Monthly Archives: June 2013

Is junk food consumption an actual addiction?

There are so many processed food products available today that understands how difficult it is for many consumers to avoid them. Sometimes even products we don’t think of as processed prove to be when we take a look at their ingredient lists. Junk food can be found in our fast food establishments and our grocery stores and many food retailers in between. The term is no longer appropriate for one or two food categories, but can be applied to many. As the obesity epidemic becomes more of a pressing problem each day, we have been left to wonder if the widespread proliferation of processed foods has actually turned into an addiction for some consumers.

A new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital has found that the consumption of highly processed carbohydrates can, in fact, cause excess hunger and stimulate the brain regions that are involved in reward and cravings. It was noted that in addition to reward and craving, this is the region of the brain that is also linked with substance abuse and dependence. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on June 26, 2013, investigates how food intake is regulated by dopamine-containing pleasure centers of the brain.

The research suggests that limiting these “high-glycemic index” foods could help the obese population avoid overeating.

In order to conduct the study, the researchers set out to measure blood glucose levels and hunger as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to observe brain activity during the four hours following a meal. This is the time period that influences eating behavior during the next meal.

Twelve overweight or obese men consumed test meals designed as two different milkshakes with the same calories, taste and sweetness. Essentially both were the same with the only difference being that one included high-glycemic index carbohydrates and the other contained low-glycemic index carbohydrates.

After participants consumed the high-glycemic index milkshake, they experienced an initial surge in blood sugar levels, followed by sharp crash four hours later. This was caused by a decrease in blood glucose that is associated with excessive hunger as well as the intense activation of the brain region involved in addictive behaviors. The idea that high-glycemic index foods are addictive is certainly controversial and further study is necessary in order to arrive at a definitive conclusion.

In the meantime, thinks we should all familiarize ourselves with high-glycemic index foods even more thoroughly. Highly processed carbohydrates include white bread (burger buns at fast food restaurants, French toast sticks from a box or fast food, plain bagels), white potatoes and white potato products (including french fries, potato chips, instant mashed potatoes or frozen potatoes), donuts, onion rings, instant oatmeal, boxed macaroni and cheese, soda … the list goes on. When we eat these processed products, our brain tells us to eat more. Whether or not they can be labeled “addictive” remains to be seen, but regardless of the label, consuming processed foods isn’t a healthy habit. Our brains seem to get that message loud and clear.

Can your heart suffer from your soda consumption?

Today, learned that it very well could … especially if soda is the only liquid you choose to consume every single day for sixteen years.

A woman living in Monaco, near southern France, was taken to a hospital after fainting. She’s 31 years old and a blood test revealed that she had severely low potassium levels. Further testing of her heart’s electrical activity disclosed that she had a condition called long QT syndrome, causing erratic heart beats.

The doctors were perplexed as to why this otherwise healthy woman had heart problems and was fainting. She had no family history of heart difficulties. She didn’t have any hormone problems. Upon questioning her a little further, however, her doctors learned that she had not had any water to drink since the age of 15. Instead she consumed only cola every day – about two liters daily.

After just one week without cola, both the woman’s potassium levels and heart electrical activity returned to normal.

Researchers at the Princess Grace Hospital Center in Monaco went to work searching for similar cases, and surprisingly found six other reports where excessive cola consumption were linked to medical difficulties, including problems with heart rhythm. They noted that drinking too much cola can cause excess water to enter the bowels, leading to diarrhea, which causes a loss of potassium. In addition, high amounts of caffeine consumption can increase urine production and decrease potassium reabsorption. Low levels of potassium can cause problems with heart rhythm.

The researchers stated that cardiologists need to be made aware of the possible connection between cola consumption and potassium loss. Patients discovered to have long QT syndrome should be questioned about their beverage consumption. In addition, they are proposing future studies that will examine whether excessive cola drinkers have lower potassium levels than those who don’t drink cola.

Excessive soda consumption can also lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor for heart disease, the researchers said.

The case report was presented at the European Heart Rhythm Association meeting in Athens, Greece. It has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. certainly understands that this particular woman’s cola-drinking habit was quite extreme. But it clearly underscores the concept of soda as a generally unhealthy addition to our diet. Soda has certain inherent nutritional problems – most of the ingredients in any given brand aren’t natural, sugary soda contains high fructose corn syrup and plenty of it, diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners that are linked to a variety of different problems and there are a whole host of controversial items routinely included in soda ingredient lists. This story from Monaco seems to add a new problem directly related to soda consumption. While we recognize that most soda drinkers also consume water and other beverages, this story does stop and cause you to think even more carefully about your beverage habits. Nutritional awareness is so important for all of us … and it’s not just about our food choices, it’s about our beverage choices as well.

