Category: Nutrition

Garlic: bad breath, good health?

Yesterday was Halloween, and I hope y’all aren’t feeling too much like zombies after walking Franklin Street. See any vampire costumes?

Garlic is in the onion family. The separate sections that comprise the garlic bulb are cloves, and most of the health benefits come from when a clove is crushed or chewed when raw. This produces a sulfur compound, allicin.

In addition to allicin, garlic seems to be a nutrient powerhouse. Three cloves (9g) contain manganese (8% DV), Vitamin B6 (6%), Vitamin C (5%), calcium, selenium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, copper, and zinc.

Research has shown that garlic may:

  • Boost immune system
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower LDL cholesterol
  • Fight oxidants
  • Protect against heavy metal toxicity

Okay, but why the connection with vampires? Perhaps since garlic has been used as a known mosquito repellent, the connection between the bloodsuckers was made. Some also believe the legend of vampires possibly had its fangs in porphyria, and garlic exacerbates the symptoms of this disease.

Though unlikely you’ll need garlic for folkloric purposes, it may still be beneficial to add it to your diet!


Halloween Candy and the crux of Added Sugars

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays: with the costumes, fascination with the occult, the wonderful fall weather and fall themed foods, and one of my favorite vices being the candy. While I would argue that it’s the chocolate that I love, my sweet tooth cravings are most likely for sugar.

According to the American Heart Association, adult males are recommended not to consume more than 36 grams of sugar per day, while the recommendations for adult females is 25 grams. With that in mind, where does that leave some of our favorite Halloween Candy?

According to a recent study by FiveThirtyEight, the most popular Halloween Candy in the U.S. is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, with the top five being rounded out by Reese’s Miniatures, Twix, Kit Kat, and Snickers. Below are the sugar content in grams for each of the top 5 candies in the fun-size portions, except where otherwise noted:

Candy Sugar Content
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups 10.5 grams
Reese’s Miniatures (3 pieces) 10 grams
Twix 8.5 grams
Kit Kat 7 grams
Snickers 8.5 grams


The key here is that we should enjoy our Halloween Candy in Moderation. Often for myself, Halloween starts the downward spiral of unhealthy eating that lasts into the new year. In order to combat this, I am going to (attempt) to cut out added sugar from my diet for the three weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving. While skipping the half-priced post Halloween candy deals will be difficult, I am hoping to use this time to become more aware of the amount of added sugar I consume on a daily basis (just don’t ask me how many mini snickers I ate yesterday). For anyone who is interested in this, I have included a link in the sources below to a guide to a sugar detox. Happy Halloween!



American Heart Association: Added Sugars –

FiveThirtyEight: The Ultimate Halloween Candy Power Ranking –

Daily Burn: Sugar Detox Diet –


You’ve probably seen front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labeling systems.

From ASPE Policy Research for Front of Package Nutrition Labeling: Environmental Scan and Literature Review

Next time you stroll through the grocery store, count how many different labeling systems you see in a single aisle. To summarize, the different systems are:

  • Nutrient-specific – to display select nutrients from the Nutrition Facts Panel
  • Summary indicator – to offer a single symbol or score to summarize the nutritional value
  • Food group information – to offer symbols based on the presence of a food group or ingredient

In spite of the different looks, the modified labeling systems have similar intentions, which include:

  • Providing consumers select nutrition information for nutrients to limit (e.g., sodium or added sugars) or nutrients to increase (e.g., vitamin D or calcium)
  • Making it easier to compare similar foods
  • Giving an overall impression about the nutritional value or food group composition of a food

While each type of system has demonstrated success in altering purchase patterns, no system has been deemed superior to another. A major assumption about these systems is that consumers receive and understand the information they are receiving. Although data show this is not the case, there is evidence that simple labeling systems can be effective, including for consumers who have low literacy and may be at nutritional risk.

