. You may be a "cold turkey" person ... that wonderful and rare individual who can just, you know, STOP!!

If that is you, you can ditch all the candy, and never look back, ye of iron will power.

For others, the moderate solution would be to allow yourself a bit, to curtail comsumption volume slowly over time. In fact, this article from Reuters reports on research in female college students, in which the women exerted greater self-control when they had previously been given a sweet treat -- rather than just pictures or smells of them.

The implication?
"The main message is that banishing food temptations may not be the best way to limit the amount eaten. Tempting foods can actually increase willpower," explained lead author Kelly Geyskens. The findings, according to Geyskens, suggest that trying to remove all tempting foods from your daily life may not be the best weight-loss solution.

Of course, you know who you are, and you know your own tendencies. So, use your judgement as to whether you think you can toss the entire pillowcase of nuget nuggets. If you need a bridge to wean yourself off, go ahead and give yourself that freedom.
SOURCE: Journal of Consumer Research, December 2008.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

'Halloween diarrhea': Medical Mystery Solved

This research looks at the Tricks that certain Treats can cause for us after Halloween.

According to this report, patients with severe diarrhea and flatulence may need to consider a particular "food" source.

The laxative effect of the sorbitol sweetener can be dangerous, particularly if these artificial sweeteners are taken in "Halloweenian proportions".

learn more about the indications, this article gives a solid summary.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And the Children Shall Lead Them ...

According to this research, the message may be sinking in -- in the UK, at least.

Regardless of the location, it gives hope that we are actually having a positive impact on kids, by marketing healthy messasges to them.

The data, looking at UK children from 11-16 years old found significant improvements in kids' attitude toward food: in 2003, only 71% believed a balanced diet was important. By 2007, 80% said so.

However, as children get older, the effect starts to slip somewhat. Older children have more spending power than pre-teens, and more independence from their parents. This is why they are such a key demographic for food manufacturers, with "figures they admire or identify with”, rather than through parents.

Admittedly, increased awareness and education (through positive marketing messages) is only the first of a 10,000 step trek to improve the culture of health for our children. But ... even though there is a long way to go yet ... even though this is only an indicator for change ... it is a movement in the right direction.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I've heard it ... you've heard it. "Don't pass out candy. It's bad for the kids!!"

Then you hear the response: "But they won't eat it. Kids' will HATE the pencils, or toys, or whatever ... just give them the Jolly Ranchers!!"

This conversation happens every year at this time. So Yale University researchers from their Center for Eating and Weight Disorders wanted to see if it was true. If children can choose, will they pick candy over toys, when offered both on Halloween.


In this study, seven households gave trick-or-treaters (all between 3 and 14 years old) a choice between comparably sized toys and candies.

The result? Conventional wisdom takes it on the chin. Children were just as likely to choose toys as candy. There were no gender differences.

The implication of this study is that children will not be disappointed by toy treats on Halloween.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Holiday Gauntlet: From November To New Years

If you have kids, you can expect a pillowcase full of candy to come into your living room and spill across your dining room table.

Even if you don’t have kids, you typically buy too much candy for the goblins and princesses passing by, and will have enough Twizzlers and fireballs to stain your lips violet for weeks.

We'll be talking about how to deal with your newfound candy windfall, and prevent the short-term and long-term problems it can cause.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pace and Portions ... Like I Said

Since beginning this work almost 10 years ago, we have been teaching individuals a very simple principle.

Pace Controls Portions.

This was derived from the behavioral
habits of the Mediterranean people, who do NOT gobble from styrofoam, and do NOT suffer our weight and health problems.

This Medline Article reports on research on 1,122 men and 2,165 women that makes the point. This study revealed that those who ate quickly and until they were full had a higher body mass index (BMI) and total energy intake, and were three times more likely to be overweight than those who didn't eat until they were full and didn't eat quickly.

There are many reasons to control pacing. The most important one is that you learn to love your food again. But if you just need to focus on preventing or reversing Overweight, a lifestyle behavior to begin with is your eating habits that lead to speed eating.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Putting Caffeine in Food?

According to this Food Industry Report, you should expect to see caffeine-spike foods and snacks appearing on your grocer's shelves.

The brand, Morning Spark’s, for example, now produces a caffeine-fortified instant oatmeal in addition to their energy bars.

Even weirder, if that were possible, Dakota Valley Products manufactures natural, healthy seeds infused with caffeine, taurine, lysine, and ginseng. They say this provides twice the amount of energy as an energy drink without the added sugar.

According to one food industry spokesperson, “This trend shows that consumers may be distinguishing between somewhat unhealthy stimulants, which they desire, and high sugar content in drinks, which they do not.”

“Stimulants could be infused into many other foods – breakfast foods may be a particularly good candidate, including energy-giving cereals, breads and spreads.”

