Category: Obesity

Fall for Healthy Options this Season

Ladies and Gentlemen: Fall is upon us! Well, next Friday it is anyway. As the season changes and the leaves along with it, you can unbox those fall scarves and cute booties. You can also expect a few new items on the menu at coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants, and if you’re anything like me, these new menu items are always a highlight. (Pumpkin spiced latte anyone?) They’re a wonderful seasonal treat and hard to resist, but too many can mean excess weight gain and upping your chances of an unexpected visit to the dentist.

If you’re looking to indulge in the fall harvest without any unwanted physical results, check out a few of the recipes below. They’re delicious, comforting and you’re sure to sneak in a veggie or two.

Sweet Potato Cornbread This new twist on an old classic provides all the indulgence of sweet potatoes with the added promise of fragrant spices.

Ratatouille Veggie-loaded and flavor-filled = best of both worlds. What more could you ask for? This dish is a key to guilt-free, wholesome eating.

Butternut Squash Gratin You won’t find boring potatoes here. This creamy dish is a perfect for a luxury weekend or for a workday wind down. For a low-calorie option, try it with low-fat milk.

Happy Eating!

Are you accepting toxic food advice?

If you’re a health junkie or on social media at all, you’ve probably seen these terms: registered dietitian, nutritionist, nutrition coach, food guru, etc.. With so much information flying around there’s a lot of confusion over what it all means and who to listen to when it comes to nutrition advice. My answer? It all depends! All of these titles embody a love of food but there are some big differences in who to look to for food advice. Let’s set the record straight.

Registered Dietitian

Registered dietitians (RDs), also called registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), are recognized as experts of food and nutrition in the medical field. This is largely because of the many years these professionals spend studying the science behind food and how it affects the body. The government has regulations on who can call themselves a “registered dietitian”. This is to protect the public from people who present themselves as nutrition experts, but who have no formal training. For example, if someone with diabetes accepts nutrition advice from a nutritionist and it hurts them the nutritionist can not be held accountable. Registered dietitians, on the other hand, can lose their license or suffer fines for providing poor nutrition advice.  This is because RDs go through extensive training before they can practice. As of 2017, RDs are required to complete the following:

  • a bachelor’s or advanced degree in food science or human nutrition
  • supervised training and internships
  • pass the RD exam

After RDs are certified, they also have to complete annual training to maintain their credentials. This is my field of study and the past two years I’ve spent work toward a masters in this field has not been easy, but I’m so close to the finish line! From my studies, it seems RDs are excellent in a number of areas. They really understand how to help manage medical conditions and weight loss. They also can point out what diet trends are completely bogus with science.

Nutritionists/Nutrition Coach/Food Guru

Terms like nutritionist, nutrition coach and the like are not regulated. Anyone can use these labels. This isn’t to say they don’t have valuable nutrition knowledge. Many nutritionists have a wealth of nutrition knowledge from experience and self-study. Some of my favorite nutritionist on Facebook and Instagram provide excellent recipe ideas and encourage their followers to make healthy choices with amazing food photography. On the other hand, following nutrition advice from individuals not formally trained in food science can be dangerous. A nutritionist might not fully understand nutrition information or they may be misinformed. This can be dangerous if a nutritionist misinforms a large number of individuals, especially through social media platforms. Misinformation is particularly harmful when individuals are looking to receive information around serious medical conditions like diabetes and weight loss.

The next time you’re in search of food advice think about what you need! If you have a medical condition or you’re looking for advice on how to lose weight in a healthy way, you might want to look for advice from an RD. If you’re looking for meal prepping tips or fitness inspiration, a nutritionist can certainly help. There’s space for both in this food lovers community.

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

Like diet and exercise, sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. Sleep supports healthy brain function, healthy growth and development, and our immune function. For adults, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But what happens if we don’t get enough shut-eye? This can affect our productivity, our ability to manage our emotions, and even our ability to fight off infections. In addition, a lack of sleep can increase our risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

An important part of getting enough and better sleep is practicing good sleep habits or “sleep hygiene.” Here are some ways that you can practice good sleep hygiene:

Sleep more consistently. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning by setting your alarm. This will help to reinforce your body’s sleep/wake cycle.

Create an optimal sleep environment. It may be helpful to keep any work-related items/electronics in a room other than the bedroom. This will allow you to better associate the bedroom with sleep. Also, use a comfortable mattress and pillows, and try to reduce any light and noise that can affect your sleep. Blackout curtains, eye masks, and/or ear plugs can help with this. Finally, keep your bedroom at a cool temperature (60-75 degrees Fahrenheit) to facilitate sound sleep.

