Friday, March 27, 2009

Location, Location, Location

It turns out that the three most important aspects of purchasing a new home, can also impact your weight!

This article in the NYTimes indicates that ninth graders whose schools are within a block of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than students whose schools are a quarter of a mile or more away.

The study is from the national Bureau of Economic Research, and just wanted to see whether close geographic proximity to fast food plays a causal role in obesity.

To do this, they followed a large population of ninth grade kids for almost a decade. They were able to see the effect of the fast food restaurants by checking the kids in the years before and after a new fast food outlet opened nearby.

They controlled for income, education and race, and still found that obesity rates were 5% higher for the ninth graders whose schools were within one-tenth of a mile of a pizza, burger or other popular fast-food outlet. This was compared with students at schools farther away from the fast-food stores.

“I think we got as close to proving causation as any other study has, and probably as close as is feasible with the existing data,” said Enrico Moretti, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the paper’s authors.

The other factor here, however, is the mysterious X factor called ... the parent. My guess is that the degree of parental involvement at home, in the kitchen, around the family table, will also impact these numbers.

The authors did not mention these issues. I know they are hard to quantify scientifically, but they are also incredibly important in the development of healthy eating behaviors, and choices.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Mediterranean Makeover: Their diet; our culture; preventing diabetes anyway

The logic is straightforward. We know that preventing diabetes is better than fighting the disease after it has developed. We also know that the Mediterranean diet can prevent the development of diabetes in the first place. Thus, in theory, we should be able to apply this approach to prevent the development of the disease.

It sounds easy enough, but the solution is not so simple. How, for example, does one become Greek, or French, or Spanish, or Italian, if you live on this side of the Atlantic? Yes, they are healthy. And, yes, the closer you adhere to their diet, the less likely you are to develop diabetes. But we are not them, nor do have their food, their relaxed lifestyle, or their cultural predisposition toward daily life activity.

So how do we take the Mediterranean diet out of the Mediterranean, and still make it work for us? The key is, just as they do in their region, to relax a bit. Don’t try to force fit every iota of their food choices and behavioral habits into our lives. More specifically, don’t try to rigidly mirror the fats, carbs, and proteins of their diets. They aren’t micromanaging molecules, and you shouldn’t either.

The alternative is to try a bit softer. Emulate the principles of the Mediterranean diet rather than the exhaustive details. So what are those general rules?

Eat food. If it ain’t food, don’t eat it. All healthy cultures eat food, and avoid synthetics. Whether they’re eating brie on baguettes, pasta al pomodoro, or a standard Greek salad, everything they do eat is a real food – no synthetics, no hydrogenated oils, and no dyes. Just food.

Love your food … really. To love your food, you need to eat small by the bite. Have you ever watched Italians eat? No one is gobbling their burrito in the car at the red light, no one orders massive quantities of food, or feels that 39 cents justifies an extra pound of French fries. As importantly, if you love your food, you need to take your time. You have to take 2 hours to eat your lunch, but at least take 30 minutes to enjoy it.

When you eat small and take your time, not only do you enjoy it more, but you give your brain a chance to register that you are full before you overeat. Thus, you control portions; thus you control calories; thus you control your weight. And all you have done is learned to love your food again.

The Mediterranean diet clearly helps prevent the onset of diabetes for those living in the Mediterranean region. To get those results on our continent, we can’t teleport to and from the Portofino piazza, but we can apply the general rules that make their successful lifestyle work.

Relax. Eat food. Love your food again. These basic elements can be plugged into our lifestyle, so that we can reverse the trends, eat healthfully, and prevent diabetes before it ever starts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lower Blood Pressure with Peas?

Certain proteins found in the yellow garden pea appear to help lower blood pressure and delay, control or even prevent the onset of chronic kidney disease, at least in rats.
Yellow peas? Really? Yellow peas, as in ... plain old yellow peas?

The answer is yes, and it reinforces an interesting principle, that the healthiest foods tend to be the pedestrian foods (those that are common, everyday, and cheap by the way).
This article's author, Dr. Aluko at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, has a great take on this as well.

"What we seem to have here is sort of a natural approach to treating this disease, as opposed to the normal pharmacological approach. We're talking about an edible product, not a drug, which can help to reduce blood pressure and, at the same time, reduce the severely negative impact of kidney disease."

After purifying a mix of yellow
garden pea proteins, the researchers spent eight weeks feeding it to rats that had kidney disease. They found that blood pressure dropped 20 percent, compared with the blood pressure of untreated rats. They also found that kidney function improved by upwards of 30 percent.

Of course, there is no magic food that will turn out to the be Silver Bullet of high blood pressure, or heart disease, or obesity. But we find it so surprising ... that our culture finds it so surprising ... that solutions to our health problems lie in natural sources.

Eat Food.

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