Category Archives: Nutritional Awareness

Your brain and a balanced diet

fruitsA healthy diet keeps your body healthy. Here at we’re always talking about how important it is to commit to a healthy diet. What we don’t talk about very much is that your healthy diet is especially important to the health of your brain.

Eating a Mediterranean diet or other healthy dietary pattern, comprising of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and low in processed meats, is associated with preventing the onset of depression, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine. A large study of 15,093 people suggests depression could be linked with nutrient deficits.

Following extensive research into diet and its effect on our physical health, researchers are now exploring the link between nutrition and mental health. This is the first time that several healthy dietary patterns and their association with the risk of depression have been analyzed together.

The researchers compared three diets; the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Participants used a scoring system to measure their adherence to the selected diet, i.e. the higher the dietary score indicated that the participant was eating a healthier diet.

Food items such as meat and sweets (sources of animal fats: saturated and trans fatty acids) were negatively scored, while nuts, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals respectively) were positively scored.

Lead researcher, Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, says “We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds. These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health.”

“The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression.”
The study included 15,093 participants free of depression at the beginning of the study. They are former students of the University of Navarra, Spain, registered professionals from some Spanish provinces and other university graduates. All are part of the SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) Project, a cohort study started on 21st December 1999. The cohort has been used to identify dietary and lifestyle determinants of various conditions, including diabetes, obesity and depression.

Questionnaires to assess dietary intake were completed at the start of the project and again after 10 years. A total of 1,550 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or had used antidepressant drugs after a median follow-up of 8.5 years.

The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the greatest reduction of risk of depression but most of the effect could be explained by its similarity with the Mediterranean Diet. Thus, common nutrients and food items such as omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and moderate alcohol intake present in both patterns (Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and Mediterranean diet) could be responsible for the observed reduced risk in depression associated with a good adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010.

Almudena Sanchez-Villegas says, “A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets.

So, once the threshold is achieved, the reduced risk plateaus even if participants were stricter with their diets and eating more healthily. This dose-response pattern is compatible with the hypothesis that suboptimal intake of some nutrients (mainly located in low adherence levels) may represent a risk factor for future depression.”

A limitation of this study was that the results are based on self-reported dietary intake and a self-reported clinical diagnosis of depression. More research is needed to predict the role of nutrient intake for neurophysiological requirements and identify whether it is minerals and vitamins or proteins and carbohydrates that cause depression.

Fruits and vegetables are important for our bodies. Our brains are a significant part of those bodies. Let’s feed our brains as if our lives depended on it because, well, they do.

France favors a five-color nutritional labeling system

Five-colour-nutrition-labelling-not-easy-to-interpret-says-Foodwatch_strict_xxlWhile the U.S. is redesigning nutrition labels for our food products, it appears that France is considering a different approach to nutritional labels. Interestingly, it appears that the French are considering a similar system to the one that employs in our own Health Score system. We always knew we were on to something …

While the French High Council for Public Health (HCSP) made public on Monday, 24 August 2015, a positive opinion regarding the relevance of the 5-color code for the public, a team of researchers (Inserm/INRA/Paris 13 University) directed by Serge Hercberg, on publication of their article in the journal Nutrients, demonstrated that the 5-colorr nutrition label (5-CNL) is the most effective nutritional information system for allowing consumers to recognize and compare the nutritional quality of foods, including “at-risk” populations (older subjects, those with a lower educational level, lower income, lower nutritional knowledge, and overweight or obese individuals).

Article 5 of the Health Act, introduced by Marisol Touraine, Minister of Health, and passed by the French Parliament, states, .” make it easier to inform consumers and to help the consumer make informed choices, that the mandatory nutrition declaration may be accompanied by a presentation or complementary expression using graphics or symbols on the front of packaging.”

Several systems have been proposed at national and international level. In France, many learned societies support the establishment of the 5-CNL 5-color nutritional labelling system (green/yellow/orange/fuchsia pink/red). The latter is based on the calculation of a nutritional quality score (nutrient profiling system, Food Standards Agency, FSA), which takes several elements present on the nutrition label into account (calories, simple sugars, saturated fatty acids, sodium, fibre, protein and percentage of fruits and vegetables per 100 g of product), to arrive at a unique indicator of the nutritional quality of the food.

