Halos are for Angels

Actress Brett Butler was  in a 1990′s sitcom called “Grace Under Fire”. I believe that it was on for 3 seasons but I only saw the program twice- - and it was the same episode! Grace was a single Mom in a factory job, with the same struggles that most single Mom’s face: paying the bills, the stress of finding reliable child care and good schools. In this particular episode she decides to get her friends together to discuss issues important to women, like getting equal pay for equal work. But all that her friends want to do is answer the question “if I eat an entire fat-free cake, then why do I still gain weight?”animal-angel-md

This is a great example of a “health halo” effect: thinking that a food is good for you because of a claim on the front of the package. You might also remember the Seinfeld episode about the fat-free frozen yogurt.

Phrases like “all natural”, “healthy”, “low- fat”, “No fat”, “no added sugar”, “gluten-free”, ” vegan” on the front of the package can be distracting. So much so that you might neglect to turn the package over to see that there are still calories to count or other ingredients to avoid. When was the last time that you bought a granola bar that didn’t resemble a candy bar with a few pieces of cereal sprinkled on it? But you packed in your lunch anyway because it would make a “healthy snack”.

For now, be cautious with marketing that appeals directly to your good intentions. Always look at the nutrition fact panel to get the low down on calories, fat and sugar content. Take a quick look at the ingredient list, too; this is like reading the recipe and can tell you more about how the food was prepared. Only then can you make an informed decision without the marketing bias.

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Take me out to the ballgame…..

baseballToday marks the season opening for Major League Baseball 2014. And whether your team belongs to the National League or the American League, nothing says baseball like a bag of peanuts or cracker jack, and a cold beer. Or whatever is stadium food to your region.

During the 1990′s while I was a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), we did a media campaign on making better food choices at the baseball game. And it was really amazing the variety of items and the differences from one ballpark to the next: in Baltimore you could find crab cakes; in Houston barbeque was on the menu; in Miami, Cuban rice and beans.

But let’s get real. No one goes to the game for the food……..but you could! To stay on track with your health goals the usual rules still apply whether you are tailgating before or eating in between innings:

  • Go lean like chicken or fish.
  • Check out all your options first.
  • Consider splitting a high calorie sandwich or snack.
  • Mixed drinks and beer can drive up your calorie score pretty quickly. Grab a bottled water instead.
  • Eat a light lunch at home before an afternoon game.
  • Take advantage of the 7th inning stretch to stretch you legs and take a walk. Working some deliberate movement into your day is one way to compensate for the additional calories you just ate or drank.

With 86 home games, this will be a long ride to the play-offs. So be sure to root for your home team. Even if they don’t win you still can by keeping your eye on your health.


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Enjoy the taste of an “Ounce of Prevention”

Enjoy the taste of an “Ounce of Prevention”.

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Enjoy the taste of an “Ounce of Prevention”

nnm2014We have spoken before in this blog about the benefits of eating dark chocolate and its long history associated with improved health. But I couldn’t explain “why” other than to say the benefits are related to the phenolic compounds naturally occurring in the chocolate. But that pat answer was not good enough for scientists and researchers.

Earlier this week, at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the “why” was unveiled. It appears that certain microbes in the gastrointestinal tract ingest the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart. Good bacteria such as “Bifidobacterium” and “lactic acid bacteria” are largely responsible for this fermentation.

According to John Finley PhD, of Louisiana State University and lead researcher in this study, cocoa powder contains several antioxidant compounds such as catechin and epicatechin. Both components are poorly digested or absorbed by the human gut. But once they reach the colon, the good microbes take over fermenting large compounds into smaller ones. Now the antioxidants can be absorbed and exhibit anti-inflammatory activity.DSCF0268

Finley believes that combining dark chocolate with a superfruit in its solid form could result in even more health benefits.

Once again, the trick to all of this is getting minimally processed dark chocolate: one that has a high percentage of cocoa. Or as high as you can still enjoy.

An ounce of dark chocolate every day does not take away the need for other good food choices. It merely provides another layer of plant anti-oxidants, adding to the synergy that forms in consuming a plant-based diet. So as you fill your plate with the bright colors of fruits and vegetables be sure to leave a little room for some dark chocolate to end your meal on a sweet note.IM_BLOGGING_NNM2014-122x92

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What’s New?

According to research accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, a tomato-rich diet may help protect post-menopausal
nnm2014 women from developing breast cancer. Risk rises with increase in BMI. This study found that participants levels of adiponectin, a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar and fat levels, increased after consuming the tomato-rich diet although the effect was more pronounced in women who had a lower BMI.  Here’s one more reason to enjoy fruits and vegetables more often.


Have you ever been told that eating while watching television for example can lead to overeating? A review of 24 studies and published in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms the effect but was unable to explain the reason.  But research published in Psychological Science appears to describe the mechanism behind it: mentally taxing tasks dampen our perception of taste causing us to eat more. The researchers believe cognitive load may compete with sensory input for our attention. Other studies have shown that by eating “mindfully” we are more likely to eat less. If you really want to enjoy that meal or snack, don’t multitask.

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