Category Archives: health awareness

Toxic chemicals are damaging our health

151001100058_1_540x360We hear it all the time … the level of chemicals we’re exposed to can’t hurt us – it’s not high enough. The population used to be told that about BPA in plastics. Turns out that wasn’t true. The truth is that no one has really been able to tell us how pesticides, preservatives, dyes, and other toxic chemicals are damaging our health. thought everyone in our community could really benefit from this new information.

Dramatic increases in exposure to toxic chemicals in the last four decades are threatening human reproduction and health, according to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the first global reproductive health organization to take a stand on human exposure to toxic chemicals.

The opinion was written by obstetrician-gynecologists and scientists from the major global, US, UK and Canadian reproductive health professional societies, the World Health Organization and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

FIGO, which represents obstetricians from 125 countries and territories, published the opinion in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics on Oct. 1, 2015, just prior to its Oct. 4 to 9, 2015, world congress in Vancouver, BC, where more than 7,000 clinicians and scientists will explore global trends in women’s health issues.

“We are drowning our world in untested and unsafe chemicals, and the price we are paying in terms of our reproductive health is of serious concern,” said Gian Carlo Di Renzo, MD, PhD, Honorary Secretary of FIGO and lead author of the FIGO opinion. According to Di Renzo, reproductive health professionals “witness first-hand the increasing numbers of health problems facing their patients, and preventing exposure to toxic chemicals can reduce this burden on women, children and families around the world.”

Miscarriage and still birth, impaired fetal growth, congenital malformations, impaired or reduced neurodevelopment and cognitive function, and an increase in cancer, attention problems, ADHD behaviors and hyperactivity are among the list of poor health outcomes linked to chemicals such as pesticides, air pollutants, plastics, solvents and more, according to the FIGO opinion.

“What FIGO is saying is that physicians need to do more than simply advise patients about the health risks of chemical exposure,” said Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, a co-author of the FIGO opinion and past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which issued an opinion on chemicals and reproductive health in 2013. “We need to advocate for policies that will protect our patients and communities from the dangers of involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Chemical manufacturing is expected to grow fastest in developing countries in the next five years, according to FIGO. In the U.S. alone, more than 30,000 pounds of chemicals per person are manufactured or imported, and yet the vast majority of these chemicals have not been tested. Chemicals travel the globe via international trade agreements, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. Environmental and health groups have criticized the proposed agreement for weakening controls and regulations designed to protect communities from toxic chemicals.

“Exposure to chemicals in the air, food and water supplies disproportionately affect poor people,” said Linda Giudice, MD, PhD, MSc, a FIGO opinion co-author, past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and chair of the UCSF department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences. “In developing countries, lower respiratory infections are more than twice as likely to be caused by chemical exposures than in developed countries.”

Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals is linked to millions of deaths and costs billions of dollars every year, according to the FIGO opinion, which cites the following examples:

• Nearly 4 million people die each year because of exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution as well as to lead.
• Pesticide poisonings of farmworkers in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to cost $66 billion between 2005-2020.
• Health care and other costs from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in Europe are estimated to be at a minimum of 157 billion Euros a year.
• The cost of childhood diseases related to environmental toxins and pollutants in air, food, water, soil and in homes and neighborhoods was calculated to be $76.6 billion in 2008 in the United States.

“Given accumulating evidence of adverse health impacts related to toxic chemicals, including the potential for inter-generational harm, FIGO has wisely proposed a series of recommendations that health professionals can adopt to reduce the burden of unsafe chemicals on patients and communities,” said FIGO President Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, MBBS, who is also past president of the British Medical Association.

FIGO proposes that physicians, midwives, and other reproductive health professionals advocate for policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals; work to ensure a healthy food system for all; make environmental health part of health care; and champion environmental justice.

Chemicals count. Our environment contributes to our health and well being and our environment carries toxins. Our food supply didn’t have to be chemically laden. Pesticides didn’t need to be uninvited guests in our body tissue. But they are. We’ve all got to advocate to eliminate the exposure to toxic chemicals in our environment and our food supply. It’s already affected us all far too much.

Can chili peppers kill cancer cells?

1441705070647After read about this new finding, we reflected on how it might alter how people describe the heat associated with chili peppers. “It was so hot it made my eyes water.” “It was so hot my ears turned red.” “It was so hot my mouth was on fire.” Someday we just might hear, “It’s hot enough to kill cancer cells.” What an amazing thing.