Several studies have already contributed to the validation of the FSA score, by showing that the nutritional quality of foods consumed evaluated by the FSA score is linked to the overall quality of the diet and nutritional status of individuals, and in a prospective manner to the risk of disease. These scientific studies underscore the interest of putting the 5-color nutrition label (5-CNL), based on FSA score, on the front of food packaging in order to better guide consumers in their food choices. This system is the subject of considerable controversy, fueled among others by the various industrial stakeholders, who cast doubt on its value.

The study published today by EREN under the direction of Pauline Ducrot (PhD student in Nutrition) and Sandrine Péneau (Lecturer in Nutrition, Paris 13 University) in the journal Nutrients compares the effect of different nutrition labels on the front of packs of various foods on the ability of consumers to rank foods appropriately. The study was carried out on a sample of 14,230 adults participating in the NutriNet-Santé study. The impact of 4 simplified nutritional labelling systems was tested: the color-based 5-CNL system; the Green Tick, similar to that used in some Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands; the Multiple Traffic Light system used in Great Britain, and the Guideline Daily Amounts (or Reference Intakes) system already used in France by some industrial companies. A logo-free situation was also used as a reference.

With the help of a Web-based questionnaire specifically developed for this study, participants in the study were asked to rank, on a relative basis (“less good,” “moderate,” “the best” or “I don’t know”) the nutritional quality of different series of 3 foods belonging to the same category.

Five categories of foods were tested: frozen fish products, pizzas, dairy products, breakfast mueslis and appetizers.

Each participant had to randomly test a combination of food products and nutrition labels from the 5 categories. For this, 25 different versions of the questionnaire were used. A statistical design (Latin Square) made it possible to ensure an equal number of participants for each labelling/product category combination.

The results of this specific study on the comprehension of nutritional logos show that:

1. Generally speaking, individuals “at risk” of having a nutritionally poorer quality diet (older subjects, participants with a lower educational level, lower income, lower nutritional knowledge, and overweight or obese individuals) had greater difficulty in ranking food products according to their nutritional quality.
2. The various nutrition labels significantly increased the ability of individuals, including those at risk, to rank 3 foods in order of their nutritional quality, compared with a logo-free setting.
3. The nutrition labels had more impact than individual characteristics (education level, income, etc.) on increasing the ability of the individuals to correctly rank the foods by nutritional quality. The chance of correctly ranking the products was multiplied up to 12-fold with a logo, whereas individual characteristics enabled an increase in the chance by a factor of only 1.17.
4. Of the nutrition labels tested, the 5-color nutritional labelling system (5-CNL) was the most effective in terms of comprehension. It performed better than the Traffic Light, Reference Intakes, or Green Tick labelling systems.
5. The 5-CNL system performed better, including among individuals with a relatively “unfavorable” diet in terms of nutrition and health. In particular, the presence of 5-CNL strongly increased (over twenty-fold compared to the logo-free situation) the ability of individuals with no knowledge of nutrition to correctly rank the products compared with a logo-free situation.
The results of this study emphasize the interest of nutrition labels for helping consumers, particularly those at risk of making food choices that are relatively “unfavorable” to their health, to identify the products most conducive to a balanced diet. The 5-color logo (5-CNL) system turns out to be the best understood among individuals as a whole, and may therefore make it possible to inform consumers effectively and equitably on the nutritional quality of products, and thereby incorporate this information into determinants of their food choices.

Color-coded systems like this one are simple identifiers that consumers can immediately equate with the nutritional quality of foods they are considering. A “good,” “better,” “best” system makes healthier food choices more accessible ultimately resulting in better dietary choices. We’re obviously a fan – we’ve been employing such a system on our own website for years now. We’re happy to hear that we’re ahead of the curve!

Brown-bagging it isn’t always as healthy as the school cafeteria

Healthy school lunch with bookWe’ll admit it. We’re a little surprised by this information coming out of the Washington Post. While we understand that the nutritional quality of school lunches has received a major upgrade, has just assumed that lunches prepared at home and packed in backpacks would still possess greater nutritional value than cafeteria food. It appears this isn’t always the case.

The Post compared 1,300 school cafeteria and brown bag lunches at three Virginia schools. They found that the packed lunches contained more calories, carbs, fat and sugar — as well as less protein, fiber and calcium when compared with the National School Lunch Program meals.

The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act require schools to increase fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat milk; reduce sodium and saturated fat in the foods they serve; and meet nutrition needs for schoolchildren. Parent-packed meals do not have to meet any guidelines. About 90 percent of schools reported that they met these standards for the most recent school year, up from just 14 percent four years ago.