The committee assembled by the Institute of Medicine was charged with reviewing evidence and providing recommendations for a system redesign that will encourage healthier food choices and purchase behaviors. Highlights include:

  • Develop a single, standardized system that translates information from the Nutrition Facts label
  • Display calories in common household measure serving sizes and 0-3 “points” for nutrients to limit
  • Appear on all grocery products and in consistent locations across products
  • Providing a nonproprietary, transparent translation of nutrition information into health meaning

More information is not always better, and the committee references the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s Energy Star® program as a successful model that has altered consumer purchase patterns for household appliances and electronics.

What are your thoughts about FOP labeling systems? Are they helpful? Confusing? What do you want to know from looking at the front of a package?

front-of-package labeling for-the-win (FOP-FTW)


Institute of Medicine. 2012. Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Nutrition Facts Numbers: Helpful or Harmful?

While cruising nutrition headlines, I stumbled across – Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism. In addition to showing the commute time from one destination to the next, Google Maps beta tested including how many calories would be burned if one walked and, in some instances, even equated the number of calories burned to calories in food.

This feature was met with mixed reviews – some valued the information and felt it could encourage healthier decisions (#digitalhealth), while others found it particularly alarming and potentially dangerous for people with eating disorders. Ultimately the feature was removed, but this reignites an important conversation about the transparency and promotion of nutrition facts information.

Should caloric information be prominent? The Affordable Care Act includes requirements for certain restaurants and vending machines to display or have nutrition information readily available. And according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, Americans want access to nutrition label information, even if they don’t use it. Information can be powerful for positive change but also negative consequences, so how can we best communicate information in a way that avoids causing harm?

How are people using this information, if at all? About half of adults state they read nutrition facts labels “always” or “most of the time”. People look at labels and packaging for various reasons, ranging from specific nutrients or ingredients for health purposes to helping decide which brand of a food to buy.

Is more (numbers and data) better? A majority of people want to have access to information, and about half of people look at the information, but the same survey shows that people largely ignore labels because they are too difficult to understand (59%) or it takes too much time (75%).

While the intentions of transparency of information are good, the information may be overly-complicated to interpret and likely misses the mark of making nutrition information digestible (pun intended). We might be better served to offer simplified approaches for communicating nutrition information about food. Stay tuned for examples of this.

In the meantime, how do you feel about access to nutrition information – whether calories, nutrients, or specific health claims? Do you want it or need it? How confident are you that you can interpret the available information?

Jordan Lin C-T, Zhang Y, Carlton ED, Lo SC. 2014 FDA Health and Diet Survey. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration. May 6, 2016.

Prentice C & Kahn C. Americans want required food labels even if they don’t read them. Reuters. October 2, 2017.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements. May 1, 2017.

Victor D. Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism. The New York Times. October 17, 2017.

Recent Data on Obesity Prevalence in the U.S.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently released a data brief on recent estimates for obesity prevalence in the United States. These estimates are from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2015-2016. Some key survey findings showed that in 2015-2016, obesity prevalence was 39.8% among adults and 18.5% among youth in the U.S. Additionally, obesity prevalence was found to be 13.9% for children aged 2-5 years, 18.4% for children aged 6-11 years, and 20.6% for children aged 12-19 years.

While there was not a significant change in obesity prevalence among U.S. adults and youth between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, obesity continues to remain an important public health concern.

Obesity prevalence rates in the U.S. do not currently meet national weight status objectives set forth in Healthy People 2020, a 10-year national agenda for improving public health in the U.S. These objectives are to reduce the proportion of U.S. adults that are obese to 30.5%, as well as reduce the proportion of U.S. children aged 2-5 years, 6-11 years, and 12-19 years that are obese to 9.4%, 15.7%, and 16.1%, respectively, by the year 2020.

Obesity can lead to serious health effects, such as: high blood pressure, heart disease, and even type 2 diabetes. However, maintaining a healthy weight through eating right and staying physically active can prevent these negative health outcomes.


