Sunday, April 28, 2013

What to do about those red meat chemicals

    New research links a naturally occurring substance found in red meat and egg yolks (choline), to heart disease and heart attack.  The substance is chemically altered when stomach bacteria break it down.  The substance becomes trimethylamine-N-oxide or TMAO.
   Without going into the details of the research, which appears plausible (likely to be true), people with high levels of TMAO in their blood stream are more likely to have heart disease and adverse health outcomes related to it (i.e., heart attack).  This research adds to the conversation about red meat, saturated fat and adverse health.  Maybe it is the choline and the metabolism of it and not saturated fat that causes health problems.
   Does this mean you cannot eat red meat or whole eggs?  NO.  Does it mean that eating red meat causes heart disease?  NO.  But it does show that the more red meat (and eggs I suppose) that a person consumes the greater their risk of heart disease (as found when looking at averages for whole groups of people).  
    The reason I am blogging about it today is because after thestudy was released, drug companies started working on a pill that would change the way choline is digested or that would prevent TMAO from accumulating.  In other words, the drug companies immediately began working on a way to treat a problem that could easily be prevented.  Eat LESS red meat for goodness sakes, pills are not the answer. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learned Food Preferences

   Our food likes and dislikes are learned at early ages and these preferences, once instilled, are hard to change.  It is especially hard to change when you are as old as the Cookie Monster (He is 40 something).   
   Keep this information in mind when you are responsible for feeding children (whether its every day, as a parent; some days, as a school or restaurant chef; or holidays and special visits, as a relative).  You can make a difference in their preferences- well you will make one,  I just hope it's positive.

Don't Let this Happen to Your Kids! (ha ha )

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Does Information Make It Easy?

   This past Monday, the Huffington Post ran an article on menu labeling that was written by two former USDA secretaries.  They were writing in support of the mandate found in the Affordable Care Act that requires restaurant chains and similar establishments to post the calorie contents of their items on menus and menu board.  
   The secretaries, Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman were specifically speaking to the debate over similar establishments, and as I have suggested here, they urged the FDA to include movie theaters in the mandate.  They also called for supermarket inclusion and alluded to sports arenas, but did not mention bowling alleys.  They appeared to be in support of having all of the venues included because they spoke of consumers being able to compare items no matter where they were choosing them.  They said that the regulations should be "inclusive."  They also said, and here is where I disagree, that having information available at all locations will make the healthy choice the easy choice.
    Though it is necessary to have information to make an informed choice and information is necessary to make one that meets your values, having it does not make the healthy choice easy.  Why not? Because information is only one factor that goes into food decisions and if survey research is correct, it is not the number one or even number two factor in this choice.  Along side those lower calorie items (on that menu) are the cheaper ones and the more palatable ones(high sat fat and sugar).  In order for the healthy choice to truly be easy, we have to do something about the unhealthy choice.  We have to find a way to make it LESS desirable.  (raise the price or limit the advertising for instance)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How Drug Stores Profit with Free Meds

  According to the CDC, half of  all adults in the USA have at least one chronic disease.  According to the National Council on Aging, 92% of older adults (I do not know what age, but lets assume over 65) have at least one chronic disease and a disturbing 77% have at least two.  
  Chronic disease include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and some lung conditions.  These are often preventable.  Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of these conditions are physical inactivity, being overweight, poor diet, and smoking.
   I have noticed that many pharmacies, like the one at my local grocery store, offer FREE generic diabetes medication.  I imagine that this is because they will make money when they charge customers for all their other medications (because so many of them have more than one disease).  
   I know people who say that they want to eat what they like (and as much as they like), that they are "fat and happy" and that they don't care to exercise.  Some of them get upset with people like me who support governmental policies that encourage dietary moderation (restraint) and try to reduce the amount of time people spend sitting. 
  But in the end, I am just trying to save them  money  and increase their healthy, active years of living.  Though I could put the drug companies out of business if everyone listened to me!. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Decision Making Models

For one of my classes this past week, I read some research articles on school vouchers and school choice.  Within this framework, there was a discussion about the use of information.  Here it was using information to decide where to send a child to school.  This goes beyond choosing to move into a good school district, because not everyone has the power to do that.  Voucher programs are one way that parents who cannot live near a school that they like can still have some options.
    When voucher programs are available the decision making model assumes that parents will use information about the schools in the program to choose one that meets their personal values and educational expectations or preferences.  For example, a parent may be interested in student teacher ratio, the size of a class, the size of  a school, the cost (tuition not covered by the voucher), the location, the academic history, the percent of students who graduate, the level of education of the teachers.. and so on and so forth.  A parent may even prioritize their list of preferences. In addition, what a parent feels is a quality of a good school, say student teacher ratio, is not likely to change from day to day or within present company, or when they are feeling blue.  It is  a time consistent and rational preference or value.
    The research on school vouchers tends to show that just having a choice increases a parent's satisfaction with their child's school.  Choice is important.  Research also shows that children of motivated parents do better (regardless of school or choice).  But important for me, research also shows that a lot of the information needed to make a decision is not available, or is not readily available.  This leaves less assertive, familiar or formidable parents unable to go about getting the information.  Heck, they might not even know what makes a school a good school because their educational experience was itself limited.  They lack criteria to judge or select/  
  In reading all of this, my mind went constantly to decision making at the point sale and food. (I have no children, the school voucher issue is not my battle!).  Many people do not know what information is the most important (calories, sugar, fat, sodium, etc) needed to make a decision nor where to find that information.  People who have determined that low calorie, healthier foods are their preference, may still change their mind according to circumstance.  Food decisions are quite often irrational and not time consistent.
   This is more reason for menu labeling that is simple and in your face.  Restaurant and similar establishments (ones that sell FOOD) should provide calorie info, (and I think sat fat and sugar info), put those numbers in a circle that is green, yellow or red and remind people that what they eat today can effect their health tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Red Meat Afoul Again?

