Thursday, December 22, 2011

Will Exercise Info on Food Labels Make Us Think Twice?

Food labels have come a long way in recent years in terms of the information they provide us with and the ease of their interpretation. The idea of having a clear and concise food label is to give more power to consumers (or is it accountability/blame?) that can help us make more informed decisions about the foods we choose to eat and the potential health outcomes that might be associated with eating those foods. However, despite all that, recent bodies of research have shown that plenty of consumers either don't pay attention to food labels or they still don't know how to read or understand them.

Given that obesity rates have been rising steadily annually, there has never been a more important time than the present to have a basic understanding of nutrition and follow a balanced diet with an appropriate amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. So if people aren't paying attention to calories on food labels or don't know what those numbers mean for them specifically, maybe a provocative new idea trialed in a U.S. study will be of some use.

In a new study from Johns Hopkin's Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers tested out 3 different nutrition labels on sugary drinks to see how they impacted the number that teens purchased. One label just showed calorie information, another had calorie counts as a percentage of recommended daily intake and the third showed how long you would have to run to burn those calories off.

Since we already know that many people ignore or don't understand calorie information on food or beverage labels, it doesn't come as a total surprise that 'time spent jogging' elicits more of an immediate response from people when they're choosing what to eat or drink. Who wants to drink a 250 kcal bottle of soda and have to run for 50 minutes to burn it off?

The exercise times were calculated based on a 110lb teenager and jogging was chosen because many people don't like doing it and find it tough for any number of reasons. Plus, not too many people like the idea of spending nearly an hour of their valuable time doing something they don't enjoy or can otherwise avoid doing.

Although this study was just preliminary and only looked at the impact of these labels on teenagers, it's easy to guess what the implications might be for more diverse populations. Some critics argue that such a label might be a trigger for eating disorders and overly simplify nutrition concepts, but there are always pros and cons, risks and benefits to rolling out new programs. Ultimately, if more good than harm can be done in terms of better educating or informing consumers, this type of labeling might be a step in the right direction in helping people better manage their weight. Something tells me it will be a long while before we see something like this on our food labels, if ever. What's your take?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Healthy Diets and Whole Foods, not Nutrients, Linked to Lower Stroke Risk

The shifting focus from single nutrients to whole foods for optimal health is becoming increasingly apparent. Once again, research (and a little common sense) is showing that diseases and poor health aren't prevented by singular nutrients in isolation or taken in supplemental forms. In fact, on the contrary, taking supplemental doses of particular nutrients or eliminating others based on outdated associations can do more harm than good to our overall health.

To summarize this point quite nicely, a new Australian study published in the Lancet has demonstrated that particular dietary patterns like the Mediterranean or DASH diets can prevent medical conditions like stroke or heart disease. The authors also noted that supplemental doses of singular nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and calcium don't decrease stroke risk and might in fact increase it. Treating deficiencies of vitamins B and D might lower stroke risk but in situations of adequacy, the relationship isn't as clear cut. When it comes to sodium and potassium, it has been found that high salt intakes (>5g/d) increase stroke risk while high potassium intakes can lower it by lowering blood pressure.

When it comes to macronutrients, more research is pouring in to support the fact that moderate intakes of saturated or naturally occurring trans fats (e.g. CLA) don't raise the risk of heart disease. However, consuming unsaturated fats like the essential fatty acid omega-3 found in fish or MUFAs like those found in meat, avocados and olive oil can lower one's risk of heart disease. So ultimately, a balance of all kinds of fats is not harmful in the context of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, particularly the refined kind, are becoming increasingly vilified if consumed in large quantities. Pools of research indicate that a high consumption of carbohydrates is associated with heart disease and stroke risk.

Certain whole foods that have been regarded for their medicinal properties still hold their ground according to this study. Chocolate, coffee and tea are among the list of foods that have been associated with lower incidences of stroke. When it comes to whole dietary patterns, once again the DASH and Mediterranean diets have both been associated with lower stroke risks while the DASH is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease. These diets have consistently topped healthy diet lists and make a strong case for focusing on whole foods as well as combinations of foods rather than glorifying or vilifying particular nutrients. Once again, as always, the key message is that balance is necessary in all things, particularly in one's diet, for good health.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feeling Sore From Working Out? Green Tea Extract Might Help

Green tea has been touted as one of the world's healthiest beverages. It is packed with antioxidants which can help boost your immune system and prevent cellular damage, as well as caffeine to maintain a healthy metabolism and also help with concentration and task performance. One other key 'ingredient' that makes green tea so special is an extract it contains which has demonstrated numerous health benefits. Now, Polish researchers have added one more bullet to the list of feats that green tea, more specifically, green tea extract, is capable of performing. Fitness buffs, new gym-goers and those who just want to stay healthy should take note.

According to a new study from Poland, published in the journal of Nutrition Research, a concentrated supplement of green tea extract providing 640mg of polyphenols might reduce oxidative damage caused by strength training, which can help speed muscle healing. This is particularly useful for individuals who are just starting to strength train and might be more susceptible to muscle damage from oxidative stress as a result. The researchers have noted that this stress has been associated with muscle fatigue as well as a decrease in performance.

In the study, 35 participants were randomly assigned to either the green tea extract group or a placebo group for four weeks. Both groups then followed a short-term exercise regime and the effects of oxidative damage to their muscles during that time was evaluated.

During the trials, signs of oxidative stress was markedly higher in the placebo group, while the antioxidant levels in the blood samples of the participants in the green tea group were significantly higher. The green tea extract group was also more tolerant of exercise but neither group showed increased muscular endurance.

For the best health benefits, enjoy a cup or two of green tea daily along with plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you're interested in trying supplements of green tea extract which are widely available, be sure to speak to your doctor about their safety and choose a reputable brand.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Your Snacking Style Might Sabotage Weight Loss

It has been said that eating more frequently can help with weight loss. The reason why this usually works, if done properly and mindfully, is that eating regularly helps to maintain blood glucose and insulin levels, preventing spikes and dips that might eventually lead to overeating, and also helps boost your metabolism.

The downside to this seemingly simple strategy is that people sometimes eat more regularly but don't scale back their portion sizes, meaning they end up taking in more food over all and ultimately sabotage their weight loss efforts. Instead of three smaller meals with three snacks spaced in between, they end up just eating 6 small meals. This perhaps alludes to the findings of a recent study concerning snacks and weight loss published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

In the study, the dietary and exercise habits of over 100 overweight to obese women aged 50 to 75 were monitored for a year. One interesting result was that the women who snacked between breakfast and lunch lost less weight than those who skipped their AM snacks (7% vs 11%, respectively). Interestingly, a snack was defined as any food or beverage taken in between meals. I'm not clear on what foods or beverages the participants were choosing but drinks like coffee, tea or water with nothing added to them have no calories. And certainly there has to be a difference in outcomes between choosing a snack like an apple or some trail mix versus a chocolate bar or croissant.

In any case, the researchers don't think the results have much to do with the actual time of day that the meals and snacks were taken but rather more to do with the spacing, frequency and necessity of food intake. They suggest that mid-morning snackers might be "mindlessly" eating rather than satisfying true hunger.

Intuitively, if you throw in an extra snack in the morning and you're active, you'll work up an appetite soon after and continue eating regularly the rest of the day (that is, unless you watch every calorie and plan out your meals and snacks accordingly). On the other hand, if you wait a while and consider snacking later on in the day, perhaps closer to dinner, your day is winding down and you might be more conscious of what you've eaten throughout the day. Your decisions at that point might actually be based on true hunger.

