Thursday, July 17, 2008

When you need a little decadence

Wine, chocolate, and cheese are typically viewed as the dietary sins that you absolutely must stay away from if you want to control those growing belly bulges and saddle bags. The saturated fat, the cocoa butter, the empty alcohol calories! If we can agree on anything (the riff goes), it’s that these indulgences must be avoided altogether, or perhaps only doled out as food rewards for “being good”.

But this tired myopic advice completely loses its clarity as soon as you look at the eating behaviors of countries with low obesity rates, such as France. Even though they break all our eating rules (no low fat or low carb foods, they eat late at night, have long meals, eat the chocolate, cheese, and drink the wine), the International Obesity Task Force puts the current French obesity rate at 11.3 percent – it’s now over 30% for the US population. In fact, these famously thin people not only don’t avoid decadent foods that make you moan for more, they encourage you to have them every day!

The French eat for the sheer sensual pleasure, and chocolate makes the point perfectly. What’s more luscious than a rich melt-in-your-mouth piece of dark chocolate? But this decadence translated directly into a serious health boon (cocoa in an antioxidant, anti-platelet, increases your good cholesterol, and prevents the DNA damage that can lead to cancer formation). Even better, its natural chemicals stimulate the regions of your brain that light up when you’re in love … how can you go wrong? Except, perhaps, by listening to the Puritanical advice of people who want to convince you that this most perfect food is actually too sinful to be good for you.

Don’t listen to them. They’re just jealous.

And it’s not just the chocolate they wish they could enjoy with you. Along with the daily French meal comes the wine. Not a big gulp vat with a straw in it, just enough to enhance the menu. This wine, if taken at only 1-2 glasses per day, provides yet another trove of health benefits for your heart and even for cancer prevention – like the phenolic resveretrol and polyphenols that can increase your HDL and prevent platelet accumulation in your arteries. The World Health Organization’s MONICA project – which assessed the global risk of heart disease – showed that France was not only 3 times less likely to have heart disease than US citizens, but they had the lowest cardiac death rate in all of Europe.

They must be doing something right.

By meal’s end, the French always have cheese. As pointed out by 19th century French food writer Brillat-Savarin, “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” And these delicious dairy delights come out in subtle shades of texture, pungency, richness and not a single one of them are low in total or saturated fat. From the light Compte to the complexity of the layered Morbier and the rich heft of the mottled Reblochon, the pleasure is that it takes so long to get to know them all – there are more cheeses than there are days of the year.

The point to remember about consuming rich foods like cheese is that thin people with very low heart disease eat them every day. Maybe the scientific explanation behind it comes down to the mineral calcium found in dairy products, which we now know is involved in weight control – as found repeatedly by Dr. Michael Zemel and his colleagues. Or maybe it’s because the cholesterol hypothesis is struggling (A full one half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol. One half. From a predictive standpoint, that’s a coin flip.).

Be certain that research science will eventually figure out the reason the French can eat wonderful dairy products and still be thin and healthy. But, between then and now, you don’t have to wait for them to tell you WHY it’s true. You can take advantage of the French healthy eating habits right now!

Just do what they do, and you’ll get their results.

The French love all their wonderful bits of decadence at the table without guilt, and without consequence for their weight or health. Meanwhile we still label chocolate and cheese as the dietary Darth Vaders of the weight loss universe. But ironically, it’s actually because the French eat these wonderful foods that they have the success they do! And this changes wine, chocolate, and cheese from a decadence, to a prudent part of any healthy diet.

Wine, chocolate, and cheese are eaten by thin healthy French people every day.
If they can do that, you can too.

The reason they can do this comes down to moderation and sensible eating.

Find out more about Dr. Will Clower and the French diet on his website:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Got Java?

The French and Mediterranean people drink coffee every day, and the evidence is that we should too. Despite the controversy that swirls around it, the research data show that this common morning eye-opener is very healthy for you.

The catch? Coffee is just like all other foods and drinks, a little is very health for you, but overconsumption makes that very same substance bad for you. The health, or ill health, of this drink is not a function of the coffee or tea itself. It comes down to whether you use it or abuse it.