Prevalence of Obesity among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016. (2017, October). Retrieved from

Nutrition and Weight Status. (2017, October 13). Retrieved from

Eat Right. (N.d.). Retrieved from

Be Physically Active. (N.d.) Retrieved from

What Exactly is Coconut Water?

Coconut water seemed to be a fad brought about by celebrities (as most fads are). Besides providing a unique tasting alternative to plain water, what do we know from a nutritional standpoint?

Despite the name, coconuts are considered a fruit. The juice at the center forms the white coconut meat as it ripens and the half-cup to cup of liquid that remains in the middle is the coconut water. And this liquid is made up of 94% water. A cup of coconut water contains:

  • Carbs: 9 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin C: 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
  • Magnesium: 15% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 17% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 17% of the RDI
  • Sodium: 11% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 6% of the RDI

The nutrients and antioxidants present may even decrease blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol, all while replenishing electrolytes and providing hydration. More research is needed but coconut water seems to be a pretty satisfying drink.


Do meta-analyses really offer a bottom line?

For any particular health behavior or condition, the number of research studies is ever-growing. The expansive literature makes it nearly impossible for health practitioners, and even researchers, to stay up-to-date.

Meta-analyses are a type of systematic review that allow for the combination of findings from individual studies in a way that increases statistical power and may thus generate evidence-based ‘bottom lines’ for practice. However, a recent viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Misuse of Meta-Analysis in Nutrition Research, leaves us wondering whether meta-analyses do more harm than good.

Some of the most common flaws discussed in this viewpoint include:

  • The people. Individual studies may include a range in demographic characteristics, like age, sex, race, and ethnicity. While it is typically a good thing to include a variety of people in a single study, trying to compare different study populations can make it more challenging to identify real effects. Think: comparing a study that looked at egg consumption and cholesterol levels in men aged 65 and older to a study looking at women aged 20 – 40 years – there are many other factors that could explain the observed effects.
  • The study design. Although studies may be looking at the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, they may have used different tools to measure saturated fat intake over varying periods or time or different measures related to heart disease. In addition, some trials may have randomly assigned participants to a group while others followed their natural behaviors over time. This is like trying to compare apples and oranges, although they are both fruit, they are in fact different and it may not be appropriate to try and interpret them together.

Results of meta-analyses matter because they can influence health care policy – either by providing an evidence base for decision-making and/or media headlines prompting public conversation that elevates the priority of a specific condition or behavior. Barnard and colleagues suggest the peer-review process should and could be improved by:

  1. Having content expert editors as well as editors with expertise in meta-analysis techniques
  2. Having authors of the review confirm the appropriateness of the representation of the data with authors of the original report
  3. Having transparent methods and data so that others may reproduce the analysis
  4. Pooling original primary data and not published summary data



Meta-Analysis. Study Design 101.

Barnard ND, Willett WC, Ding EL. The Misuse of Meta-analysis in Nutrition Research. JAMA. Published online September 18, 2017. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.12083

The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Meta-analyses in nutrition research: sources of insight or confusion?

The Health Impact of Natural Disaster

This week I was reminded of the things I take for granted on a daily basis. This week I considered the luxuries I expect access to and consider a right. This week marks the second week that many citizens of the US territory of Puerto Rico lack access to clean drinking water and food.

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico in devastation.  Before the category 4 storm hit on September 20th, the governor, Ricardo Rossello, knew that disaster was imminent releasing this video just 5 hours before impact. What no one knew, was the severity of the damage this storm would cause. Generally, after a natural disaster, the public hears about breakdowns in infrastructure and property damage. What is often missing from the conversation is a focus on health. Today, many Puerto Ricans endure the stress of not knowing from where their next meal will come. Although aid has made it to the Puerto Rican shores, many supplies remain undistributed because of damaged roads and a lack of fuel. Fuel is very important in the aftermath of natural disasters because it is needed to distribute food and medical supplies. It also allows medical staff to reach hospitals to deliver much-needed care to those in need.