   The recent research suggesting a link between a chemical found in red meat and adverse health is important.  It should be considered in much the same way as research that suggests saturated fat is a health risk.  Something is going on and it makes sense to eat less red meat if you are currently eating it more than say... 3x a week.  Some, like me, may choose to not eat it at all.  
I am a vegetarian, so to speak, as I eat fish.  
   When studying red meat consumption and health, the comparison group is often vegetarians or vegans.  Therefore, what science has not concluded is if there is something else about people who are vegetarians, or something else about the vegetarian diet that is protective for health.    For example, if a vegetarian and a meat eater are both eating 1600 calories a day, meat eaters have to be eating less of something that vegetarians are eating more of.  Current theory is that the fiber rich diet of vegetarians may be a key factor.
   In addition, studies often look at dose.  Vegetarians who eat no red meat at all are at one end of the continuum and heavy meat eaters who consume 3 or more servings each day are at the other.  In either case, as the red meat consumption goes up, so does the chemical and the sat fat content, but something also goes downIt is likely that both conditions - too much of one thing and too little of the other(whatever the other is) is causing the health risk.  With that thought, there will surely be a difference in outcome based on what replaces the red meat in a person's diet.  These are things we have to study more.
  Bottom line.  There is reason to believe that we can eat too much red meat and "too much" depends on who you ask.  It is reasonable to replace some of your red meat with lean proteins and some types of fish, like salmon.  On an individual level, meaning your diet, direction should come from a licensed dietician.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Does it Matter if you Walk or Run?

   Several studies addressing the benefits of both forms of exercise and the comparison between them, were recently noted in a list serv I subscribe to.  The name of the list serv is Obesity and Energetic Offerings.  It provides a weekly list of current research on specific obesity related topics.  If you would like to subscribe, click here
   Many people ask me which is better, walking or running.  So I wanted to share the upshot of the recent findings. Which is, it depends on your goal. Is it to maintain your health, your weight, or to lose weight?  Running has been found to be better for weight loss, but there are more things to consider.
     Which can you do several times a week?  Which can you do several times a week for ... well .. ever(ish)?
    Either activity will improve your health.  Certainly this is so if you are engaging in little to no activity right now.  If your primary goal is weight loss, minute for minute, running burns more calories than walking. It is very important that you consider consistency and frequency.  Whether it is walking or running, the benefit only occurs as long as you keep doing it.  More of either one is better than less
   You might read this and think you should become a runner. Not necessarily so.  If you cannot sustain that vigorous level of activity (for what ever reason (even mental)), than it isn't right for you.
   In the end, it is physical activity that matters most for your health.  Yes, I am saying it.  I know is anathema and blaspheme... but it is better to be a little overweight and active than normal weight or low weight and inactive. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

NRA - No the other one

    A nutrition study group with The National Restaurant Association will meet later this month to discuss several things, including nutrition labeling.  There are a few other agenda items that may interest you.  For instance, challenges the industry faces as they attempt to reduce sodium levels in foods and how to provide nutrition education to Hispanic Consumers (their words).  They will also discuss GMOs, or genetically modified foods.  I do not stay informed on that issue but I have several friends who are passionate about the need to provide GMO labels on products.  Some believe that GMOs are harmful and that people should avoid buying them. At the very least, they argue, people should know if their products contain them.  My food related focus is macronutrients and calories, so I push for expanded labeling in that area.
   Interestingly, I was recently asked to send a letter to some restaurants to encourage them to provide nutrition information to their customers. I did sign the form letter and one of the restaurants on the list responded to me directly (so to speak).  They let me know how important they believed nutrition information was to their customers.  Because of their committment to them, they provide all the nutrition info for their menu items on their WEBSITE.  Of course, I replied that it needed to be on the menu with the food so that people could see it while making decisions about their purchases.  There may be some discrepancies in the menu labeling research, but there is no question that information given outside of the restaurant is not as effective as information given inside at the point of decision making. 
    And lastly, a new study that used the traffic light system on restaurant menus has recently been published.  This experiment was done online.  People looked at make believe menus and reported what they would order.  It was not a field experiment and no real purchases were made.  Still, an interesting finding of this study is that too much information was no better than having no information (in regards to choosing the lower calorie meals).  The percent daily value statement was one of the unhelpful pieces of information.  AGREED.  The calorie only and the calorie with either green (400 or less calories), amber or red (more than 800) were both related to lower calorie choices.  The study was conducted in Australia and the lead author was Belinda Morely.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reconsidering Saturated Fat

I find myself in crunch time again, but wanted to get this different point of view out to you .
   I have been a strong advocate for avoiding saturated fat and have oft described myself as a saturated fat phobic, calorie aware semi vegetarian.  That is for the most part still true of me.
It is also true that I consider research and commentary that comes form Harvard School of Public Health and Yale's Research Centers to be of high quality.  So when David Katz, MD MPH from Yale wrote a blog stating that some of the food constituent extremists... ('fat' is bad, 'sat fat' is bad, 'trans fat' is bad, 'sugar' is bad).might missing a point or two, it gave me pause.
   Dr. Katz is not saying that saturated fat is without problems or that it is not linked to heart problems (it may have a role in thickening or hardening of the arteries for instance).  What he does say is that the problem with diets high in saturated fat and or high in sugar... or similarly, diets high in fried foods and refined grains (e.g., cakes, pastries, white pastas and rice) are likely to be LOW in the foods that we know are healthy or which protect against heart disease (e.g., fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains).
   I am going to link you to his post, even though I don't agree with all of it and don't like how his page is full of ads.  I don't have time to go into more detail for you and do want you to hear his points.
Here is his post.