Saturday, December 31, 2016

Start the New Year Informed

Like many or most of you, I am preparing for the new year. What might be different is that to be healthy I simply (or not so simply) need to keep doing what I have been doing. Whereas, many others start every year pledging - resolving - to do things differently. With that in mind, I want so share some truths with you.

The most important things that any of us can do are these (listed, not necessarily, but maybe, in order of impact):

  1. Do not smoke tobacco (don't start or do quit).
  2. Exercise - everyday (30 to 60 minutes of activity that increases your heart rate).
  3. Maintain a healthy weight (this is relative, but for most people it means losing weight).
  4. Eat within a calorie appropriate (controlled) recommended dietary pattern, e.g., the Mediterranean Diet, which is plant based.
  5. Get some sun, but not more than 10 minutes without protection (also relative to time of year, your skin pigmentation and where you live).
  6. Avoid alcohol in excess (for some this means any alcohol, for others excess means more than 1 or 2 a day or 7 to 14 a week (never more than 3 or 4 in one day).
  7. Get vaccinated according to the CDC recommendations for your sex and age (and take your children in for their shots).
  8. Practice safer sex - i.e., use condoms and discretion.
  9. For those suffering from any substance use disorder, SAMHSA can direct you to supportive services
  10. Do not fall for diet and supplement scams - nutrition comes from food and weight control comes from balancing intake with expenditure. If whatever supplement or plan you are hearing about was as much of a break through as the ad says, we would NOT have an obesity epidemic. Please believe me.. there is NO pill for you. Reread numbers 1 - 9 above, this is the key to health.
  11. Remember these final words of truth:
    1. Non-GMO only means something does not contain genetically modified ingredients, not that its low calorie or necessarily good for you.
    2. Organic means something has been raised according to specific standards, and so the plant or animal was not treated with chemicals or antibiotics. Organic foods are not scientifically better for you than conventional foods (though there IS concern about antibiotics in the food chain). Organic foods are not necessarily or ever lower in calories than similar non-organic foods.
    3. All natural is finally being defined by the FDA - but stay tuned for the final rule and then years before companies have to comply.  Even if something is truly natural - not at all processed - that does not mean it is good for you, wont' hurt you, or is low in calories.
    4. There are legal definitions for low calorie, low fat, low sodium, etc.. and 'lower' means something different than low.
    5. Read the nutrition facts panels, think about serving sizes.. pay attention to calories (usually a lower calorie item will also be low in sugar). Hopefully, the added sugar declaration will be added to labels this year and that will lead manufacturers to reformulate their products.
    6. Some fat is good for you! Especially consider adding omega 3 fatty acids from food, like salmon.
    7. ONLY 1% of white people in the United States have CELIAC DISEASE, and even fewer people of other races/ethnicities do. That means, YOU probably don't need a gluten free diet.
    8. Gluten free does NOT mean low in calories or good for you.
    9. The health promoting property of olive oil is destroyed when you cook in it. To get the nutrition you are seeking, drizzle a teaspoon over your cooked veggies instead.
    10. Get your fiber from plant based foods and whole grains, not mixes and pills.
On a sad note, the national vending and menu labeling law which is NOW set for compliance in May of 2017 is part of the Affordable Care Act - and may or may not survive the next presidency. That means that local and state laws could once again begin to populate which could be better for us and a nightmare for industry. Stay tuned

Lastly and sincerely,  I wish you the healthiest of New Years....remember, though I focus on food, physical activity is the sine qua non of health... make sure you get plenty this year... all year.