About 40 percent of children bring a packed lunch to school. However, the Post found that lunches from home contained more desserts, unhealthy snack items like chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fewer healthy items like fruits and veggies.

The report is in line with a recent study of schools in Massachusetts, which found that only 27 percent of the packed lunches met at least three of the five federal standards.

Parents can improve the quality of their lunches by including fresh fruit and vegetables in each meal, substituting a sugary drink for water or milk, and get rid of desserts in favor of a fruit. They should also involve their children in making decisions on what to eat, and help encourage them to eat healthier foods by giving them a choice between healthy options.

We get that parents today are busier than ever. The world is on overdrive for most of us as we shoulder more responsibilities than ever before. While that snack-sized bag of chips or Goldfish crackers may be easier to throw in a lunchbox than sliced apples or pears, there are things we just shouldn’t be willing to forego for our kids. There are easy ways to sneak in some additional nutrition with lunch. A wrap instead of a sandwich can house some vegetables. Yogurt and fruit can easily take the place of chips and cookies. Healthy eating habits are what we want instilled in our children from the youngest of ages. It will make a difference in the choices they make for themselves later on and it’s certainly worth the extra effort.

Let’s catch up with school lunches and make sure our kids are eating right — not only when they’re at home — but in the middle of their busy school days as well!

Nutritionally, it’s all about the first 1,000 days of life has devoted a lot of blog space discussing the importance of children’s nutrition. We’ve certainly had plenty of good reasons for that — the obesity epidemic has affected our kids in a profound way, compromising their health and altering their young lifestyles. Much has been done in an effort to change and ultimately reverse the crisis. School lunches are under new regulations. First Lady Michelle Obama has done a wonderful job with her groundbreaking Let’s Move campaign. We’ve even seen some major manufacturers commit to ditching artificial food colors in products our children love.

But what if we started earlier in our children’s lives? What if healthy eating started, say, at conception, and lasted throughout the first 1,000 days of a child’s life?

That is what Lucy Martinez Sullivan hopes to drill into the national and international conversation with her organization, 1,000 Days. “I realized how little attention and how little money had been focused” on this stage in life, she said.

The most important time to pay attention to a child’s nutrition is from the time of conception until they are 2 years old. Good nutrition during this critical window can change their lives, leading to better growth of brain and body.

Certainly, some of the important focuses of 1,000 Days are conditions in poorer countries without great infrastructure. But the U.S. ranks among the top 10 worst-performing countries when it comes to several major factors of child and maternal health. We are a part of this as much as anywhere else.
Sullivan is on a campaign to get the message out to decision makers, world leaders, and perhaps most important, parents.

To try to help her expand the reach of her campaign, she partnered with a woman so many of us know, Heidi Murkoff — otherwise known as the writer of the “What to Expect” books.

“The lack of interest” in the earliest years of life “is just startling,” Murkoff said. “The whole focus is on elementary school kids. They’re already 9 years old.”

Did you know, according to the Journal of Obesity in 2012, that french fries are the most common “vegetable” among 12-15 month olds in North America? With 18.5 percent of them eating fries at least once a day? Or that by 19 to 24 months, 62 percent of toddlers had eaten a baked dessert, 20 percent consumed candy, and 44 percent had consumed a sweetened beverage, according to the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2013?

So while many countries that Sullivan deals with are in crisis mode because the children are undernourished, ours are poorly nourished. And that means their brains aren’t growing, they are in trouble physically, and it will be hard to dig out from under the damage already done.

So what now? As far as these two powerhouses are concerned, they will work together to try to engage the next generation of moms, policy makers and advocates to ensure a better start for babies worldwide.

Murkoff said she wants to see healthy food become more affordable and available. She wants to see more help to support breastfeeding for those who are able. “It’s a process that doesn’t come naturally,” she said. But many women want to, they just don’t know how. Or they are forced to return to work, many times to a place or shift work that doesn’t allow for pumping.

What does this mean for you and me? We need to change the way we all look at nutrition, childhood obesity and what causes a lack of good health — from the earliest days. That will help us prevent the worst diseases and health outcomes for the newest generation.

And, Murkoff noted, we have to “nurture the nurturer.”

That sentiment, Sullivan noted, will happen if we work to change policies, like a lack of paid maternity leave. How can we feed our children well, or even attempt to breastfeed them, if we have to return to work shortly after birth? How can we watch what goes into their little bodies if we can’t cobble together good childcare for those of us who do work? How can we feed them fresh fruits if we live in areas that have nothing but corner stores?