Capsaicin, the compound responsible for chilis’ heat, is used in creams sold to relieve pain, and recent research shows that in high doses, it kills prostate cancer cells. Now researchers are finding clues that help explain how the substance works. Their conclusions suggest that one day it could come in a new, therapeutic form. Their study appears in ACS’The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

About 10 years ago, researchers reported that capsaicin can kill prostate cancer cells in mice while leaving healthy cells unharmed. But translating that dose to humans would require them to eat a huge number of chili peppers per day. Figuring out how capsaicin works could help researchers transform it into an effective drug in the form of an injection or pill.

Researchers have figured out that the molecule binds to a cell’s surface and affects the membrane, which surrounds and protects the cell. That finding prompted Ashok Kumar Mishra and Jitendriya Swain to try to gain a deeper understanding of capsaicin’s effects so it might be harnessed in the future for new medicines.

The scientists were able to detect how the compound interacts with cell membranes by monitoring its natural fluorescence. The study showed that capsaicin lodges in the membranes near the surface. Add enough of it, and the capsaicin essentially causes the membranes to come apart. With additional research, this insight could help lead to novel tools against cancer or other conditions.

It’s always exciting when research establishes links between natural foods and improving outcomes of disease. A natural approach that can be proven as effective will ultimately always be a better option than unnatural methods. Cancer treatment is exceptionally hard on the human body. More natural options would be welcome to the millions of people undergoing treatment. We look forward to hearing more about this fascinating development.

Obesity crisis may be bigger than we originally thought

shutterstock164062556We’ve been hearing that 30% of the population is overweight or obese for quite a while now. Thirty percent is a big enough number and certainly speaks to the prevalence of the condition of obesity. But today learned that it really may be much larger than that.

New estimates have revealed the extent of one of the biggest public health problems facing the US, as a research letter reports that more than two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese.

The authors of the research letter, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, are Dr. Graham A. Colditz and Lin Yang of the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO.

Their paper describes an analysis of the most recent data taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 2007-12) to calculate the prevalence of overweight and obesity.

Researchers had conducted a similar study around 20 years ago, analyzing data taken from 1988-1994 to work out the chronic disease burden associated with body mass index (BMI). The findings of that study were used to inform clinical practice and prevention strategies.

“Compared with 1988-1994, the distribution of the population’s weight status has increased in the past 20 years,” write the authors of the new research letter. “The rising trends in overweight and obesity warrant timely attention from health policy and health care system decision makers.”

In the new analysis, overweight was defined as a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9. Obesity was defined as a BMI of 30.0 and above and was divided into three different classes. BMIs of 30.0-34.9 were defined as class 1, BMIs of 35.0-39.9 were class 2 and BMIs of 40 and above were class 3.

Data were obtained for 15,208 men and women aged 25 and above in a sample representative of over 188 million adults. The researchers estimated that around 36.3 million men (39.96%) and 28.9 million women (29.74%) were overweight, with around 31.8 million men (35.04%) and 35.9 million women (36.84%) obese.

These findings make alarming reading when considering that overweight and obesity are associated with numerous chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. There is also a financial cost to the problem; the American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that obesity costs $190 billion each year in weight-related medical bills.

Such is the scale of the problem that a Gallup Poll conducted in November 2013 found that obesity was considered to be the third most urgent health problem facing the US, behind cost and access but ahead of cancer and heart diseases, the two leading causes of death in the country.

Dr. Donna H. Ryan – professor and associate executive director for clinical research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge – suggests a number of possible triggers for the obesity epidemic.

These suggestions include changes to sleep patterns, increased availability of food and more sedentary lifestyles fueled by the decreased physical demands of many jobs and increased “screen time” with the use of televisions, computers and smartphones.

“Population-based strategies helping to reduce modifiable risk factors such as physical environment interventions, enhancing primary care efforts to prevent and treat obesity, and altering societal norms of behavior are required,” state the authors.

Dr. Ryan believes that society must learn to treat obesity as a disease rather than a consequence of a lack of willpower, becoming more accepting of people with the condition:

“If you have not had a friend, family member or colleague who has struggled with their weight and particularly if you haven’t tried to lose weight yourself, then it’s easy for you to ascribe negative stereotypical traits to overweight and obese people. It’s a lot like alcohol and drug addiction. Our society is more accepting of these conditions as a disease and less so for obesity.”

