Eating Healthy is Getting Harder

May 2nd, 2016 No comments »

It’s getting harder to know what it means to eat ‘healthy’. That mantra of the nutrition community is becoming more difficult to put into practice.

The New York Times is reporting that old bad foods are back while questions have been raised about a key study questioning the harmful effects of saturated fats.

National Over-Feeding Months

November 27th, 2015 No comments »

It often seems as if the period from Labor Day in September through Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December, New Year in January, Valentine’s Day and the football playoffs in February are  designed to promote overeating. It is a wonder we all are not obese. So amid the food celebration and token diet advice, it’s nice to have some solid, research-based exposition of  the myths surrounding weight loss and weight gain. We have one, thanks to Kevin Hall, Ph.D., a distinguished researcher at the National Institutes of Health. (For coverage of Dr. Hall’s recent work, click here.)

Swedish Children Most Mediterranean

June 20th, 2014 No comments »

You heard that right! Dr. Gianluca Tognon of the University of Gothenburg and colleagues have found that, across 8 countries, children who were highly adherent to the Mediterranean were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who were lease adherent. Data were based on surveys of parents.  Sweden and Italy ranked the highest while Cyprus was the lowest ranked country.

The irony is that the Eastern Mediterranean Region has one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world, according to the World Health Organization.


4 in 10 Americans use calorie info on menus

August 22nd, 2013 No comments »

UPI reports that, according to a Gallup survey,  4 in 10 Americans report using calorie information on menus. While some commentators say this is a low figure, actually it is pretty much in line with other surveys showing about half of adult Americans are dieting at any time.


The Obesity Paradox

October 20th, 2012 No comments »

The Obesity Paradox refers to the phenomenon that obesity appears to be protective after an initial heart attack. (Some researchers believe that the inaccuracies in the BMI are responsible for the perceived differences PubMed: Body Composition and survival in stable coronary heart disease.)  Now comes a study from W. Doehner and colleagues at the Center for Stroke Research in Berlin, Germany. They found that the risk of mortality from a stroke or TIA was lower in overweight patients and lowest in obese patients compared to patients with a normal BMI. Obese patients had a lower risk of death or institutional care, death or high dependency, and death or recurrent stroke. Underweight patients had consistently the highest risks for all endpoints. PubMed: Overweight and obesity are associated with improved survival

The study from Germany did not evaluate consumption of dark chocolate. An UK study found consuming 20 grams of dark chocolate a day decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure. PubMed: Differential effect of polyphenol-rick dark chocolate on biomarkers (Editor’s note: We need more studies like this!)


How many calories should I eat?

September 17th, 2012 1 comment »

“Eat less,” we are told,” to lose weight.” But less than what? Well, I guess than what we are eating now. But we don’t necessarily overeat every day. And, if we eat too little, we get powerful sensations of hunger which we satisfy with food. So, how many calories should we be eating? The minimum amount is what our bodies need to function. This is called the resting metabolic rate (RMR) or the basal metabolic rate (BMR). It can be measured quite precisely in the laboratory but most dieters won’t have that option. For many years, algorithms have been developed and refined to make the determination easier. Quite a few are available on the Internet. While writing up a new research paper on the importance of the RMR, I decided to check out the web calculators. I googled “how many calories should I eat” and got a number of health-diet related websites. Some are quite well known, others less so. Most asked for the same information: Gender, age, weight and levels of physical activity. What I got back was quite stunning.

The sites that came up first in the Google search, about 10, gave me a range of RMR from a low of 1973 to a high of 2851.

Then I looked at some highly regarded health care associations. Here, I really had to search hard, often going to “resting metabolic rate calculator” as the search term. The American Heart Association’s calculator gave me a RMR of 3430, the American Diabetes Association 2400. And the winner is… the American Cancer Society gave me a whopping 4696 to maintain my current weight.