“The more we neglect populations…the more these families get locked into a cycle of bad health,” Sullivan said. “We need to set moms up to succeed.”

There’s so much critical information that’s revealed here. The research cited is fairly astounding. And it certainly points to the idea that we can do so much better for our children here in the U.S. We can remember when people were appalled when ketchup was considered a vegetable in school cafeterias and now we’re finding out that french fries are the most common “vegetable” for a substantial percentage of one-year-olds. It’s absolutely time to focus more energy on the nutritional quality of diets for the youngest among us. We’ll be doing so much for the health of future generations — and, in doing so, we’ll have a better opportunity reverse the obesity crisis once and for all.

What girls eat today could influence their risk of breast cancer tomorrow

mailThere are many women for whom breast cancer is part of their family tree. Heredity can play an important role in the development of this devastating disease. But there are other women with no family history of breast cancer who are diagnosed every year having no idea how this could have happened to them.

But new research from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that what some of those women ate years ago as a teenager may have played a role.

“We know from lots of other data that that period of life is a critical period,” said Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “And the one thing that has been seen most clearly is consumption of red meat — both fresh meat and processed meat — during adolescence is related to higher risk of breast cancer.”

Researcher Maryam Farvid reviewed the data from nearly 45,000 women. She said girls don’t have to become vegetarians.

“If you just go from having red meat once a day to once a week, you can eliminate most of the risk,” Farvid said.

Researchers recommend choosing other forms of protein like nuts, beans, poultry and fish.

“That is the one thing that parents can steer their children towards to reduce their risk of breast cancer in the long run,” Willett said.

As for weight gain, research shows women increase their risk when they add pounds after menopause.

But as teenagers, it’s complicated.

“We actually see that the leaner girls have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life,” Willet said. “It’s quite a puzzle. It’s opposite to what everyone expected.”

Figuring out these connections between diet and risk could be key to preventing breast cancer in the next generation.

But one large-scale nutrition study — funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — will take time.

The Growing Up Today Study has been tracking thousands of kids closely since 1996, but the oldest ones just turned 30.

“The participants have not really been old enough to start developing breast cancer yet, but within a decade or two, they will be.” knows that everyone in our community works hard to make sure that their children are consuming nutritious, balanced diets. When it comes to breast cancer, nutritional awareness should take a front row seat in the educational process that can help us lower not only our own risk, but our daughters’ as well.

Read more:

Fast food menus claiming less calories … sort of

fast food ran across some seemingly encouraging news today regarding calories and fast food menus. As we read further, though, we realized that there’s a bit of a “smoke and mirrors” component going on with these claims.

A comprehensive new report is revealing that fast-food chains have been cutting calories on their menus.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, menu items introduced by big chain restaurants—including McDonald’s, Chipotle, and IHOP—had, on average, 60 fewer calories than items released in 2012. That’s a 12 percent drop in calories.

The study looked at 19,000 menu items served in 66 of the 100 largest restaurant chains in the U.S. from 2012 to 2013. The biggest drops were in new main course offerings (67 calories), followed by new children’s (46 calories) and beverage (26 calories) items.

However, the overall mean calories didn’t budge. The burger chains aren’t cutting the calories of their signature burgers; they’re just adding healthier items, such as salads, to the menu. Time posits that the lower-calorie menu additions are popping up because restaurants with 20 or more locations in the U.S. have to list calorie counts on menus.

But according to the study’s lead author, Sara N. Bleich, 200 extra calories a day can contribute to obesity.

“You can’t prohibit people from eating fast food, but offering consumers lower calorie options at chain restaurants may help reduce caloric intake without asking the individual to change their behavior—a very difficult thing to do,” Bleich said in a statement.

“This voluntary action by large chain restaurants to offer lower calorie menu options may indicate a trend toward increased transparency of nutritional information, which could have a significant impact on obesity and the public’s health,” Bleich said.

On the other hand, just wants to put out there that these voluntary actions by large fast food chains may be more about seeking to change public perception than an attempt to increase nutritional transparency of menu items. Since there is no chain that’s actually reformulating their signature items in attempt to decrease calories, we do have to think this might be true. While it’s important for fast food restaurants to introduce lower calorie options, as long as their main offerings remain as they are, it’s somewhat misleading to say that menus are slimming down. It all depends on what the consumer chooses to eat, not on the concentrated efforts of chains to reduce calories in items across their menus.–theres-catch

Obesity link in cancer

Cancer &-fatOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so we want to spend time spotlighting new research illustrating possible nutritional links with cancer that can be of help to the community. Knowledge is power — especially when it comes to helping us avoid health conditions and disease. So let’s look at some new research that can make us more powerful in the fight against cancer.

You likely know that being overweight increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But did you know it also increases your risk for cancer?

If you didn’t, you’re not alone. While around 90% of Americans know that smoking is linked to higher rates of cancer, Dr. Clifford Hudis says, the inverse is true for obesity and cancer; less than 10% of us realize how fat is related to this chronic disease.

“Obesity is a major, under-recognized contributor to the nation’s cancer toll and is quickly overtaking tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer,” Hudis and his colleagues at the American Society of Clinical Oncology write in a new position paper.

In fact, as many as 84,000 cancer diagnoses each year are linked to obesity, according to the National Cancer Institute. Excess fat also affects how cancer treatments work and may increase a cancer patient’s risk of death, either from cancer or from other related causes.
The key word, Hudis says, is preventable. While we can’t change the fact that we’re all getting older (incidence rates for most cancers increase as patients age), we can change our weight through diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.

In 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study that included more than 900,000 American adults. Researchers followed the healthy study participants for 16 years, and found the heaviest participants were more likely to develop and die from cancer than participants who were at a healthy weight.

After their analysis, the study authors concluded that excess fat “could account for 14% of all deaths from cancer in men and 20% of those in women.”

Since then, research has simply strengthened the link between obesity and cancer. Studies have found a relationship between weight and the risk of as many as 12 cancers, says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, including endometrial, colorectal, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancers.

A recent report published in the American Association for Cancer Research’s journal predicted the top cancer killers in the United States by 2030 will be lung, pancreas and liver — in part because of rising obesity rates.

“It’s not enough to say there’s an association between obesity and cancer. We need to know why,” Hudis says. “With the why, we can do something about it.”

Scientists are exploring several hypotheses on how excess fat increases a person’s risk for cancer. The answer may be slightly different for each type of cancer, but the encompassing explanation seems to be that obesity triggers changes in how the body operates, which can cause harmful cell growth and cell division.

Many of these changes may be linked to inflammation. In general, inflammation occurs when your body is reacting to something out of the norm — say a virus or a splinter in your foot. Obesity seems to cause chronic inflammation, which in turn may promote cancer development.

Take for example, Hudis says, hormone-sensitive breast cancers. Chemicals in the body meant to regulate inflammation also increase production of the hormone estrogen. And studies have shown excess estrogen can cause breast cancer tumors.

Fat tissue also produces hormones called adipokines, which can stimulate or inhibit cell growth, according to a fact sheet from the oncology society. If these hormones are out of balance, the body may not be able to properly fight cell damage.

Obesity can affect a cancer patient’s outcome from diagnosis to remission, Hudis says.
Obesity-related pain or unbalanced hormone levels may distract patients from the early warning signs of some cancers. Fatty tissue can also make it difficult for doctors to see tumors on imaging scans. And a late diagnosis often means a lower chance for survival.
The relationship between cancer and obesity also matters after diagnosis. Cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, may be hindered by a patient’s size. If the patient needs surgery, studies show excess fat puts them at a higher risk of complications, infections and death.

A recent study of 80,000 breast cancer patients found that pre-menopausal women with a BMI over 30 had a 21.5% chance of dying, compared to women with an average BMI who had a 16.6% chance of death.

Remaining obese as a survivor can also increase your risk of developing what’s called a secondary cancer, the authors of this new position paper say.

In general, “people should be aware that overweight and obesity, as common as they are in our population, have serious consequences,” Hudis says. “Cancer is really just another one.”

Start reducing your risk now: Stay active. Eat nutritious foods that are low in calories. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Manage your stress levels. All these behaviors will help you reach a healthy weight.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology is recommending more research be done on weight loss in the cancer survivor population to determine the best intervention method — and whether losing weight after a diagnosis improves patient outcomes. The results of these future studies could help persuade insurance providers to reimburse patients for weight management programs.

There’s so much great information here that gives us all significant reasons to continue our commitment to a healthy lifestyle. So many contributing risk factors for cancer are within our own control. We do have power here and can work to make the decisions that will ultimately improve our health and well being.

