May 1, 2013

Don’t Fall for Fad Diets!

fad-dietDiets tend to cycle around every 20 years or so. In the 1970s, we had low-carb, high-protein diets like the Drinking Man’s Diet, The Atkin’s Diet, and the Stillman Diet.  Now we have high-tech updates of these diets under new names like The Paleo diet, the gluten-free diet, and the Alkaline Diet.  Some diet fads refuse to die, such as the blood type diet and food combining.

The truth is, some people lose a little weight, but few keep the weight off in the long run. When they lose weight, it’s not because of some magic food combination or other secret; it’s because people eat fewer calories. Inevitably, people become board or disillusioned with the diet and it fades into obscurity, only to rise again when the next generation of dieters hits the bookstores in search of a quick-fix answer.

glutenWhat about the low-carb diets? The gluten-free diet is a new face on the old low-carb diets of the past. Granted, some people really do have celiac disease and need to avoid all gluten. But many, many more people think they are gluten intolerant than really are. The problem is these diets are effective for those who have the disorder, but have no scientific basis for anyone else. The options touted as facts in many of the gluten-free diet books are much like a stew pot of incomplete, misinterpreted, and in some cases down-right wrong bits and pieces of scientific know-how that had been thrown together in a cauldron, and simmered over low heat. The authors then served up this gobbledy gook as cutting-edge research. For example, the low-carb diets blame pasta or sugar for upsetting insulin levels, which in turn makes us fat. In reality, it’s being fat that upsets insulin levels. Lose the weight by cutting back on calories and exercising more and your insulin levels normalize.

food-combWhat about the Food Combining Diets? This is another batch of diets that cycles around about every 10 to 20 years. There is no scientific evidence that combining foods in certain ways will have any effect on how they are digested, absorbed, or metabolized. Food enters the stomach and is broken down into a milkshake of mixed ingredients. By the time food enters the intestines, there is no way to determine what food provided which nutrient. Since all foods are a mixture of protein, carbs, fats, and nutrients, the whole premise that you don’t want to combine protein with carbohydrates or fat with carbohydrates is ridiculous.

What about eating for your blood type? The premise here is that people absorb nutrients and otherwise “react” to foods differently, depending on their blood type. The diet books contain diets “individualized” for people with blood types O, A, B, and AB. But there is no scientific evidence for using blood type as a guide for eating. Not one study published even in one journal in this century! This fad book is a perfect example of pseudo science or make believe science.

But people say they lose weight on these diets! People will lose weight on any fad diet, even an all-sugar diet, if it is low enough in calories. It’s not because these diets embrace any miracle secret that lowers insulin or balances body chemistry. It’s because the dieter ends up eating fewer calories. Add up the calories on any of these diets and you’ll get about 1,200 calories. Eventually, the novelty wears off or the diet is too boring and you go back to old habits and put back on the weight. These diets have been around for decades and we’re heavier now than 30 years ago, not because we eat sugar or carbs or combine our foods in the wrong ways or eat against our blood type, but because we eat too much (especially processed foods) and move too little.

Is there any harm in following these diets? Potentially yes. Reduce your carbs too low or eat an unbalanced diet and you end up eating a greater proportion of calories from protein and fat, which generates a host of ills from increased risk for kidney stones to heart disease. Some menus in these diet books contain up to 50% fat calories! Many of these diets are low in essential vitamins and minerals, especially zinc, iron, and calcium. So you jeopardize your health for the sake of you waistline, but the diet doesn’t work either. Almost all of these fad diets go against everything we know about how to eat to lose weight and stay healthy. Most of them also downplay the importance of the number one most important thing you must do to lose weight and keep the weight off – daily exercise. Some go so far as to say you don’t even need to exercise!

So what should we look for in a weight-loss diet?

  •  It must include a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and/or extra-lean meats, and nonfat milk products or other calcium-rich foods.
  • It must be a diet you can live with for the rest of you life.
  • It must encourage daily exercise.