It is important to consider how natural disasters affect health outcomes. Food, water, and fuel are essential for survival. The citizens of Puerto Rico are devastated but not in despair. Hope remains high and citizens are determined to rebuild.

Superfood Spotlight: Chia Seeds

A member of the mint family, chia seeds are a nutrition-packed superfood. These tiny black seeds are a great source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that help to support digestion and blood sugar management. In just 1 ounce of chia seeds you can find a hefty 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids! Not to mention, chia seeds are also rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Chia seeds can be eaten raw or they can be added to other dishes, such as soups, salads, and even baked goods. They can also be soaked in water where they form a gel-like texture that resembles that of tapioca. Because of this, one of my favorite uses for chia seeds is making chia pudding. While both nutritious and delicious, chia pudding is also super easy to make! I often prepare it at night so that I have it ready to eat for breakfast in the morning. Here is a delicious recipe for chia pudding (courtesy of

Check out the following resources for more information about chia seeds:

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds | MedlinePlus

National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference | USDA


Basic Report: 12006, Seeds, chia seeds, dried. (2016, May). Retrieved from

Gunnars, K. 11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds. (2017, May 30). Retrieved from

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from

Lewin, J. (2017, April 27). The health benefits of chia seeds. Retrieved from

Weil, A. What is Chia? (2006, May 15). Retrieved from

Wolfram, T. (2017, June 1). What are Chia Seeds? Retrieved from

Teal Pumpkin Project: Promoting fun and safe Halloween treats for all

As my little one tries new foods, I pay close attention for any strange reactions that might indicate a food allergy. Food allergies are the result of an immune response to proteins found in food. The immune response can cause mild symptoms such as redness on the skin or an itchy mouth. Or it can cause more serious, life threatening symptoms, known as anaphylaxis, like trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness.

While more than 170 foods have been identified to cause allergic reactions, eight allergens are responsible for the majority, and the most severe, reactions in the United States. The ‘big’ eight include: egg, milk, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

It is estimated that upwards of 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, and that number is on the rise. A Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report states there is increasing prevalence of food allergies among children, and a recent media headline shared that insurance claims for anaphylactic (severe) food reactions are going up in adults too.

Although the reason(s) or cause(s) for these increases is unknown, what is known is that food allergies impact quality of life. Holidays can be a particularly challenging time for people with food allergies, but Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has initiated a worldwide movement to create a safer, happier Halloween for all. To support the movement, all you have to do is offer non-food treats, like bubbles or stickers, and place a teal pumpkin on your doorstep as a way to let families know you are safe for children with food allergies or other health concerns.

If Halloween is one of your favorite celebrations during the year, think about how a small change in what you hand out can allow others to experience the fun and tradition of trick-or-treating.

The TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT and the Teal Pumpkin Image are trademarks of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)



NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010; 126(6):S1-58

Jackson KD, Howie LD, Akinbami LJ. Trends in allergic conditions among children: United States, 1997-2011. NCHS data brief, no 121. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. Retrieved from

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. Report of the NIH Expert Panel on Food Allergy Research. 2006. Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau Quick Facts (2015 estimates).

Shemesh E, Annunziato RA, Ambrose MA, Ravid NL, Mullarkey C, Rubes M, Chuang K, Sicherer M, Sicherer S. Child and parental reports of bullying in a consecutive sample of children with food allergy. Pediatrics 2013; 131:e10-e17.

Herbert L, Shemesh E, Bender B. Clinical management of psychosocial concerns related to food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2016; 4(2):205-213.

Bollinger ME; Dahlquist LM, Mudd K; Sonntag C, Dillinger L, McKenna K. The impact of food allergy on the daily activities of children and their families. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006; 96:415-421.

Food Allergy Research & Education. Teal Pumpkin Project.