The main message the researchers are driving home is that snacking does play an important role in weight loss, but when calories are limited, every single one counts. You've really got to get the most bang for your buck for every single calorie by choosing nutrient-dense whole foods rather than empty calories. Whole foods are naturally satisfying, particularly when they contain protein and some fats. If meals and snacks are planned appropriately and "absent-minded grabbing" is avoided, healthy eating and weight loss really can be a cinch (or at least easier!).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some Vino Might Lower Diabetes Risk in Carb Lovers

Plenty of research shows that the typical North American diet is carbohydrate heavy. We adore our pizzas, pastas, breads and cereals. Much of this focus on carbs and fear of fats has to do with the advocacy health professionals and researchers of adopting a low-fat diet and the inadequacy of the average diet in terms of protein.

Certainly, carbs are necessary for good health, but consuming excessive amounts, particularly of refined carbohydrates and processed foods, significantly contributes to weight gain and the risk of developing diabetes, among other chronic diseases. So without making too radical a change, what can carb-lovers do to improve their health? According to Harvard researchers, raising a glass might help.

Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that alcohol-drinkers whose diets are carbohydrate-rich are at a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers with similar dietary habits.

The study followed about 80,000 women over a span of 26 years and kept tabs on their dietary habits. By the end, it was revealed that those who regularly consumed large amounts of refined carbohydrates but moderate amounts of alcohol (about 2 drinks per week) fared better in terms of their diabetes risks compared to non-drinking carb-lovers.

The researchers aren't saying that alcohol necessarily protects people with high-carb diets from diabetes nor are they encouraging alcohol consumption. They think that perhaps alcohol can affect the body's release of insulin and other substances after a meal, attenuating the blood sugar highs and lows that may lead to diabetes, however more research needs to be done in this area to gather more conclusive evidence. For now, their advice remains the same as what we're always told- follow a diet lower in refined carbohydrates for better health, and if you drink, do so moderately.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cheese Given the Green Light for Heart Health?

Going against the grain in any capacity can be risky and uncomfortable. Now consider that your reputation is on the line and that you're trying to win over a world of skeptics. Oftentimes, that's the harsh reality of research. But slowly, as more scholars and researchers take the plunge to challenge the existing nutrition dogma that has for so long been accepted, we're learning that lots of formerly "blacklisted" foods are really just fine for our health after all.

Just as we've learned that the longstanding messaging around lean red meat was wrong (it has about the same effect on blood cholesterol levels as lean white meats and no association with colorectal cancer in moderate daily amounts e.g. Canada's Food Guide servings), we're learning that scientists are coming to similar conclusions about another food containing natural saturated fats: cheese.

In a new study from the University of Copenhagen, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Danish researchers found that the daily consumption of hard cheese did not raise LDL ("bad" cholesterol) or total cholesterol levels in nearly 50 healthy participants.

For two separate 6 week periods, participants consumed 13% of their daily calories as fat from either cheese or butter. In between, there was a 2 week 'wash out' period where the participants followed their regular, lower-fat diets. Compared with their baseline diets, lower in total and saturated fats, the participants' LDL and total cholesterol levels showed no increase when eating cheese daily; there was no difference. However, when they switched to butter, their cholesterol levels rose about 7% on average.

The researchers aren't totally clear yet as to why cheese and butter could have such different impacts on human blood cholesterol levels, but there could really be any number of reasons for the difference observed. For one, the researchers pointed out that cheese has more calcium than butter, which has been suggested to bind and excrete fat. In the study, however, fecal fat excretion was measured and was not shown to be different across the conditions. Other possibilities could include the foods that were paired with the butter or cheese and the participants' overall dietary patterns; cheese and butter are used and enjoyed in different ways.

The bottom line once again is to realize that in the end, humans were meant to eat whole foods in their natural forms. If we focus on whole foods that by default are rich in the nutrients our bodies need, we will naturally move towards a dietary pattern that promotes good health. Milk is highly nutrient rich, natural and good for us. Milk also contains fat, and it makes good sense that products made from milk should also contain these fats so as not to manipulate what nature provided us with. Perhaps butter isn't as stellar for us in terms of our blood cholesterol levels based on the findings of this study, but on that note, butter doesn't contain as many nutrients as cheese, and that might suggest that we should eat less of it than we would cheese anyways. Besides, almost any food can fit into a healthy dietary pattern so long as moderation is the rule. So really, what else is new?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Bright New System to Shine Some Light on Healthy Food Choices

"Nutrition choices made simple." Does that sound like an oxymoron to you? If you said yes, you're not alone. It can certainly be tough to get a clear idea of what constitutes a healthy food choice and what doesn't when you're shopping for groceries. With the realization that many if not most consumers continue to be confused by nutrition messages, there's a new program being rolled out that is designed to clear up some of that confusion and guide you to making healthier food choices. It's called Guiding Stars program and it's coming to a Loblaws store shelf near you.

It's pretty simple and usually safe to say that whole, natural, single-ingredient foods are the best options for our health, but things can get a whole lot trickier when looking at those items on the store shelves with long ingredient lists seemingly written in code with difficult to interpret nutrition facts panels. Trying to figure out what foods are best for us and our families can feel like trying to solve the daVinci Code. In the past, we've received tips and guidance on how to make informed, healthy choices, and certain programs or initiatives have been created along the way to better guide us, such as the health check program. Since plenty of confusion and mixed messages continue to exist, the new Guiding Stars program aims to silence all that kerfuffle and literally make choosing healthy foods a simple(r) task.

According to the Guiding Stars website, "Nutrition can be as easy as 1-2-3. Guiding Stars analyzes foods and translates the nutrition information to a rating system that is easy to understand". The system is designed to rate foods based on nutrient density (amount of nutrients per calorie) using a scientific algorithm (higher nutrient density is better, with penalties for "unhealthy" nutrients). Foods that are part of the program are marked with tags indicating 0, 1, 2, or 3 stars. Simply put, the higher the nutritional score the food receives, the more Guiding Stars it receives. Zero stars suggests that a food has a poor nutritional value, while three stars indicate the best nutritional value.

While this system is great in theory (that's usually the case), it certainly isn't perfect or without flaws. For example, an extremely nutritious food such as real cheddar cheese receives zero stars because it contains a large percentage of fat (even though the fats are not unhealthy and cheese also contains calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D and magnesium, among other nutrients). Meanwhile some fortified, processed foods like cheesy popcorn or cheese puffs get a better score because they have nutrients added or less fat. Clearly, some re-evaluation needs to be done.

Regardless, a great deal of time and energy went into creating this program which truthfully has more good points than faults. Given that the criteria for the system is clearly laid out and transparent, there are no hidden agendas for labeling certain foods and not others. This program is ultimately designed to help guide consumers and build upon their existing knowledge of nutrition and health when making food choices. Consumers are still the ones making the final decisions as to what they want to buy and they have access to a world of other information on which to base their decisions. Hopefully this new system will achieve it's goal of helping consumers make healthier choices, and as far as I'm concerned, any help in that department which is based on sound science is better than none at all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Whole New Perspective on Food

For me, this has been a very exciting week in the world of nutrition. One major point to note is that I have been introduced to the names and the work of Dr. Micha and Dr. Mozaffarian who have both been heavily involved in research surrounding diet and cardiometabolic health and have come to some very interesting conclusions.

Dr. Mozaffarian was one of the first people to openly question our current perceptions and recommendations surrounding the role of saturated fats in our diets and how they impact cardiometabolic health. It turns out, in fact, that we've been making strong recommendations based on weak and inconclusive evidence for many years about this topic and others. In terms of dietary fats including SFAs and heart health, it's been at least 30 years that we've been getting the wrong message. We need dietary fats - we're pretty clear on this concept now and we've progressed in a sense in terms of including them in our diets more, but we're still shaking in our boots about saturated fats. It turns out that there is no need for this nonsense. There's actually NO conclusive evidence to date linking SFAs to heart disease based on meta-analyses of huge numbers of studies. I know- it's OK - I was shocked too!

Now, what makes things even more interesting is the fact that we've been wasting our time focusing on avoiding certain individual nutrients for the longest time, like saturated fat for example, and over-consuming others instead of taking a more holistic approach and looking at whole foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet. We definitely know that nutrients don't act in isolation and they tend to 'work' better in our bodies when they are in their most natural forms, in whole foods. You want some vitamin D? Why pop pills or eat fortified products? Just drink milk or eat some beef more often.

In reality, people are replacing fats with way too many refined carbohydrates and useless (literally, from a dietary standpoint) junk foods that don't fit into any of the food groups or they're buying heavily processed junk that is masquerading as healthy food because it's been sprinkled with added nutrients. This trend has been largely responsible for the obesity epidemic we're seeing, which has a much greater impact on cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders than single nutrients ever could.

What also happens when we focus on single nutrients like sugar or fat is that we do silly things like telling kids to stay away from chocolate milk or yogurt with 'real' sugar, which is highly nutrient-rich, full of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein - all of which kids and adults alike aren't getting enough of as it stands, just because there might be some fat or sugar added in there. Instead we think it's better that they just drink water or diet pop, or consume other foods with added chemical sweeteners. Crazy, right? Or how about telling people to stay away from beef which is packed with satiating protein and actually contains the same amount of fat or less than chicken per 100g but way more iron, zinc, vitamin D and a slew of other essential nutrients - because of the negative messages surrounding red meat, which we now know are unfounded. You get the point - and yet the list goes on.

Well on that note, just today, a press statement has been released from Dr. Mozaffarian regarding whole foods. He says that we should stop focusing and nitpicking over single nutrients like fats, especially since they hardly account for any significant portion of calories consumed by most people. We should focus more on what we need more of in our diets, which should naturally guide us towards nutritional adequacy, good health, and avoidance of processed, added junk. If we eat the right stuff, we feel full, energetic and satisfied, which tends to make us eat less over all. In his own words, Dr. Mozaffarian said that “For most people, getting more of what’s missing will have a larger benefit than limiting certain nutrients,”.

So what should we be eating then? The current recommendations include:

- 4 to 5 daily servings each of fruits and vegetables
- 3-plus daily servings of whole, unrefined grain products
- 2 to 3 daily servings of low- or nonfat dairy products
- 2 to 6 daily servings of vegetable oils
- 2 or more weekly servings of fish or shellfish
- 4 to 5 weekly servings of nuts and seeds

Foods we should eat less of include processed meats, sugary beverages, sweets, and baked goods made with refined grains. Not to be eaten are any foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or other trans fats.

This information is not technically new - we do have our food guide which makes similar suggestions, but perhaps we needed reminding and a slightly different explanation or perspective on the situation.

Either way, we all need to pause for a moment, take a look in our kitchens from top to bottom (especially our pantries) and re-evaluate what we're eating. Why are we choosing the foods we do? Is the information we were getting still accurate? Do the 'rules' we were following still apply? If you're not sure, it's time to do a little digging or ask someone who knows so that you can start living a fuller, healthier life.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Feeling Tempted? Don't Stop to Think About It

Temptation is one of the most awful sensations; it's a combination of desire and longing for something spiked with an intense sense of guilt and consequence. You want it, but you know you can't have it. Dieters know this feeling well, particularly those working in offices where there always happen to be 'extra' treats kicking around. But next time you're tempted to sneak in a few extra (hundred) calories, don't bother stopping to think about it. Just walk away, says new research.

In the past, there's been a mixed body of evidence surrounding temptation of all sorts - dietary or otherwise. Some research has found that thinking about a particular temptation might make one more likely to give in, while other research shows the opposite effect. Using diet as an example, some studies suggest that thinking about a treat and rationalizing it can go either way. One could say "I've stuck to the program lately, one treat won't harm me" and give in, or, alternatively, thinking "I'm on a diet, I shouldn't have this" might make one less likely to have it. But until now, little, if any work has been done to combine studies of temptation with actual physical bodily states, like, for example, hunger or cravings. Now how could those possibly influence temptation?

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the authors of this new study have found that the less satiated we are, in other words, if our desire for something is very strong, then we're more likely to give in to temptation and go for instant gratification or indulgence rather than thinking longer-term and delaying gratification. In this particular study, the researchers investigated sexual desire and smoking temptation, but the results speak volumes about all forms of temptation. In the study, more temptation reduced fidelity and self-control in participants in the desire condition, while it made smokers less able to wait for their next smoke, even if they were going to receive money for waiting.

So what does all this mean when it comes to diets? Ultimately, if you're hungry or haven't had a treat in a long while (deprivation!) then you're more likely to give in rather than delaying gratification. Think about going to the grocery store when you're starving versus after a meal - in which condition do you pick up more goodies and treats? It's also why many dieters fail around Halloween or other holidays. They want to look and feel amazing for particular events, work extra hard and deprive themselves, so when faced with a table of treats, it seems "logical" to indulge, or reward oneself.

The key message here as it relates to sticking to a healthy diet and avoiding bingeing on items you'll regret later is to follow a diet that is healthy and the right amount of calories for you while satisfying your cravings regularly - even daily if necessary! If you like a piece of chocolate for dessert or popcorn as a snack - have it. More nutrient-dense foods will provide better nutrition overall, but if avoiding the things you love to achieve short-term goals is going to make you snap and eat it all back in one weekend, is it really worth it? You can decide.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not So Spooky: Pumpkins Pack a Healthy Punch

Although the little ones are incredibly cute and the cool, carved ones make for great competition and decorations, ultimately, pumpkins are just veggies - squash to be exact - and they're super healthy and delicious to cap things!

Just as you would enjoy butternut, acorn, spaghetti or turnip squash, you could enjoy good old pumpkins. You can roast them, make soup with them or mash them, even make pumpkin spice bread or cake with them - whatever you like, the possibilities are endless. Even the canned, pureed stuff is super simple and versatile in a pinch. Plus, what's better than the warm, fragrant spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves on a cool fall or winter's day? How about combining them with piping hot pumpkin! Now, that's what I call awesome.

There are plenty of great reasons to enjoy eating pumpkins. Not only are they packed full of antioxidants, vitamins A, C and some B's, they also contain plenty of potassium and heart-healthy fibre. Now, if squash isn't totally your think or you were just planning on carving that pumpkin and tossing the rest away, at least hang on to the seeds.

Pumpkin seeds are one of the healthiest (and tastiest) seeds out there. Most, if not all seeds are great for your health, in that they're plentiful in minerals like zinc and magnesium, plus they contain muscle-building and immune system-boosting protein. Pumpkin seeds also contain vitamin K which is important for healthy blood clotting with some iron, copper, calcium and manganese too. All you need is an ounce per day which will provide you with about 125 calories and 5g of heart-healthy fats. For a double whammy, try roasting them up and sprinkling them on top of your roasted pumpkin or soup! That's a healthy trick and a treat all in one!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Set Your Sights on Exercise for Good Vision

Who knew? On the surface, it seems a bit bizarre that huffing and puffing, lifting weights or running around might have anything to do with your eyes (other than perhaps looking at cute people at the gym or puppies outside). But if you stop to think about it, if something is good for your entire body, inside and out, from your bones to your brain, it's going to be good for your eyes, too. That's exactly what a new study has found.

One of the most common ailments to eye health is glaucoma, which causes damage to the optic nerve and eventually progresses to blindness. The main cause of this condition is high blood pressure in the eyes (Intraocular pressure or IOP) which is associated with low ocular perfusion pressure (OPP) and tied to overall systemic blood pressure. Any condition that might cause someone's blood pressure to rise for too long could potentially lead to this condition.

Far too frequently, glaucoma is seen in people with diabetes. A major risk factor for type 2 diabetes is overweight which is also linked to higher blood pressure levels. Starting to see where exercise and overall fitness might play a role here?

The researchers found that physical fitness was associated with more favourable OPP levels. They don't quite know the cause or the connection as of yet, but they say there's definitely an association between a sedentary lifestyle and glaucoma. Since glaucoma could be a co-morbidity associated with other chronic diseases where high blood pressure is also a player, staying physically fit is one way that this debilitating condition (and perhaps others) may potentially be averted.

