Friday, August 26, 2011

Beware of “Healthified” Versions of Junk Food

Because of the big push from the government to make Americans healthier and prevent obesity, food manufacturers and restaurants have started reformulating old recipes and creating new “healthy” products to sell. Most of the changes have been positive; for example, decreasing the amount of hydrogenated oils (trans fat) and sodium used to prepare certain foods. However, many food manufacturers have taken advantage of consumers by tricking them into thinking that certain junk foods are healthy by fortifying them with certain nutrients. They know most people like sugar, fat, and sodium, so why not fortify foods high in those components with nutrients that are lacking in the American diet and market them as “healthy”?

Junk + fortified with nutrients= recipe for successful sales

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts 20% Daily Value Fiber - Frosted Strawberry, 8 count box (Pack of 6)The most popular additive to a food to make it sound healthy is fiber. Think about it, food companies are now selling brownies with fiber, high-sugar cereals that contain fiber, ice cream with fiber, candy with fiber, etc. If someone sees that an otherwise junk food is high in fiber they might mistakenly assume it is made with whole grains and other nutritious ingredients. On the contrary, most of these products are made with refined grains and sugars and just have added inulin or chicory root extract as the fiber. So basically, it’s like eating a piece of birthday cake and taking a Metamucil and thinking that’s healthy. Similarly, beverage companies sell high-sugar carbonated beverages but fortify them with 1000% of your daily value of certain vitamins and minerals so they can be marketed as a nutritional supplement… and therefore, “healthy.”

I have met dozens of people that eat a diet low in fiber and most major vitamins and minerals (i.e: low in fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy), but tell me they take a multivitamin and Metamucil everyday- so they’re okay, right? Some people believe if they take a calcium pill, they don’t need to eat any foods that naturally high in calcium. Basically, they may eat a 2,000 calorie diet full of junk, but take supplements to make up for it. While supplements can make up for certain lacking nutrients, I, and most health professionals, always recommend obtaining all your nutrients from real food. If you consume >2,000 calories it is easy to get all your nutrients from natural food sources. At calorie levels <2,000, it is possible, but usually takes lots of planning and analysis (which can be done by an R.D.) to ensure you are getting all your nutrients in.
Fiber One Chewy Bars, Oats & Chocolate, 5-Count Boxes (Pack of 12)
The majority of reputable studies on possible health effects of certain nutrients are done by epidemiological, or population, studies. Yes, fiber is known to benefit colon health and may help to prevent diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other costly diseases. ). However, the populations studied have high fiber diets because they eat natural foods with naturally occurring fiber (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds). The nutrients and phyto-chemicals found in natural foods are what keep these people in good health, not just the actual fiber.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Don’t fall into the marketing scams. A food is not “healthy” if it is made with refined grains, added sugars, and a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce…. even if it has added fiber, or is fortified with loads of vitamins and minerals. Stick with foods that you know are good for you: 100% whole grain bread, nature’s dessert: fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, soy, beans, nuts, seeds, etc.


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Monday, August 15, 2011

Chew, chew, and chew some more! (40x)

Bakers & Chefs Dinner Forks - 36 pcs.My brother is the slowest eater I know. People think I'm slow, but when you get our family together, Cub (his name for this blog post to conceal his identity) will take at least twice as long as anyone else at the table. I am always amazed when we eat with friends, some can consume a whole bowl of cereal within 2 minutes, while it takes us Strogen kids (not so much kids anymore...) over 15 minutes to eat. I often wonder if people actually chew, because I feel like I need to chew several dozen times so that I don't choke.

Well... it may be good for our waistlines that we take so long to eat and chew so much. Yes, you have always heard you should never rush eating, and the rationale behind it was always because it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to register that you're full. When the stomach sends signals to the brain that it is full, the "hunger hormone" ghrelin is reduced in the GI tract. Also, if you only have 30 min for lunch, and it takes you 29 minutes to eat a sandwich, you don't have time for those french fries or to think of anything else to consume...

