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!

Healthzone.ca 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