Previously, Medical News Today reported on a study finding that stepping on the scales daily and tracking the results on a chart is an effective way of losing weight and keeping it off.

We’ve been referring to obesity as a disease medically. But we know that in the minds of the population it isn’t necessarily viewed as other diseases. Instead, as the article states, obesity is looked upon more as a lack of willpower — some sort of a character flaw. It involves shame and sometimes shunning. It’s time to rethink our views in order to arrive at solutions for this tremendous health crisis.

Suffering from seasonal allergies? Probiotics might help.

woman-yogurt-bed-150504The season is upon us. After an especially long, cold and snowy winter, millions of people here in the U.S. are greeting the change in seasons with a chorus of sneezing, watery eyes and runny noses. Seasonal allergies have arrived and with them, the attempt to find a way to stop them. Could eating yogurt or taking probiotic supplements be helpful?

Researchers analyzed the results from more than 20 previous studies and found that hay fever sufferers may get some benefits from using probiotics, improving their symptoms and quality of life.

But the jury is still out about whether probiotics are actually an effective treatment for people with seasonal allergies, said lead author Dr. Justin Turner, an ear-nose-and-throat surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Additional high-quality studies are needed before doctors would recommend for or against using probiotics to help treat people with seasonal allergies, Turner said.

Probiotics are bacteria that are thought to help maintain a healthy gut. They are found in certain foods, such as yogurt with live active cultures, kefir and sauerkraut, and also supplements. Probiotics may change the balance of bacteria in the intestines in a way that could protect the immune system from flaring up in response to pollens and other allergens, which may help reduce allergy symptoms, Turner said.

But he also cautioned that there is still much more information that needs to be understood about the effect of probiotics on the immune system.

Seasonal allergies are estimated to affect approximately 50 million Americans, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Allergy symptoms such as sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes are typically treated with a combination of medications, including antihistamines, decongestants and steroid nasal sprays.

In the new study, published online in April in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, researchers reviewed data from 23 randomized trials and more than 1,900 people.

They found that the majority of these studies (17 of 23) showed that people with seasonal allergies who took probiotic supplements or ate foods containing probiotics showed improvement in at least one outcome measure, such as improving their allergy symptoms, or their general quality of life, compared with allergy sufferers who took a placebo.

Six of 23 studies found probiotics had no benefit to people with hay fever, the researchers said.

But because the studies used different strains of live bacteria, different dosages and different probiotic supplement formulations over different periods of time, it is difficult to make any formal recommendations about probiotic use, bacterial strains or length of treatment that may benefit people with seasonal allergies, Turner said.

Even if probiotics prove effective for seasonal allergies, it’s unlikely they would replace the standard medical treatments currently used by people affected by them, Turner said.

While more research is needed, wants to point out that for seasonal allergy sufferers, it’s easy enough to determine if probiotics can help you. Yogurt is simple enough to add into your diet. And the majority of these studies did yield results that illustrates the addition as a viable option. Over-the-counter medication for seasonal allergies can keep us awake, put us to sleep, raise our blood pressure, and make us thirsty — not to mention that most contain ingredients we’re not very fond of. Testing out the probiotic concept seems to be more than a reasonably good idea!

It’s not just about high blood pressure: the effects of salt on other organs

salt sprinkled on tableWe all know that salt can have negative health effects. We know that’s true, and yet, doesn’t see any decrease in the sales of processed foods and millions are still walking through the doors of major fast food chains every day.

You may think you’re one of the lucky ones who can eat all the salty snacks and convenience foods you want and still register low numbers on the blood pressure cuff. But, new research suggests you may not be so lucky after all.

A review paper co-authored by two faculty members in the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences and two physicians at Christiana Care Health System provides evidence that even in the absence of an increase in blood pressure, excess dietary sodium can adversely affect target organs, including the blood vessels, heart, kidneys and brain.

Authors of the paper, “Dietary Sodium and Health: More Than Just Blood Pressure,” include William Farquhar and David Edwards in UD’s Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology; William Weintraub, chief of cardiology at Christiana Care; and Claudine Jurkovitz, a nephrologist epidemiologist and senior scientist in the Value Institute Center for Outcomes Research at Christiana Care.