In one study in China, lean and obese men fasted for over 12 hours and then were given a traditional Chinese breakfast (pork pie). The researchers found that obese men took similar bite sizes as the lean men, but chewed less per bite, and therefore, ended up consuming more calories by the end of the meal. The researchers then decided to try another study where they gave men pork pie one day and told them to chew 15 times per bite. The next study day they had them eat the same meal, but asked them to chew 40 times per bite. The findings were that, on average, when men (obese or lean) chewed 40 times, they consumed 12% fewer calories compared to when they chewed only 15 times/bite. Blood tests after the eating study revealed that ghrelin was lower after chewing 40x/bite compared to 15x.

Another study in 2008 published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that when women were forced to slow down their eating (putting a spoon down in between bites) and told to chew more (20-30x/bite) consumed, on average, 70 fewer calories compared to the day that they ate normally.

These types of studies suggest that slowing down your pace of eating will give your body time to signal to the brain that you are no longer hungry. Additionally, having more time to savor the aroma, texture, and tasting the flavors may have something to do with it.

Another added benefit to consider when chewing more is that you will burn more calories. Sure, it is few, but think of taking 40 extra steps compared to just 15 for a task you do several times a day... that will add up!

My recommendations: SIT DOWN to a meal, chew each bite thoroughly, and DO NOT RUSH!

1) Jie Li, Na Zhang, Lizhen Hu, Ze Li, Rui Li, Cong Li, and Shuran Wang.
Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men.Am J Clin Nutr, Aug 2011: First published online 20 July 2011, doi: 10.3945/​ ajcn.111.015164
2) Andrade A, Greene GW, Melanson KJ. Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008; 108 (7): 1186-1191.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Eat MORE…. of healthy foods

As a dietitian at a health club, I find that most of my clients say they eat “healthy”, but just eat too much. So, as a result, I often focus on portion size, but also place a huge emphasis on eating lots of vegetables, as well as eating the recommended amount of servings for low-fat dairy, whole-grains, and nuts/seeds/beans/lean protein/seafood. I also always emphasize the importance of exercise, getting enough sleep, and I focus on overall wellness (not smoking, limiting alcohol, reducing stress, etc.). Luckily, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health backs up my nutrition and wellness philosophy and suggests that what you eat is more important than how much you eat, and having good wellness habitats can keep you trim.
The study found that encouraging people to “eat less and exercise more” tends to lead to eating smaller quantities of calorically dense and nutrient poor foods, even if you exercise.  The study followed 120,877 non-obese women and men (at baseline) for 20 years and evaluated lifestyle factors and weight change every four years. For the average person in the study, about one pound was gained each year.

The foods that caused the most weight gain over each 4 year period were:
·        French Fries (2 lbs)
·        Potato Chips (1.69 lbs)
·        Potatoes (1.28 lbs)
·        Sugar-sweetened beverages (1 lb)
·        Red meat (.95 lbs)
·        Processed meat (.93 lbs)
·        Sweets and desserts (.41 lbs)

Foods that caused the most weight loss were:
·        Yogurt (-0.82 lbs)
·        Nuts (-0.57 lbs)
·        Fruits (-0.49 lbs)
·        Whole Grains (-.37 lbs)
·        Vegetables (-0.22 lbs)

Other lifestyle factors affecting weight:
·        Physical Activity (-1.76 lb across quintiles)
·        Alcohol (+0.41 lbs per drink/day)
·        Smoking (+5.41 lbs for new quitters, 0.14 lbs for former smokers)
·        Sleep (more weight gain with <6 or >8 hours of sleep)
·        TV watching (+0.31 lb per hour/day)

The take home message here is to follow all the recommendations everyone knows and loves: Eat healthy foods (more veggies, whole grains, nuts, fruit, yogurt) and don’t eat junk (French fries, chips, sugary drinks & foods, red & processed meats, etc), exercise, limit alcohol, don’t smoke, limit screen time, and get 6-8 hours of sleep every night. If you do all of this, chances are, you will not have too much trouble maintaining your weight.

D. Mozaffarian et al. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 364, June 23, 2011. Available at: