Category Archives: Healthy Lifestyle

What Benefits does Orangic Food Offer?

According to the USDA Organic “is a labeling term that indicates hat the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”  In order to be certified by the USDA no synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering can be used.  Furthermore, to insure that you are purchasing organic food make sure there is a USDA organic seal in order to verify that the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content.

There is a whole assortment of terms used on labels like free-range, cage-free, grass-fed, pasture-raised, humane, no added hormones, and last but not least natural.  Natural, as required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients.  This regulation only applies to the processing of meat and egg products, and does not include any standards regrading farm practices.  So that natural pasta sauce doesn’t really mean much of anything.

As long as the product is actually certified, we can feel secure that it has been produced in a better method than usual, but what about the food item itself.  It wrong it assume that just because a food item is organic that it has better nutritional value.  While there may be no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce, organic does have lower levels of pesticide residue.  “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods” a review done at Sanford University.

Everyone is taking a part of the rise of organic food.  Walmart plans to partner with the Wild Oats organic products  “a range of wallet-friendly organic food products” which cuts label prices by at least 25 percent compared to other brand-name organic competitors.  Target is also expanding its partnerships with 17 natural and organic brands in order to expand its selection.  Sales of products labeled natural and organic grew 7.5 percent in 2012, twice the overall growth rate of conventional food and nonfood products, according to the Organic Trade Association.  Organic food accounted for $29 billion in United States sales in 2012, according to the most recent data, the Organic Trade Association said. Ten years earlier, its sales were $8 billion.

Drinking Your Calories Absentmindedly Leads to Weight Gain

Calories are difficult to keep track of, in their solid form we at least have a basic understanding of what foods are healthier than others, drinks on the other hand not so much.  Liquid calories, particularly from sugar sweetened beverages, are a whole different battlefield.  Because of the simple process of drinking and the lack of actually eating a substance it is easy to not account for the amount of calories we are drinking.  Beverages that have been bottled do have nutrition labels, but many people don’t realize how many calories can contribute to their daily intake.  It is as if we are absentminded of calories once they are put into liquid form.

A study done by JAMA concluded a “higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a greater magnitude of weight gain and an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes in women, possibly by providing excessive calories and large amounts of rapidly absorbable sugars.  Rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.  Sugary drinks (soda, energy, sports drinks) are the top calorie source in teens’ diets (226 calories per day), beating out pizza (213 calories per day). (Lasater G, Piernas C, Popkin BM)

Liquid calories in just about any form — alcohol, juice or soda— are empty calories.  Once in body beverages can have a major impact, not only in added calories but also ladened with sugar.  Scientific evidence confirms that despite the fact such sugar sweetened beverages add to our total intake of calories, the body doesn’t detect them the same way as it would detect solid food.

“Fluid calories do not hold strong satiety properties, don’t suppress hunger and don’t elicit compensatory dietary responses,” said Richard Mattes, M.P.H, R.D., a professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University. “When drinking fluid calories, people often end up eating more calories overall.”

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health have found that greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked with a greater genetic susceptibility to high body mass index (BMI) and increased risk of obesity.  Not only will drinking calories make one susceptible to gaining weight, it also puts one at a greater sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption was strongly associated with progressively higher risk of type 2 diabetes

The term “soft drink” refers to any beverage with added sugar or other sweetener, and includes soda, juice, lemonade and sports and energy drinks.  Even drinking juice can have it negatives.  Because of juices associate with fruit it is commonly perceived as healthy but many varieties lack in nutrition.  There is a few vitamins, this is often from additives that replace the fruit’s original vitamins, which were stripped out during processing—and that goes for the “not from concentrate” juices as well. By juicing a fruit the actual fruit’s fiber and phytonutrients is lost.  As the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages rise, the childhood obesity does as well.

The average can of sugar-sweetened soda or fruit punch provides about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar, usually high-fructose corn syrup. That’s the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar. If you were to drink just one can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink every day, and not cut back on calories elsewhere, you could gain up to 5 pounds in a year.

Naturally when one wants to cut calories from beverages they chose a diet alternative.  Beverages in this category include low fat low sugar milk, unsweetened tea and coffee, and diet tea, coffee, and soft drinks.  Drinking diet beverages has been linked to an increase in the consumption of calories from food.   “Artificial sweeteners, which are present in high doses in diet soda, are associated with a greater activation of reward centers in the brain, thus altering the reward a person experiences from sweet tastes. In other words, among people who drink diet soda, the brain’s sweet sensors may no longer provide a reliable gauge of energy consumption because the artificial sweetener disrupts appetite control. As a result, consumption of diet drinks may result in increased food intake overall.”