Establish a bedtime ritual. Listening to relaxing music, stretching, or reading before bed can be helpful to prepare you for sound sleep. Avoid activities that are very stimulating such as strenuous exercise or using a computer.

Put away technology. Using electronic devices such as your cell phone and computer before bed can make falling asleep more difficult. This is because the blue light that emanates from your phone and computer screens stimulates your brain, which can affect your sleep/wake cycle. Avoid using these devices 30 minutes before bed.

Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals before bed. Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes can act as stimulants that can keep you awake. Avoid these substances 4-6 hours before bedtime. Additionally, avoid heavy foods before bed as these may cause indigestion, disrupting your ability to fall asleep.

If you must, nap during the day. Taking naps later in the day may disrupt your drive to sleep at night.

Happy Sleeping!

Helpful Resources: 

National Sleep Foundation

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

American Sleep Association

National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project (from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine)

References: 

Circadian Rhythm and Your Body Clock. (N.d.). Retrieved from  https://sleep.org/articles/circadian-rhythm-body-clock/

Healthy Sleep Tips. (2017). Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips/page/0/1

National Sleep Foundation. (2015, February 2). National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times

The High-Tech World of Sleep. (N.d.). Retrieved from https://sleep.org/articles/how-technology-changing-the-way-we-sleep/

Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep. (2007, December 18). Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips

Peters, B. (2016, March 1). What Sleep Rituals Should Be Part of Your Bedtime Routine?  Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/bedtime-routines-and-sleep-rituals-for-restful-sleep-3014947

Why Is Sleep Important? (2017, June 7). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

Organic by any other name: 2017 Dirty Dozen

You have two sets of potatoes in the grocery store.  One is $0.99/lb.  The other is $1.50/lb and has an organic sticker on it.  If you’re like me you sit there thinking, “Why would I pay more for a little sticker?  I’ll pay a little less and save the change.”  Now, let’s find out if we made the right choice.

Organic basically means that products including lotions, oils and produce are made with fewer chemicals.  (Note that I say fewer we’ll address this in a minute.)  This word is regulated by the USDA which means, unlike terms like cage-free and natural, not just anyone can slap the word organic on something to sell products.  There is a strict list of chemicals and pesticides that the USDA has approved for use on organic produce.  So, while organic isn’t always 100% chemical free, organic farmers do use a lot fewer chemicals than traditional farmers.  When it comes to produce, there is a huge difference in the chemical content.  A lot of food grown in our country is essentially doused in chemicals to keep rodents, fungus, and bugs at bay.  A list comes out every year noting the foods most heavily laden with harsh chemicals.  Allow me to introduce this year’s “dirty dozen”:

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Nectarines

4. Apples

5. Peaches

6. Pears

7. Cherries

8. Grapes

9. Celery

10. Tomatoes

11. Sweet bell peppers

12. Potatoes

(Source: www.ewg.org)

I can already hear people saying “What’s the point if chemicals could still be present?  “There are chemicals in everything so what’s the point of organic?”  Sure, but what if I told you some people have noted over 20 different pesticides on strawberries?  And that some of the pesticides used by traditional farmers are things like DDT, a chemical linked to cancer and reproductive issues. Other pesticides are linked to brain damage, birth defects and Parkinson’s.  Consumers have to look out for their own best interests.  We have to take responsibility for our own health by paying close attention to what we put in our bodies. Next time you’re out shopping, consider picking up the organic potatoes.  Selecting some organic items could help you live a longer more healthy life.

FDA Makes Big Changes to Nutrition Facts Label

Two weeks ago, the FDA finalized the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged food products. While the iconic look of the twenty-year old label will stay the same, several changes were made to the information provided in order to help consumers make more informed decisions about the foods they eat.

Some of the major changes include:

  • Increasing the type size for “Calories,” “servings per container,” and the “Serving size” declaration. This change along with bolding the number of calories and the “Serving size” declaration will serve to better highlight this important information.
  • “Added sugars,” in grams and as percent Daily Value, will now be included on the label. Because excessive sugar intake typically occurs from the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods that contain an abundance of added sugar (as opposed to natural sugar), this information will now be included on nutrition facts labels.
  • Serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. Because how much people eat has changed, and because package sizes affect how much people eat, serving sizes will be updated to be more realistic. For example, the serving size for ice-cream will change from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup, and both 12 and 20 oz soda bottles will equal one serving, since most people drink a whole bottle in one sitting.

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Old label vs. New label

Manufacturers will need to use the new label by July 26, 2018. However, manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply. For more information about all the changes made, visit the FDA website.