And hey, if you want to exercise your eyes a little by looking at some eye candy while you're working out, feel free! Who are we to judge?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Front and Centre Better? Study Says We Don't Read Nutrition Facts

Considering how far we've come over the years with awareness surrounding food options at the grocery store and reading nutrition information on food labels, it is surprising and disappointing to know that it may be at least partly in vain. Despite the emphasis we now place on reading and understanding food labels in order to make educated choices about the nutrition we obtain, it seems that many people are flatly ignoring the facts, according to a new study. Could it really be that marketing techniques in addition to our urges and cravings ultimately win in the battle for what we end up eating?

In order to find out how nutrition label placement affects consumers' utilization of those facts and their judgment of food items, a research team from Minnesota investigated how much attention people pay to 3 different pieces of information on nutrition labels. Participants were asked to look at the nutrition facts label, a picture and list of ingredients, and a description of the product with price and quantity information. The study was later published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Using an eye tracking device, the researchers found that when nutrition labels were placed front and centre on food packages, participants looked at at least one of the three elements about 2/3 of the time. They also looked at those elements about 30% longer than in any of the other conditions. If the labels were off to either side of the package (shown on a computer screen), participants only looked at one or more elements of the label about 1/3 of the time.

Even though they reported paying attention to nutrition facts when making judgments about food products, the participants' eyes told a different story. Also frightening was the fact that of the 203 participants each looking at the packages of over 64 food items, they only looked at the calorie counts about 9% of the time.

Despite the fact that the results of this study were based on a computer simulation and not in real life situations, these findings add to the notion that perhaps more aggressive measures are necessary to get people to pay attention to what they're eating. Buying packaged foods from the grocery store involves something like a synchronized swimming routine between food producers, marketers, grocery stores and consumers. Everyone plays an intricate role towards the end result of the consumer purchasing an item, but they also have their own agendas to look out for. However, it is ultimately the consumer who does the consuming, so the better informed they can be about what they eat, the more likely they are to look past the pretty pictures on the box and make healthier choices!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wine in Moderation May Do Your Bones Some Good

Just in time for the weekend, when a glass of wine sounds about right, we've got some good news about it from the Nutrition front.

In the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, over 1000 pairs of twin, post-menopausal women had their diets and wine intakes analyzed paired with the analysis of their bone mineral densities. It turned out that moderate wine drinking was associated with higher bone density in the spine and hip bones compared to non-drinkers.

Many of us know that for healthy individuals with no known heart problems, a bit of wine in moderation is good for their health. As a key part of the Mediterranean diet - one of the healthiest ways of eating known today - a little bit of wine can help reduce blood pressure, reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events like strokes, help manage cholesterol levels, keep some types of cancer at bay, help with weight management and other amazing feats. The main reason for these effects is an antioxidant called 'Reservatrol' that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body, which, if left unchecked, can potentially be disastrous.

While small amounts of wine (1-2 5oz glasses per day) can be very beneficial health-wise, exceeding this amount on a regular basis is a very bad idea. Alcohol is effectively a toxin, which explains why it makes us tipsy or intoxicated, so if we have too much too often, the cells throughout our bodies start to get damaged, from our brains to our bones.

There is plenty of evidence to support that excessive wine drinking is bad for bone health, leading to the deterioration of bone density and destruction of our bones. No amount of wine is worth brittle, frail bones! However, if we take care to enjoy our vino in moderate amounts, not only can we do our bodies some good, we can actually help boost bone density. Now there's something to raise your glass to! Cheers!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can Chomping on Chocolate Really Cut Stroke Risk in Women?

Who doesn't love a great piece of chocolate? Sure, there do exist people out there who aren't fans of the "food of the gods", but for most, chocolate is synonymous with luxury, indulgence and sinful deliciousness. Chocolate is often viewed that way and is enjoyed as a once-in-a-while treat, often saved for special occasions or celebrations. Too much of the rich stuff and you'll get more than you bargained for along your waistline! But that's all right - all you really need is just a little to get a big impact in more ways than just taste.

Just because chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation doesn't mean it's inherently bad for you. In fact, new research suggests that a little bit of chocolate in moderation as part of a healthy diet might help women significantly cut their stroke risks! Now that's something worth celebrating!

According to Swedish scientists, women who enjoy chocolate more often as part of a balanced, calorie-appropriate diet may be able to reduce their risk of having a stroke by an estimated 20%. The scientists thank chocolate's flavinoids (antioxidants) for the demonstrated health benefits, because they can help prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol) which is a key player in the cascade of events that leads to cardiac events including strokes. But obviously, chocolate isn't the only food that contains health-boosting antioxidants.

On that note, a word of warning is necessary, before you go ahead and start chomping down on extra bites of chocolate each day. One of the key points about the results of this study were that the women who ate the chocolate did so in the context of a diet that was appropriately balanced and provided them with the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. That might mean they skipped out on other nutritious foods that also have antioxidants (possibly even more than chocolate) in addition to other health benefits, for example, blueberries or broccoli.

In the end, a trade-off has to occur if you want to enjoy treats (however medicinal they might be) like chocolate within your every day diet. If chocolate is what you're feeling like on a certain day, make up the nutritional difference the rest of the week through healthy eating. Ultimately, maintaining a healthy weight is more important than squeezing in extra antioxidants at the expense of other nutrients and your waistline!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lacking Dietary Protein Might Cost You Extra Pounds

Low carb and low fat diets abound. Just walk down the 'Diet' or 'Nutrition' aisle in your local book store or online and you'll be bombarded with a variety of diet options, most of which are likely based on those philosophies. One thing you won't find, however, is the advocacy of skimping on protein in your diet for plenty of good reasons, including weight management and immune system function.

Lots of people find it difficult to have protein at every meal because the first thing that comes to mind is meat, and not everyone loves or eats meat, particularly at every meal. Meat certainly is a great source of protein, but it is important to choose cuts that are as lean as possible, because along with that essential protein, you might wind up with extra saturated fats that you weren't banking on.

The good news, if meat isn't your thing, is that there are plenty of other good sources of the essential macronutrient that are affordable and simple to find and prepare. Some excellent sources of protein include egg whites (you can buy them in a carton, pasteurized), beans and legumes, including lentils and chick peas, low fat dairy products, especially Greek yogurt, tofu and soy products and in smaller amounts in whole grains like quinoa.

Hopefully that's got you thinking about ways you can start adding more protein to your diet, because you're going to want to after you read this: According to new research, people who skimp on dietary protein end up eating more carbohydrates and fats in the form of snacks, and most often gain weight as a result.

Sacrificing protein in your diet might result in significantly higher intakes of total calories, even if you're just a few grams short of what is recommended. In a study from the University of Sydney in Australia, reported online in PLoS One, , participants who ate 10% of their dietary calories from protein ended up eating plenty more snacks and calories throughout the day than those who consumed 15% of their calories from protein. Beyond 15% (the recommendation for adults), there was no significant difference in calorie consumption among participants. Hunger levels were similar across all groups, but were slightly lower after a breakfast with more protein consumed. The researchers think that the increase in calorie intake might be due to the 'sensory qualities' associated with protein that we might be inadvertently seeking in the form of snacks.

At breakfast, add in some egg whites, choose a high protein breakfast cereal (like Kashi Go Lean), fortified oatmeal (like an instant one from Quaker) or a whole egg. At lunch, try adding some quinoa, beans, lean turkey or tuna packed in water. At dinner, you could add some whole wheat pasta, fish and edamame beans. Anything goes!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sticking to Tradition on Thanksgiving is Better than You Think

For foodies and lovers of bountiful meals, Thanksgiving is likely one of the greatest times of the year. For those watching their waistlines on the other hand, Thanksgiving may be as welcomed as a hair in their soup, derailing all of their efforts and good intentions to stay on track.