But first, let’s clear out the old myths. Although caffeine was traditionally associated with cancer, according to Harvard’s Walter Willett, “during almost 2 million person-years of follow-up ... consumption of caffeinated coffee or tea with caffeine or caffeine intake was not associated with the incidence of colon or rectal cancer.”

Here’s the most recent concern you might have heard brewing. If you have a cup of coffee, you’ll stimulate cortisol production that will cause you to develop excess belly fat, memory problems, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, and you’ll have a depressed immune system to boot. However, one Canadian research group showed that for people who drink 1-3 cups per day, there’s actually no detectable increase in cortisol production.

Maybe the confusion arises because of how each research team did their studies. For example, a 2002 study in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that you could get a rise in cortisol by taking a 500mg pill of caffeine. In a similar study, researchers actually injected caffeine intravenously into experimental animals, and then showed spikes in cortisol and also in their anxiety levels.

Caffeine pills? Intravenous injection in lab animals? The real-world relevance here is strained, to say the least – especially when there is so much evidence that coffee and tea consumption of 1-2 cups per day has terrific health benefits. Just try to refrain from popping caffeine pills and injecting it straight into your veins, and you’ll get all the health benefits without the potential harmful consequences.

Keep it small and you keep it healthy.

But what’s the limit? How much is too much?

Scientists at Athens University in Greece showed that once you drink about 500 milliliters per day of coffee (1/2 liter), you really begin to produce health problems. “We have shown that caffeine acutely increases aortic stiffness and wave reflections,” report the researchers in the June 2005 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (Vol. 81, No. 6, 1307-1312). "Which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease," they conclude.

This accords with a similar study showing that about 500 ml per day is the approximate threshold at which cortisol can be produced in your body.

And “up to 3 cups per day” seems to be the upper limit. After analyzing data on 126,000 people over 18 years, Harvard researchers have found that 1-3 cups of coffee per day reduces the risk of diabetes by 54% in men, and 30% in women. This must be due to the fact that coffee improves your insulin sensitivity.

In fact, in a 2004 study of more than 900 healthy elderly Swedish adults who drank up to 3 cups of coffee daily, researchers found increased insulin sensitivity of 0.16 units for each cup of coffee consumed. This is confirmed by two studies, one in Finland and another in New York, showing an inverse relationship between diabetes and coffee consumption (as one goes up, the other goes down).

Other benefits? Regular coffee consumption can reduce your likelihood of getting Parkinson’s disease by 80%, of getting colon cancer by 25%, liver cirrhosis by 80%, and liver cancer by 30%.

So go ahead and have a little cup (decaf is just fine) to start your day and finish your lunch. It’s not only good for you, it’s pleasant too!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Living and Dieting in the Post-Atkins World

It’s the dietary irony of our age. Low carb theory has told us that we should avoid certain foods because they cause a rapid insulin spike, followed by a consequent evacuation of glucose from your blood – known to carb eaters as the sugar blues. Even though you may start out with a quick boost of energy, it rapidly gives way to hunger and tiredness.

But the low carb revolution itself has ironically followed this same path. Its initial giddy spike of adherents and massive distribution of food products has peaked and crashed, most notably, with Monday’s Chapter 11 announcement by Atkins Nutritionals Inc. What started as a rush of energy and enthusiasm has ended with dieters paradoxically tired of fad diets and hungry for something else.

With the passing of the low carb theory, which swept out the low fat theory, maybe this provides a rare opportunity to step into a common sense position between them. After all, low fat diets left people fleeing from natural foods like butter, eggs, and even healthy nuts in exchange for food products with hydrogenated oils to replace the butter, and all manner of additive sugars to make them taste good.

The polar opposite of this approach, its dietary anti-matter, was the low carb theory that encouraged the consumption of eggs, cheese, butter – the works! – at the expense of breads, potatoes, and even fruits and veggies that happened to be high in carbohydrates.

Between these two opposing theories must be a sane middle ground, where we don’t have to give up fruits and vegetables for the carbs, nor healthy oils for the fats. If so, this post-Atkins dietary world may look nothing like the one we’re used to. Instead of a brand new diet theory to melt away your midriff, maybe we need to fly under that radar and do something a little more low tech, a little less miraculous, and a little more immediately effective.