Other Dangers of Using Devices at Nighttime

Most of us know that using mobile phones or e-readers before bed can disrupt our sleep cycles, but did you know there are other dangers associated with prolonged exposure to artificial light at night?

Recent research suggests that excess blue light exposure may be doing more than robbing you of a good night’s sleep, and could also increase your risk of cancer, obesity, and depression.

It’s important to understand why the blue light emitted from mobile devices affects your circadian rhythm. Typically, after awaking, people usually open the shades to let in the morning sunlight. Special cells in your eyes detect the natural light and signal your brain to shut off its production of melatonin. The physiological process doesn’t stop there—the morning light also signals cells to increase production of the stress hormone cortisol and a hunger-promoting hormone called ghrelin. The morning light also signals your body temperature and heart rate to rise.

In essence, the morning light allows your body to “reset” itself to prepare for the work ahead, which is exactly what’s supposed to happen in the early hours of the morning. However, this physiological resetting can sometimes occur at night, which is when things can start to go amiss.

Previous research has shown that people who use mobile phones, e-readers, or are exposed to LED lighting have increased appetite, took longer to fall asleep, experienced less restorative REM sleep, and were more tired the following day than those who did not use such devices before bedtime. Another study demonstrated where device users experienced a 55% drop in melatonin after only five days, which can be alarming because in addition to its sleep-inducing powers, melatonin has also been shown to be an anti-cancer agent.

While most of the recent research is too early to determine the true effect of blue light at night, scientists aren’t afraid to suggest that folks burning the midnight oil on their devices are more likely to be obese or suffer from heart disease. Other studies have linked late night workers to higher rates of both breast and prostate cancer.

So, in a world driven by technology, what can we do to ensure we’re getting the proper kind of sleep? Fortunately, there are several steps we can take that won’t require us to toss out our smartphones and computers. With a proper balance, we can have both!

The best advice public health gives us in this department is to power down those devices at a normal hour, or at least an hour before you go to bed (of course, the earlier the better).

Next, try reading an actual paper book before bed. Foregoing the artificial light from a phone or e-reader will signal your brain to begin producing melatonin at a decent hour to prepare your body for sleep.

Also, try purchasing energy-efficient light bulbs. Certain companies now produce bulbs that automatically change their hue depending on the time of day.

Finally, if you must use an electronic device before bed, purchase an app that allows your laptop or phone to emit blue light during the day and shifts to warmer wavelengths by evening. While this option isn’t as healthy as reading a traditional paper book, it should help your body to still produce some amounts of melatonin.

Sweet dreams!

Is There A Limit to How Much Your Heart Can Handle?

With February marking American Heart Month, the American Heart Association has developed detailed plans for personalizing your daily workout routine to help ensure Americans live more healthy and prosperous lives.

Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke, and hypertension, is the nation’s leading cause of death, claiming one out of every three lives. So as warmer weather approaches, more folks are doing what they can to reduce their risk factors associated with heart disease, as well as get their bodies back in shape for swimsuit season!

But how much is too much exercise? Aren’t we told the more the merrier when it comes to physical activity? While most of us don’t fall in that category, researchers and cardiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center are interested in learning the effects —both positive and negative — of excessive exercise and how it affects one’s body over time.

They’re interested in learning how much exercise it takes to cause damage to the heart. To do this, their working with 48-year old Ben Lecomte, who is preparing to swim the Pacific Ocean, from San Francisco to Tokyo. The Texas resident and environmentalist will swim eight hours per day, for a total of 5,500 miles. The event will take five to six months to complete.

Researchers felt Lecomte’s journey presented a good opportunity to evaluate the effects of a long, daily workout, and have asked Lecomte to monitor his heart while he swims. Previous studies have demonstrated that extreme endurance athletes sometimes end up with scarring or fibrosis at the septum, or the center of the heart. This can be dangerous if someone has an underlying genetic condition that weakens the heart muscle.

Another distinction among high endurance athletes is the buildup of calcium (called calcification) on the heart. While it may seem ironic that athletes at this level might suffer from this, both calcification and scarring are believed to be related to one’s genetic makeup. While this isn’t particularly worrisome to researchers—after all, athletes tend to outlive those who do not exercise—they do encourage runners to study their family histories for possible heart disease and recommend a medical evaluation before taking on any high endurance activities.

For now, researchers at UT Southwest Medical are interested in seeing how the nearly 6,000 mile journey will affect Lecomte’s heart, as this data will help determine how extreme exercise changes the heart, as well as help determine how much exercise a normal heart can handle.

Again, while most of us need not worry about maximizing our heart’s capabilities regarding exercise, it’s still a good idea to get checked out by your physician, particularly if you have any family history of heart disease.