With the average Thanksgiving dinner becoming larger and more opulent than ever with all kinds of new recipes and "fixins" to add to the table, it may seem like Thanksgiving dinner is one just big calorie, fat and sodium filled bomb. But surprisingly, according to new research, it may not be as bad as you (me or anyone) might have thought! sent a Classic Canadian Thanksgiving dinner of Roasted white meat turkey (300g), Gravy (Knorr Classic Roast Turkey - 1/4 cup), Cranberry Sauce (Ocean Spray Whole Berry - 2tbsp) Stuffing Mix (Kraft Stove Top Turkey - 1/2 cup) Frozen corn (1/4 cup), Green bean casserole (made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup - 1/2 cup), Mashed potatoes (made with butter and milk - 1/2 cup), a white dinner roll, a pat of butter, and a small serving of pumpkin pie (1/8th of a 10'' pie) with some Light whipped cream (Irresistibles - 2tbsp) to the lab to be analyzed.

What they found was (are you ready?) that the entire meal clocked in at 1,125 calories, 31g fat, 1,554mg sodium, 70g protein and 143g carbs. While that might seem a bit on the high side for just one meal, it's actually very good! The average woman needs about 1500-2000 calories per day, while a man needs more - about 1800-2500. In terms of fat, women should aim for about 65g per day while men need about 90g per day. In terms of sodium, we should all try to aim for 1500-2300mg per day. So this meal isn't so bad, right?

Now, before you dig in, it's important to note that you've still got to be sensible about what you put on your plate. You should try a little bit of everything if you feel so inclined - don't deprive yourself particularly if everyone else is enjoying themselves and you want to join in - but be sensible and moderate with your choices. Be sure to take as many veggies as you can and fill up at least half your plate. One quarter of your plate should be for turkey, ham or other sources of protein and 1/4 should be for grains and starches, including potatoes and stuffing. Watch your use of cranberry sauce and gravy as they may add plenty of extra calories, sugar, fat and salt to your plate.

In addition, try to limit the amount of salt that gets used if you're preparing the dishes. If not, don't add any to your plate since there's already likely been plenty used behind the scenes in the preparation of the dish. Avoid using high-fat dairy products like butter or cream in your meal and choose skim or 1% milk or fat free Greek yogurt instead. Choose olive oil, canola oil or soft, non-hydrogenated margarine instead of butter.

Now remember, if you go back for seconds, you're doubling the entire score! It might seem like round 2 or 3 is a good idea at the time, but there are usually plenty of leftovers that taste just as good, if not better, the next few days after the big event. Take it easy and you'll enjoy yourself while having absolutely nothing to regret. Cheers!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Healthier Moms, Healthier Babies

When we do our best to eat well and stay physically active, we greatly reduce the chances that we will end up living with and possibly suffering from a chronic disease in the future. Taking care of ourselves isn't the most difficult task to accomplish, but it can certainly be challenging at times, particularly when we're focusing on others. But how about when the 'other' is growing and developing inside of you? In that case, the way you take care of yourself has a direct impact on the health and well being, in both the present and long term, of you and your baby. So what can you do to ensure that both you and baby will be healthy? Researchers from Stanford University have some suggestions, and the answer is simpler than it seems.

In the new study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, it was found that women who ate well and followed healthy diets during pregnancy had babies with fewer birth defects over all. It is common practice today for doctors to recommend that women of child bearing age load up on folate at least 3 months before conceiving to reduce the risk of having a child with neural tube defects. This recommendation was based on a body of research that changed the face of prenatal nutrition forever, but folate obviously isn't the only nutrient that is important for preventing birth defects and nutrients don't act in isolation.

In the current study, data from the years 1997 to 2005 pertaining the diets of women were studied. The intention was to see whether or not a 'better' diet led to fewer negative outcomes when it comes to births. Over all, it was found that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet or one that followed the old U.S. Food Guide Pyramid had babies with significantly fewer neural tube or facial defects.

The point of the study was not to focus on any particular nutrient in isolation or to make recommendations about which supplements future moms should be taking in order to have healthy babies. Since diets are far more complicated than just a conglomeration of nutrients, it makes sense that a healthy, balanced diet which keeps us all, including moms, in top shape is the best option for favourable birth outcomes. So no matter who you are, male or female and whether or not you're thinking about having a baby, a healthy, balanced diet is the best option for keeping disease at bay

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More Sickness, Laziness than Health for Married Couples

Think back to any first date (or second or third). How long did you spend preparing and working hard to look and feel your best for that special someone? Maybe you went on a diet, worked out a lot more and meticulously picked out the perfect outfit to knock the socks off Mr. or Mrs. Right. Heck, when you were (or if you are) single and looking, chances are you placed a good deal of importance on looking and feeling your best - whatever that may be for you specifically. Well, sadly, if you love looking and feeling your best, you may want to stay unattached according to researchers.

Not that being in a relationship makes us stop caring about our appearances, but most often we are so comfortable around the ones we love that we don't go out of our way on a daily basis to look like "10s". Sure, we all dress up for special occasions (don't we?), but being comfortable and in love makes us secure and confident in 'just being ourselves', which often leads to the steady disappearance of healthy habits like a nutritious, balanced diet and physical activity, a new study has found.

In a study from Loughborough University, commissioned by the UK Department of Health, a mixed sample of 100 single, married or divorced adults were asked about their exercise habits and were subsequently given accelerometers to wear for two weeks, to track their physical activity levels. According to the study results, 76% of married men and 63% of married women were not meeting the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity including running, cycling, swimming or playing sports. In single or divorced people, those numbers were much lower, with 24% for men and 33% for women.

Since there are numerous important health benefits of staying physically fit and regularly raising your heart rate, including the prevention of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, we've all got to keep moving! While life can get crazy and lounging with your loved one might sound like a great idea, why not make 'couples exercise sessions' part of your routine? Go for walks, jogs or even spinning classes together at least 3 times a week. Not only will you feel better about yourself and be healthier, but improving your physical fitness may add that little extra spark to your relationship which might have fizzled away ever so slightly as that beer belly started to grow!

Friday, September 23, 2011

A little Exercise May Combat Brain Fatigue

You know that feeling of information overload? When you're at the point that you don't think you can absorb any more information and you're a little spaced out? It happens to us all, especially when we're learning lots of new information at a rapid pace, for example when starting a new job, undergoing training or orientation programs and especially when studying for exams! Sometimes you feel like all that will fix you is a nap, but there's something else that's been shown to clear your head and help you work longer before burning out, along with many other amazing health benefits. Yep - you got it, it's your old friend exercise.

According to researchers from the University of South Carolina, regular exercise may increase the number of 'cell powerhouses' called mitochondria in our brain cells that can help boost brain power! We already know that this happens in our muscle cells when we exercise, but it turns out that the effect is not limited there. In fact, the researchers believe that the increased numbers of mitochondria in our brain cells due to exercise may be responsible for the ability of exercise to battle depression and fatigue and also improve memory. They believe that regular exercise should be part of the prescription for psychiatric, mental, genetic and neurodegenerative disorders.

Despite the fact that the study was carried out on mice, we know that exercise boosts mitochondrial numbers in human muscle cells from previous research. In addition, recent research has shown that regular exercise in elderly adults (70 yrs old on average) makes them less likely to develop brain lesions similar to strokes but on a smaller scale. Regardless of whether or not these effects could also be seen in humans, there are so many health benefits to exercising (decreased blood pressure, weight loss, improved muscle mass and body composition, improved bone mineral density, and a decreased risk of many chronic diseases like diabetes, and cancer) that there's no reason not to, if one is in reasonable health!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who Knew? Gut Flora are Picky Eaters

With a wide range of probiotic supplements and fortified foods out there available for all consumers alike, one might be driven to think that they work the same way in everyone. These products are sold as a 'one size fits all' sort of deal, promising the same benefits to anyone who consumes them. But since we're all a bit different on the inside and our diets differ otherwise, it would seem logical that our own unique gut flora also behave a little bit differently. I guess nobody really thought to stop and look into this further until now, but it turns out that our gut flora are actually picky eaters.