The paper was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“Blood pressure responses to alterations in dietary sodium vary widely, which has led to the concept of ‘salt-sensitive’ blood pressure,” says Farquhar. “There are no standardized guidelines for classifying individuals as having salt-sensitive blood pressure, but if blood pressure increases during a period of high dietary sodium or decreases during a low-sodium period, the person is considered salt sensitive. If there’s no change in blood pressure with sodium restriction, an individual is considered salt resistant.”

However, the research cited in the paper points to evidence of adverse effects on multiple target organs and tissues, even for people who are salt resistant.

Potential effects on the arteries include reduced function of the endothelium, which is the inner lining of blood vessels. Endothelial cells mediate a number of processes, including coagulation, platelet adhesion and immune function. Elevated dietary sodium can also increase arterial stiffness.

Farquhar and Edwards have done previous work in this area, with one study showing that excess salt intake in humans impairs endothelium-dependent dilation and another demonstrating that dietary sodium loading impairs microvascular function. In both cases, the effects are independent of changes in blood pressure.

They review their work and the growing body of evidence to support a deleterious effect of dietary salt on vascular function independent of blood pressure in a recent invited paper in Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension.

“High dietary sodium can also lead to left ventricular hypertrophy, or enlargement of the muscle tissue that makes up the wall of the heart’s main pumping chamber,” Edwards says. “As the walls of the chamber grow thicker, they become less compliant and eventually are unable to pump as forcefully as a healthy heart.”

Regarding the kidneys, evidence suggests that high sodium is associated with reduced renal function, a decline observed with only a minimal increase in blood pressure.

Finally, sodium may also affect the sympathetic nervous system, which activates what is often termed the fight-or-flight response.

“Chronically elevated dietary sodium may ‘sensitize’ sympathetic neurons in the brain, causing a greater response to a variety of stimuli, including skeletal muscle contraction,” Farquhar says. “Again, even if blood pressure isn’t increased, chronically increased sympathetic outflow may have harmful effects on target organs.”

Jurkovitz points out that studying the effects of salt restriction on clinical outcomes is not easy. Challenges include accurate assessment of intake, long-term maintenance on a defined salt regimen, and the need for large numbers of patients and extended follow-up to obtain enough outcomes for meaningful analysis.

However, she says, “A large body of evidence confirms the biological plausibility of the association between high sodium intake and increases in blood pressure and cardiovascular events.”

This evidence has resulted in the American Heart Association’s recommendation that we consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

Taking the salt shaker off the table is a good way to start, but it’s probably not enough, says Weintraub, whose work focuses on cardiology outcomes.

“Approximately 70 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, including items that we don’t typically think of as salty such as breads and cereals,” he says. “Also, restaurant food typically contains more salt than dishes prepared at home, so eating out less can help reduce salt intake, especially if herbs and spices — instead of salt — are used to add flavor to home-cooked meals.”

But the authors acknowledge that shaking the salt habit won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight.

“Reducing sodium will take a coordinated effort involving organizations like the AHA, food producers and processors, restaurants, and public policy aimed at education,” Weintraub says. thinks we should all remember this research the next time we reach for a processed food product or think to ourselves that our favorite bowl of soup from our favorite casual restaurant can’t be that bad. All of us need to be more conscious of our salt consumption and try our best to work towards a meaningful reduction of sodium in our diets.

Have a healthier Thanksgiving! Common sense ideas that DON’T involve avoiding your favorite holiday foods

shutterstock_224254609-676x450In every corner of America, Thanksgiving will see families and friends sitting down to a marvelous and overindulgent feast. Thursday will involve turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables and pies. The preparation of these favorites rarely, if ever, takes into consideration calories, fat, sodium or sugar. It’s a fact, we expect to indulge over the holidays. We even look forward to it.

But, how can we allow ourselves to enjoy that indulgence without the traditional late day “food coma” or the possible weight gain that can easily accompany a meal that some experts have estimated contains an average of 4500 calories?

Here are a few ideas that can help you through your Thanksgiving feast while still maintaining some reasonable standards.

1. Drink Water Through Out the Day
The holidays might make you forget about the most basic need of your body: hydration. Be sure to sip water through out the day to stay hydrated. In addition to staying hydrated, you won’t be as hungry in the face of all those holiday treats.

2. Switch to Sea Salt (And Use Less of It)
The white table salt commonly used at home is the result of many refining processes that leaves us with “dead salt” laden with chemical additives. You can add more healthy minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium to your diet instantly by making the switch to sea salt.

