Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kids' Food Hardly Friendly

news you may not knowDefinitely Off Limits...

There are certain things in this life that should be beyond the reach of marketers. Sure, marketers have their place. How else will we figure out we really can't make a peanut butter sandwich without a special peanut butter spreading instrument? Seems the old knife we've been using bruises the delicate peanut butter, leaving us with less than an optimal PBJ. Who knew?

But, there are limits - and there should be rules.

Rule #1: Kids are off limits.

Rule #2: If you break Rule #1, at least tell the truth.

Rule #3: If you break both Rule #1 and Rule #2 you should be flogged in the public square.

Researchers from the University of Calgary recently found the rules are a shambles. Marketers promoting foods that target kids routinely make false claims. In all, an amazing 89 percent of poor quality foods instead claimed they were healthy.

So, what did the foods claiming healthy properties actually provide kids? Well, the big winner was sugar. Close to 70 percent of the foods derived the majority of their calories from the white menace. The other major offenders were fat and sodium. On the semi-bright side, 11 percent of the foods lived up to their claims and actually provided valuable nutrition.

"We included food products and packaging that were presented in such a way that children were the clear target audience," explained Charlene Elliott, a University of Calgary professor.

...Let the flogging commence.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about healthy nutrition for kids, see this from

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pregnancy and Peanut Butter

tidbits that tantalizeFriend or Foe?

What's a mother to do? Or, more specifically, what's an expectant mother to do? About diet, that is. A recent study showed that expectant moms who eat a Mediterranean diet help protect their children from allergies. A Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. It all sounds pretty good, and it will certainly be healthy for the mom. But, as is often the case, a new study has a bit of a different take.

The newest study, from a team of Dutch researchers, says expectant moms should be careful about eating nuts. They asked over 4,000 pregnant women to complete detailed dietary questionnaires at the beginning of the study to assess their eating habits. They then followed their children through the next eight years to see who developed asthma. The results pointed to a strong association between expectant moms eating nuts and their children developing asthma.

"We were pretty surprised to see the adverse associations between daily versus rare nut product consumption during pregnancy and symptoms of asthma in children, because we haven't seen this in similar previous studies," said the study's lead author, Saskia Willers from Utrecht University.

The primary culprit may be the peanut. Peanuts are a healthy food. They contain monounsaturated fats, which are especially beneficial to heart health. They are also an excellent source of antioxidants, and a good source of niacin, folate, vitamin E, protein, and manganese. But, they're also high on the list of foods that may cause allergic reactions.

The key may be in moderation. The researchers found that women who ate nuts on a daily basis, a peanut butter sandwich for example, had children with higher rates of asthma. But, the children of those who ate nuts only occasionally fared much better. "It's important for pregnant women to eat healthily, and what is true for many foods is that too much is never good," said Willers.

Two studies, two semi-conflicting results. Don't you love science?

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the dastardly and delicious peanut, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, July 25, 2008

An Alternative to Statins?

news you may not know Is This Really The Best Way?

Medicine is a fabulous blessing - most of the time. But, in this modern age of convenience, it can also be somewhat of a curse. We're in a consumer-oriented culture and medicine is often the prime enabler. So, instead of actually paying attention to our health, we scan the Internet for the latest quick fix. Or, if we don't have the energy to turn on the computer, we simply flip on the television and wait for the drug companies to do their advertising thing.

Problem solved.

We get on the phone, set an appointment with our doctor, and ask for the latest wonder drug to cure what ails us. But, what if what ails us is really better cared for by a swift kick in the rear? A kick that forces us off the couch, out the front door and down the sidewalk? Yikes - yes, it is a radical approach.

Consider the epidemic of high cholesterol. Now, of course, there are some who are genetically predisposed to having high cholesterol. They really need statin medications. But, most folks can control their cholesterol as easily as they can control their forks. Oops - therein lies the problem.

So, statins may help, but they come at a cost. There's the actual cost of the medication but, more importantly, there's the potential side effects to consider. Liver functions need to be checked on a routine basis. Other possible side effects include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, muscle weakness, and many more.

A recent study indicates there may be a natural alternative: fish oil and red yeast rice. The study compared a group taking a standard statin drug with a group taking fish oil and red yeast rice supplements. The fish oil/red yeast group fared better, after a 3-month trial, than the statin group. They had lower LDL levels and also lower levels of triglycerides.

So, what do you have to lose? Get active, eat right and exercise. Chances are you won't have a problem with cholesterol. But, if you do, think carefully before using a statin. The fish oil and red yeast rice combo may be a terrific alternative.

