Thursday, April 30, 2009

Consumption of Dietary Fats Triggers Strong Memory Formation

Quick: Can you remember when and where you consumed your last fatty meal? What was the context surrounding it? According to a new study, the memory of the experience should be pretty well burned in your brain. For some, this may result in feelings of guilt, but for others, it only leaves them wanting more, AKA cravings.

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine have found that when fats are digested in the upper part of the small intestine, they are converted into a compound called oleoylethanolamide (OEA ), which is involved in memory consolidation in the brain. Translation: Stronger, more emotionally-charged memories are created when you eat fatty foods.

On the one hand, OEA is great because it also sends hunger-curbing signals to the brain and can aid in weight loss, but on the flip side, the strong memories that are created when eating fatty foods can keep you coming back for more at another point in time. In an evolutionary sense, this was beneficial since early humans were able to remember when and where they were able to obtain a fatty, calorie-dense meal which helped them survive. Nowadays, with an abundance of fatty foods available at an arm's reach, this feat of nature is not such a great thing.

Looking on the bright side, researchers are looking into the possibility of isolating OEA for use in memory-enhancement in individuals with Alzheimer's disease, memory loss or dementia, and also as an appetite suppressant to aid in weight loss.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'Restrained Eating', Not Dieting, Contributes to Successful Weight Management

I've heard this so many times from individuals who have actually adopted both approaches to weight loss, and wouldn't you know, they agree.

In this study, published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the researchers sought to identify the difference, if there is one, between 'restrained eating' and 'trying to lose weight', or dieting, as it relates to weight loss.

The researchers found that individuals trying to lose weight, who were on diets, were more likely to over eat, fall off the diet wagon, and have higher BMI's than non-dieters. Those who practiced restrained eating, meaning that their eating habits were long-term and lifelong, rather than with the intention to lose weight in the short term, had BMI's lower than non-dieters, and their tendencies to overeat were the same as non-dieters.

It's not rocket science, guys. If you think about it, being "on a diet" tends to mean that eventually, you're going to have to come off it. Most diets, especially fad ones, are not sustainable, and while you do tend to lose weight on them, as soon as you start 'eating normally' again, the pounds come right back on. And boy do they come quickly - if you've been depriving your body of what it needs, it thinks you're actually in 'starvation mode' and it just jumps at the opportunity to pack a bit of extra fat on your frame as soon as you start eating real food again. Not to mention all of the other effects that come along with crazy diets, including muscle wasting, fatigue and potential health complications.

I feel like all the best research these days is pointing to the fact that maintaining a lifelong healthy weight and optimal over all health boils down to simply this - eating real, natural food in controlled, not super size portions. And remember that it's also about balance - we all overeat at times (can you say restaurants, parties, holidays...) but it's completely normal and we just have to move on from it and continue to eat healthy afterwards.

Weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight should never about deprivation, because, as the research shows, it backfires and simply doesn't work in the long haul.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Right To Be Fat: Obesity As A Civil Rights Issue

This is a true testament to the fact that there are always two sides to a story. A group of American overweight individuals are tired of fighting the bulge and having low self-esteem as a result of society's oftentimes unrealistic standards of beauty.

Kate Harding, one of the anti-diet activists created a website called the fat-o-sphere, where overweight individuals can connect with one another and educate each other about health issues, including how to improve their own health. These fat-acceptance advocates are fighting to shake the negative perception of obesity in society and fight for the rights of obese individuals. Some issues they've tackled have included having larger seat belts in cars and adequate seating on airplanes without an extra charge.

While it's true that obese and overweight individuals are not, in the words of Harding, "lazy or stupid or morally suspect", I feel that promoting "health at any size" is just a disguise for the need for a lifestyle overhaul. By definition, being categorized as obese or overweight puts individuals at a myriad of health risks which affect their own personal well-being, both physically and emotionally. Although I agree that society's image of 'health' and their impression of non-size 2 individuals is indeed rather skewed, there are inherent health benefits of maintaining a healthy body weight through consuming an adequate number of calories per day and keeping physically active. "Healthy" can range from thin to curvy, but once you pass both extremes, along come the health risks.

Nowadays, maintaining a healthy body weight is becoming more and more challenging as a result of busy lifestyles, "no time" to exercise and the availability of ready-made, fast foods, but even small changes can make a huge difference. If there's one investment worth making in your life, it should truly be in your health, both current and long-term. Change can be difficult, no doubt, but you only get one shot at life. Why not live it to the fullest and take care of your health?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Food Commercials Affect Snack Food Intake in Kids

Hmmm....I guess those food companies are getting their money's worth with when they pay for ad time on TV! At least that's what a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is suggesting.

Dutch researchers wanted to test whether watching TV interrupted by commercials about food would affect the amount of snack food that the children in the study would eat. Boys and girls aged 8-12 watched a movie which included breaks for two commercials that were either neutral or about food. They were free to snack on available foods during the movie.

The researchers found that boys who watched food commercials ate more food during the film compared to those who saw neutral commercials, whereas the opposite was found in girls! The funny thing was that the commercials weren't even about the particular food that the kids were eating, which would suggest that food commercials simply affect appetite and food choices over all.

Although this study was done with kids, I can definitely attest to the fact that I've been tempted on many occasions by tasty-looking foods in commercials, but other times they reinforce the fact that I should avoid those foods if I want to eat healthy and feel good about myself. Ultimately, though, deprivation is not the key to weight loss - it's more about balance, so I guess there's always a little wiggle room for snacks in every diet, right?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vegetable Juice May Assist in Weight Loss

Are you eating enough fruits and veggies each day? If you're not, a glass of low-sodium vegetable juice may help you reach your quota, and - as an added bonus - it might help you lose weight, too!

In a new study, partly funded by Campbell soup company, 81 adults with metabolic syndrome (meaning that they had excess fat around their waists, high blood pressure and sugar as well as high cholesterol) were put on a modified diet to see if including vegetable juice improved their health in any way.

All of the participants included lots of fruits, veggies, minerals, fibre, and low-fat dairy in their diets and they cut out unhealthy fats. In addition, the participants were randomly assigned to include one or two cups of vegetable juice in their diets, while others did not consume any.

Over the course of twelve weeks, the juice drinkers lost four pounds while the non-drinkers only lost one. The vegetable juice drinkers also consumed significantly more vitamin C and potassium, and were more likely to meet their daily recommendations for fruits and veggies when compared to the non-drinkers.

If you've ever tried vegetable juice, you would know that it can be pretty thick and kind of filling; it doesn't come as too much of a surprise to me that drinking one or two full glasses would make the participants feel fuller and eat a bit less food as compared with their non-juice drinking counterparts. But, all things considered, if it's low-cal, low-sodium and helps you meet your daily nutrient recommendations on the go, then I guess it cant hurt to try it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Show the Planet Some Love this Earth Day!

It's Earth Day, so why not swap your regular gym workout to an outdoor one today? Sure, the gym is great when the weather is crappy, but there are so many workouts that can be done outside without using any electricity or expanding our (already large) carbon footprints!

Try going for a walk, run, bike ride or even rollerblade today. Hey, you just might find that you enjoy the scenery, landscapes and changing terrains better than what you'd find using the same ol' stationary versions. You might even get a better workout because you won't be as bored!

Do yourself and mother nature a favour today and get out there!

What's Really in Your Multivitamin?

Our society these days loves magic cures, especially if they come in pill form. I guess that's why multivitamins are so popular; people think that if they take them, they will cover all of their bases and their health will improve. Well, according to a recent report from, 30% of the multivitamins they tested contained either significantly more or less of certain ingredients than what's stated on the label, and some were even contaminated with lead!

The report went on to warn that many of the supplements tested exceeded the tolerable upper intake level (the highest levels safe for consumption before toxicity becomes a risk) for ingredients such as vitamin A, folic acid, niacin and zinc. This included three multis for children! Others fell up to 50% short of what was claimed for vitamin A, folic acid and calcium. This was found across women's, men's, seniors', children's, prenatal and generic multis.