Add walnuts to your healthy diet and you may reduce your risk of heart disease

How many interesting and flavorful ways can you find to add walnuts to your diet? can think of quite a few: add them to cold or hot cereals, top your salad with them, sprinkle them over pancakes, include them in muffin batter, saute them with your chicken … and we’re only just getting started! Nuts are a healthy snack and a healthy addition to your meals. Today we found new information that makes walnuts a top pick when deciding on your nuts of choice.

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition conducted by the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, CT shows that walnuts may protect against heart disease. The study explored the health effects of daily walnut consumption by adults at risk for developing diabetes or heart disease.

These results backed up previous findings by the same team which found a significant improvement in blood vessel function among people with diabetes who consumed two ounces of walnuts daily for eight weeks. The researchers note that walnuts contain many healthy nutrients, including omega-3 fat. They are a satisfying snack, enabling us to feel full and stay full, thus helping us avoid other, less nutritious foods.

Participants in this new study were all overweight with an average age of 57 years. They all had at least one of a few different health conditions including high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol. Each of these conditions can increase the risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Diabetes, in turn, can raise the risk for cardiovascular disease.

All participants were asked to continue their usual eating patterns for one eight-week interval. This was considered the control phase of the study. For the next eight weeks, participants again continued their regular diets, except for this phase they were instructed to consume two ounces of walnuts each day. They were also instructed to adjust for the extra calories from the walnuts – removing an equal number of calories from their regular diet so that their calorie intake would be consistent with the control phase.

Researchers found that after the second eight-week phase of the study, participants’ blood vessel function improved significantly in comparison to the control phase. Body weight and waist circumference remained consistent. In addition, participants experienced a reduction in systolic blood pressure – although that reduction was not statistically significant. The study results provide evidence that walnuts can play a role in protecting against heart disease in at-risk individuals.

How can you add two ounces of walnuts to your daily diet? has a few more ideas for you … use them in pesto sauce instead of pine nuts, sprinkle them on asparagus, add them to chicken salad, or brown rice or quinoa, sprinkle them on ice cream for a treat. We’re sure you can come up with even more great uses for walnuts and hope that you do. Two ounces a day for better heart health is certainly an easy adjustment to make … and a great way to add some flavor and crunch to our meals!

The right nutritional beginning can be kind to your heart

Everyone in the community knows that we’ve always advocated for the healthiest possible start for our children. With childhood obesity on the rise, we understand that now more than ever it’s so important for parents and caregivers of small children to pay careful attention to the foods they consume. Today we found new information that speaks directly to the importance of healthy beginnings.

A new study in the TARGet Kids! practice-based research network in Toronto, Ontario has shown that eating behaviors in preschool children may be associated with risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.

The study of more than 1,000 preschool aged children (3 to 5 years old) looked at the link between eating habits and HDL cholesterol levels (a marker for later cardiovascular disease risk)Parents filled out questionnaires addressing eating behaviors – things like watching television while eating, dietary intake, parental concerns about activity levels and growth, screen time and vitamin usage. Researchers measured height and weight of the kids and their parents and took blood samples. They assigned a risk level based on the ethnicity of the parents because some groups are more prone to heart disease than others.

The results revealed a link between eating behaviors and cardiovascular risk. That association may lead to early intervention measures. The results support previous calls for interventions that are aimed at improving the dietary habits of preschool-aged children. Some of those interventions can include responsive feeding. This would be a child-directed method where parents provide healthy food choices and children use internal cues for hunger, taking advantage of those healthy food choices. The eating styles of many children are parent directed –. breakfast served at a specific time in the morning, a mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner. Children fed in this manner do not develop a natural response to internal hunger cues. In addition, children can respond to cues from the television, encouraging them to eat. Often these cues lead the child and determine for them the timing and amount of food they consume.

This interesting survey certainly reinforces the concept that good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices begin quite early. The youngest among us deserve the most careful attention when it comes to their dietary choices. encourages our community to offer fresh, healthy foods to the children they love. Good habits are easy to form. Start them young on the path to a healthy life and watch them grow into strong, happy and product adults.

New Study Links Fructose to Liver Damage

There’s been so much news about added sugars and obesity recently. has been encouraged by the incredible number of studies being released talking candidly about the affects of excess sugars in our diet. Today, we found new information we wanted to share with our community regarding a new potential problem surrounding fructose. Fructose is already fairly controversial for a number of reasons, the primary concern being High Fructose Corn Syrup and its prevalence in our food supply.

A new study coming out of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has shown that fructose quickly caused liver damage in animals.