To read more about the study, see this from the Mayo Clinic. To learn more about red yeast rice, see this from

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Losing Weight by Taking Notes

news you may not knowThe Dynamic Duo...

Sometimes we find help in the oddest ways. Having trouble getting started on a project? Just tell a friend about it and, the next thing you know, you're knee-deep in paint and plaster. It's the old accountability issue. When we tell someone our plans, they expect us to follow through. Or, maybe they could care less - maybe it's just us...

That really may be the case - especially when it comes to weight loss.

A new study reveals that the simple act of writing down what we eat helps us lose weight. Not being forced to tell people about our diets; not having to show them our notes; just the simple act of writing down our food intake for our own eyes. Pretty amazing.

The study assessed almost 1,700 people, with an average age of 55. All participants were asked to eat less fat, eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. They were also encouraged to exercise a total of 180 minutes each week, with walking being the primary activity.

The good news is that all participants lost weight. But, there was a difference. The group who just ate better and exercised more lost an average of 9 pounds over 6 months. The group who added in keeping a food diary lost twice as much - a cool 18 pounds on average.

Researchers say the simple act of making a note about what we eat causes us to pay attention. It also helps us identify times when we tend to overeat. Even if our food diary consists of the back of a napkin.

So, go ahead and keep your diet plans to yourself. But, keep a pencil and pad handy. It seems the power of the pen is weighty indeed.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To see a sample of a simple food diary, see this from

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekends Add Weight

tidbits that tantalize Looks Like Saturday...

Ah, weekends...

We love weekends, especially when the weather turns nice. It's a great opportunity to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air, maybe take in a ballgame or a walk in the park. Flowers are out in force, local neighborhoods sponsor art fairs and, even though winter's fabulous, people seem to smile more during weekends in the spring. And, of course, there's the food...

That, sadly, may be the problem.

A study from Washington University School of Medicine tells a bitter tale about weekends. It appears that weekends, during all seasons, are fraught with danger for dieters. "We thought weekends would present a problem for some people attempting to lose weight, but the consistency of our finding before and during the interventions was surprising," says first author Susan B. Racette, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical therapy and of medicine.

The study followed 48 adults for a one-year period to see how weekends impacted weight loss. One group reduced their daily caloric intake by 20 percent; a second group increased their daily physical activity by 20 percent; the third group consisted of the designated slackers, changing neither their caloric intake nor their daily exercise.

All participants maintained diaries to track food intake and record exercise. The results were quite telling. The calorie-restricted group ate enough extra food on the weekends to stop losing weight. So, they were simply in a holding pattern throughout the weekends. The exercise group fared even worse. This group took in enough additional calories they actually gained weight during the weekends.

"People on diets often don't lose as much weight as we would expect, and this finding helps to explain why," said Racette.

So, enjoy the glorious weekends and all they have to offer. But, if you want to maintain your weight loss, be especially diligent. Oh, yes. The foot long chili cheese dogs at the ballpark - probably not the best idea.

To read more about the study, see this from Washington University in St. Louis. To learn more about eating healthy, natural foods, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Eat Less, Live Longer

tidbits that tantalizeYou Should be Thinking Apple...

It seems a bit odd, really. The very fuel you need to keep your body running may also be the culprit that shortens your life. Food, that is. Even real, healthy food. The issue appears to be the quantity you consume. And, new research shows that sometimes less is better.

Researchers at Saint Louis University wanted to find out if calorie restriction would be beneficial for humans. Previous studies have shown that mice placed on a calorie-restricted diet are healthier and live longer. If the same were true in humans it would be big news.

They studied non-smoking men and women, between the ages of 50 and 60, who were in slightly less than ideal physical condition, but were free of cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and diabetes. The study divided the participants into 3 study groups: a calorie-restricted group, an exercise group, and a control group. Yes, the control group made no lifestyle changes, continuing on their hapless pursuit of whatever struck their fancy.

Calorie restriction works.

The researchers found that both the calorie-restricted group and the exercise group lost similar amounts of body fat. But, the calorie-restricted group also showed a lower level of the thyroid hormone T3. The scientists have theorized that restricting calories lowers the T3 levels, which results in a lower metabolism and a slower rate of aging for the body's tissues.

The calorie restriction was 300 to 500 calories per day. Certainly doable. Further studies need to be completed to confirm these findings, and to confirm the role of T3 in the process.

A couple of notes. The researchers believe calorie restriction may not only help you live longer, but may help protect against a host of illnesses. This is good news. But, there are cautions to be considered as well. The scientists point out that because calorie restriction lowers the metabolism it may place the individual at greater risk of weight gain in the future. A lower metabolic rate simply means burning fewer calories. This is not the case with weight loss achieved through exercise.