Now, of course we need our vitamins and minerals, but we must all realize that, in addition to what's on the label, we're getting them naturally from the foods we eat! If multivitamins contain high levels of micronutrients, there's a good chance we will exceed our tolerable upper intake levels and put ourselves at risk for some potentially serious health issues. Isn't that the opposite of what we were going for? Not to mention money wasted!

Keep in mind that, ultimately, multivitamins are called 'supplements' for a reason - they're like an insurance policy on diets that might not be adequately providing the necessary micronutrients that we require. So before you start swallowing them down, take a good look at your diet to assess whether or not you even need them; if you feel you do, look for reputable brands that have been tested and perfected, and go for ones with low doses or don't take them every day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Salads and Weight Loss: Makers or Breakers?

Think if you just eat lots of salads you'll be bound to lose weight? Think Again. There is such a preconception (and misconception) out there about salads - that they're 'diet' food and that they're all healthy - but this is far from the truth.

Sure, on the surface it seems that salads are pretty low-cal, but beware - they can derail your diet just as fast as any other meal out there! You see, calories can be hiding in all kinds tasty little packages in your salad - from the dressing, to just about anything that gets sprinkled on top. Dinner-sized salads in restaurants often come on huge plates, and can be filled with large amounts of nuts, seeds, cheese and other tasty calorie and fat-filled morsels that should otherwise be eaten in more moderate portions. Even if they're not drowned in dressing, these suckers can range anywhere from 500 to over 1000 cal, easy!

In addition, studies have shown that, calorie for calorie, there's just something more psychologically satisfying about eating a complete meal such as a sandwich with a small side salad, as opposed to a humongous salad. Plus you won't feel as bloated afterwards! Yes, weight loss ultimately boils down to calorie intake and output, but if you're miserable with what you're eating, you're probably going to make up for it, later! Think about it - how are French women so thin even though French cuisine consists largely of bread, butter, meat and cheese? It's all about small portions and satisfaction.

Now, don't get me wrong - salads actually can be great for weight loss if they're done right! In a study that offered participants one of two sizes of starter salads, with three different levels of nutrient densities, it was found that lower-calorie salads, especially larger ones, eaten before a meal can reduce the total number of calories consumed in that meal.

Bottom line - if you want to lose weight, why not start off with a low-cal garden salad and mix things up with a tasty sandwich or wrap? You'll feel like you just ate an actual meal and chances are you won't end up overeating. Just remember to order that dressing on the side!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Healthy Fats Keep You Feeling Fuller, Less Hungry

So we keep hearing about eating the 'right' kinds of fats, and that we need to include 'good' fats in our diets in order to achieve and maintain optimal health, but now there's another reason to add a little healthy fat to your meals.

In a Dutch study published in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers were interested in finding out whether there was a difference in the secretion of hormones related to fat intake and resulting feelings of fullness when different types of fats were ingested. These hormones send signals the brain to tell you to slow down or stop eating so that the food currently in your digestive system has a chance to actually be digested!

Participants ingested either saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, diunsaturated fat or a control infusion and then went to have lunch. Their feelings of fullness and hunger, as well as how much food they ate at lunch was measured. When unsaturated fats were consumed, feelings of fullness or satiety and reduced hunger were significantly higher than in the control condition as well as in the saturated fat condition. There was no difference on food intake.

Despite the fact that there was not a significant difference in the amount of food consumed at lunch following the ingestion of the different types of fats, the finding that 'healthy' fats make us feel fuller and less hungry is definitely a good sign. Think about it, the people in this study essentially had free-run of a buffet for lunch. In real life, if you're watching what you eat and are practicing portion control, then the main thing is that you feel full and are not constantly feeling hunger pangs, or else there's a good chance that you'll go raid the fridge for a second helping!

Try sprinkling a few nuts, seeds or a bit of olive oil in your meals and you just might find that you won't be as hungry going from meal to meal!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

KGC: Kentucky Grilled Chicken?

I wonder if Colonel Sanders just rolled in his grave. If this isn't proof that we're all becoming a bit more health conscious, then what is? The guys at KFC are trying to attract us health nuts to their restaurants by serving up grilled chicken in addition to the fried stuff. I don't know about you guys, but KFC is just not on my radar and they've definitely gotten some bad press in recent times. Somehow "Kentucky Fried" sounds worse to me than just "Fried"...maybe I'm crazy, but I just don't know what the heck they do down there in Kentucky! Paula Deen-esque images are floating around in my mind.

KFC's president is hoping that offering a "healthier" grilled variety of chicken items will draw in customers who would never normally dare to set food in KFC. They're also responding to the fact that nearly all of their competitors offer grilled chicken on their menus.

Now, forgive me for sounding skeptical, but I still don't believe that anything coming from these fast food restaurants is even remotely healthy. The good news is that if you're in a pinch to grab some food on the go or you're looking to treat yourself, grilled chicken is definitely a healthier option than deep-fried chicken, with about half the calories, fat and sodium.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Extra Pounds Today Predict Mobility Limitation in Old age

I guess you could say I wasn't surprised by the findings of this study just published in April's issue of The American Journal of Epidemiology. You see, as more and more evidence mounts, all signs point to the fact that obesity at any point in your life has significant impacts on your future health. Think about it - studies are constantly being conducted on individuals of all life stages; overweight and obesity is an epidemic these days, even in childhood!

This new study investigated the effects of overweight or obesity over the course of one's adult life - through their 20's, 50's and 70's - as it is related to impairments in mobility in old age. The researchers weighed, calculated the body mass index, and assessed mobility in 2,845 participants in their 70s. None of them had mobility limitations to start. They were followed for 7 years and once again, the same measures were taken. The participants' weights from their 20's and 50's were recalled and BMI's were calculated.

It turns out that excess weight at any time point was correlated with mobility limitations, even if the pounds were shed in the meantime. There was a graded response in mobility limitations based on being overweight or obese at one time point, two or all three. According to one of the researchers, "
Excess weight can put stress on joints, make exercise difficult, and lead to chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease -- all of which are directly related to the development of mobility problems".

I guess the main message is simply this - the longer you carry around excess weight, the greater disservice you're doing yourself not only right now but definitely in the future.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Brown Body Fat Burns Calories, Keeps You Trim

Wow, sounds confusing, doesn't it? Body fat being good for you and actually keeping you trim? Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. The kind of fat we're talking about here is a special type of body fat known quite simply as 'brown adipose tissue'. And it's kind of a big deal right now - so big, in fact, that the New England Journal of Medicine has just published three articles on it and everyone seems to be buzzing about it this morning!

In one study, the authors found that the more brown adipose tissue their participants had, the higher their resting metabolic rate was, and both were significantly lower in overweight or obese participants than in lean ones. Brown adipose tissue was more active in cold conditions, suggesting that it's important in thermoregulation and burns more calories in order to keep your body warm in cool conditions.

The next study found that the amount of brown adipose tissue in participants was inversely correlated with body mass index (BMI), meaning that they were skinnier over all with more of this type of fat. Women were found to have more brown adipose tissue than men, and it was also more prevalent in older adults.

And finally, the third study confirmed that brown adipose tissue is metabolically active and actually uses 15 time the glucose for energy as regular fat, which just stores it for future use.

This type of fat, which is largely found in infants, was thought to be completely irrelevant in adulthood, but now we're finding that this is definitely not true. This incredible discovery has some major potential to help overweight and obese individuals lose weight; there is already clamor about finding ways to harness the power of brown adipose tissue to make some kind of diet pill to help burn calories and shed extra pounds! Before you get too excited, realize that this could take years and years.....but keep an eye out because chances are good that you'll be hearing a heck of a lot more about this stuff in the time to come!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Celeb New Mom Jessica Alba Bans White Foods To Slim Down

Trying to slim down post-baby? Take a tip from new mommy Jessica Alba! Jess has recently cut out all things white from her diet, and what's more - she's banned her family from consuming them too!

What's so bad about white foods, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, the more colour a food has, the more nutrients it tends to contain. And when it comes to whole grains versus their "white" versions, whole grains contain more fibre and nutrients compared to their bleached and processed counterparts. Whole grains are more satisfying thanks to their extra fibre and they take longer to digest, meaning your blood sugar won't spike and go haywire. The opposite is true for the white stuff; you'll feel hungrier and chances are you'll end up eating even more (translation: pack on the pounds).

Once whole grains are refined, they lose their bran and germ layers, which contain the bulk of their fibre, folate, selenium and phytochemicals (which have been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol). Even if you get the "enhanced" white stuff with added fibre, it can't replace all of the other nutrients and health benefits that are lost in the refining process.

So, even if you didn't just give birth but you kinda look like you did, try cutting back on refined foods, or better yet - eliminate them from your diet all together. It's not easy at first, but consider this - if it was easy, wouldn't we all be skinny?

Sore After Working Out? Grab Some Caffeine

I guess it's never a good thing to have too much caffeine per day, but it does seem like it's is a regular do-it-all super-substance, especially when it comes to exercise! Not only can caffeine improve performance and endurance in exercise, but now it's been shown to reduce pain after working out!

In a new study published in The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, researchers found that perceptions of muscle pain were significantly reduced with the consumption of caffeine following a bout of high-intensity exercise. These results were found for both low and habitual caffeine consumers! The researchers went on to conclude that caffeine acts as a moderate hypoalgesic during high-intensity workouts, but caution that measures of perceived pain are highly subjective, and further investigation is necessary.

A professor from the University at which the study was performed stated that "If you go to the gym and you exercise and it hurts, you may be prone to stop doing that because pain is an aversive stimulus that tells you to withdraw," "If we could give people a little caffeine and reduce the amount of pain they're experiencing, maybe that would help them stick with that exercise."

More energy, better workout and less pain? Hey, that sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Broccoli Kills Ulcer-Causing Bacteria

Being as tasty and good-for-you as broccoli already is, we now have even more reasons to praise the green giant of veggies.

In a new article published in Cancer Prevention Research, Researchers found that consuming broccoli sprouts can kill bacteria responsible for gastric ulcers which can also lead to gastric cancer. You see, broccoli sprouts contain a precursor to a compound called sulforaphane which is powerfully bactericidal against Helicobacter pylori infections (H. pylori is the bug responsible for gastric ulcers).

In this study, 48 patients infected with H. pylori included either broccoli or alfalfa sprouts in their diets for 8 weeks, and their infections were monitored. Those individuals who consumed broccoli sprouts showed a marked reduction in H. pylori colonization and gastric inflammation while no change was demonstrated in the control condition.

You, too can benefit from the goodness of broccoli sprouts! Try sprinkling some over your salad or include them in a wrap for an easy way to achieve your 5 to 10 a day.

Regular Exercise Not Enough For Astronauts in Space

As if being an astronaut isn't hard enough already, now they even have to work out harder than the rest of us!

It's not exactly news that gravity is an important factor in maintaining bone mineral density, but according to a new study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology, astronauts lose significant muscle strength and mass while in outer space, in addition to bone loss.

Despite using a treadmill, a cycle ergometer, and a resistance exercise machine to perform 5 hours a week of cardio with daily resistance training, the astronauts' muscles still shrunk significantly! The researchers suggest that the exercise regime of future astronauts should be modified in order to preserve their muscle mass.

Wow - that doesn't seem fair, now does it? I think it's safe to say that those poor astronauts do more exercise than the majority of people in North America and yet they're still getting the losing end of the deal. This begs the question - why on earth (or space?) do people subject themselves to this? All in the name of science, I suppose?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Better Eating Habits in Teens With Regular Family Meals

Teens coming from families where family meals are the norm demonstrate more sound and healthful eating habits than their counterparts. Are you surprised?