Previously, these researchers had studied monkeys who were allowed to eat an unlimited low-fat diet with added fructose for seven years. They compared them to a control group of monkeys who were fed a low-fructose, low-fat diet for the same time period. The monkeys consuming the high-fructose diet gained 50 percent more weight than those in the control group. They developed diabetes at three times the rate of the control group … as well as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The researchers were then left with the question of what caused the liver disease. Did it develop because of the weight gain, or was it linked to the fructose?

This new study was designed to answer this important question. Researchers worked with ten middle-aged monkeys of normal weight who had never consumed fructose. They were split into two groups based on similar body shapes and waist circumference. For a six week period, one group was fed a calorie-controlled diet with 24 percent fructose. The other group consumed a calorie control diet that contained a minimal amount of fructose (about half a percent).

In other ways, the diets were identical. Both contained the same amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein. Only the sources of the nutrients were different. For the high-fructose group, the diet contained flour, butter, pork fat, eggs and fructose. The control group’s nutrients were derived from healthy complex carbohydrates and soy protein.

At the end of the six week period, researchers measured the biomarkers for liver damage through blood samples as well as examining the bacteria of the intestines. They were surprised to see how quickly the livers of the high-fructose group were damaged and how extensive the damage actually was. Intestinal bacteria migrated to the liver very quickly, causing damage on a fairly immediate basis. It appeared that something connected to the high fructose levels was causing the intestines to react less defensively. The bacteria leaked out at a 30 percent higher rate.

While the researchers chose to study fructose because it is the most common added sugar in our diets here in the U.S., it is important to note that they cannot state conclusively that fructose was the cause of the liver damage. They do acknowledge, however that the high levels of added sugar caused bacteria to leave the intestines, enter the blood stream and damage the liver. The same thing might happen with high levels of added dextrose (another simple sugar found in plants).

There are plenty of unanswered questions regarding the fructose in our food supply. It is, without doubt, the sugar we consume most. There are studies that point to many different health problems that it may be linked to. This particular study joins the list. is especially interested in the rapid rate in which the liver damage seems to have occurred in this research. When this new information is added to the other possibilities, we’re more convinced than ever that added sugars should be avoided in food products as much and as often as possible.

AMA now classifies obesity as a disease in the U.S. listened intently, along with the rest of the country today, as we learned that the American Medical Association formally voted to classify obesity a disease requiring a range of medical interventions in the United States.

More than 35 percent of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children and teenagers are now recognized as having the disease of obesity. While the move is certainly stirring up some controversy for a variety of reasons, the intent of the AMA seems to be directed at giving doctors a broader range of options for treatment. Without this status, doctors treating obesity must instead approach it as a lifestyle condition requiring modification. Because the AMA is committed to improving outcomes, and because obesity is so commonly linked to cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, this new classification is something they feel will help to arm the medical community more effectively as they tackle the epidemic.

Obesity is technically defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Normal weight is defined by a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9. More than one in three adults in our country carries a BMI over 30.

As the community is aware, there are growing bodies of research that link serious disease to this all-too-common condition. Increased risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver disease, sleep apnea, breathing problems, osteoarthritis, infertility and multiple types of cancer including breast, pancreas, kidney, and colon, have all been associated with the expanding obesity problem.

It is also hoped that the new classification of obesity as a disease can also help more Americans realize that unhealthy food choices combined with lack of exercise is a real threat to their health. A recent survey showed that although 70% of the population understands that obesity is linked with heart disease and diabetes, only 7 percent realized that obesity is associated with cancer. Only another 5 percent knew that both asthma and sleep apnea could be helped with weight reduction.

Classifying obesity as an actual disease may also impact new laws and insurance practices. Lap-band procedures and gastric bypass surgeries aren’t always covered by insurers. The reclassification may help to change that. In addition, patients may become more comfortable with their doctor prescribing treatment for the disease of obesity. As an actual disease treatment may not be considered offensive or embarrassing, leaving the patient feeling poorly about unhealthy lifestyle choices.

While the new classification seems to be stirring up many emotions across the internet, can’t help but feel encouraged that this major move by the AMA can help doctors treat obesity before its effects set in. It could be especially beneficial in combating childhood obesity and giving the youngest in our population a better opportunity to live a life free from the multitude of problems linked with the epidemic. This may prove to be an incredibly valuable step towards eradicating a problem plaguing not only the United States, but the population of the rest of the word as well.

Too much sugar spells trouble for your heart understands that there are so many health concerns that come from the consumption of excessive amounts of sugar. It’s so important for all of us to remember that the bulk of our sugar consumption isn’t coming from the sugar bowls on our kitchen tables, but rather the processed foods on our grocery store shelves. The obesity epidemic and the rise in the instances of diabetes are just a few of the things we’re already aware of that can be traced to the unnecessary amount of sugar in most American diets.

Today we read new information we wanted to share with you that’s really rather eye-opening. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have revealed that consuming too much sugar can greatly increase the risk of heart failure.

This study follows previous research out of the Emory University School of Medicine and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that people consuming high levels of added sugar from processed foods and beverages are more likely to have higher heart disease risk factors.

This new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association states that just one molecule of glucose metabolite glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) can lead to improper function of the heart. G6P builds up when people consume too much sugar and starch and causes severe stress to the heart.

Preclinical trials were conducted in animals and then researchers tested tissue from patients who had a piece of their heart muscle removed in order to have a left ventricle assist device placed. Results of both the clinical trials and the tissue studies revealed that G6P can cause significant heart damage. It was noted that those who have high blood pressure and other conditions already have their hearts under stress. When excess sugar is introduced into the situation, it can severely worsen that stress causing major injury to the heart.

The CDC reports that more than 5 million people suffer from heart failure in the United states every year. Half of those who are diagnosed with the condition die within one year of diagnosis and there are over half a million new cases diagnosed each year.

This new research underscores the importance of remaining aware of the amount of sugar we consume. Pointing directly to the possibility of additional and serious dangers from the over-consumption of sugar, the study can certainly motivate us all to become even more vigilant about the avoidance of added sugar in our diets. has always been an advocate of cooking fresh, healthy foods from the ingredients we choose ourselves. While picking up what’s quick and convenient might seem like a good idea at times, our hearts will thank us for the additional effort involved – and the reduction of sugar in our diets.

Proposed ban on large-sized sugar-sweetened beverages may impact our population in a positive way has been following the proposed ban on the sale of large-sized sugary beverages in New York and bringing our community any news we can find on this controversial proposition. There are many conflicting opinions about the proposed legislation, but in March, the New York State Supreme Court struck down the plan. It is currently under appeal.

While the issue is being pondered by the judges, further research into the effects of such a ban nationwide is being conducted. Coming out of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, one such study presents much food for thought on the subject.

The research is showing that the restriction of the consumption of large sugar-sweetened beverages would affect 7.5% of Americans on any given day … and an even larger percentage among those who are overweight. This would include 13.6% of overweight teenagers. The study also points out that such restrictions would not discriminate against the poor, finding that low-income individuals would not be disproportionately affected.

This study analyzed national data. Researchers note that the results suggests that bans of this nature would be a strong measure in obesity prevention even if they are implemented in various regions, instead of across the nation. Over 19,000 dietary records from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from the years 2007 through 2010 were analyzed.

60.5% of Americans consumed sugary drinks on a daily basis. 7.5% purchased those drinks from food establishments in 16 ounce or larger portions on any given day. That figure rose to 8.6% among those who are overweight. This increased again to 13.6% among overweight teenagers.

Since the legislation has not been passed, the researchers do not yet have a model for the scope of change it might actually cause. If passed, consumers would be free to drink sugary beverages in smaller sizes as much as they would like. Restaurants would seem to have the option of offering free refills or discounts on refills. But these assumptions aren’t certain, so the researchers used different scenarios to estimate how the policy might cut calories and consumption.

They propose that reasonably, 80% of large-sized sugary-beverage drinkers would downsize to a 16-ounce sized portion and that 20% may consume two drinks of that size. In this scenario, adults would cut 63 calories from their diets daily and children and teens would cut 58 calories. Both groups would remove three to four teaspoons of sugar from their daily consumption.

Simple calorie reductions like these can have a tremendous effect on excess calories consumed by Americans – especially our nation’s teens.

Another recent study coming out of Harvard has illustrated that teenagers are more likely to underestimate the calories they are consuming from fast food restaurant offerings. While soda consumption was not a specific focus of this study, the findings do underscore the propensity of teens towards more caloric fast food options.

The researchers also feel that the portion size restrictions in food establishments could influence behaviors within American homes (where most sugary beverages are actually consumed). Keep in mind that at McDonald’s, a 12-ounce beverage is child-sized, 16-ounce drinks are small, 21-ounce drinks are actually medium and 32 ounces are large-sized. It’s very possible that those serving sizes are, in fact, causing us to pour larger servings automatically when we’re in our own kitchens. Between the years 1999 and 2004, an average American teenager consumed 301 calories in sugar-sweetened beverages every day. That’s 13% of their total daily calories. In order to burn those 301 calories, they would need to walk more than five miles.