Just Do This Today

1. Cut 100 calories today and every day this month and you will lose about one pound of body fat.

2. Vow to avoid the vending machine for one week and bring snacks with you instead.

3. Skip dessert and have a calcium chocolate chew to satisfy that sweet tooth.

4. Get up and walk for 5 minutes at least three times during the day.

5. Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.

6. Make it a “no TV” night and play games with your family instead.

 Hot Off the Diet Press

Vitamin D Supplements on the Hot Seat: Choose your vitamin D supplements from a reputable supplier is the advice from researchers at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, OR. In their study, the researchers sampled 55 over-the-counter bottles of vitamin D supplements from 12 different manufacturers. The amount of vitamin D found in the supplements ranged from 9% to 146% of what was listed on the label. When the researchers tested five pills from the same bottled, the supplements had anywhere from 52% to 135% of the stated amounts. When averaged, about two out of three samples taken from the same bottle were within the stated range. The pills taken from bottles with the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) seal tended to be more accurate in their dosages. Fortunately, none of the supplements contained amounts that were at or near toxic levels.

LeBlanc E, Perrin N, Johnson J, et al: Over the counter and compounded vitamin D: Is potency what we expect? Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine 2013;February 11th: 1-2.

org-slicesFolic Acid Supplementation Reduces Autism Risk: Women who take folic acid supplements prior to and after conception may lower their risk for having a child with autism, according to a study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo. Researchers followed 85,176 women and their children, born between 2002 and 2008. Supplementation prior to and following conception was compared to autism risk in the children at ages three to 10-years-old. In the study sample, 270 of the children were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, including 114 with autism. The risk for autism was twice as high in the unsupplemented group compared to women who had supplemented prior to and following conception.

In Perspective: Folic acid affects genes and DNA repair, which might explain its role in brain development and autism risk. The important note here also is that supplementing prior to pregnancy is as critical as supplementing after the pregnancy test comes back positive. In other words, all women during the childbearing years who have any chance at all of becoming pregnant should be taking a multi that contains no less than 400 micrograms of folic acid.

Suren P, Roth C, Bresnahan M, et al: Association between maternal use of folic acid supplements and risk of autism spectrum disorders in children. Journal of the American Medical Association 2013;309:570-577.

processedWant Diabetes? Eat Processed Foods! People who load the plate with highly processed foods that spike blood sugar levels are the ones most likely to develop diabetes, according to a study from Merton College in Oxford, England. Researchers chose 24 studies that tracked the eating habits of 125,000 adults. The link between a high-glycemic diet (one that contains foods such as, white bread, potatoes, processed and fast foods) and risk for diabetes was strong. For every additional 100 grams of sugar per 2,000 daily calories, people had a 45% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. As one researchers said, “By raising blood sugar and demanding that the pancreas keep pumping out insulin, meal after meal, day after day, a high-glycemic diet can put people at risk over the edge.”

Livesey G, Taylor R, Livesey H, et al: Is there a dose-response relation of dietary glycemic load to risk of type 2 diabetes? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013;97:584-596.

Food & Mood Tip – Work With Your “Crave Chemicals”

Serotonin, endorphins, Neuropeptide Y, and Galanin sound like characters from Star Wars, but they are some of the many microscopic nerve chemicals in your brain that turn on and off your cravings for sweets, carbs, and fat.

bagelSerotonin: People often crave carbohydrates because their brains are low in the hormone-like substance called serotonin, which regulates carbohydrate intake and mood. A person feels depressed, irritable, and tense when serotonin levels are low, while satisfying a sweet tooth with a doughnut or raisin bagel raises serotonin levels in the brain and calms down carbohydrate-sensitive people.