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the researchers examined the eating patterns of adolescents when they were 12 or 13 and then five years later. During this period of time, they found that regular family meals (five or more meals together per week) declined. Despite this fact, the adolescents who participated in regular family meals both at the beginning and end of the study were more likely to have breakfast and dinner meals as well as increased intakes of vegetables, calcium-rich food, dietary fiber, and several other nutrients including magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

If you think about it, just the fact that families devote the time to sit down together and have a meal suggests that they value the importance of food and they are less likely to be grabbing fast-food on the go! Even if that's not true, it's an absolute fact that parental behaviour has a huge impact on what kids end up doing in the future. Set a good example and set your kids up with healthy eating habits for life!

Study: Atkins Diet Ups Health Risks

Well, well, wouldn't you know...another fad diet proves to be bad for your health instead of beneficial.

Published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a study was performed to compare three common diets - the Atkins, the South Beach and the Ornish - to see if, aside from weight loss, there were other effects of the diets on health during periods of weight maintenance.

18 participants were on each diet for a period of four weeks, but the goal was not to lose weight - they ate the same number of calories per day. The point was to see what happens to the body just by maintaining weight and consuming the types of foods that the diets entail. There was a wash out period of four weeks in between each so that the effects observed from one diet would not transfer to the next.

Following each dietary phase, The researchers analyzed 3-day food records, drew fasting blood, and performed tests of brachial artery reactivity (how stretchy their arteries were; stretchy = good). On the South Beach and Ornish diets, levels of LDL (aka bad cholesterol) and apolipoprotein B (related to LDL, common measure of heart disease risk; also bad) were significantly reduced. This is in contrast to the findings on the Atkins diet. Moreover, the researchers found that the more saturated fat that was consumed, the lower the ability was of veins and arteries to dilate due to blood flow (translation - stiffer blood vessels = bad). This is exactly what they found on the Atkins diet, but not on the other two. Not to mention the fact that the consumption of large amounts of red and processed meats on a daily basis increases the risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease and just dying over all.

All in all, if overweight individuals go on the Atkins diet hoping to lose a few pounds, they might just end up with a one-way ticket to heart disease and other adverse health effects! Wow, sounds great! Sign me up!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gym Class Doesn't Battle Bulge in Kids: Study

According to a B.C. study, phys-ed classes alone are insufficient in combating childhood obesity. In 13 trials involving nearly 10,000 kids, time spent that the kids spent in phys-ed classes had no effect on their Body Mass Indexes (BMI, a common measure to assess fat and weight).

Dr. Kevin Harris, a pediatric resident at B.C. Children's Hospital who was involved in this research said that "School-based physical activity interventions do not improve BMI". Despite this disappointing finding, the studies did find that bone mineral density and aerobic capacity were improved, as well as a notable reduction in blood pressure and increased flexibility in the kids.

All in all, it's not fair to completely knock the value of phys-ed in schools. Physical education, at the very least, teaches kids about physical activity and health, and gets them moving. As was noted above, there were marked improvements in other areas of the kids' health, just not in weight loss.

According to the researchers, phys-ed should not be looked at as a solution to childhood obesity; there are more deep-rooted reasons for this recently deemed epidemic. The researchers feel that nutritional education might be a better tactic to fight childhood obesity, teaching them healthy eating habits and behaviours, in combination with physical activity. As you might know, diet comprises roughly 80% of weight loss, and physical activity only the last 20%. Sounds like it's worth a try!

CFIA Issues 'Health Hazard Alert' for Pistachios

First it was peanuts, now pistachios? What the heck is going on with all of these nut scares?

Pistachios have recently been recalled in the US due to fears surrounding salmonella contamination, and now Frito Lay Canada is recalling their 'Munchies' brand pistachios for the same reason. The company and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are warning the public not to consume Munchies brand pistachios sold in 50-gram packages (UPC 0 60410 04595 4) bearing dates between Aug. 4 and Dec. 15, 2009.

The good news is that there have been no reports of anyone falling ill from these products, but it's still a rather scary thought. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry, especially in light of all of the recently publicized recalls!

For more information about salmonella and food borne illness, you can access the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's info page here.