Other studies have also shown that weight loss achieved through calorie restriction takes a toll on your muscle mass. But, weight loss achieved through exercise actually helps improve muscle tone.

So, the bottom line is to find the right balance. A little less food, a little more exercise, a good night's rest - now you're talking...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about the calorie restriction lifestyle, see this from The Calorie Restriction Society.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Software Lets Blind Use Any Computer

tidbits that tantalizeI Hear You Now...

Just as we left the pad and pencil behind, we're quickly moving away from the desktop computer. Mobile devices are the future tools of communication, with instant access on-the-go being the new standard. But, what happens when the only way you can access the Web is through the software on your existing desktop? Most blind people are in this situation, relying on screen reading software to interpret the online content and then read it aloud.

No more.

A University of Washington professor and doctoral student have devised a fabulous new program that offers the blind computing mobility. The key to the program it that the screen reading program itself is Web-based. That means the blind can access it from any computer, anytime, anywhere.

"This is for situations where someone who's blind can't use their own computer but still wants access to the Internet. At a museum, at a library, at a public kiosk, at a friend's house, at the airport," said Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering.

The program is free and is being hosted on a server at the University of Washington. Though currently only available to read online content in English, the Chinese have expressed interest in developing a version for their use.

This is terrific news. The blind can now also leave their pad and pencil behind, and become full participants in the mobility movement.

To read more about the software, see this from ScienceDaily. To access the software, and read a full discussion of its development, see this from WebInSight.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Parents and Tweens Tackle Obesity

news you may not knowOne Step at a Time...

It's the age of convenience and, generally, that's quite a good thing. No more laborious walking back and forth to the television to channel surf. No slicing and dicing real food to prepare a meal - just grab a cardboard box from the freezer and toss it in the microwave. Need to vacuum? Not a problem. Let the RoboVac take care of it while you sip a nice chamomile tea.

But, is there a downside to all this convenience?


Comfort related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease are skyrocketing. Obesity is out of control and, not wanting to miss the party, our kids are right in the middle of the fray. This easy living routine has been brutal on the health of children, with 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 being overweight or obese. That's over 9 million of our future teachers, doctors, truck drivers and grocers who are already at risk.

A new program, launched by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office on Women's Health, is determined to change this bleak situation. They initiated BodyWorks in 2006 to help families deal with obesity in "tween" girls, ages 9 to 13.

The unique aspect of BodyWorks is involving the entire family in the process. This is not a diet for the obese girls, but a lifestyle-training course for all involved. HHS has trained 1,700 BodyWorks instructors, who will now take the program back to their local communities. Through referrals, or word of mouth, families enroll in the BodyWorks program. The program is a 10-week educational effort, with each session lasting 90 minutes. Parents are expected to attend all 10 sessions, and the girls at least three.

The BodyWorks program teaches parents and tweens how to make better food choices at the grocery, and encourages them to become more active. That's it - it's really that simple. As the girls make healthier lifestyle choices they automatically lose weight.

So, if you'd like the convenience of spending your future years somewhere other than the doctor's office, take some simple steps today. Try some real food - like fruits and vegetables. And ditch the television remote control. You'll be so irritated by getting up and down to change the channels, it may just motivate you to take a real walk.

To read a synopsis of the program, see this from Reuters. To get the complete details, see this from BodyWorks.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mom's Prenatal Diet Protects Kids From Allergies

tidbits that tantalizeGood For Both of You...

You knew it would happen sooner or later. It's all part of being pregnant, and that seemed OK. You just didn't expect your fetus to be such a picky eater. You thought those demands would at least wait until she was born. But, apparently not - she's decided she prefers the Mediterranean diet and wants you start today...

Ah, kids. They make incredible demands on your time, your energy and even your appetites. And, new research shows they may bear the fruit of your culinary choices for many years to come.

A team of scientists in Greece, at the University of Crete, studied the impact of the Mediterranean diet on the offspring of pregnant women. They found the children of mothers who ate a Mediterranean diet while pregnant were less likely to develop allergies.

The team followed 460 women and their children from pregnancy through 6 years of age. Children were less likely to develop wheezing if their moms ate eight or more servings of veggies each week. They were also less likely to do so if their moms ate three or more fish servings each week.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. It minimizes red meats and relies on small amounts of white meats, while also minimizing the intake of diary and eggs. Previous studies have shown the Mediterranean diet has tremendous health benefits for adults, particularly for the cardiovascular system.