When choosing drinks be wary of flavored coffees drinks, smoothies, alcohol, juice, energy drinks, and sports ades.  Steer clear of any of these Worst Beverages in America.

Beverages that you should be drinking more of include water and tea.  Pay close attention to the nutrition label though.  Tea is a world that is associated with being healthy and marketers have capitalized on this.  There has been a decrease in the consumption of soda but that bottling industry hasn’t given up the fight just yet.  In order to continue to keep people purchase their products they have switched over to teas, sports drinks, and other seemingly healthy beverages.  Avoid purchasing expensive bottled teas or teas in coffee shops that contain added sweeteners.  Actively watch for hidden calories and try to cut the consumption of sugar and calories from beverage by choosing a better drink.

“Sugar sweetened beverages are one of the driving forces behind the obesity epidemic,” says Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and a co-author of this study. “The implication of our study is that the genetic effects of obesity can be offset by healthier food and beverage choices.”

For more information I highly suggest Harvard’s, the Nutrition Source, Sugary Drinks

What’s the Deal With Fat?

Fat is a necessary part of a person’s diet.  Fat is essential to your health because it supports a number of your body’s functions.  What can be tricky is that there are numerous types of fats both good and bad; therefore we have to be conscious of the type of fats we consume.  The fat that is found naturally in food is dietary fat which can be found in plants and animals.  Though fat can be beneficial its dark side is that it is high in calories and a consistent excess of calories can lead to weight gain and other related issues.  Managing one’s intake of fat can be trying because fat has found its way into many food items.  Americans on average are exceeding the recommended maximum consumption of fat by more than 50 percent.

Fat has always had a negative connotation and has always been distinguished as unhealthy.  A pile of oil atop of a piece of three cheese pizza may not look appealing but the brain swoons once it is inside of the mouth.  Fat is as much a feeling as it is a taste.  The trigeminal nerve is responsible for transmitting sensations from the mouth to the brain.  “Fats and fat-soluble molecules are responsible for the characteristic texture, flavor and aromas of many foods and play a major role in determining the overall palatability of the diet” (Drwnoswski and Schwartz 1990) “the sweeter and denser stimuli were perceived as lower in fat, despite the fact that the actual amount of fat remained constant.

Taste buds have five primary tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (a savory taste).  Fat has no such receptor but is extremely alluring to the brain. The affect that fat has on the brain was investigated in a study done on sugar and fat done by neuroscientist Edmund Rolls in 2003.  It found that fat is just as potent to the brain as sugar, “Fat and sugar both produce strong reward effects in the brain,” Rolls said. Scientist Adam Drwnowski  studied just how alluring fat is. “There was no bliss point, or break point for fat,” found Drwonski “The more fat there was, the better.”  This means that unlike sugar, which has a point of there being too sweet fat did not, there was never too much.

Surveys have shown that grocery shoppers who stop to read nutrition labels look first and foremost at the fat content of foods.  This has led to the over saturation of products that claim to have less fat or lower fat, and it has initiated a host of marketing tricks the industry uses to make it seem like they have cut back. “Low-fat”, “reduced fat”, or “fat-free” products are not necessarily healthy and they can also cause the consumer to mistaken the product to be healthier than it actually is.  Simply put, the health halo effect leads people to overestimate the overall healthfulness of a food based on one narrow attribute.  Studies have shown that people eat far more low-fat foods than they do traditional versions.  In order to reduce the amount of fat in a product food manufactures have to compensate for the change by replacing it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or starch.  The exchange for switching out fat for sugar is not justifiable because sugar has now been shown to be even more harmful to your diet.

Fat comes in many forms, a few that are recognizable or “visible” – table spreads and salad and cooking oils – or “invisible” fats included in meat, dairy products, and many process foods.  The different kinds of fat are usually seen as good or bad:

  • “Good” fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—lower disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish.
  • “Bad” fats—saturated and, especially, trans fats—increase disease risk. Foods high in bad fats include red meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream, as well as processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil.

Low-fat is an age old diet myth, what is important is the type of fat.  Some sources of fat are undesirable for instance Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat stated “Americans now eat as much as 33 pounds or more cheese a year, triple that amount we consumed in early 1970s.

