Getting Real About Holiday Weight Gain

December 5, 2016 Edited by  
Filed under Dietary Patterns, Holidays, Weight management

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An often-cited statistic is that the typical American packs on 1-2 pounds over the Holiday Season. While that might not sound like much, if you do this year-in and year-out, on top of other weight gaining factors…things could get heavy!

So why do people tend to gain weight over the holidays? A number of factors could be at play:

  • Stress – the Holidays can be stressful for many reasons, and some people turn to food when emotions run high
  • Greater availability – face it: you don’t see cookies and cakes and candy ever as much as you do around the Holidays, there’s just more bad food constantly in our faces!
  • Less activity – cold weather can be a deterrent for physical activity; if you’re not offsetting your calories with motion, pounds can creep up
  • Alcohol – the Holidays mean celebration, and many celebrations come hand-in-hand with alcohol and their added calories

With parties and gatherings galore, it can seem challenging to keep your health in check. So here are a few tips to help fight the heaviness that sometimes gets associated with the Holidays:

  • Make a plan – exercise earlier in the day if you know you have a party later; bring your lunch to work if dinner means drinks and food with friends…keep in mind that, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  • Never show up hungry – you’ve likely heard this one before, but don’t show up to the festivities when you’re famished. Have a snack ahead of time to ensure you don’t overdo it at the party.
  • Walk it off – the Holidays are a great time to get together with friends and family, so why not get everyone together outside for a brisk walk after dinner? You can spend time together in places other than on your butt!

Whatever your holiday has in store – don’t forget that it doesn’t HAVE to involve weight gain. Stay active and savor small versions of what the season has to offer!



Slim State Showdown: Best and Worst States for Diabetes

December 2, 2016 Edited by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Diabetes, Dietary Patterns

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How slim your state is may also say something about its diabetes rates. According to the American Diabetes Association, across the US in 2012, 29.1 million Americans or roughly 9.3% of the population had diabetes. But not all diabetes is evenly distributed throughout the country.

New research, published as part of the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-being series recently examined the new cases of diabetes across the US.

The states with the lowest incidence of diabetes in the United States (with less than 8% of the population with diabetes) are:

  • Utah
  • Rhode Island
  • Colorado

The states reporting the highest number of people with diabetes (with more than 16% of the population with diabetes) are:

  • Alabama
  • West Virginia

What’s not surprising is that diabetes rates correlate with obesity rates. As weight increases, the body’s ability to use the insulin it produces diminishes. Losing weight causes fat cells to shrink, which in turn improve the body’s ability to utilize insulin and lowers diabetes risk.

For more information about diabetes and minimizing risk, visit the American Diabetes Association. And for some cool interactive tools that track diabetes on different devices, check out the US Diabetes Surveillance System.



Parental Produce Sneak Attack?

October 25, 2016 Edited by  
Filed under Child nutrition, Consumer awareness

An interesting article in today’s New York Times questioned whether or not the food industry should sneak fruits and vegetable into kids foods.

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Oh Yes Foods, a California company recently debuted a pizza that contains 12 different types of dehydrated fruits and vegetables: kale, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, green peppers, onion, butternut squash, artichoke, papaya and guava. One serving of this pizza boasts over 5 servings of fruits and vegetables – certainly more than most kids eat in a day…but in pizza?

What kind of message is this sending to kids? To be fair – most packaged and processed kids foods are laden with sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats. But to take a traditionally unhealthy food like pizza and then pack it full of fruits and vegetables, is that the right approach?

The Oh Yes Foods founders are both physicians and claimed they were inspired by an overly picky child who wouldn’t touch traditional forms of fruits or vegetables. But were they aware that it can take more than 15 times of introducing a new food to a kid before he or she accepts it?

Child nutrition experts caution against hiding or sneaking healthy foods into unhealthy packages like pizza and brownies. Oftentimes the added ingredients needed to “mask” the flavor of foods that don’t naturally belong there can do more harm than good.

If your kid doesn’t like fruits and veggies – don’t despair. Here are a few simple tips for boosting nutrition in a more natural way before resorting to powered up pizza!

  • Get down with dips – kids LOVE to dip. Try yogurt-based dressings for dipping fruit and veggie slices
  • Fortify your favorite foods – got a kid who loves pasta? Why not add cooked zucchini and carrots to the sauce?
  • Relentlessly return to less-than-favorite foods – don’t forget some kids may need to see and try a certain food over and over and over before they accept it. Mix up your mode of delivery, add additional flavors and sauces, try fixing it a different way – but don’t give up after one shot!