The scientists suspect the Mediterranean diet's high levels of antioxidants, as well as the healthy omega-3 fats, may be responsible for protecting children from developing allergies.

So, it appears you'll just have to get used to it. But, look on the bright side. Your child's insistence that you eat the Mediterranean diet will add years to your life - there'll be plenty of time to plot your revenge.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the Mediterranean diet, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Coffee Does a Girl Good

tidbits that tantalizeWant a Cup?

Yes, of course we know life is not fair - for both sexes. Scan the news and easy examples explode off the page - er, the computer screen - to support your claim of being mistreated. But, what happens when the culprit is the scientist? Hmm...

A new study points to the beneficial nature of coffee consumption - if you're a woman. Sorry guys, no love for you today. The study analyzed the data from over 84,000 women, who had participated in the Nurses' Health Study, and almost 42,000 men who had participated in the Health Professional Follow-up Study.

The participants, who were all free of cancer and heart disease at the onset, completed a baseline questionnaire. They then completed new questionnaires every two to four years, answering lifestyle and health related questions.

The women fared quite well.

The analysis showed that women who drank coffee had a lower risk of death. Those who drank two to three cups each day were 25 percent less likely to die from heart disease than their abstaining counterparts. They were also 18 percent less likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period, which covered a span of 24 years. Those are impressive figures.

The men, though they thoroughly enjoyed their java, reaped no such benefit. The analysis showed no difference in the risk of death between the partakers and the abstainers.

Of note is the fact that caffeine seems to be a non-factor. The researchers found no difference between the effect of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.

So - if you're a woman - enjoy. If you're a guy, well - you know the old saying about life and fairness...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about coffee, see this from National Geographic.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sunshine Provides Life Saving Vitamin D

news you may not know It's a Powerhouse...

To sun or not to sun? It may depend on whether you've watched the news in the past ten years - the sun has gotten a terrible rap. Of course, much of the concern about exposure to the sun's damaging rays is well founded. The carefree days of spending hours on a hot beach, ever-so-carefully bronzing your body to the perfect shade of baked, are far behind us now.

But, what about the sun - does it offer any real benefit?

It seems the answer is a sizzling yes! Exposure to the sun allows our bodies to synthesize vitamin D. This little vitamin has been shown to be a real powerhouse in the health department. It fosters healthy bones, strong muscles and a potent immune system. Some studies even indicate it may play a role in fighting cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Recent studies point once again to the importance of adequate vitamin D levels: "But new research is now raising our awareness about the possible relationships between vitamin D and cancer, particularly colorectal, breast, ovarian and prostate cancers," said Victoria Drake, a research associate in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. There are also potential links to cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis."

The research team points out that as many as one billion people worldwide may be vitamin D deficient. Yes, that's billion, with a B. Other studies have shown vitamin D deficiency is not limited to northern climates, where the winter conditions mean less sun. Even natives of Hawaii have been found to be deficient.

Also in question is the most beneficial dose - many believe it is actually several times the recommended 200 international units (I.U.) per day. The elderly, and African Americans, are especially at risk. A recent study found 42 percent of African American women to be vitamin D deficient. Another study found vitamin D deficiency to be "a major unrecognized epidemic in the older adult population."

What's the solution?

Well, some common sense to start. Get a little bit of sunshine each week. Be sensible - aim for 10 to 15 minutes three times per week, preferably between 11a.m. and 2 p.m. Then, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, add a vitamin D supplement: 400 I.U. up until the age of 50, then 800 I.U. after that.

So, go ahead - open the door and take a peek outside. Yeah, it's all coming back, isn't it? Enjoy...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about vitamin D, see this from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Have a Happy - and SAFE - Fourth of July

tidbits that tantalizeBe Careful Out There...

Holidays are great fun. There's family and food, time away from work, and maybe even time for a ballgame or an art fair. What could be better?

Well - the best thing is to come out the other side of the holiday in one piece. That's especially true when it comes to the Fourth of July. Fireworks are spectacular to watch. The never-ending surprise as the sky bursts into dazzling reds, blues, and yellows is terrific. Kids and adults are universal gaspers, filled with sheer delight.


Every year thousands of people are treated at the emergency room for fireworks-related injuries. Over 30 percent of these injuries are caused by illegal or homemade fireworks. Hardly worth saving a couple dollars to risk blowing your finger off.

So, go ahead - enjoy the Fourth and all it has to offer. Fireworks included. But, use your head and put safety first.

Have a fabulous Fourth - regular blogs will begin again on the 7th.

To learn more about fireworks safety, see this from The National Council on Fireworks Safety.