~ Deirdre

Monday, May 23, 2016

Added sugar and other changes to the back of the pack nutrition label

     I wrote this post on May 20 -21, 2016 after the FDA announced new labeling requirements for packaged food manufacturers. The manufacturers will be required to provide additional information and modified information on the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP). This applies to all companies, but smaller ones have longer to comply. The FDA announced July 2018 as the official effective date, but we know from past FDA associated labeling initiatives that this date could change.
     The FDA press release - which you can access here - offers highlights of the changes, and many news sources have covered the story. What I want to do is put the changes in the context of my blog re: nutrition disclosures that help us consume fewer calories across venues.
     So does this change help? Probably - or to some extent. First, the revised labels have an increased 'reference serving size'. The noted serving size may merely be a declaration to allow the nutrient content to be calculated, because people rarely (if ever) dole out cups, ounces, or grams and even if they did, it would be more cups, ounces, or grams than the label suggests. The update, a slightly larger serving size, appears to be a compromise between what people are actually eating and what they are supposed to be eating. In other words, it is probably still not realistic.  One example of a serving size change involves ice cream. Instead of a 1/2 cup, a label will say 2/3 cup. I imagine most people scoop out more than 2/3 a cup of ice cream for themselves, therefore, if a person wanted to know the actual calories or sugar they consumed, they'd have to do the math (just as before). Also people may think that the label refers to an actual cup of some sort, not a measuring cup. 
     A similar issue with serving sizes is unchanged. They are not exactly uniform across similar products - the serving sizes may all be a 1/2 cup but the weight - the precise measurement - will vary. Boxes of cereal and cartons of ice cream, as opposed to say, a can of soda, are actually figured by weight, grams usually. So a serving size might be 2/3 cup on five cartons of ice cream but the weight of each 2/3 cup could be different. So to be frugal with our calories like we are with our dollars, we  need to know the calories per unit. You don't get to see an orange shelf tag with this information but you can do the math, e.g. calories per serving divided by grams in a serving gives you the calories/gram.
     Another change on the NFP is that sugar grams will come with a % DV. I've never been much of a fan of the % daily value disclosure on a label. It is based on a 2000 calorie/day diet and the majority of women, myself included, require less, say 1500 to 1800, so again, math is required. There is a trick that can make the percentages useful. If the item on the label is a nutrient of concern (meaning we get too much of it, like calories, sugar and sodium), look for a low %DV.  Low is 10% or less. There are very few nutrients that Americans lack, but for those, look for high %DV. For example, it would be great to have products with vitamin D and calcium at 20% or higher.
    Small packages, ones that people are likely to consume all at once even if they 'technically' contain 2 or 3 servings, will now have dual labels. There will be a column with the serving size nutrient information and a column with the whole package nutrient information. For items like a 20 ounce soda, where the expectation or custom is to drink the entire bottle in one 'sitting' the nutrient and calorie content will only be for the entire package (who drinks 8 ounces of a 20 ounce soda and saves the rest for tomorrow?). BTW, that is why I go for diet sodas in 12 ounce cans, I do not need 20 ounces, its too much; and for some diet sodas, the trace calories will become meaningful beyond 12 ounces.
    There are a couple more changes, which are not as relevant to the theme of my blog. You can review them by clicking on the above link.
    I'll end with two important things the new labels do not address. The information is still on the back of the package and the rule doesn't amend the new vending machine law to include sugar grams with the point of purchase calorie disclosure. Because the Nutrition Facts Panel is still on the back of the package the prospective buyer has to pick up and turn each product around (the new rule does not mandate or standardize front of pack labels and this is a disappointment). And consequently, this rule won't help us purchase low 'added sugar' snacks from vending machines because we can't see the back of the package at the time of purchase.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Why we focus on food deserts and not food swamps

Most people have heard the term food desert. A food desert is a place where people live and do not have reasonable access to whole foods, or fresh produce. Often this is measured by some distance to a grocery store. For example, in some places people live close to convenience stores and fast food restaurants, but would have to travel several miles, sometimes 10 or 20, to get to a grocery store. In these same areas, there may be high rates of obesity - however, there are high rates of overweight and obesity across the USA. Some speculate that not living close to a grocery store where one can access produce is a 'cause' of obesity (i.e., they associate food deserts with obesity). And it is not just availability, it's affordability, too. If the fresh produce costs more than processed foods, they are less accessible. If children have to try foods several times to like them, and a parent is on budget, it makes it hard to buy more expensive items that might not be eaten.