Early Introduction of Eggs & Peanuts May Reduce Allergy

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For years the medical community maintained that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods might help prevent food allergy. But a new body of literature indicates that the opposite might actually be true: early introduction (at less than one year of life) might actually be protective against later food allergy.

A meta-analysis published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at 146 previously conducted studies that analyzed over 200,000 children. The researchers found that compared to later introduction of the respective foods:

  • Introduction of peanuts between 4-11 months resulted in a 30% reduced risk of peanut allergy
  • Introduction of eggs between 4-6 months resulted in a 70% reduced risk of egg allergy

Of course some precautions still need to be taken:

  • Parents and caregivers of a baby who already has a food allergy or food-related eczema should take additional precautions
  • Parents and caregivers of a baby who is at high risk for developing food allergy (usually because of established food allergy in other family members) should seek additional advice from their primary caregiver

For more information on food allergy visit the Food Allergy Resource and Education (FARE) website.



Holiday Weight Gain: A Worldly Problem

September 24, 2016 Edited by  
Filed under Holidays, Obesity

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Fall is upon us and the holidays are just around the corner. With the season of overeating just on the horizon, it bears mentioning that the typical American gains about a pound from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. That might not sound like much, but year in and year out, that pound adds up and can be a significant contributor to overweigh and obesity.

If it’s any consolation, N. Americans are not alone. In a letter posted in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, researchers posited that weight gain over the holidays is a universal problem. Whether its Thanksgiving in the US, Christmas in Germany or Golden Week in Japan, weight gain was almost an inevitability.

While the authors pointed out that most people lose about half of that holiday weight gain in the first few weeks of the New Year…half is not all…and half may still be a problem if you habitually put on weight in the holidays.

Here are a few tips to put in the back of your mind as we roll into holiday party season:

  • Don’t go to a party hungry – snack before so you don’t show up famished
  • Bring a healthy dish to share – of course ask the host ahead but why not contribute something you know you can safely eat?
  • Back your booze up with water – don’t guzzle high calorie cocktails, slow your roll with a big glass of water in between drinks
  • Relocate away from the food – out of sight, out of mind, don’t post up too close to the food if you default to grazing when you’re not really hungry


Diet and Maternal Death Rate

August 11, 2016 Edited by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Dietary Patterns, Obesity

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When it comes to global statistics, there are many metrics where the US shines. Our life expectancy is exceptional, literacy rates are laudable and relatively few people die from communicable disease.

But the US maternal death rate is on the rise, and that’s a concern when you consider it is occurring in the wealthiest nation in the world.

A new analysis published in the August 8 online edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that between 2000-2014, the nation’s maternal death rate rose by almost 27%. In 2000, 19 women for every 100,000 live births died during or within 42 days following pregnancy. By 2014, this number increased to 24 deaths in every 100,000 live births.

For comparison, with the 2014 numbers, the US ranks 30th on a list of 31 countries who report this type of data to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Mexico is 31st.

Researchers didn’t speculate on the cause for the increase in this particular analysis. But the increasing age of women at time of childbirth coupled with higher rates of obesity and co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and heart disease certainly doesn’t help.

Health professionals agree that obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight is important prior to conception. Consuming a well-balanced diet, a daily prenatal vitamin and staying physically active within individual limits is key to a healthy pregnancy. Avoiding harmful agents such as tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs are also imperative.

For more information about having a healthy pregnancy, check out this page from healthfinder.gov



Bugs for Breakfast?

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Bugs probably aren’t big when it comes to your favorite foods. While the typical Western diet typically eschews anything bug-related in our diet, many parts of the world actually embrace eating insects.

Entomophagy is the name given to the practice of eating insects. And it’s a common occurrence in other cultures. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people and more than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food.

Now why would anyone want to eat bugs? Well for one, they are a great source of protein in areas where other animal products are not as readily available. Bugs contain other micronutrients and because they themselves are lean, bugs are low in fat and saturated fat.

Insects have a “high feed conversion efficiency” meaning they require relatively little feed compared to their body weight. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and of course they take up less land than the grazing animals we typically eat.

In 2013 the FAO published Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. The authors state that, “insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science to improve human food security worldwide.”

The most commonly consumed insects are:

  • Beetles (31%)
  • Caterpillars (18%)
  • Bees, wasps and ants (14%)

Other bugs that become food include grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, termites, dragonflies and flies.

