Live Well Blog

research

Become a savvy nutrition study sleuth!

Nutrition is a relatively new science, but boy, do the research studies abound! Have you ever been so confused by the “latest study”, which completely contradicts the “latest study” that was just published the week before? I’m a registered dietitian, with a BS in Nutrition and Food Science, a graduate internship year at University of Alabama in Birmingham, and 28 years of “field” experience, and I find myself confused, too!

Case in point: This morning, I read this nutrition headline, “Eating less at breakfast will not make you gorge at lunchtime, study shows.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/dietandfitness/10052115/Eating-less-at-breakfast-will-not-make-you-gorge-at-lunchtime-study-shows.html   My first thought? Wow, that is the opposite of what I teach in RevItUP! Second, more important, thought? That is the opposite of what many studies over the last decade have shown about the importance of a healthy, balanced breakfast in not only maintaining an active metabolic rate but also preventing cravings and over-indulgence later in the day.  My next thought? Time to decipher what’s happening in this study report!

Facts that I noticed upon closer look: 1) Only 33 “overweight people” were used in this study, 2) All subjects were served a full breakfast that included cereal, milk, scrambled egg, ham, brown toast with butter and orange juice (check out the picture with the study – if that is indeed a photo of the study breakfast, it seems to be bigger than your average weekday meal for sure!), 3) the researchers “covertly reduced the portion size for some of the participants”, up to 40%,  which resulted in up to 269 fewer calories consumed (again, look at the picture – giving up 269 calories still leaves a good sized meal, don’t you think?), and (here’s the kicker!), 4) the supervisor of the study said “that results may not be borne out in everyday life”.  What does that mean, you may ask? He answers this in the next sentence, “This research was done with people in a controlled laboratory environment and more work is required to determine if the effect remains in real life where there are more opportunities to eat.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? A controlled laboratory environment, in which a small group of individuals who are struggling with their weight are eating every meal together, is NOT even close to a REAL world. I have worked with so many individuals with weight issues over decades, and most of them worry about what others think about them, and worry about being judged for what they do or don’t eat. These individuals often admit that what they eat on their own is usually different from what or how they eat in public. If I was one of the subjects, I would be very aware of other participants’ watching what I ate, and regardless of how hungry I might be, I would not want to eat when they were not, or eat a noticeably larger portion than they did.  Peer pressure, a sterile laboratory setting (not your local restaurant or pub!) and a controlled eating environment totally removes the ‘real life’ application.

Another thought I had: the breakfast they consumed contains grains, fruit (albeit juice) AND several sources of protein, in addition to some dabs of butter. The protein, and fat, consumed with the grain and fruit juice will help sustain the energy released from those carbohydrates, prevent cravings and stabilize hunger/fullness levels. Even if less total calories are consumed, but the breakfast still includes all the food groups in balance, the amount consumed or desired at lunch will be easier to control and much less of an issue. If you just glanced at the title and first sentence of this study about breakfast, you might walk away thinking that the breakfast meal doesn’t really matter and what I eat or don’t eat at breakfast won’t affect what and how much I choose the rest of the day. But after taking a closer look, you will find that your first conclusion is inaccurate.

Learn to be a savvy scientific study sleuth by following these four basic tips: 2) Is it a research study that follows the gold standard for credible research? Gold standard means it’s a double-blind, randomized, cross-over research study. Neither researcher or subject know who is in which group (study or control), the variables in the study are randomized, and the research can be replicated by a separate, non-affiliated group at another time and achieve the same results. 2) How many participants are involved? The smaller the study, the less accurate the results can be in terms of extrapolating the findings to a much larger population. 3) Can the results translate to the REAL world, and not just within a laboratory? And 4) Do the researchers or the organization behind the research have anything to gain from this study? Basically, are they biased towards the results in terms of making a financial profit from the sale of a product or program using the research? That’s a very important question to determine the credibility of the study results.

More strategies exist that can be used to decipher a nutrition research study, but these four tips will help you become a wiser consumer in terms of believing everything you hear. In other words, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Don’t be quickly persuaded by a study’s title or overview of results. Take a closer look, use these tips, throw in your common sense, and you will be ready to tackle next week’s “latest study” as a wiser, more savvy consumer!

Thinking that expensive face creams or plastic surgery are the only option to help you look years younger than your actual age? Think again! But don’t just think – get moving, too!