3. Load Up On Cranberries, Not Sugar
These little red berries have some of the highest antioxidant levels in berries, and their bright anthocyanin pigments may also act as antioxidants. For a healthier cranberry sauce, try adding a cup of orange juice and a cup of honey instead of sugar.

4. Skip the Turkey Skin
If you are eating turkey, be choosy about what parts you consume. A single serving of white, skinless turkey (about a size of a deck of cards) has about 160 calories and 4 grams of fat, whereas dark turkey breast meat with skin contains twice the amount of fat and 70 more calories.

5. Stick to Whole Grains
Scientists have found that a diet consisting mainly of whole grains can help lower blood pressure and may help with weight control. Whole grains may also help decrease the risk of heart disease. Yet more than 40 percent of Americans do not consume any whole grains in their diet, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Instead of loading up on white breads and rice, opt for whole-grain products such as brown or wild rice and whole wheat bread.

6. Don’t Forget Your Greens
You may be excited about the turkey, potatoes and gravy, but don’t forget to have some fresh, colorful salads on the table. In general, Americans consume less vegetables than the recommended five servings per day, so give your family the option of a fresh salad with at least three colors (orange, green and red) for an abundant dose of antioxidants and vitamins.

7. Ditch the Dairy Dessert
Ice cream may seem like a necessary companion to pumpkin pie, but it might not be the best option after an already decadent feast. According to FDA’s standards, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent (mostly milk) fat content. Eliminate the fat and cholesterol in your dessert and reduce unpleasant side effects of dairy (such as skin irritation and upset stomach) by switching to organic soy, rice, or coconut ice cream.

8. Listen To Your Stomach
Finally, a simple but effective rule of thumb for festive eating: know when your stomach is full. When your brain starts justifying eating one more bite because it “tastes so good,” it’s time to put the fork down.

A few small suggestions that might leave you feeling much better on Friday morning! wants to point out that no one is suggesting that you forego the candied yams or your favorite stuffing. Instead, you can skip the turkey skin, use less salt and drink more water and you can help yourself avoid the 4500 calorie price tag that might be attached to your Thanksgiving feast!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Pre-packaged sandwich wraps from Hormel. The real deal on Rev.

Hormel RevHormel’s been busy airing commercials for their Rev sandwich wraps.  The commercials are all about physical fitness, being the best you can be, participating in sports and achieving goals.  Somehow or another an ad agency managed to connect the dots between those things and a sandwich wrap.  Go figure.

While might not see the sense behind that connection, Hormel does.  Supposedly their Rev wraps are just the thing anyone needs to be able to maximize performance.  All 8 varieties deliver between 15 and 17 grams of protein … enough to power plenty of physical activity.  Sounds great, right?

Before you go grabbing a Rev wrap on your way to the gym though, you might want to read on and find out what’s going on beyond all that protein.

Let’s take a look at the Italian Style Rev Wrap.  There are actually 81 ingredients in this one.  That’s a lot for a wrap that contains pepperoni, genoa salami, mozzarella cheese in a rolled flatbread.  Here’s the list:

Flatbread (Flour Enriched [Wheat Flour, Barley Malted Flour, Niacin Vitamin B3, Iron Reduced,Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1, Riboflavin Vitamin B2, Folic Acid Vitamin B9] , Water, Wheat Gluten Vital, Soy Flour, Contains 2% or less of the following: [Sugar Brown Liquid, Oats Fiber,Soybeans Oil, Olive Oil Extra Virgin, Spices, Baking Soda, Prunes Juice Concentrate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Wheat Protein Isolate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Propionate, Yeast,Cellulose Gum, Fumaric Acid, Salt, Guar Gum, Calcium Sulphate, Carrageenan, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin, Annatto Color, Enzymes] ) , Cheese (Cheese Mozzarella Low Moisture Part Skim [Milk Part Skim, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes] , Cheese American [Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes] , Water, Cream, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Sorbic Acid) , Salami Genoa(Pork, Beef, Salt, Contains 2% or less of the following: Citric Acid [Dextrose, Water, Spices,Sodium Ascorbate Vitamin C, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Sodium Nitrate Nitrite, Garlic Powder,BHA, BHT, Citric Acid] ) , Pepperoni (Pork, Beef, Salt, Contains 2% or less of the following: Citric Acid [Water, Dextrose, Spices, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Oleoresin of Paprika, Garlic Powder,Sodium Nitrate Nitrite, BHA, BHT, Citric Acid] )

We can easily live without plenty of the ingredients in this wrap.  Curiously, though, it contains only 290 calories.  We’re going to assume that there isn’t much meat and cheese inside that flatbread.  It also contains 20 grams of fat, 10 mg of saturated fat, 55 mg of cholesterol, and 960 mg of sodium.  So besides those 15 grams of protein, there’s really not a whole lot else in there that’s doing much for your body — or fueling your workout or sports performance.