According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, published in Science, the gut flora profiles of high meat- and fat-eaters differ from those of individuals with veggie- and carb-rich diets. The implications of these differences aren't clearly understood just yet, but we do know that our gut flora are a key component to maintaining good health and a strong immune system. We also know that diets high in meat and fat are not particularly healthy while plant-based diets are.

There are strong links between diets high in fat and meat with many chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and others, while plant-based diets have been shown to reduce one's risk of developing these conditions. It has also been found that healthy gut flora is associated with a lower incidence of developing a number of conditions such as obesity, IBDs like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, IBS and even colorectal cancer.

The researchers who worked on this current study believe there is a clear link here and that the role that a healthy gut flora plays in our health is understated and poorly understood. They think it is possible that certain profiles of gut flora cause our immune systems to attack the gut, causing specific diseases and conditions, including obesity and Crohn's disease.

Since we have clear evidence of the benefits of a plant-based diet on our health, and now further associations between this diet and a healthy gut flora, we should all aim to eat meat a little bit less. A simple way to start is to practice meatless Mondays. People all over the world are following this trend, offering support, recipes and momentum to those looking to adopt a more plant-based diet. Give it a try and who knows how great you (and your gut) could feel!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall Fruit and Others May Help Prevent Strokes

Despite the misleading weather forecast, fall was distinctly in the air today. And with the crisp fall temperatures come equally crisp and delightful fall fruits as well as hearty fall veggies. Many varieties of apples and pears are coming into their peak of perfection around this time which is great news, not only for crumble and pie lovers. According to new research, apples, pears and other white-fleshed fruits and veg may hold the key to stroke prevention for some individuals.

In a dutch study comparing diets high in fruits and veg with specifically coloured flesh (not the skin) - red/ purple, orange/yellow, green and white - it was found that white-fleshed foods reduced the participants' risk of having a stroke. For every 25g increase in white-fleshed food consumption, including cauliflower, apples, pears, bananas and cucumbers, the participants' stroke risk was 0.91 times lower over a 10 year follow-up period.

The researchers attribute the decrease in stroke risk to the fact that the particular foods used in the study, as well as white-fleshed fruits and vegetables in general, tend to be high in fibre and flavinoids, particularly one called quercetin. Fibre and flavinoids, which are a group of antioxidants, have traditionally been associated with a lower stroke risk.

Despite the fact that the foods in the other colour groups were also high in fibre and different antioxidants, there was no association seen with a decreased stroke risk. However, since variety, balance and moderation are key factors in good health and overall disease prevention, mixing and matching the colours of your fruit and vegetables is a great idea.

We know that dark green, red, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables have all been associated with a decreased risk of some disease or another, so they're still completely necessary in our diets. The only real reason someone might want to start amping up on eating way more white-fleshed foods is if they were predisposed to having a stroke or there is a family history of strokes. That or simply because they're so darn delicious right now and an apple a day keeps the doctor away! Either one works. Now where's my pie?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sweet! Eating Maple Syrup May Lead to a Healthier Liver

Folks who crave a little something sweet from time to time may be able to indulge a little more often with a lot less guilt. It's always a happy bonus when stuff that tastes incredible also does incredible things for our bodies and boosts our health. Now, we might be able to add maple syrup to that list.

Few foods are as interesting, sweet, complex or generally awesome as pure maple syrup. Plus, adding maple syrup to other foods takes them to a whole other level. Sure, bacon is great, but maple bacon is even better. Walnuts and ice cream are lovely on their own, but throw in some maple syrup and you've got a stellar combination. And finally, who wants to eat waffles or pancakes without some good old fashioned maple syrup on top? Maple lovers can now rejoice even more when they eat the sweet stuff, and their livers will too.

According to new research from the University of Tokyo, consuming maple syrup may reduce liver damage and consequently boost liver health. In studies using mice, half were fed 20% maple syrup and the other half 20% sugar solution. Both had the same amount of sugar content, but those who ate the maple syrup had significant decreases in the amount of certain liver enzymes that get produced when the liver is damaged, suggesting a protective effect of the pure stuff. There was also less production of toxic ammonia in the liver due to decreased activity of a gene that controls its production in the liver.

Since the research has only been conducted on rats so far, liver specialists are weary about extrapolating these results to humans just yet. However, maple syrup has long been reputed in holistic and homeopathic medicine for its other healthy properties. For example, gram per gram, maple syrup has a greater concentration of nutrients with fewer calories than honey and other sweeteners, plus it is 100% natural. It also contains a significant amount of manganese, which is a co-factor in many enzymes that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

So, while the jury's out on whether or not it's good for your liver, choosing maple syrup over table sugar and even honey is a sensible choice that makes life that much sweeter.

Some Chocolate Each day Keeps Heart Disease at Bay

Don't you sometimes wish that the things that tasted the best could be just as good for us? I mean, that's not to say that healthy foods don't taste good; there are plenty that do, but why is it that medicine and the like taste so darn awful? Wouldn't it be awesome if we could eat stuff like chips, hamburgers and chocolate and be healthier for it? Well, while some of those foods may make you sicker, one of them is proving to be a heavy hitter in the health and disease prevention realm.

We've known for some time now that antioxidant-rich cocoa powder has the power to fight off certain illnesses like cancer and heart disease, but new research is making that point even clearer. In the past, the recommendation for daily chocolate consumption has been rather modest at about one ounce of minimum 70% dark chocolate per day, since chocolate is only part cocoa with the remainder as milk solids and fat. If we're not careful, we may end up eating way too much saturated fat and calories, since chocolate is so darn addictive and delicious. But chocolate addicts may be in luck once again, since it turns out that people who consume chocolate the most regularly tend to have lower rates of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke over all.

In the research, the data in 7 previous studies were re-analyzed to see how chocolate consumption might be beneficial to preventing cardiovascular events. Across the board, high-chocolate consumers beat out low-chocolate consumers when it came to heart health. They were nearly 40% less likely to experience a cardiovascular event and nearly 40% less likely to experience a stroke.

This good news does however, come with a warning. The researchers once again advise chocolate consumers to use caution and make wise choices when enjoying their cocoa-rich delicacies. The darker the chocolate with as little sugar and calories as possible, the better. We know that over consuming calories, sugar and fat can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and subsequently heart disease.

So go on and have your ounce or so each day, maybe a little more from time to time, and really enjoy it. Not only will your heart be healthier for it, so will the rest of your body and soul!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Moms: Cut Kids' Food Allergy Risk with Prenatal Diet

Over the past few decades, especially in the last one, the rates of food allergies in kids have seemingly skyrocketed. Peanut allergies in particular are an issue everywhere you turn; the issue simply can't be avoided any longer if it ever could before. Whether it is the case that this rate has really risen or simply that more awareness has been placed on the issue is unclear, but it's fair to say that food allergies are an issue that plagues parents, kids and teachers across North America.

Anyone thinking about starting a family, especially if they have or their partner has a family history of allergies, can't escape worrying about potential future food allergies in their child. What is an expectant or new mother to do to avoid the dangers of potentially fatal allergies in their child? There are existing guidelines and feeding schedules for introducing new foods for infants and toddlers so as to minimize their risk of allergies, but is there anything that can be done to help protect them prior to them consuming the foods? The answer may be closer than ever, thanks to new research.

According to researchers from France's National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA), moms who consume omega-3 rich foods during their pregnancies can potentially boost the immune systems of their babies' developing digestive systems. Many people aren't aware of this, but one of the the biggest immune organs in our bodies is our digestive system, or gut. The gut associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT for short, is the body's largest mass of lymphoid tissue that helps protect it from invasion by foreign substances or pathogens. If this huge component of the immune system can be strengthened, it follows that one's risk of illness or potentially developing allergies may be reduced.