Saturated fat has been demonized since the 1970s when a landmark study concluded that there was a correlation between incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol, which then correlated with the percentage of calories provided by saturated fat, explains Aseem Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist in a recent article at the British Medical Journal (BMJ). “But correlation is not causation,” he says. Nevertheless, we were advised to “reduce fat intake to 30% of total energy and a fall in saturated fat intake to 10%.”  “It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that has contributed to obesity.”


Sugar is found in many foods, whether its hidden away or prominently displaced as a marketing tool.  It’s not unknown how alluring sugar is, but we’ve lost track of how much we are consuming throughout the years of the rise of convenience foods.

There are two types of sugar: added and natural.  Foods containing naturally found sugar include fruit, fruit juice, milk and dairy products. Added sugar, as the name suggests is sugar that is added to food during processing or preparation to make it sweeter.  There is a long list of ingredients that are classified as added sugar includes not just white table sugar, but brown sugar, honey, agave syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and stevia.  Just to mention a few food products that have a lot of added sugar include sugary drinks, cakes, candy, fruit drinks, bread, pasta sauce, chips and snacks, yogurt, and cereal.sugar-in-food

Sugar has a great influence on how our bodies perform.  Jean Mayer, a Harvard professor of nutrition, is credited with discovering how the desire to eat is controlled by the amount of glucose in the blood and by the brain’s hypothalamus, both of which in turn are greatly influenced by sugar. Scientist are not the only ones who have looked into how sugar affects the brain, food manufactures have also learned how to use it to produce better, more tasty, and addicting foods.  Food scientists can determine a product’s “bliss point,” – the precise amount of sweetness – that makes it most enjoyable.

The increasing amount of sugar Americans are craving may be turning into a learned behavior, the sweeter food is the sweeter we expect it to be.  Throughout generations this produces kids who love sweet breakfast cereal, who grow up to desire sugar in their morning coffee, sugary salad dressing at lunch, frozen meals with sugar, topped off with a bowl of ice cream. As our taste becomes increasingly accustom to high amounts of sugar we start to unconsciously expect it.

With consumption at rates 22 teaspoons of it a day, the American Heart Association suggested in 2009 that Americans  should cut their intake down to six teaspoons for adult women and nine for men. Although here is no specific national guideline for sugar consumption.  Nor is there a recommended maximum limit for the amount of sugar food producers use unlike salt and fat.  In 2004 when the WHO tried to include the 10% sugar limit recommendation in its Global Strategy for Diet, Physical Activity and Health, the U.S. Congress — under pressure from the sugar industry lobby — threatened to withdraw U.S. funding for the agency.

Sugar has come under fire previously in the late 70’s when the public became concerned about the amount of sugar in cereal and the FTC looked into regulating how TV advertising was aimed at kids.  Some cereal’s clock in at 50 percent sugar.  Soda consumption once was looked as the major culprit of the rising obesity numbers, but now the intake of other sugary drinks, like sports drinks, vitamin water, tea and others are just as bad.

Released earlier this year, this research is the first to link on a national level the amount of sugar American adults eat to their risk of dying from heart disease after taking into account weight, age, health, exercise and diet, said lead study author Quanhe Yang, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “The risk of cardiovascular disease death increases exponentially as you increase your consumption of added sugar,” says the study’s lead author, Quanhe Yang, a senior scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consuming too much added sugar — in regular soda, cakes, cookies and candy — increases your risk of death from heart disease, according to a new study, the largest of its type.Excessive sugar is a big contributing factor to the obesity epidemic in America and other countries across the world.  Weight gain is just the tip of the iceberg.  Obesity is correlated with increased risks for even worse conditions including diabetes 2 and heart disease.


How can we curb our desire for sugar?  Be conscious about the products were consuming, ultimately we are in charge of our health and can not be reliant on outside forces.  Start with breakfast, the quintessential breakfast dish accounted for 31 percent of Americans’ morning meals, beating out eggs, bagels and other pastries, according to an ABC poll.  Sugary drinks are also ill advised, even fruit juices  like the beloved orange and apple, because the majority of nutrients and fiber and left behind when its sweet nectar is cultivated.  We can’t expect food manufactures to be solely responsible for our health, they are in the business of making money and that is what they will do.  It’s not that gloomy through.  Campaigns are fighting for regulation and the lowering of additives.  Also the new nutrition labels, which we wont be seeing for a few years, with address the issue of added sugars and more prominently display the amount of sugar a product contains.