Endorphins:  Both sugar and fat are suspected to release endorphins, morphine-like compounds in the brain that  produce a natural euphoria. It’s no wonder people turn to chocolate when depressed or stressed, since chocolate is a combination of sugar, fat and other compounds   that might stimulate endorphin release in the brain! Studies show that a sweet taste on the tongue alone stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain, which in turn produces a calming effect.

fetNPY & Galanin: Another brain chemical called neuropeptide Y (NPY) kick starts the day’s eating cycle by dictating a preference for carbohydrates. Waffles, toast, pancakes and fruit replenish carbohydrate stores drained after an overnight fast. Animals eat more carbohydrate when NPY levels are high or when NPY is injected into their brains. On the other hand, storage energy is regulated by the neurochemical galanin, which rises as the day progresses and triggers a desire for fatty foods, such as meats, creamed sauces on pasta, salad dressing, or desserts. Galanin levels also rise when estrogen levels are high or during weight loss, when body fat is being burned for energy.

Stress adds to the food-craving orchestra. Everything from boredom to anxiety can set off a crave attack. Interestingly, the stress hormones raise NPY and galanin levels, which in turn increase food cravings, overeating, and weight gain.

To work with, rather than against, this appetite chemistry:

1. Eat small, meals and snacks throughout the day that contain some high-quality carbs and some protein to keep NPY and serotonin levels in the normal range. Skipping breakfast only escalates NPY levels and increases cravings later in the morning.

2. Avoid fatty meals and snacks mid-day, since they may give galanin an extra boost and set you up for more fat cravings at night.

3. Take it slow. Gradually make dietary changes, including reducing fat, sugar, or calories, to allow time for the crave-control chemicals to adapt.

4. Plan your cravings. Allow small servings of  your favorite food may well help avoid binge eating associated with abstinence.

5. Cut back on sugar, caffeine, and refined grains, since these quick-fix energy boosts only undermine your weight loss efforts and fuel cravings in the long run.

6. If habit, not chemicals, is at the root of a craving, find more nutritious, low-calorie foods or develop a new habit that provides the same pleasurable or rewarding effect, such as take a brisk walk, paint your nails, or take a hot bath instead of eating.

7. Exercise. People who are physically active are less prone to bingeing and cravings, and maintain a more constant weight as compared to couch potatoes. Exercise also is a healthy way to get a pleasurable endorphin rush and reduce stress.

Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week  – Eat to Look Younger

Every bite you take, makes or breaks the health of your skin. Nutrients from food make up the structure of skin, build a healthy blood supply to nourish skin, provide protection against sunlight and other damaging environmental onslaughts, help reduce disease and inflammation, and jump-start the repair process when skin is hurt. For example,

  • Water makes up 70% of skin, and helps flush out toxins, absorb nutrients, and speed cell turnover and repair. The water you drink from a glass or from that quick snack of watermelon plumps up skin cells, making them moist. Too little water and your skin is dry, flaky, and drawn.
  • Protein comprises 25% of skin. It builds supporting structures in the skin, such as collagen, that keep skin firm, elastic, and resilient. Too little protein and your skin is dry, flaky, and ages rapidly.
  • Healthy fats in salmon and olive oil comprise 5% of skin and ensure it remains lubricated and moist.
  • Every vitamin and mineral, from vitamin A to zinc, helps build, maintain, or protect skin from aging, damage, and diseases such as cancer.

Sexy is all about circulation, which is the skin’s mass transit system, supplying building blocks to and removing toxins from every cell. Nutrients essential to the maintenance of red blood cells (the oxygen carriers in the blood) include protein, iron, folic acid and other B vitamins, copper, vitamin C, selenium, and vitamin E. Skimp on any of these nutrients and you cut off the skin’s supply of oxygen and nutrients, while allowing toxic waste products to accumulate. The skin becomes sallow, dry, pale, and lifeless when even one of these nutrients is in short supply. Beyond skin, poor circulation leaves you feeling frumpy, dull, and lifeless, which is about as sexy as a flat tire!

Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week:

Tofu Cakes in Sweet Ginger Sauce

(From The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

A spicy vegetarian lunch that goes well with Basmati Rice or an Asian cucumber salad.

1 14-ounce package of firm tofu, rinse and pat dry
5 teaspoons brown sugar
1 /2 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
4 tablespoons onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 rounded tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
pinch red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons green onions, diagonal-sliced thin


1. Slice block of tofu into 1 /2-inch thick slices (each slice will be approximately 3″x2″x1/2″). Set on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up extra moisture.

2. In a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat, add sugar. Let sugar melt and turn slightly brown, stirring frequently.

3. Add chicken broth, reduce heat to low, and mix until sugar is completely dissolved.

4. Add soy sauce, onion, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes, increase to medium-high, and stir until mixture comes to a gentle boil.

5. Lay tofu slices on top of soy mixture, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 7 minutes. Flip tofu slices, cover with some of the sauce, and continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

6. When tofu is heated through and sauce has slightly thickened, remove from heat. Transfer tofu and sauce to small platter, sprinkle with green onion, and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 181 Calories; 41% fat (8 grams); 1 gram saturated fat; 35% protein; 24% carbohydrate; 0.7 gram fiber.

Answers to “Do You Know?” from Last Issue:

Is fish really brain food?
Colorful Seafood Sign Rockport, Massachusetts 2008Yes! But only if it is fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. These selections are rich sources of the omega-3 fats, especially DHA, which improves thinking, reaction times, memory, and possibly even lowers Alzheimer’s risk by up to 70%. You need at least two servings weekly, or at least 220 milligrams of DHA daily. If you don’t like fish or are vegetarian, look for foods fortified with a vegetarian-based DHA or take a supplement. This fat is so important for brain health that even children should be supplementing if they don’t eat fatty fish regularly! But don’t batter and fry your fish. All that cooking grease negates the benefits of the omega-3s. Bake, poach, or broil instead.

carrotsDo carrots really improve your eyesight?
Though our ancestors didn’t know it at the time, we now know that carrots are high in the building block for vitamin A – beta carotene. This vitamin is essential for vision, and a deficiency of vitamin A can lead to night blindness. Though this old wives’ tale focuses on carrots, spinach and other leafy greens also are excellent sources of beta carotene, as well as other vision-boosting nutrients not found in carrots, such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt via Compfight

Do You Know?

Will turkey or warm milk help you sleep like a baby?

 Is chicken soup really good for the soul (and a cold)?

Check next week for the answers….

Label Lingo

When shopping for healthy foods at your grocery store, beware of vague words on the label, such as “made with whole grains,” which could mean the product is packed with wl-grrefined junk and has a few grams of whole grains added. The word “natural.” has no legal definition. Besides, even arsenic is natural, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy. And, just because a food or beverage has vitamins added to it, does not automatically turn a highly processed food with empty calories into a health food. Finally, don’t assume anything. Just because it is yogurt or granola or fruit leather or fruit juice, doesn’t mean it is healthy if it has the sugar equivalent of a candy bar. Always read the label and ingredient list!

The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks  if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 cup shredded wheat cereal topped with 1 cup light fortified soymilk
4 apricot halves, canned in light syrup and drained
Tea or coffee (sweetened with artificial sweetener, if desired)

 Mid-Morning Snack
3 graham crackers
1 Tablespoon peanut butter
1 cup mixed fresh fruit

1 serving Tofu Cakes in Sweet Ginger Sauce
1 /2 cup cooked rice
1 cup low-sodium tomato juice

Mid-Afternoon Snack
1 /2 whole wheat bagel topped with 2 Tablespoons fat-free cream cheese
1 cup baby carrots
Ice water with lemon

4 ounces roasted halibut
1 cup steamed asparagus
1 cup carrot slices, peeled and steamed
Green Mashed Potatoes made with 1 baking potato, peeled, boiled and mashed with 1/2 cup steamed chopped chard, 2 teaspoons butter, salt and pepper to taste, and enough nonfat milk to form a creamy consistency (approximately 1/3 cup)

 Evening Snack
1 mango, peeled, sliced and drizzled with lime juice
1 cup 1 percent low-fat milk, warmed and flavored with almond extract

 Nutritional Analysis for the day: 1998 Calories;23% fat (51 grams); 15 gram saturated fat; 1.5 grams omega-3 fats; 19% protein; 58% carbohydrate; 43 grams fiber.