In the study, pregnant and lactating pigs were examined since their digestive systems closely mimic our own. When the mother pigs in the study consumed lots of omega-3 PUFAs from oily fish as well as nuts and seeds, the digestive systems of their babies became more porous, allowing for more broken down particles to pass through into their blood streams. This, in turn, allowed the babies' immune systems to create antibodies to the particles, allowing for a quicker than normal development and maturation of their immune systems and less potential risk of future allergies.

It is still unclear as to why the incidence of food allergies is rising worldwide, but many researchers believe it is because we are consuming fewer omega-3 fatty acids and poorer quality foods over all. Whatever the true reasons may be, consuming a safe, healthy, nutrient-dense diet with a large focus on omega-3 fatty acids can only do good for your baby's health and development, according to loads of research. Some great sources of omega 3s are oily fish including salmon, mackerel and tuna as well as almonds, walnuts, flax, hemp and chia seeds.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blame Genetics for Laziness? Researchers Discover 'Exercise Gene'

I think it's safe to say that we all know some people who just love to exercise. Those people just can't stop moving around, they're always keeping busy and they seem to be way more into exercise and physical activity than most other people you know. Even in these times where we're all pressed for time, those fitness lovers always seem to be able to schedule in a sweat session. All this may leave most people scratching their heads or wishing they could do the same, but the truth is, there may be more than just willpower and drive behind this phenomenon.

According to Canadian researchers at McMaster University,there is a set of genes in our muscles that codes for an enzyme called called AMP-K that gets switched on during exercise. This enzyme converts food energy into muscle fuel and gives us the boost and motivation we need to exercise. Without it, we give up more easily and don't feel as compelled to exercise at all.

The study was performed using mice, half of whose genes were knocked, making them unable to produce AMP-K. In humans, the genes are identical and perform the same function. The knockout mice had fewer mitochondria in their cells which are known as the cellular 'power houses' that convert sugars into ATP, our cellular energy 'currency'.

Among brother and sister mice in the study, who were otherwise identical, those who lacked the genes were noticeably slower and less inclined to move around. In humans, these genes are essential, particularly for people living with diabetes, who have more difficulty using the sugars they consume and bringing the glucose in their blood into their cells.

The researchers noted that, in people who are sedentary, their genes may become dormant or temporarily 'switched off', making them less inclined to exercise. But before you start blaming genetics for your lack of motivation and lethargy, keep in mind that once you get back on track and back into a routine, the genes can switch right back on again, delivering that boost and and a new-found desire to exercise. That, in addition to repeating a little 'mind over matter' mantra should make you unstoppable!

So go on, strap on your runners or throw on your yoga pants and go feel the burn! Your body will thank you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Eat Ginger to Fight Prostate Cancer

Ginger tends to be one of those common foods that you either love or you hate. You might use it regularly in your cooking or maybe just enjoy a little to cleanse your palate while eating sushi. You might even avoid it like the plague all together. Its aromatic flavour has been described as sweet, pungent, slightly lemony, peppery and spicy but the bold flavour of ginger is unmistakable. No matter what your opinion of ginger happens to be, you might want to start noshing on it just a little bit more if you want to help keep cancer at bay.

Ginger is an ancient remedy, commonly appearing in Chinese medicine, for boosting health and fighting off all kinds of ailments. Its reported benefits include soothing gastrointestinal upsets like nausea, which is why ginger ale is commonly prescribed as a remedy for upset stomachs. Recent discoveries have found that ginger has potent anti-inflammatory effects thanks to the gingerols it contains, and those gingerol compounds are also responsible for its recently discovered anti-cancer effects.

Not only has ginger been linked to lower rates of colorectal cancer, but new research has found that it may combat prostate cancer as well. Researchers from Georgia State University have found that consuming about 100g of whole ginger throughout the day might offer a big enough burst of a particular ginger extract that has been found to kill cancer cells. The researchers believe that consuming ginger in its whole, unprocessed form allows for synergistic results of the plant with our body environments with fewer side-effects.

The things we put into our bodies, no matter what they are, have the power to create or prevent disease. Sure, everyone has their own specific body environments and genetic makeup that interacts in a unique way with the atoms and molecules they introduce into their systems, but by and large, things tend to affect us in predictable ways. If you eat unhealthy foods too often, drink too much alcohol or smoke, you are more than likely to find that disease has come knocking on your door. Do the opposite - eat healthy and stay physically active, and you are likely to be in good health for a long time. It should come as no surprise then, that consuming certain foods, particularly those heralded as super foods like ginger can help us boost our odds of keeping illness at bay.

Try adding a little ginger to your next salad, stir fry or even as a tea (slice ginger and top with boiling water) to enjoy the amazing flavours and health benefits it has to offer. Tip: for easy peeling, just scrape the root with a spoon, but it is just fine to leave the peel on.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Marky Mark Wahlberg Cares about Your Health

Mark Wahlberg has been breaking hearts with his incredibly fit physique for a decades now. His unforgettable and iconic ads for Calvin Klein back in his prime inspired boys and men all over to try to achieve an 8 pack like his. Now into his 40s, he continues to maintain his fit form, appearing in films like 'The Fighter', where he played a champion boxer. But Mark isn't selfish - he doesn't just place his focus on his own fit form. On the contrary, he's now on a mission to encourage others to get in shape, although it's probably not what you think - he's considering giving fashion design a shot!

Wahlberg has always placed a great deal of emphasis on health and fitness, and he's hoping that by adding his name to a new fitness clothing line, he can get people to work up a sweat, feel great and get healthy. The potential clothing line would be part of a new 'wellness business' that he is considering launching.

In a recent interview, Wahlberg was quoted as saying "We are interested at some point or another doing our own clothing line in the future. As well as a health and wellness business that will help people first and foremost feel good, exercise, eat right, and then look good." He went on to add that "Eighty-five per cent of the population doesn't exercise and eat right, and you want to be able to push them in the direction of extending their lifespan and living healthy lives.' How considerate of him!

Along with his brothers Donnie and Paul, Mark is also planning to open a burger joint in Chicago, appropriately called Wahlbergers. Could this 'wellness business' be a response to feeling badly about offering the already disproportionately obese and overweight population another outlet to obtain high-calorie foods? Who really knows, but it's definitely something we look forward to hearing more about! Any Marky Mark news - I mean health and wellness news - is good news, right?

Purple Potatoes May Put High Blood Pressure in it's Place

Potatoes are one of the best known sources of potassium, a mineral required for optimal cell and nervous system functioning, as well as blood pressure maintenance. Despite the fact that they've gotten quite a bad rep lately (thanks to some studies which suggested that they easily make us pack on the fat), there is no reason to fear eating potatoes.

When eaten in moderation, prepared correctly and enjoyed sensibly (and responsibly!), potatoes do wonders for keeping our tickers and blood vessels healthy. More still, the more colourful the potato - red skinned or the purple variety - the more nutrients and antioxidants they contain which is always a bonus for keeping us healthy.

According to a small new study, enjoying potatoes in smaller portions throughout the day may help lower blood pressure as much as eating oatmeal can. What's more, it was found that the participants in this study did not gain weight when eating more potatoes than they previously were.

The participants in the study added 6 to 8 cooked baby purple potatoes to their diets twice a day, each day for a month enjoyed significant reductions in their overall blood pressure.

The study's lead researcher, Joe Vinson from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania wants people to know that potatoes aren't bad guys when it comes to our waistlines or our health. Sure, some of the most fattening foods like potato chips and french fries happen to be made from spuds, but there's no rule that says they have to be deep fried to be delicious! Steaming, baking or boiling them with a little salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash makes for a delicious and nutritious addition to any meal or snack. In the study, the spuds were microwaved, which is another easy and quick option for preparing them.