Physical activity has anti-aging benefits!

A recent study from King’s College in London, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, tested more than 2400 British twins and discovered a new benefit of moving the body. (http://www.edinformatics.com/news/exercise_and_aging.htm) Exercise appears to slow the “shriveling of the protective tips on bundles of genes inside cells, perhaps keeping frailty at bay”. Translation? Physical activity actually changes your cells on a molecular level, making you look up to 9 years younger!

Of course, we have heard that physical activity reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases, potentially helping you live longer. But this new study links activity level with the actual length of our chromosomes. Those who exercised about 100 minutes a week (that’s not hard to get in, if you walk about 30 minutes at least 3 days a week) had chromosomes that looked like those of someone 5 to 6 years younger than those who did the least amount of activity, or 16 minutes a week (this would be someone who just got up to go to the restroom!). In comparison, those who did the most, about 3 hours a week of moderate to vigorous activity, had chromosomes that looked almost 9 years younger! And they ruled out any other component that might affect aging, such as smoking, illness or obesity.

So plastic surgery is not the only option – moving your body not only makes your heart and bones stronger but also takes years off your appearance. Now that I’m in the middle age category myself, I think I’ll keep physical activity right there by my face moisturizer!

Summer is right around the corner, and you’re ready for some fun in the sun. But summer sun can be tough on your skin. Do you know where you can get some of the best skin protection against sun’s damaging rays? Not just in that bottle of sunscreen. Some of the best skin protectors are found right under your nose, in the produce section of your local grocery store!

red produce

Fresh red produce packs sunscreen protection

Been burned red by the sun? Try EATING  “red” to help! A recent study shows that those who eat 5 tablespoons of lycopene-rich tomato paste every day for 3 months have nearly 25% more protection against sunburn (http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Lycopene-rich-tomato-paste-helps-skin-from-within-Study). And the skin has more collagen, which prevents sagging. To top it off, German scientists have shown that higher skin levels of lycopene also mean fewer fine lines and wrinkles. You may not be up for 5 Tbsps of tomato paste daily, but there are other easy ways to eat red.  Try popping some grape tomatoes for an afternoon snack, add a couple of tomato slices on your sandwich, or throw some julienned sliced sun-dried tomatoes on your salad.  If you like zesty spreads, mix tomato paste with a little olive oil and seasonings to taste and spread on whole wheat pita wedges for a different twist on the typical appetizer.

Strawberries are another “red” to eat for skin protection. One cup has over 130% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that increases production of collagen to keep skin smooth and firm. Ellagic acid, another antioxidant in strawberries, also protects the skin’s elasticity, keeping your skin from sagging.  And an extra bonus thrown in: Research has shown those who eat the most strawberries are 3 times less likely to develop malignant cancer cells.

Finally, don’t forget the lowly red apple peel. Quercetin is the new antioxidant kid-on-the-block, and it’s found in the peel of many different apple varieties, especially Monroe, Cortland and Golden Delicious (an exception to red!). Quercetin provides strong sunburn protection from the burning UVB rays that trigger skin cancer. But remember, it’s the peel that has almost 100% of the antioxidants, so don’t miss out on the maximum benefits by ignoring the brightly colored outside layer. And another extra bonus? In one study of 34,000 post-menopausal women, those who eat 2 or more apples weekly for 1 year lower their risk of dying from heart disease by 15%. An apple a day may really keep the doctor away! (http://www.bestapples.com/healthy/Apples_Reduce_Heart_Disease.aspx)

Yes, summer’s right around the corner. So are those fresh fruits and vegetables at your local farmer’s market or grocery produce aisle.  So give yourself a powerful double dose of sun protection and wrinkle prevention by snacking on fresh red produce before spraying on that bottled sunscreen. Enjoy!

 

Sneaky Fitness Tips

April 10, 2013

You love that Zumba class, but can’t seem to find the time. Your gym membership is active, but you aren’t. Your walking shoes haven’t traveled anywhere lately. It’s hard to keep a fitness routine with a busy schedule. However, you can sneak in simple fitness habits every day by adding just a few small movements or changing a few simple behaviors.

Sneaky Fitness2

Sneak in fitness while standing in the supermarket line!