Most federal government sites on obesity, healthy eating did not have a calculator. Most referred me to the ChooseMyPlate site of the Department of Agriculture ( This site is the consumer version of the Dietary Guidelines for All Americans. After 5 clicks or so, I found the calculator which gave 2400 as my base calorie intake figure.

Who is right? Who knows? The range in this un-scientific study is 2,723…enough for another adult person entirely. Remember, if one eats just 10 calories a day over their RMR, they will gain a pound in one year; ten pounds in a decade. So the margin of error is very small to begin with. The point is this: One’s basal metabolic rate is a key number for any weight loss effort. None of these sites indicated that their calculators were estimates or that the numbers could vary. Is it any wonder that some many people fail in weight management when the starting number is so open to error?


Are Healthy Foods More Expensive? Will cutting out bad foods result in weight loss?

May 29th, 2012 2 comments »

A common perception is that “healthy foods” are more expensive than less healthy foods. Researchers from the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service looked at three different ways to compare costs. One method was to look at the price per calorie, another to examine price per edible grams and the third, to look at the price per average portion size. They also looked at the price of meeting the Federal dietary recommendations for each food group.

Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazao found that healthy foods were cheaper than less healthy foods, except for the price per calorie. Foods low in calories, like fruits and vegetables, appear to have a higher price when measured on a per calorie basis. When measured on the basis of edible weight or average portion size, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium. USDA ERS: Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?

But what does this mean for your diet? If you consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables and other low calorie foods, you still need calories to meet your minimum daily intake requirements. So, if the “bad foods” are more expensive, that is a good reason to drop them from your diet? Well, yes if you want to save some money.  But what if you are trying to lose weight? Earlier studies have suggested that reducing variety in non-nutrient dense, energy-dense food groups (think ice cream, potato chips, cookies, and candies) may result in lower overall energy intake and thus improve weight loss and weight management. The mechanism is thought to be ‘hedonics’, that the more boring the food is the less it is consumed.

In a clinical trial, Rena Wing and colleagues 200 adults were randomly assigned to either a lifestyle or lifestyle plus limited variety diet. Both groups received 48 group sessions over an 18-month period, covering cognitive behavioral intervention, a diet prescription, and a physical activity prescription.

The lifestyle + limited variety group was limited to 2 self-selected non-nutrient dense energy dense foods including baked goods, granola snack bars, high-fat crackers, frozen dairy-based deserts, frozen yogurt, ice cream, ice milk, cheese, candy, chips, salty snacks, and chocolate.

The results? Intake from this category was reduced, but overall energy was not and there was no difference in weight loss between the two groups. PubMed: Limiting Variety in non-nutrient-dense foods


Update: Weight Loss in Breast Cancer Outcomes

May 1st, 2012 No comments »

In a new study just out, Imayama et al  examined the effects of diet and exercise on inflammatory biomarkers in 439 postmenopausal women. The women were randomized to 1 year of caloric restriction diet, aerobic exercise or combined diet and exercise. Women in the diet and diet + exercise group with a 5% or more weight loss reduced inflammatory biomarkers compared with controls. The diet only and diet plus exercise groups showed reductions. This is an important finding as inflammation has been hypothesized to be a mechanism for cancer in obese patients. Cancer Research : Effect of Caloric Restriction

Last year, the same research team found that a combined diet and exercise intervention had positive effects on health related quality of life (HRQOL) in overweigh/obese postmenopausal women. Weight loss predicted improvements in physical functioning, vitality and mental health. Improved HRQOL led to positive changes in depression, stress and social support. PubMed: Dietary weight loss and exercise effect on HRQOL

A study published last November showed that a high body mass index BMI) at the time of diagnosis of breast cancer is associated with higher mortality, as is weight gain at later times. A low-fat diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fiber seems to be weakly associated with a better prognosis. There was no evidence of any benefit from micronutrients, supplements or antioxidant foods. Alcohol consumption did not affect outcomes in breast cancer. PubMed: Effect of overweight on breast cancer prognosis