So now that some of the fuss that was created around potatoes in recent months has been put aside, you can go ahead and put potatoes back on your menu. That is, if you even took them off to begin with!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More Dairy and Protein, Fewer Carbs Can Blast Belly Fat

There's no secret formula for a diet that melts away fat while keeping you lean, trim and healthy. Or is there? We know that diet higher in carbohydrates are associated with weight gain and higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, so one might intuitively scale back on those just a bit for better health. In their place, if we consume more lean protein and low-fat dairy products, new research published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that we should start to see our belly fat melt away and experience better health. Sounds like it's worth a try!

According to researchers at McMaster University, higher intakes of calcium and protein in our diets may help us achieve overall weight loss and ultimately burns more abdominal fat. The study participants were obese premenopausal women. In the study, they exercised every day, including aerobic (cardio) exercise and circuit weight training to strengthen their muscles.

On this routine, the group that consumed a low-protein diet lost muscle, the medium-protein group did not lose any, and the high-protein group gained over a pound of muscle. However, despite having gained there, which is actually very healthy, they lost twice as much belly fat as the low-protein group over four months.

Of all the types of fat and places we can store them, excess fat around our midsections is the most dangerous. This is because it is an indication of greater fat stores under the skin and muscle, actually surrounding our organs and increasing our risk of type 2 diabetes as well as other chronic diseases.

The good news is that overall weight loss (fat loss) of just 5% can reduce abdominal fat by 30%! That means that if you currently weigh 150 lbs, losing 7.5 lbs of fat over 6 months or a year can dramatically decrease your risk of illness. Now where's that Greek Yogurt?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can Getting Married Make You Fat?

Sadly, according to new research, the answer is yes! That is, if you're a woman (for men, divorce seems to do the trick). Now, this finding isn't a fact set in stone, it is just a trend, but it seems that once all is said and done and the party's over, women start to pack on the pounds at a steady pace.

Now, before you go swearing off marriage, you should know that it's not just weddings that cause this little problem - it seems the culprit is the sheer situation of living together. Don't freak out though - there are things you can do to nip this trend in the bud and keep your rockin' pre-cohabitating bod as long as possible!

Researchers found that after couples tie the knot and move in together, there is a tendency for women to gain a steady amount of weight per year. That figure was clocked in as an average of 6-8 lbs over two years. In most cases, the amount of weight gain was not regarded as a serious health threat, but it may be for some women, particularly if the trend continues.

Among the reasons the researchers cited for the pattern that they observed is the fact that women tend to have a larger responsibility around the house than their husbands, meaning they have less time to exercise or be generally physically active. Other reasons include eating more foods with a higher sugar and fat content as well as eating similarly sized meals. On the flip side, those lucky men tend to get healthier when they share their lives and homes with the person they love. Now, that's not fair!

When you boil it down to the basics, the majority of our weight is determined by what we eat rather than how much we exercise. We know that for the same height and weight, men burn more calories per day than women because they have a higher amount of lean body weight versus fat, meaning that those men can afford to consume extra calories. Women and men are just built differently!

That said, it is clear that a couple's meals should not look identical! Unfortunately, what tends to happen after couples move in together is that their plates look like mirror images of one another. That means that even if the food is healthy, women start to gain weight while men simply reap the benefits of sound nutrition!

Couples need to pay extra attention to their meals and snacks and make efforts to properly portion their food to avoid overdoing it. For example, men tend to make fewer healthy snack choices than women, which often introduces new snacks and foods into the home that women didn't have on hand as readily when they lived alone. Having formerly 'forbidden' foods in the cupboard and watching someone happily snack on them guilt-free can really do a number on your willpower! Plus, it is much easier to start mimicking your man's eating patterns when you're around each other so much.

Also, couples should be careful to avoid making eating or snacking a way to spend time together as a recreational activity. Guys do it when they're together watching the game with a couple of beers, but popcorn, pizza or chips while lounging on the couch can be disastrous to your waistline!

On the whole, if you're warned and as prepared as possible for the weighty consequences of moving in with your partner, you'll probably do just fine. Adjusting to a different-looking fridge and pantry can be difficult and can most certainly test your willpower, but you can do it with enough determination! Stick to your guns and steer clear of the cookie jar!

Too Much Salt May Damage Your Brain

We know that we shouldn't consume too much salt each day. That much has been made crystal clear to us over the course of the past few years, but the idea is still highly confusing to many. The main reason that is cited for slashing our sodium intakes is to manage or lower our blood pressure to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. As it turns out, that's not the only reason why we should watch how much sodium we eat, according to a new report published in in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

According to researchers from the University of Toronto's Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care, a sedentary lifestyle coupled with high sodium intakes not only ups our risk for heart disease and stroke, but it increases our risk of dementia.

Over the course of 3 years, the researchers examined the diets of 1,262 healthy, elderly men and women and found that those with the highest sodium intakes and lowest levels of physical activity had the poorest results on tests of cognitive performance. High sodium intake was defined as 3,091 mg per day and over. Low sodium intake was defined as intakes below and up to 2,263 mg per day. The current healthiest recommendation in Canada is to stick below 1,500 mg per day and more ideally 1,200 mg per day.

While physical activity is a key factor in maintaining good health and lowering one's risk of heart disease and stroke, sedentary individuals in this study who cut back on their sodium intakes or followed low-sodium diets did not experience the same cognitive decline as their high-sodium intake counterparts.

Using less salt is not necessarily the solution, despite the fact that most people think it is. The real culprits of high-sodium foods tend to be those that are canned, cured or otherwise processed and packaged. If people don't know how to read nutrition labels or what numbers to look for, they may fall into a salty trap without even knowing it! Seeing as how we have a high population of aging individuals here in Canada, it is imperative that we help them make healthy choices and cut back on their sodium intakes wherever possible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nix Bad Cholesterol Naturally With the Right Foods

High cholesterol really is a bugger but there are a bunch of things we can do to keep our numbers in check. Among them are boosting our physical activity levels, quitting smoking, eating lots of soluble fibre, and maintaining a healthy weight.

However, at the top of that list of advice, we usually find that we should cut back on saturated fats and eat more healthy fats in their place. So if we're just getting started, which box do we tick off first? According to experts, the answer is to modify our diets towards one that is plant-based rather than placing so much focus on saturated fats.

A plant-based diet, you might imagine, contains lots of fruits and veggies. No surprises there. What you may overlook is that you're also meant to include plenty of whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and obviously avoid (or if you're just starting, limit) meat consumption.

As you can see, simply eating what the earth gives us in this way ticks off plenty of the above noted points for lowering cholesterol. Not only are we cutting back on saturated fats, we're also including plenty of fibre, particularly soluble fibre, as well as healthy fats like omega-3s from the whole grains, nuts and seeds.

An added bonus is that it is easier to slim down and shed those excess pounds by eating this way, since people tend to feel full and more satisfied for longer, thanks to the high water, fibre and protein content of the foods combined with good amounts of those healthy fats. Not bad for one relatively simple change!

In addition, to make things even easier and to have a bigger impact on slashing those cholesterol figures, experts swear by the benefits of new cholesterol-lowering foods. For example, we now have cholesterol-lowering yogurts and margarines made with plant sterols on the market that significantly lower LDL, or bad cholesterol figures, in clinical trials.

In new research, adding foods like those enhanced ones, plus nuts, soy products, foods with soluble fibre like psyllium husk, chia seeds, eggplant, okra and cereal grains like oats and barley can lower one's LDL cholesterol by upwards of 14% after 24 weeks! That drop is as significant as taking commonly prescribed statin medications.

While medication is an important and valuable option for people with high cholesterol, we know that changing one's diet can be just as powerful in many cases. People should not stop taking their medication unless they have spoken with their physician and their cholesterol levels are within a reasonable range with dietary changes alone.

Give it a try, even if your cholesterol levels are good, and watch your health improve in so many ways!