Try these: 1) Use “standing in line” at the grocery store or gas station as a chance to flex your abs with some standing ‘crunches’ or squeeze in some butt tucks (no one will know, honest!). It’s like having your own portable mini “butts and guts” conditioning class. 2) Do calf raises while talking on the telephone. 3) If you have stairs at home, take them each time you do a load of laundry instead of accumulating all the loads into one before you make the trip. 4) Do crunches or push ups during the commercial breaks (since commercials make up about 15-20 minutes per hour of TV, you can accumulate a lot of reps within one episode of your favorite series). 5) If you really want to make your family think you have lost it, do jumping jacks or run in place during commercials. Your younger kids will think this is a great new game, and your teenager already expects odd behavior from you anyway. And 6) Do stretches in the shower, like neck rolls and shoulder shrugs.

Remember, its what you do more often than not that counts. Wellness is a lifestyle – not just an aerobics class.

Healthy Track

Don’t let an occasional lapse lead you off the healthy track

Making healthy changes in your eating and lifestyle takes patience and time. It’s easy to feel like giving up when you eat too much over the weekend, or enjoy too much of that coffee cake your co-worker brought to work. But don’t allow occasional splurges to get you off track. Remember, “one lapse does NOT a relapse make”! Keep in mind the following tips as you continue taking small steps forward: 1) Do not focus on calories-focus only on fuel groups! Had a few doughnuts for breakfast, and wishing you hadn’t? Don’t skip lunch to make up the calories. Instead, try to round out what was missing at breakfast. Look for lean proteins, veggies, and low-fat dairy for lunch. That would be a great time to have a grilled chicken salad with lots of greens, vegetables and some grated cheese, with low-fat dressing on the side so you control the amount (not the kitchen staff!). Having a hard time getting those colors (fruits and vegetables) into your meals? Double up at one meal, like extra lettuce and bell pepper slices on your pita sandwich (You can ask for extra even at a fast food sandwich place).Think balance, and think fuel groups, and just catch up on the missing pieces at the next meal. 2) Do a quick review of what you ate at the last meal and/or snack. Remembering what you have eaten most recently may help encourage you to eat less the next time around. Remember, “I CAN EAT AGAIN…just not right now!” because your body’s fuel tank is full – wait until it needs another fill-up, and 3) Never be fooled into skipping the next meal to punish yourself for a splurge.  Missing an entire meal to make up for too many calories at the previous will always backfire on you.

The key is balance:  balancing your food (fuel) groups, trusting your hunger, and learning from your lapses. Failure is not possible. How can something be a failure when you can learn so much about yourself? The biggest splurge can result in more self awareness of the “why” behind your choice, which can result in greater confidence and motivation for the next time you find yourself in the same situation.  Eating better starts with just one meal–one day–one week at a time.  Unhealthy patterns do not happen over night but over a long period of days that lead to weeks that lead to months that lead to years. Likewise, healthy patterns take time, so be patient. It’s worth it!

Planning a spring break or summer trip to Disney? A weekend at the amusement park? Or just stopping by a local county fair? The rides and sights are great, but the food choices aren’t always so thrilling. What can you do to stay off the junk food rollercoaster?  First of all, walk as much of the park or fairgrounds and check out all the options before making a decision (and you are burning calories as you walk, so double the benefit!)  You may not realize a healthier option is just right around the corner unless you look.  Secondly, choose small portions when possible, or share your treat with a friend or two. Next, try to balance your high fat favorites – for one high fat treat consumed, enjoy two to three healthy, or healthier, foods throughout the day before you consider purchasing another high fat treat. Finally, sit down when you eat, for mealtimes AND for snacks. When sitting and concentrating on what you are eating, you will know when you are satisfied and stop before you eat more than your body really needs.

dining in disney

Enjoy a super-sized ride, not a super-sized soda!

What are some healthy choices? Try a roasted corn on the cob (skip the butter) instead of fries. How about a frozen chocolate dipped banana instead of a double dipper ice cream cone? You can’t go wrong with a grilled chicken sandwich. And peanuts or roasted pecans to share with a friend are a better bet than a big plate of funnel cake. Can’t resist that funnel cake? Feel it’s just not a county fair or a theme park without one? Then don’t try to avoid it if you are going to feel deprived and end up eating too many other things in your effort to resist it. Instead, plan ahead. Purchase it, and share it with several friends while you sit down and watch the parade of people go by. Eat every bite slowly so you don’t miss the experience – but when you and your friends are done, get back up and get on the move again!  And don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day. It is easy to get dehydrated in the summer sun, and theme park and fair foods are usually higher in salt – two reasons why your body will get thirsty more quickly. And thirst is easily misread as hunger, so a calorie-free cool glass of water instead of another chocolate chip cookie may be just the theme park ticket your body needs!