First Look at Changes for New Nutrition Labels

The FDA made it its goal earlier this year, previous post Changes to Out Date Nutrition Labels, to update the 20 year old nutrition facts panel.  The Nutrition Facts label was introduced in 1993 and since then the American diet has immensely changed.  As the rates of obesity, as well as other public health problems, rise to drastic highs many have blamed the food products we consume.  Michele Obama has been one of the leading voices for making a healthier America with the “Let’s Move” initiative.

What will the changes look like?  Michael Landa said, “The proposed new label is intended to bring attention to calories and serving sizes, which are important in addressing these problems. Further, we are now proposing to require the listing of added sugars. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing calories from added sugars and solid fats,” director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

What will be different? Proposed vs old.


  • emphasis and bold in some areas like calories & serving size
  • no more calories from fat
  • update Daily Values
  • amount of potassium & Vitamin D will be required
  • update serving size to reflect what is typically eaten
  • & more

This proposal has not entered a 90 day public waiting period for comments.  After the 90-day comment period, the FDA will issue a final ruling. They hope to complete that process within a year. Manufacturers will have 2 years to get the new labels on packages.

What’s in That Deli Meat, and is it Good For You?

Research  has shown a links between processed meat consumption and premature death.  This particular researcher found a link between processed meat consumption and increased chance of early death, especially from hotdogcardiovascular disease and cancer. Deli meats are been under critique of whether their good or bad for quite awhile.

So what is processed meats?  Generally anything that is cut and then ground.   The term typically refers to meats (usually red meats) preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Ham, bacon, pastrami, salami and bologna are processed meats.  As well as sausages, hot dogs, bratwursts and frankfurters. Few studies have defined processed meat to include turkey and chicken slices.

processed-meatMore research is necessary before any conclusion can be made on whether processed meat is safe because their is a variety of aspects like the smoking process in smoked meats, the salt, and the fat.  In the mean time be more cautious about the amount of processed meat you consume and try switching it out for white meat that you slice yourself.

Become more knowledgeable about what your putting on your sandwich.  The main three things you need to watch out for are:

  • sodium
  • nitrates (jury is still kinda out about these, nitrates can react with amines that occur in some types of food which then form carcinogens.  But otherwise nitrates are generally harmless to your body)
  • saturated fat

Subway healthy?

Last week Subway announced that it will spend $41 million over three years to encourage young eaters to eat more produce.  They have aliened with the First Lady in her campaign to promote healthier eating and lifestyles through the Partnership for a Healthier America nonprofit organization.  Subways changes will only affect their kid’s menu to mirror federal standards for school lunch.  That includes offering apples on the side and low-fat or nonfat plain milk or water as a default beverage.  This is a commendable step in the right direction, but it’s aimed at kids.  What do adults think of their “healthy” Subway meals? They must be pretty supportive because Subway was one of the Best-Perceived Brands of 2013 according to AdWeek.

Which leads us to my favorite topic “Health Halos”.  A product that is marketed as being low fat, natural, whole grain and so on cause people to underestimate the calories and overestimate the health value of the product.  The same thing can happen with a food dish.  One perceives a salad as a restaurant to be healthy because it is a salad when in actuality many salads have as many calories as any other main course.  I’m going to pause there, calories are necessary but I’m talking about extremely high and from bad sources like fatty dressing.  The effect goes even further than what food we choose to eat, also where we choose to get it from.  Subway’s low-fat advertising cause a significant halo effect.  “People who eat at McDonald’s know their sins, ” Dr. Chandon said, “but people at Subway think that a 1,000-calorie sandwich has only 500 calories.”  This does not mean that you have to give up your beloved subs,  Dr. Chandon suggests that you simply take health halos into account.

This healthy perception even spills over into side dishes consumers choose.  “Even though the Subway sandwich had more calories than the Big Mac, the people ordering it were more likely to add a large nondiet soda and cookies to the order.  So while they may have felt virtuous, they ended up with meals averaging 56 percent more calories than the meals ordered from McDonald’s.”

The popularity and emphasis of healthier foods is on the rise simultaneously while there is an increase in obesity – the American obesity paradox.  “Consumers estimate that familiar sandwiches and burgers contain up to 35% fewer calories when they come from restaurants claiming to be healthy, such as Subway, than when they come from restaurants not making this claim, such as McDonald’s” (Chandon and Wansink 2007).