Increasing waistlines signal bad news for the obesity crisis

waistlinesNews regarding the obesity crisis continues to be conflicting. Some reports would lead us to believe that if the obesity trend isn’t reversing, it may at least be stabilizing. So what’s actually going on? New information released last week isn’t as encouraging as some of the recent reports infer.

The prevalence of abdominal obesity and average waist circumference increased among U.S. adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

Waist circumference is a simple measure of total and intra-abdominal body fat. Although the prevalence of abdominal obesity has increased in the United States through 2008, its trend in recent years has not been known, according to background information in the article.

Earl S. Ford, M.D., M.P.H., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues used data from seven 2-year cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) starting with 1999-2000 and concluding with 2011-2012 to determine trends in average waist circumference and prevalence of abdominal obesity among adults in the United States. Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference greater than 40.2 inches (102 cm) in men and greater than 34.6 inches (88 cm) in women.

Data from 32,816 men and nonpregnant women ages 20 years or older were analyzed. The overall age-adjusted average waist circumference increased progressively and significantly, from 37.6 inches in 1999-2000 to 38.8 inches in 2011-2012. Significant increases occurred in men (0.8 inch), women (1.5 inch), non-Hispanic whites (1.2 inch), non­Hispanic blacks (1.6 inch), and Mexican Americans (1.8 inch).

The overall age-adjusted prevalence of abdominal obesity increased significantly from 46.4 percent in 1999-2000 to 54.2 percent in 2011-2012. Significant increases were present in men (37.1 percent to 43.5 percent), women (55.4 percent to 64.7 percent), non-Hispanic whites (45.8 percent to 53.8 percent), non-Hispanic blacks (52.4 percent to 60.9 percent), and Mexican Americans (48.1 percent to 57.4 percent).

The authors write that previous analyses of data from NHANES show that the prevalence of obesity calculated from body mass index (BMI) did not change significantly from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012. “In contrast, our analyses using data from the same surveys indicate that the prevalence of abdominal obesity is still increasing. The reasons for increases in waist circumference in excess of what would be expected from changes in BMI remain speculative, but several factors, including sleep deprivation, endocrine disruptors, and certain medications, have been proposed as potential explanations.”

“Our results support the routine measurement of waist circumference in clinical care consistent with current recommendations as a key step in initiating the prevention, control, and management of obesity among patients.”

While body mass index statistics are pointing to a leveling out of the obesity statistics, abdominal obesity is still on the rise. takes this as bad news. Abdominal obesity is referred to as obesity for a reason. This is important information that speaks to the continuation of a crisis and begs from all of us a renewed commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

Don’t eat that! It will spoil your appetite! Junk food just might do exactly what your mother warned you about …

Assorted Junk FoodYou have at least one memory from your childhood featuring your mom or your grandmother or some other well-meaning adult admonishing you in a harsh tone. “Don’t eat that! It will spoil your appetite!” It might have been cookies, or candy or chips. Inevitably, it was very close to dinner time. And odds are, you weren’t pleased by the words.

As it turns out, junk food really might spoil your appetite — on a more permanent basis.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales Australia conducted several studies to see how junk food would impact rats’ weight and dietary preferences. Of course, they found the obvious—junk food “makes rats fat.” But they also determined that junk food-fed rats experienced a reduced desire for novel foods, which is important as this appetitive tendency, innate in animals, typically encourages rats’ to pursue a balanced diet.

“Eating junk food seems to change the response to signals that are associated with food reward,” commented Prof. Margaret Morris, Head of Pharmacology from the UNSW Australia’s School of Medical Sciences and a study co-author.

How did the researchers come to this conclusion?

For several weeks, the team fed one group of animals a diet of healthy rat food, and they fed another group of rats a diet that included not-so-healthy human foods such as pie, dumplings, cookies and cake. Both groups of rats were also given cherry and grape sugar water to drink. The junk food-fed rats wound up weighing 10 percent more than their healthy food-fed counterparts.

In one of the experiments, the team taught these rats to associate cherry and grape sugar water with different sound cues. The healthy rats responded appropriately to the sound cues—that is, if they had just consumed grape sugar water and then heard another cue for grape sugar water, they wouldn’t drink more of it. Junk food-fed rats, on the other hand, would respond to sound cues in an unhealthy manner—if they heard a noise associated with grape sugar water, they would drink said sugar water even if they had just consumed a lot of it. (The same findings hold for cherry sugar water.)