This would entail using an observational, rather than a theoretical model to guide us. Here’s how this would work. Look at those people in the world who are thin and healthy, and use their food choices and eating habits as a general guide. After all, they must be doing something right. The only assumption you have to bear with this approach is this: if you do what they do, you will get their results. That’s a theory I can live with.

The French, for example, have an obesity rate now at 11.3 percent according to the International Obesity Task Force, three times fewer incidents of heart attacks, and they live longer than we do, men and women.

And it’s so interesting how both low carb and low fat groups claim affinity with the Mediterranean diet. Low carb adherents point to the eggs used in their cream sauces (although ignoring their daily white bread baguettes and pastries). Low fat supporters laud their famously fresh selection of fruits and vegetables (without mentioning the full fat cheese they complete most every meal with).

The middle ground then, between low fat and low carb approaches, would consist of a balance of healthy carbs with healthy fats in a way similar to the way the thin Mediterranean people eat. The best part is that their method already works, and has worked for the past few centuries. It’s not a theory, it’s a practice.

Moreover, and you and I can already see what they’re eating and eat that. We can already see how they’re eating and eat that way, and no one needs a Ph.D. in biochemistry to know what to do with their fork. In so adopting their cultural habits, we would get their low weight, healthy hearts, and longer lives as well.

Perhaps the best of all post-Atkins dietary worlds would include just this kind of non-theory that focuses on balance, healthy whole foods, and proven observational approach to address our persistent dietary dilemmas.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer’s New Miracle Drug!!

This summer, an incredible new drug has burst onto the market, representing a true miracle of modern nutrition science. Reports across a broad array of research journals confirm this wonder pill's absolutely stunning health benefits with only minimal, quite acceptable, side effects.

Among its lengthy list of benefits, it slows aging. Experiments reported in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience have shown decreases in the common age-related declines in cognitive function. This is thought to occur because the incredible molecules packed into this single capsule defeat the cell damaging, DNA blasting "free radicals," by providing the richest source of anti-oxidants known.

In fact, this chemical cocktail scored better than 40 fruits and vegetables in a recent study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, which measured the ability of molecules to absorb these dangerous oxygen radicals.

As if feeling younger weren't enough, biochemistry studies by the Agricultural Research Service revealed that this single pill actually decreases the growth of cervical and breast cancer cells! Bolstering its dramatic health qualities, its producer has also added resveratrol, a potent anti-cancer agent. Epidemiologic and clinical studies consistently show that resveratrol may reduced cardiovascular disease, lower total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.

This one incredible drug is also an anti-platelet and anti-ischemic that improves the blood flow. Researchers speculate that this may occur in part through its unique ability, recently reported in the Journal of Nutrition, to increase the flexibility of your arteries.

Moreover, European research teams have shown how it improves night vision, and the New England Journal of Medicine reported that it even inhibits the bacteria that cause bladder infections! In addition to its impressively packed cache of antioxidants, anthocyanosides, bacterial inhibitors, vitamins A and C, carotenoids, and folic acid, there's even dietary fiber added.

With such a stockpile of chemicals loaded into a single pill, one might raise concerns of unwanted chemical cross-reactivity. But no evidence has been produced to suggest that this is the case. The consumer has even more reason to cheer at its extraordinarily low price -- a single dose costing mere pennies. And, in a truly novel innovation in drug delivery technology, the entire package comes with a pleasant sweetened taste, amply moistened and chewable to be safe for children.

Given these astounding results, the FDA has no hesitations in allowing this wonder drug access to mass consumption, and it's now available over the counter, without a prescription, in the US and Canada.

You may even recognize its generic brand name: The Blueberry. Ask your doctor for details.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Road Food

Summer’s in full swing now and we’ll all be out on the road at some point soon. You may be used to it if you travel for your job but, for most people, living in and out of hotels and eating away from home for every meal can kick you right out of your normal routine.

Gas station food is horrible and fast food chains are little better. Given this enormous opportunity to eat bad, how can you still be healthy when you’re traveling? Should you just confine yourself to a kitchen bubble and only eat the foods your prepare there? Of course not!

Eating food on the road doesn’t have to be a descent into trans fat fast foods. You really can eat well with these easy techniques that help you make the right choices.


I often wonder when people from other countries are served our distorted portions, if think they’ve mistakenly asked for the “family style option”.

The real problem on the road is that you have no home to go back to, and so you can feel like you need to eat it all to make it worth the money.

A great strategy to deal with the road-food portion control issue is to bring a travel cooler with you.

When your entrée is served estimate the amount you would normally have for a lunch portion, set that into your cooler, and then go on with your meal.

Then you place the container in your car until you are able transfer it to the refrigerator at the hotel you are staying. Your next meal is ready — and already paid for!

But some people know they’ll graze it away between meals because it’s in their room or car. If this is you, ask the waiters to serve the lunch portion for dinner. I’ve known people who order the child’s plate for themselves because that’s all they really wanted.

And always make it a habit to leave what you could not finish on the plate.

Here’s the rule: Waste it or waist it.


When you do pull in somewhere to eat, choose restaurants that use primarily whole foods and prepare their food onsite. Shoot for options that you think will have PATH-friendly foods.

It can be so tempting, but limit the fast food you eat (limit them to zero if possible).

If you do need a quick lunch, grocery stores are wonderful for this.

For example, I might go into a store and buy an avocado, some freshly baked bread, some cheese and a tomato. Then I can find a nice spot, preferably outside, to sit and make a sandwich.

Along with the sandwich you can get any of their summer fruits. Grapes are a perfect to-go food for the car, as are apples.

Don’t forget to pack a basic utensils (if you’re flying make sure to check-in your pocketknife so you’re not mugged at the metal detector). That way, every time I grab something at the grocery store I’m ready to eat.

You could even bring a spice mixture with you from home so you’re ready to jazz up anything!

Here’s a perfect lunch idea. First scope out a picnic table for your lunch, go into the store and buy a can of tuna in water, mix it up with your spices, top it with tomato and cheese, and you are so ready to eat.

Finish your meal with a good chocolate or a nice coffee. And again all these foods can be purchased right at the grocery store.

You can also find salad bars, nuts, and dried fruit in most grocery stores.

Don’t forget to bring baggies with you to store leftovers This definitely helps control portion sizes.

If you’re staying in an area for a long period of time, book a room with a kitchenette. This allows you to you prepare at least some your meals in-house. At the very least, it allows you to eat a decent breakfast, and bring back restaurant leftovers for easy quick lunches when you need them.

Car Trips

If you’re traveling with the family on an extended road trip, you’re going to be in the car for quite some time. In this case, make sure to plan your meals so you’re not tempted to stop for the quickie meal deal along the way.

Your alternative, if you do need to eat on the road, is a restaurant like Cracker Barrel. They have PATH-friendly, normal foods like beans, fish, corn, potatoes, and the like. (Their portions are still large, so split the plate whenever you can, or get appetizers for the table to share.)

Bagel shops and bakeries like Panera that make their products fresh each day are also good. Just make sure the bagels are not enormous. If they are just split them among the kids.

Another great idea is to have a cooler packed and picnics planned. This gets you out of the car and into the open summer air. Rest stops have them, and you can stretch your legs or play Frisbee with the kids, and then enjoy a nice picnic lunch.

If you will be stopping at a hotel, try to get one with a pool.

The Good Side

You always hear how horrid it is to eat on the road (and it really is!), but don’t forget that there’s a good side too.

For example, if you’re traveling to Louisiana, sample the real jambalaya or crawfish etouffee. Do it! Try the Texas barbeque, Maine lobster, or San Francisco sour dough.

When you eat in control, of course, you can have the most delicious regional foods we have to offer, and it won’t harm your weight or health.

Yes, eat out. But also focus on quality over quantity. Don’t think “I’m on vacation so I’m going to blow it out and eat a cow”. Rather, your vacation splurge should be “I’m on vacation so I’m going to blow it out and order the most incredible dish I can find and make the moaning last as long as possible!”

The key is to think of your meal as “serial tasting”, not as a free-for-all eating frenzy. Focus on the flavor, not the pounds per dollar plopped on your plate.

When you’re on vacation, more than any other time, you finally have the chance to sit and relax at your meal. Don’t waist this chance to enjoy it.

Remember you signed up for some rest and relaxation!!

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