 

Carrot and hummus roll

Carrot and hummus roll-not your average carrot snack!

I’m pretty sure it’s not a national holiday anywhere, but Wednesday May 13 is National RD (Registered Dietitan) Day, and since I AM one of those, it’s time to celebrate! You may not think celebration and “dietitian” go in the same thought, but I hope you will re-consider.  As a dietitian, I may not be your favorite dinner guest because you are afraid I will be counting your calories as you eat. Guess what? I don’t, and I never will.  (That’s another blog!) Often someone finds out I am a dietitian, and immediately begins a penitent food confession over the last 24 hours.  Even a stranger.  Guess what? Not necessary, and in fact, I will simply smile and help you change the subject.  I can’t speak for every dietitian out there, but being a dietitian doesn’t mean I only eat alfalfa sprouts, boiled egg whites and kale.  In fact, being a dietitian has helped me balance and enjoy food, relax from food guilt, and celebrate the joy in living well – and there is nothing I enjoy more than helping you do the same.

So, to help you do this, I want to introduce you to a few of MY favorite RDs, who have made a mark for themselves on the web and in the social media world.  They make food fun, and science practical. And they would all be great dinner guests, too, if you ever have the opportunity!

Meet Regan Jones, MS, RD, blogger-extraordinaire and foodie master. Check out her websites www.theprofessionalpalate.com and www.healthyaperture.com.  And if you like the picture I posted today of Carrot and Hummus Rolls, you’ll find that one and many more on Healthy Aperture website.

Next, meet Holley Grainger, MS, RD, a lifestyle and culinary nutrition expert. Check out her live cooking videos from her website www.holleygrainger.com.  And try some at home – she makes healthy eating fun and easy.

Finally, meet the dynamic RD duo from www.appforhealth.com – Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD and Katherine Brooking, MS, RD.  One of the best blog sites I know for deciphering science into real-world, real-life info that you can actually do something with!  Hot topic in nutrition? No doubt these RDs will be blogging about it!

So, celebrate a few of my favorite RDs today with me. They love to receive comments (actually, so do I!) so if you enjoy what you read, share the love with your friends and family.  And next time you run into me, remember that I’m not a walking calculator (worked really hard to turn that thing off after college, in fact!) and I believe that loving food and living healthy can actually go hand-in-hand!

The Truth About Weighing

March 6, 2013

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does the scale seem to fluctuate so much? How can I gain 2 or 3 pounds overnight, even if I haven’t done anything to cause it?” You have discovered how fickle the scales can be. They never really tell the whole story. Did you know that an overcast or stormy day can actually add several pounds to the scale? Low pressure keeps water in your tissues, and since our bodies are mostly water, an overcast day can make us “gain weight”..that is, fluid that shows up on the scale. Did you know (well, at least most women do!) that hormones can add 2 to 5 pounds over a three to seven day length of time? If you have ever taken anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, or steroid type drugs for allergies, don’t be surprised if the scale seems to jump up a little bit.  Anti-inflammatory or steroid-type drugs can cause temporary fluid retention, resulting in temporary weight gain. And just three shakes of the salt shaker, or 1/2 teaspoon, can add 1 pound of body weight. How? One gram of sodium can hold onto 16 ounces of water, and 16 ounces of water equals 1 pound. So that salty dinner at the local Japanese restaurant may explain why your clothes fit tighter the next day.

Don't worry; the scales never tell the whole story!

Don’t worry; the scales never tell the whole story!

So try not to obsess about the pounds on that scale. Remind yourself that your body’s weight is a combination of water, muscle, bone, fat and body tissues..so any change on that scale is not just a reflection of fat alone. About 65% of our body weight comes from water, so most quick body weight fluctuations are a result of water changes only (and that holds true for quick weight loss, too). Don’t get on the scale more often than once a week, if that much. Concentrate on living well by balancing your fuel choices, drinking water, and moving your body. Enjoy the power that comes from taking charge of your wellness and health.  Don’t let a single number take that away from you.