“People are more likely to underestimate the caloric content of main dishes and to choose higher-calorie side dishes, drinks, or desserts when fast-food restaurants claim to be healthy (e.g., Subway) compared to when they do not (e.g., McDonald’s)” Chadon and Wansink 2007.

So next time you choose what restaurant to go to picking one that is perceived to be healthy isn’t enough to ensure you eat a healthy meal, you also have to be conscious of the type of marketing they throw at you and choose a meal that is healthy.  I have based a large part of my arguments on a study done by Brain Wansink and Pierre Chadon’s research that you can read here.

Yogurt: Superfood or Marketing Hype?

Greek yogurt has takeHE_strawberry-Greek-yogurt_s4x3n over the yogurt scene. Its sales have more than doubled over the past years, according to Euromonitor International.  There are so many brands creating new lines, how is one to know what they should choose?  Notably, since there is no government regulations of what can be labeled “Greek“.

Yogurt, especially Greek is categorized as a healthy food because it has double the amount of protein than traditional yogurt, great nutritious content, probiotics, calcium, potassium, magnesium and others when plain, but what about when it is flavored. Food producers have capitalized on the healthy perception of yogurt and are trying to promote it to become a larger part of the American lifestyle.

There are several trends that have produced the on going yogurt wars.  The desire for better health and healthier, superior food products has prompted food producers to great creative.  “Brands are looking for new ways to continue driving consumption, private label supply is tight but growing,” said Chris Solly CEO of Ehrmann USA,  “it is clear that brands need to bring true innovation to the category to maintain consumer interest.”  Consumers will see some new advertisements from yogurt producers this year during the Super Bowl.  Dannon will be showing ads during Super Bowl to make up for some loss ground that Chobani gained this past year when it took over the yogurt scene as America’s number-one yogurt brand.  “2014 is the year of the yogurt wars,” said McGuinness, Chobani’s chief marketing officer.  Chobani will also be showing its own ad:

In order to go beyond breakfast, food producers have explored other areas like dessert to sell more products.  Dozens of different flavors have hit the shelves, but are they sill nutritious? Flavors such Apple Pie, Caramel Macchiato, or Vanilla Chocolate Chuck are obviously going to be sweeter but even fruits like peach, strawberry, and blueberry can contain much more sugar than plain.  Not all yogurts are equal.  Both Dannon and Chobani make claims that they produce healthy products.  Even though Chobani markets itself as being “natural” consumers still have to watch out for added sugars.  Yes, evaporated cane juice is natural but it’s still added sugar, I’m looking at you Chobani.

Flavored Greek yogurt can contain as much sugar as 15 to 25 grams per serving.  The better option is to choose plain and add your own fresh fruit or drizzle of honey.  If you still prefer flavored yogurt, registered dietitian Maria Bella recommends making your choice based on the ingredients list; the first three ingredients should be milk, live and active cultures, and fruit, sugar should come near the end of the list.   Next time you purchase yogurt check out the nutrition label, that my be changing soon, and try to pick one out that has a lower sugar content.  Check out these myths about Greek yogurts so you can be more informed next time you go shopping.

Changes To Out Of Date Nutrition Labels

imagesThe use of nutrition labels has changed over the past twenty years, where as the products that they are posted on have drastically changed forms.  It wasn’t until 1990 that food producers were required on most prepared and packaged food.  Much more prepared packaged food has been lining the shelves of  grocery stores.  Notably over the past few years consumers have become more vested in what exactly they are putting into their bodies. A study done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed a sinificant rise in the percentage of working-age adults who look at labels either most of the time or always when shopping, up from 34% in 2007 to 42% as well as from 51% of Americans older than 68 to 57%.

The Food and Drug Association has announced that it will be updating nutrition labels, though any specific details are unknown at this time.  The FDA said that knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years, and the labels need to reflect that.  Guidelines have been sent to the White House but it is unknown when they might been released.  Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said the FDA has been working on this issue for a decade.

A few popular suggested changes by health advocates include
Emphasize calorie counts
Put added sugar on its own line
clearer definition of serving size
added percentage of whole wheat
clearer measurements, getting rid of grams

It is not clear what changes the FDA could decide on but it is clear that changes needed to be made.  Hopefully changes will be made as soon as possible so consumers can become more knowledgeable about what type of products they are consuming.