Host a Healthy Holiday

In recent years, attention has been shifting away from medication-only treatment plans to incorporating special diets into comprehensive disease management strategies, for example rather than just giving a patient a pill to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, a doctor will prescribe a diet low in sodium and fats (saturated and trans) as well as refer the patient to a dietitian. Consequently, many Americans are following, or at least should be following, a “special” diet. From a health professional perspective, it is encouraging to see efforts to reduce medication, which often have numerous side-effects, and increase healthier long-term lifestyle changes.

However, all the holiday parties, feasts, and edible gifts can be a real threat to staying committed to healthful diets and lifestyle habits. A lot of pressure is placed on the individual to resist temptation, exercise moderation, or swap unhealthy options for healthier choices. Yet little attention is focused on the host or hostess for providing less healthy options.

If you are planning a holiday meal, I encourage you to be cognizant of your friends’ and family’s health and lifestyle choices. Just because you make “the best creamy mashed potatoes” every year, doesn’t mean you can’t find an equally delicious substitute or alternative. It’s only logical; if a dish is available, it has a chance of being consumed, but if it’s not available, it can’t be eaten.

tableLuckily, there are a wide variety of recipe websites dedicated to special diets, such as Allrecipes.com, MyRecipes.com, FoodNetwork.com. I would suggest trying out the recipes prior to the “big” feast, as light cooking or cooking with substitute ingredients is not always the same and may take a practice run or two. Try not to think of creating a healthier meal as an inconvenience or break in tradition, but rather a fun, worth-while challenge and opportunity to show loved ones you care about their health. After all, we want to celebrate many more holiday seasons with all our friends and family.

Please post links to your favorite healthful recipes or websites for others below.

Good luck and happy holidays!

Wellness Wednesdays: A NEAT Strategy for Maintaining a Healthy Weight

It’s no coincidence that overweight and obesity began increasing as a problem as the world became more industrialized. As what it meant to earn a living transitioned from the farm, to the factory, to the office, we’ve become more sedentary – and the consequences of our ‘advancement’ can be seen in our expanding waistlines.

Although not the only reason, one of the contributing factors to the obesity crisis is NEAT – or more precisely, a lack of it. NEAT stands for ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’, and it includes all the energy we expend doing things other than eating, sleeping, and sports-related (i.e. intentional) exercise. NEAT activities can include housework, like vaccuming, or walking around campus – even fidgeting in class!

Culture has a lot to do with how much NEAT you get – students, who spent most of their time in class and studying, have fairly few opportunities to build NEAT activities into their day (particularly if they ride the bus around campus because they don’t have enough time between classes to walk). In contrast, restaurant workers and manual laborers have pretty NEAT lives, since they’re on their feet and moving around most of the day.

Some evidence suggests that 30 minutes of purposeful exercise every day isn’t enough to offset the negative health consequences of being sedentary for 8 hours or more. Employers are starting to realize this, which is why some spring for standing desks and on-site gyms as part of ‘workplace wellness’ initiatives. If you aren’t lucky enough to work for one of these more progressive companies, try taking a 5 minute ‘stretch break’ every hour if you’re studying or working at the computer. You don’t have to leave your desk, but just the act of standing or walking in place can be enough to stimulate blood flow and prevent your metabolism from slowing excessively.

Got more tips for working NEAT activity into your daily life? Please share them in the comments section below!

Wellness Wednesdays: Stuffed – More Than A Harmless Thanksgiving Tradition?

Tomorrow, millions of Americans are planning to eat waay too much at Thanksgiving dinner. For some reason, Thanksgiving is a day when ‘dinner’ time is always 2 pm, and it’s socially acceptable to stuff yourself before falling asleep in front of the television. This behavior is almost certainly harmless when conducted in isolation, but as a society we often lionize such excess (immortalized in hot dog and pie eating contests). What other messages does this send?

For the first time, the fifth rendition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes ‘binge eating disorder’ as a distinct condition. In previous versions of the DSM it had been included under the catch-all – ‘eating disorder, not otherwise specified’ (ED-NOS).

Characterized by repeated episodes of eating large quantities of food accompanied by a feeling of loss of control, binge eating disorder is now considered to be the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, individuals with binge eating disorder don’t engage in compensatory behaviors, meaning that this condition can lead to considerable weight gain over time.

Binge eating has been normalized in American culture, particularly in our holiday celebrations. This may prevent many people from ever seeking out treatment for what may be pathologic behavior. It is important to raise awareness about eating disorders, particularly among men – the culture of silence around mental health appears even stronger when the ‘problem’ is related to food. Unlike alcohol or drug abuse, one cannot simply abstain from food, making professional treatment a particularly important component of recovery.