It’s our considered opinion that a different option that contains leaner protein, better fats, and real ingredients would be a better boost.  Nice try Hormel, but we’ll “rev” up without the wraps.  


Too much salt = aging cells in obese teens

salt.jpgWe’re always hearing about the negative effects of high salt intake. Too much sodium in our diets has been linked to higher risk of stroke, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Yet, it’s difficult for many people to avoid. Considering the idea that most of the sodium we consume is as a result of processed foods and not the salt shakers at our kitchen tables, the only way we can confidently reduce our sodium intake is to prepare our meals at home from scratch. And that’s something that becomes even more challenging when we focus on teenagers, who are out and about and generally eat their way through the day outside of our kitchens. Concerns about what high levels of sodium mean for overweight and obese teens are just now coming to light.

In a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014, researchers found that overweight teenagers who consume too much salt exhibit signs of faster cell aging.

In their study, the researchers divided 766 subjects, who were between 14 and 18-years old, into two groups based on whether they consume more than 4,100 mg of salt a day or less than 2,400 mg of salt a day. The subjects in both groups notably consume more than the American Heart Association’s recommended 1,500 mg of salt serving per day.

The researchers observed that the protective ends of the chromosome called telomeres, which naturally shorten with age, were much shorter in overweight and obese subjects with high salt intake but not in teens with normal weight but high salt intake.

“Even in these relatively healthy young people, we can already see the effect of high sodium intake, suggesting that high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging,” said study lead author Haidong Zhu, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia.

Zhu said that overweight teenagers who want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider reducing their salt intake and this may even be easier than losing weight.

“Lowering sodium intake, especially if you are overweight or obese, may slow down the cellular aging process that plays an important role in the development of heart disease,” Zhu said. “Lowering sodium intake may be an easier first step than losing weight for overweight young people who want to lower their risk of heart disease.”

Zhu also pointed out that most of the salt in the diet comes from processed food and urged parents to prepare fresh and healthier foods more often.

“The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods, so parents can help by cooking fresh meals more often and by offering fresh fruit rather than potato chips for a snack,” Zhu said.

Encouraging teens to eat real food can be a challenge. Certainly it’s good advice to cook fresh meals as often as possible. Yet, even parents who prepare meals from scratch every day face the issue that teenagers are spending less time in the home than they did when they were younger. likes the idea of choosing a variety of healthier snacks for the home, in hopes of finding a few that teens can seek out when they’re outside the home. It may help us help them to make healthier choices when we’re not there to guide them.

New nutrition labels on the horizon for the first time in 20 years!

It’s a mantra around here … ALWAYS read nutrition labels. How can you know what you’re eating unless you do? But while you’re consistently reading those labels, odds are you sometimes have some questions regarding the information they’re trying to impart.

That idea hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Food and Drug Administration. Nutrition labels as we know them today have read exactly the same way for the last 20 years. The FDA says that knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years and nutrition labels need to evolve along with our knowledge. 20 years ago, we were all hyper-focused on fat. Remember all those fat-free products lining our grocery store shelves back then? And 20 years ago, we weren’t quite as focused on serving sizes as we are today.

As the agency considers revisions, nutritionists and other health experts have their own wish list of desired changes.

The number of calories should be more prominent, they say, and the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat in the food should be included. They also want more clarity on how serving sizes are defined.

“There’s a feeling that nutrition labels haven’t been as effective as they should be,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with.”

For example, he says, most of the nutrients are listed in grams, the metric system’s basic unit of mass. Jacobson says people don’t really understand what a gram is.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, says 20 years ago “there was a big focus on fat, and fat undifferentiated.” Since then, health providers have focused more on calories and warned people away from saturated and trans fats more than all fats. Trans fats were separated out on the label in 2006.

The nutrition facts label “is now 20 years old, the food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed,” says Taylor, who was at the agency in the early 1990s when the FDA first introduced the label at the behest of Congress. “It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic.”