In other words, it appears junk food-fed rats don’t seem to realize when they’ve overindulged in a food (the flavored sugar water); instead, they respond to the sound cues just the same, whereas healthy rats stop responding to the food they just ate.

“We know a lot about food and nutrition and what we should be doing, and yet we’re getting fatter and fatter,” Morris says. “Our sort of diet appears to override an animal’s ability to know it’s just eaten something—they’re just eating indiscriminately, if you will.”

In another experiment, the researchers wanted to see whether the apparent disruption of the reward mechanism persisted after the junk food-fed rats were placed on a healthy diet. Even after a week on healthy rat chow, the formerly junk food-fed rats still acted the same way, treating both solutions indiscriminately, according to Morris.

“It suggests that whatever changes happen in the brain may persist for a while,” she says.

The study, while pertaining to rats, has a lot of troubling implications for humans. Rat behavior often gives insight into human behavior—which means we should think deeply about junk food’s psychological and public health impacts.

Science is constantly offering us new perspectives on our health and our foods. can say with confidence that those new perspectives simply uphold what nutritionists, dietitians, researchers, and educated consumers have known all along. Junk food is nutritionally vacant. What it does provide, unfortunately, are high levels of sugar, salt and fat, contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And according to the study detailed here, it can interfere with our normal tendencies to balance our diets, thus leading to more of the same. Now that’s a new perspective — not to mention yet another significant reason to stay far away from junk food.

Eat like an Olympian

The 2014 Sochi Olympics are well underway. Fans have already been awed by the power and strength displayed by athletes in snowboarding, figure skating and skiing, to name just a few of the sports we’ve been watching since February 6th. It’s impossible to watch these athletes compete and not marvel at the amazing abilities of mind and body.

For every one of the Olympians, that power and strength most certainly comes from extraordinary talent and training, as well as discipline and the desire to push the envelope of their sport. But it is fascinating to learn what an important role nutritional concerns play in their development and their ability to compete at such an intense level.

The nutritionists and dietitians at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) play a joint role when it comes to making sure the athletes’ nutritional needs are met on and off the field. Concentrating on service, education and research the sports nutrition experts at the USOC adhere to a three-pronged approach to helping athletes achieve excellence. By incorporating the expertise from the USOC’s sports medicine division and strength and conditioning team, sports nutrition experts utilize science as the foundation of performance enhancement.

Allen Tran is a high performance chef for the US Ski and Snowboard Association and this year’s US Olympic ski and snowboard teams in Sochi. In an interview, he commented about the nutritional needs of the US team. “When it comes to nutritional needs, athletes definitely need to incorporate a combination of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense fruits and veggies. That’s the nutritional base for many of my meals.”

Chef Tran’s sample menu includes oatmeal, Greek yogurt with fresh berries for breakfast and veggie and beef Texas chili and spinach salad with avocado for lunch.

Kelly Anne Erdman, MSc, R.D., former Olympic cyclist, 1992 Barcelona Games, helps organize the nutrition programs for Canada’s top athletes at the Canadian Sport Centre in Calgary. She commented, “We’re looking at high-quality sources of protein—beef, pork, eggs, turkey. That’s their main recovery meal, which is generally after their midday weight-and-resistance training.” Whole-grain rice and pasta as well as fresh vegetables round out the athletes’ diets.

The general nutrition guidelines for the USA team include: Consume a low saturated fat diet, (less than 7 percent of total calories. No more than one gram of saturated fat per 100 calories. Consume more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as oily fish, leafy greens, almonds, cashews and avocados. Eat foods with plant sterols and sterols which are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and com­mercially prepared butter-like table spreads.

Optimal hydration supports daily training and recovery. Suggestions to help increase fluid intake at training or competition include drinking cool fluids (59 degrees) in hot weather and warm fluids in cold weather. Sodium is critical for optimal cellular rehydration and should be included in drinks when athletes do not have the opportunity to consume electrolytes naturally found in food. Low fat milk and flavored milk have been shown to be effective rehydration solutions.

While most of us aren’t world-class athletes adhering to an intense training schedule (and probably have no need to consume the number of calories per day as those who are), we can all find the nutritional sense in the guidelines these professionals have outlined. Lean protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds … real foods that are nutritionally valuable can help keep all of our bodies performing at optimal levels. Even if we aren’t attempting a triple toe loop or a triple cork or looking to fly over 240 meters on a ski jump, optimal health is a goal that should have us all trying to eat like Olympians.

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