Rethink Your Body Image

February 27, 2013

The last week of February is one of the most important weeks out of the entire year for me.  Why? Because it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDA). I have spent the majority of my professional life working to bring awareness to the devastating consequences of disordered eating, and to share the message that real, lasting recovery is possible. Not easy, at all, but possible. You or someone you love may be struggling with an eating disorder right now. You or someone you love may not have a full-blown eating disorder, but fear of food, worry about weight gain, and constant self-criticism may control your thoughts. I believe that all of us, regardless of the severity of our own struggles with our eating habits, can benefit from rethinking our own body image.

Mirror Your body image is the mental picture that you have of your appearance. Ironically, this self-picture is often determined only in part by how the body actually looks and feels. Women and men, young girls and even young boys, are constantly bombarded with a cultural standard that expects body perfection and connects our value as a person with how we “measure up” to this unattainable physical “perfection”.

However, you can learn to rethink your body image. A healthy body image doesn’t mean loving everything about your body every minute of the day – that isn’t realistic either. A healthy body image is accepting where you are today and not putting a hold on life until you reach a certain number on the scale or size of clothing. You can learn to gradually support, appreciate and respect your body for what it is and can do today and for what it is capable of becoming. Try one or more of the following activities to begin the “rethinking” process:

WRITE YOURSELF A LETTER

  • Write a letter to your body, or body part(s), telling it how you feel and the struggles you have with your image of your body. Be honest, be specific, and don’t hold back.
  • Now, pretend your body or body part writes a letter back to you, reacting to your feelings and expectations. You might be surprised at its response when you remind yourself of all that your body does for you every second of the day, and how painful it is to be despised and misunderstood.

THINK OF SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE AND RESPECT

  • List every quality you admire and respect about this person.
  • Note the character qualities that are attainable at ANY weight.
  • Realize that quality of character is not dependent on a number on a scale or a size of clothing. You might be surprised that the character traits you most admire have nothing to do with body perfection.

These exercises are just that – exercises – for your mind and your thoughts. The benefit of exercise comes from repetition, day after day, week after week. The change doesn’t occur overnight, but every repetition builds a stronger mind and more realistic thoughts about your own body image. Don’t let the cultural ideal of perfection steal the joy you can find in each day, regardless of what you weigh.

Valentine’s Day may be a day of hearts, but the entire month of February honors the heart – Heart Health, that is.  For years, we have been told to avoid saturated fats to prevent heart disease. You know the fats…Pralines and Cream, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, soft Brie cheese, filet mignon with bacon wrap, golden seasoned skin on rotisserie chicken, creamy butter on your baked potato and the list goes on. But a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is questioning that same advice. Based on their results, “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.” And furthermore, restricting fat intake too severely can lead to a whole different set of chronic health problems.

The news rocked the nutrition world, but before you run out to get a double scoop with extra whipped cream, take a closer look. Saturated fats are found in foods like whole milk, cheese, beef, poultry and pork, and we know that too much saturated fat can “sit” in our heart arteries, and potentially lead to heart disease. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak! Avoiding all forms of saturated fats is out of context, and takes the advice too far because these same foods can have equal amounts of heart healthy fats.

Some saturated fats can be enjoyed in moderation.

Some saturated fats can be enjoyed in moderation.

And trying to avoid all saturated fats usually leads to eating too many low fat-foods full of sugars and high-fructose corn syrup, and processed foods too high in trans fats. What is a trans fat? It’s a chemically altered version of a heart healthy oil, which has been hardened in the manufacturing process – a hardening that leads to hardening of the arteries if eaten too much.

Remember when the egg got all the blame when someone’s cholesterol level was too high? Come to find out, the “sterol” in the egg isn’t all chole’sterol’ but a combination of different sterols – some good ones that do NOT raise your body’s cholesterol level. So eggs have come back into favor.  Looks like we are now heading that way in terms of saturated animal fats, too.  Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats? Avoid those guys, but saturated fats that occur naturally in cheeses, milk products, butter and red meats? Sounds like we can enjoy these in moderation – control your portions, and saturated fats from whole, natural foods can fit into your health lifestyle.

 

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