Access and affordability are things that public health advocates work to change AND that the electorate/society supports. Right? Of course we should make sure everyone has access to nutritious foods that are often low in calories. YAY! Let's do it.

Research has not always supported the intuitive, however, and sometimes people who have access to fruits and vegetables still don't purchase or consume them. Why not? Well, my educated/informed opinion is because a good many people live in food swamps. I am not sure where I first heard or read the phrase, but I describe a food swamp as an area where high calorie foods - often low in nutrients - are in abundance, are cheap, easy to locate, highly advertised, branded (e.g., KFC, Doritos, Pepsi) and popular among children, adolescents and adults. Actually, these foods and their promotions (e.g., all you can eat buffets, $1 hamburgers, 3 for 1 honeybuns, 32 ounce sodas) are hard to avoid.  

As noted above, the popular strategy for dealing with a food desert is to bring more fresh foods in - build a grocery store or a farmers market, add produce to the convenience store checkout, send in a mobile produce truck - and hope people will purchase, prepare wisely and eat more nutritious foods. Oh and here is the most important part... eat them instead of the high calorie non-nutritious foods they have been eating. Every one agrees, yes - those are all good strategies... yay, lets fund them! [They don't work so well, but they seem smart and non-paternalistic, therefore, it must be right.]

The strategy for food swamps (which is as unpopular as the food desert strategy is popular) is policy and regulation. I believe that food swamps are the bigger problem and that regulation and policy are our best bet at trying to reduce over consumption of calories (often occurring passively, i.e., not intentionally eating extra calories). Examples include, limiting the number of fast food/quick casual restaurants that can surround neighborhoods, schools, and worksites (zoning laws), putting a sales tax on high calorie, low nutrient items, like sugar sweetened beverages (specifically I say a sales tax because consumers are more likely to notice a sales tax than an excise tax and sales taxes cannot be 'eaten' by the manufacturer unless they literally lower the prices of their products), putting calorie counts out in front on everything, everywhere (menu boards, front of packages, sodas) and educating people on what is considered a 'high' amount of calories (e.g, a dinner entree over 500 calories is high, if it is part of a days worth of meals), portion caps - like suggested in NYC might work, and limiting ads for high calorie foods or ad space (e.g., TV, public transit, magazines, websites, social media). I think our grocery stores should have makeovers as well. The cheap, high calorie foods should not get prominence and promotion. This is one of the main reasons I believe that strategies to add fruits and vegetables to neighborhood stores or whole grocery stores to neighborhoods, fail. It is hard to get through the mire of junk - physically, emotionally, socially, parentally - to the better for you items. 

And before anyone points out that the food swamp policies I mentioned are regressive (i.e., they will have a bigger impact on persons of lower income) I say YES, and obesity and its related disease conditions is also regressive and has a greater impact on persons of lower income. 

My point is, that though it might sound good (especially politically) to make fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods available and accessible, what we really need is to make low nutrient (junk) foods and drinks LESS available and accessible (less cheap, less popular, less in our face).  And as that annoying prince on the TV show Outlander says, "mark me" I am right about this.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Exercise for Weight Loss?

Exercise for exercise. Exercise for a long, healthy, active live.
Exercise for functional capacity, mood stability, improved attention and learning.
Exercise to prevent disease. Exercise to improve your quality of life.
Exercise because not exercising increases your risk of all causes of death and all disease states.

If you exercise only because you think it will help you lose weight, and exercise is your only weight loss strategy, chances are you won't lose weight. And then you will think exercise failed you. You will be wrong. Exercise is the sine qua non of health; it will never fail you. if you do it for the right reasons.  There are many reasons, see the first paragraph and the research studies below.

If you want to lose weight, change your eating patterns. Many people need to lose weight.
If you want to be healthy, exercise - daily.. Everyone, regardless of their weight status, needs to do this.

(NB. this was posted a few weeks later

Janssen, I., & LeBlanc, A. G. (2010). Review Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 7(40), 1-16.
Nocon, M., Hiemann, T., Müller-Riemenschneider, F., Thalau, F., Roll, S., & Willich, S. N. (2008). Association of physical activity with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, 15(3), 239-246.
Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005a). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current opinion in psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.
 Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal, 174(6), 801-809.

Monday, February 15, 2016

February Reminder: You said you would eat 'better' this year!

It's the middle of February, how are you doing with your goals to eat healthier in 2016?

Here are a few reminders and helpful hints:
Remember that calories still count and there are plenty of ways to eat delicious, full plates of food if you make some clever choices. For example, when eating out you can order your fish or meat with little to no oil, butter, glaze or sauce and ask for your vegetables to be steamed without butter. (note, pasta is never low calorie and bottomless bowls of it are a mistake) At home, you can prepare your food the same way - without lots of sauces, breading or butter.

Some vegetables are more nutritious than others - high in nutrients but not high in calories, as long as you do not bread, fry or coat them in butter.  For example, summer squashes, spaghetti squash, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, green beans, greens (kale, broccoli rabe, etc). Use this link to find other low calorie foods, and remember just because they start out low calorie doesn't mean they end up low calorie (how you or the chef prepares them is a crucial factor).

Alcohol and caffeine(particularly in coffee) can be a part of a health promoting diet, but be mindful of two things: 1) excess alcohol and caffeine can have adverse effects on your health (excess is more than one or two drinks a day depending on your sex and size, and probably 3 to 4 8-ounce cups of coffee); 2) both alcoholic beverages and coffee that is flavored with cream and sugar, bring in calories and those calories count towards your individual daily requirements. 

I enjoy a good cup of arabica coffee, black no sugar in the morning (okay 2) and decaffeinated, almond milk infused cappuccino in the evening. (sugar free milk ~ 30 cals a cup). For alcohol, I stick to one 12 ounce light beer, one 4 to 6 ounce glass of wine OR one shot of liquor mixed with a no calorie beverage. I recently made a batch of limoncello which I am enjoying several nights a week! Pictured above.

I hope this post has helped get you back on track or keep you on track and given you some new information for meeting your goals.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What we eat still matters

Obesity is a complex disease. I have come to appreciate this even more over the last 5 years, and what I am about to say in this post is NOT a refutation of that complexity. Instead, I want to make a point that though obesity [whether becoming obese in the first place or remaining obese after an effort to lose weight] is an intricate mess of bad decisions, bad environment, genes, social pressure, family customs (not traditions, but the every day way of preparing foods or eating that we learn from our families), lack of physical activity, metabolism, gut microbes, infections, injury and things we haven't even discovered yet - even though this is true, on its own, what we eat still matters.

Yesterday, I  was waiting for my train to arrive at 30th St Station in Philadelphia PA. I had been traveling over the weekend. I had an hour wait and was standing - standing - at a table, eating a salad that I had prepared and carried with me. I am a small person, slight of build, low weight. I am this way purposefully, not genetically; I share the same food environment, social pressures, and family cooking practices as most of you - some of whom are normal weight, and if the CDC is to be trusted, most of whom are not. As I ate my salad (which I found delicious with its ample amount of lean protein), I looked across the room and saw a person who was not slight of build and they were also eating. Eating from a box. A box of dunkin donuts. This is not a judgement, several of the things I listed in the first paragraph factor into the decision for that person to buy donuts. My point is, the food we eat still matters and even if it is not that simple in the grand scheme, it certainly is at some level. The small person was eating the salad. Maybe the small person routinely eats low calorie foods and doesn't exceed the calorie requirements to maintain a normal weight - and the large person routinely eats calorically dense foods and does exceed the amount they need.

NB: I didn't post this right away, its been a week since I was at the train station. So I have another observation to add. I was at dinner with friends the other night where I ordered a beautiful steamed seafood and vegetable entree. The man to my left, who is somewhat overweight (we had to trade seats at the movies recently because he was too large to sit comfortably unless in the aisle seat) was the first to request and be disappointed that the restaurant did not serve dessert. Not a judgment, an observation.