The FDA has sent guidelines for the new labels to the White House, but Taylor would not estimate when they might be released. The FDA has been working on the issue for a decade, he said.

There’s evidence that more people are reading the labels in recent years.

According to an Agriculture Department study released this month, a greater percentage of adults reported using the nutrition facts panel and other claims on food packages “always or most of the time” in 2009 and 2010 compared with two years earlier.

The USDA study said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, while older adults used it 57 percent of the time during that period.

One expected change in the label is to make the calorie listing more prominent, and Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association said that could be useful to consumers. Her group represents the nation’s largest food companies.

It’s not yet clear what other changes the FDA could decide on. Nutrition advocates are hoping the agency adds a line for sugars and syrups that are not naturally occurring in foods and drinks and are added when they are processed or prepared. Right now, some sugars are listed separately among the ingredients and some are not.

It may be difficult for the FDA to figure out how to calculate added sugars, however. Food manufacturers are adding naturally occurring sugars to their products so they can label them as natural – but the nutrition content is no different.

Other suggestions from health advocates:

- Add the percentage of whole wheat to the label. Many manufacturers will label products “whole wheat” when there is really only a small percentage of it in the food.

- Clearer measurements. Jacobson of CSPI and others have suggested that the FDA use teaspoons instead of grams on the label, since consumers can envision a teaspoon.

- Serving sizes that make sense. There’s no easy answer, but health experts say that single-size servings that are clearly meant to be eaten in one sitting will often list two or three servings on the label, making the calorie and other nutrient information deceptive. FDA said last year that it may add another column to the labels, listing nutrition information per serving and per container. The agency may also adjust recommended serving sizes for some foods.

- Package-front labeling. Beyond the panel on the back, nutrition experts have pushed for labels on the package front for certain nutrients so consumers can see them more easily. The FDA said several years ago it would issue guidelines for front of pack labeling, but later said it would hold off to see if the industry could create its own labels.

Tracy Fox, a Washington-based nutrition consultant, says clearer information is needed to balance the billions of dollars a year that the food industry spends on food marketing.
“There’s a lot of information there, it’s messy,” she says. “There may be a way to call out certain things and put them in context.” certainly believes that better nutrition label information can lead us all to making better food choices — and can lead to manufacturers taking greater care when producing food products. Transparency in labeling is so important. We all deserve to understand the actual serving size of every product we purchase. We all deserve to understand the sugar content of the foods we’re eating. And we’d all have a more precise knowledge of our foods if nutrient content was expressed in teaspoons here in the U.S. We’re looking forward to seeing the changes that the FDA will put forward that will help us become more educated, aware consumers!

McDonald’s tells its employees not to eat McDonald’s

McDonald’s maintains a resource website specifically for its employees.  Sadly, that site has recently been giving tips lately that its employees haven’t exactly appreciated.  A few of the special nuggets of advice have been telling workers to work a second job and sell their belongings for quick cash.

But the latest advice given by the website is actually helpful — although odd, considering the source.  McDonald’s employee website is advising its workers not to eat McDonald’s.  Actually, it doesn’t refer specifically to McDonald’s, but does explain the unhealthy nature of a fast food meal … and tells workers to avoid such meals.

An image posted on the site labels a McDonald’s-like meal of hamburger, fries, and a coke as an “unhealthy choice,” and warns employees against consuming such foods, which are “almost always high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt.”

“It is hard to eat a healthy diet when you eat at fast-food restaurants often,” the site goes on to say. “Many foods are cooked with a lot of fat, even if they are not trans fats. Many fast-food restaurants do not offer any lower-fat foods. Large portions also make it easy to overeat. And most fast food restaurants do not offer many fresh fruits and vegetables.”

“In general,” the site suggests, “eat at places that offer a variety of salads, soups, and vegetables.”

In a statement made to CNBC, McDonald’s insisted the website’s tips “continue to be taken entirely out of context.”

Not exactly sure what could be “out of context” about advising employees that fast food is an unhealthy choice. thinks it’s actually very good advice.   We also think that perhaps this could have just been a big mix-up and the firm McDonald’s hired to publish content to their employee site didn’t actually realize that the content was, in fact, meant for the employees of a fast food chain.  There are any number of possibilities here.  But we think the obvious take away might just be that McDonald’s is trying to steer their own employees away from the products they serve every day.  Which, when it comes right down to it, really says a mouthful.