While the debate regarding the proposed ban on large-sized sugar-sweetened beverages continues in the New York Supreme Court, studies like this certainly raise some important points and possibilities. It gives us all another viewpoint to ponder as we await a final decision. will continue to keep you up to date on important news on this significant issue and its nationwide implications.

Getting under the skin of blood pressure regulation has been keeping our community up to date about controversies surrounding sodium levels. While it appears that we consume far too much salt on a daily basis, there have been conflicting studies about just how much is too much, how we need to control sodium levels in our diets and the effects of consuming too much of it. But today we found information that really got under our skin … literally.

According to new studies out of Vanderbilt University, a different and important organ system is significant to our bodies’ blood pressure control abilities. It appears that our skin stores sodium. Traditionally the model for blood pressure regulation has been relegated to the kidney, circulatory system and the brain. But that model still left questions about the reasons for elevated blood pressure in 90 percent of hypertension patients.

In these studies, researchers sought to find other ways the body stores sodium and they discovered that the skin, the immune system cells and lymph capillaries do, in fact, help to regulate sodium balance and blood pressure.

Mice who were fed a high-salt diet had large amounts of salt accumulate in their skin. The immune system cells seemed to sense the sodium and activated a protein called TONEBP. This protein increased a growth factor in the immune cells which in turn builds lymph vessel capacity and helps to clear the sodium.

The study shows that elimination of the TONEBP gene in immune cells prevented the normal response to a high-salt diet and increased blood pressure. Likewise, blocking signaling through the lymph vessel receptor inhibited the changes in lymph vessel density and resulted in salt-sensitive hypertension.

The findings support the idea that the immune and lymphatic systems in the skin work together to regulate electrolyte  composition and blood pressure. Defects in this regulatory system may be associated with salt-sensitive hypertension.

To study the clinical relevance of sodium storage in humans, the investigators implemented special magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies to detect sodium. They reported earlier this year that sodium is stored in muscle and skin in human beings, and that sodium storage increases with age and is associated with hypertension.

In future studies they intend to explore the meaning of that sodium storage. Will it, for example, elevate the risk for cardiovascular disease? They are planning to follow 2000 individuals for five years to measure tissue sodium two times per year to determine if elevated tissue sodium levels are linked to heart attacks, stroke or other arterial diseases.

There’s salt everywhere in our food supply. knows that our sodium consumption really isn’t coming from the salt shakers on our tables. This new information about how sodium is stored in the skin gives us a better idea of what our bodies are doing with all that salt and how it can possibly be affecting our health. We’ll be watching for the new studies exploring the relationship of cardiac disease and the salt-skin phenomenon. It’s just one more reason we should all be as aware as we possibly can be of our sodium consumption. We should all make our best effort to rid our diets of salt-laden processed foods. Let’s keep the salt on our tables where it belongs.

Eat your colors and reduce your risk of breast cancer

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. has always felt that Hippocrates had the right idea! We’re always thrilled to learn about how the foods we consume can have a positive influence on our health and well being. And we’re especially excited to discover that simple additions of fresh, healthy food to our diet can help us avoid chronic and often fatal illness.

A recent study from the researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School has shown that women with high levels of carotenoids (naturally occurring plant chemicals) have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer.

While we know that diets high in fruits and vegetables have a positive influence on the risk of many different cancers, this particular link to those that are high in carotenoids offer specific benefits for women.

We’ve often heard the advice that “It’s best to eat in color”. This is certainly the case here. Carotenoids are pigements that give vegetables and fruits deep yellow, orange and red hues. Carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, apricots, mangoes and papyas are all great examples of foods high in carotenoids.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of data from 8 different studies that included 7,000 women. They discovered that the women whose blood levels were in the top 20 percent for carotenoids were 15 to 20 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those women whose carotenoid levels were in the bottom 20 percent. Most impressive, thought, was that the link between higher carotenoid levels in the blood was the strongest for the most aggressive, lethal forms of breast cancer.

Researchers noted that it seemed to be a linear relationship. The higher the levels of caretonoids in the blood, the lower the risk of breast cancer.

While more research is needed to discover the specific reason for the link, researchers hypothesize that the body may metabolize carotenoids into retinol, which may inhibit tumor growth.

It was noted in the study that the most effective way to boost carotenoid levels in the blood is through food consumption, not supplementation. They clearly felt that increasing fruit and vegetable intake is the best way to receive the health benefits of carotenoids and perhaps decrease the risk of breast cancer.

There are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables in beautiful colors. honestly has a difficult time deciding which ones to include in our diets first. Whichever you choose, enjoy them in good health, knowing that the rich bounty of colorful, carotenoid-containing produce may help us decrease our odds of developing a deadly disease.

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