Who are they targeting for caffeine-spiked foods?
In 2003, 9 percent of adult respondents to a survey by Mintel had said they consume energy drinks; in 2008, that number had increased to 15 percent.
However, the consumer segment that revealed the most growth was teens. Mintel’s latest survey found that 35 percent of teenagers regularly consume energy drinks, up from 19 percent in 2003.
"Energy drinks have quickly become a daily beverage choice. As more Americans use energy drinks, we've seen a rise in products being launched with innovative new ingredients, claims and consumer targets," according to one industry analysist.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Too Much Caffeine???

Too much caffeine -- and it's likely you don't know just how much caffeine is in each drink -- poses a potential health risk to the teens and kids they are marketed to. This, according to Dr. Roland Griffiths, a caffeine researcher.

He says that while there are no known effects
from caffeine that are particular to children, they are at a higher risk from caffeine intoxication because of their smaller size and generally lower tolerance to the stimulant.

Caffeine intoxication is an overdose of caffeine, with symptoms including restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, rapid heartbeat and stomach problems. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.Energy drinks usually contain caffeine and sugar, or a calorie-free sugar substitute like aspartame.

That's what helps give them their kick. But unlike soda drinks, in which caffeine content is limited by law, and over-the-counter caffeine stimulants like No-Doz, energy drinks suppliers don't have to spell out their caffeine content on the label because those drinks are marketed as nutritional supplements and not food.
The energy drinks market isn't new: Remember Jolt
Cola? That was the precursor to today's energy beverages, making its splash in 1985 with the slogan, "All the sugar and twice the caffeine."Red Bull was introduced in the United States in 1997, and a slew of competitors have since followed.

Now, the energy drinks segment is among the fastest growing in the U.S. soft-drinks market. In 2006, the market for energy drinks was worth $5.4 billion, having grown an average 50 percent a year from 2001 to 2006, according to market research group Mintel.The caffeine content in energy drinks varies widely by brand: Red Bull has 80mg per 8 oz. can. The limit on a can of soda is no more than about 70mg. The 16-oz. cans of Monster and Rock Star have 160mg and Cocaine has 280mg.

By comparison, a cup of instant coffee has about 100 mg and a cup of tea or a can of cola have 45 mg each.Of course, taking caffeine isn't new. Many adults use it regularly, with their morning coffee for example. But children's exposure to the substance is usually limited and their bodies can be unprepared for the large doses they may get through energy drinks. And when people consume energy drinks mixed with alcohol, for example, the risk of adverse effects increases, he said.

The energy drink industry disputes claims that their marketing takes aim at children or encourages possibly dangerous use of their products, and many beverages contain labeling advising maximum daily doses and warnings that the product is not intended for children.

But the writing may be on the wall: After an investigation by 11 state attorneys general, Anheuser-Busch this year agreed in a settlement to stop making alcoholic beverages containing caffeine because of the increased risk they posed to the typically young consumers of the drinks.

Some jurisdictions are looking at restricting access to the beverages. In Canada, doctors in Prince Edward Island are pushing for a ban on the purchase of energy drinks by minors. In neighboring province Nova Scotia, energy drinks are not allowed for sale in the school system, though students can bring them on campus if they buy them outside the school.

Parents should talk to their children about energy drinks as they'd talk to them about alcohol and other drugs, Griffiths advised. As with drinking, energy drinks are not going to go away, so the best tactic is to educate kids about their responsible use and the risks of abuse, he said.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Red Bull. A drug delivery device?

Are stimulant drinks just a vehicle for drug injection?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are raising the issue, and recommending that caffeine be subject to the very same regulations as other drugs. Stimulant drink manufacturers have skirted US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation by selling their products, which contain from 50 mg to up to 505 mg caffeine per bottle, as nutritional supplements.

And even though sodas have a caffeine maximum set at 71 mg per 12 ounces or less, and requires that over-the-counter stimulant medications containing caffeine list their content and include warnings on risks, these caffeine bolus drinks do not.

The doctors simply want labeling. Just spell out how much caffeine there is in the little plastic bottle. The American Beverage Association (ABA), predictably, is against this. And why in the world would they be?

According to the ABA, "mainstream responsible players" who make energy drinks containing more moderate amounts of caffeine should not be lumped together with "novelty companies seeking attention and increased sales based solely on extreme names and caffeine content."

It seems that the very best way to do this is to label the concentration of caffeine in the drink. They should WANT this. Moreover, the only reason to fear labeling is if you are worried that people will realize that you are "a novelty company ... incresing sales based solely on ... caffeine content."

Read the entire article here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Caffeine Intoxication

Write this down: A little is good ... A lot is not.

Surging global demand for high-caffeine energy drinks has led to increased reports of negative health impacts linked to the stimulant’s use in beverages, according to a new review.

Researchers from John Hopkins University suggest that the labelling and aggressive marketing of some energy drinks, particularly towards young males, could lead to increased incidences of caffeine intoxication in consumers.

Read the entire article here.

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