In the US, this niche-market is gaining steam. You can buy cricket-flour infused energy bars (in 3 flavors!) from Chapul. Or, for an extra dollar, add insect protein to your Mama Bird’s Granola order.

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge on eating bugs, maybe a beautiful book of eating insects is more for you. Noted food and photojournalists Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio published Man Eating Bugs: the art and science of eating insects – a conversation starter for any coffee table collection!

Regardless of your inklings about insects, don’t count them out as a valuable source of affordable nutrients, that may be a beneficial food shift for our planet.



Eating a la Mediterranean? No need to hold the fat!

July 19, 2016 Edited by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Dietary Patterns, Fat

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A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found that a healthy diet is one that can contain a lot of fat.

This large systematic review looked at the Mediterranean diet and selected adherents who had no restrictions on their fat intake. It turns out that an eating pattern of this type can reduce risk for breast cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease when compared to other diets.

There’s no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a Mediterranean diet. The diet is plant-forward with minimal amounts of animal foods, an emphasis on fish, whole foods, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and avocados. There is moderate amount of red wine and importance placed on enjoying foods with others.

For more information about the Mediterranean diet and its potential health benefits, check out the Oldways Mediterranean Diet page available here.



Raw Cookie Dough? Don’t Do It

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Are you a raw cookie dough fan? Maybe the temptation to treat yourself on what will eventually become a cookie conjures up memories of your mom warning you not to. Well guess what? Mom was right. Raw cookie dough is a no go, and it’s not why you think it is.

Most people assume that the raw cookie dough danger stems from its raw egg ingredients that could harbor Salmonella. And while it’s true that raw or undercooked eggs can house this pathogen, it’s actually the flour that may be doing more harm.

Flour comes from grain, and grains are not treated to kill bacteria prior to their inclusion in foods. Grazing animals who relieve themselves on certain grain crop could have their waste product eventually worked into your food supply.

Normally, a “kill step” like baking or broiling would kill potentially harmful pathogens – but you are avoiding that step if and when you consume raw cookie dough.

The US Food and Drug Administration reports that dozens of people have reported becoming ill from a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121 that can be traced back to raw flour consumption.

So when it comes to raw cookie dough – be sure to steer clear.

In addition to ditching raw cookie dough, the FDA also recommends that consumers avoid eating raw cake batter, cake mix or any other raw baked good batter.

For more FDA food safety information, click here.

 



Potatoes: Friend or Foe?

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If you’re trying to eat right, you almost never go wrong with eating more fruits and vegetables.

But what’s the deal with potatoes? They’re a starchy vegetable, with more calories and a higher glycemic index than most of their vegetable counterparts. Potatoes often get a bad rap, but don’t spurn your spuds just yet…

Potatoes on Parade

First, some context. Potatoes are in the spotlight this week due to a study published in the British Medical Journal that found potato eaters have higher rates of hypertension (high blood pressure).

The study looked at over 187,000 subjects from 3 US cohort studies and found that, “higher intake of baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes and French fries was independently and prospectively associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension…”

So are potatoes to be passed off as a hypertension causing tuber? Not so fast.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, more than 50 percent of potatoes sold in the US are to processors who turn them into things like hash browns, processed mashed potatoes and French fries. We’re not talking healthy serving sizes of roasted pure potato here. These are convenience foods with significant amounts of added fat…and salt.

And that’s where the hypertension piece comes in – the most processed food you eat, the more sodium you consume, and the higher your risk of blood pressure can be.

Potassium and Blood Pressure

Potatoes on their own actually have the potential to LOWER blood pressure. That’s because they contain potassium, an essential mineral that works to reduce elevated blood pressure. Potassium is found in most fruits and vegetables (albeit in higher quantities in potatoes, bananas, and tomatoes). And it’s these same foods – fruits and vegetables – that are also naturally low in sodium. The combination of low sodium and high potassium intake from fruit and vegetables can work to help lower your blood pressure.

The kicker is what you do with foods like potatoes that really matter. If you are more likely to eat your potatoes as French fries, of course your risk of high blood pressure will go up. Even baked and boiled potatoes were associated with higher BP risk….but keep in mind there’s a greater than 50 percent chance those potatoes were processed with added fat and salt.

At the end of the day, the more whole, intact foods you can eat, the better for your health. Stay away from foods that come in packages and keep your added salt and fat to a minimum. And when it comes to picking potatoes, steer clear of the chips, fries and other processed versions.