Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Making Sense of School Lunch


"Every child Needs a Good School Lunch&qu...

“Every child Needs a Good School Lunch” – NARA – 514223 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



This is a great article on how we can introduce healthier food for school lunches.  The key here is to get the kids involved.  The article showcases a lot of great ideas from one person named Shelly who really knows what she is doing – we need more of them.  Kudos to her.





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Probiotics and Prebiotics

diagram of a human digestive system

diagram of a human digestive system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep your digestive system healthy by controlling growth of harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the human body. They are food for probiotics. The primary benefit of probiotics and prebiotics appears to be helping you maintain a healthy digestive system. There is no food that contains both but it is advisable to provide both together in the diet or take a supplement containing both.

One of the best sources of probiotics is yogurt. It has good bacteria like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria,  shown to be able to moderately withstand stomach acid.  Look for “live or active cultures” on the label to be sure your favorite brand of yogurt is a rich source of probiotics.  Other good food sources are sauerkraut, miso soup, fermented, soft cheeses (like Gouda), and even sourdough bread. The common feature of all these foods is fermentation, a process that produces probiotics.  Foods rich in prebiotics include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes.

Taking probiotics with food or with dairy products may help to lessen the destructive effects of stomach acid  before they reach the small and large intestines. Food and dairy products help to buffer the stomach acid to a reasonable pH so that the highest  possible  number of probiotic organisms can survive.



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It’s Still All Fast Food

Fast Food

Fast Food (Photo credit: Awais JIBRAN)

The fast food industry seems to be trending toward more quality and healthier choices when it comes to consumer acceptance.  This sounds like good news but we must go further and demand menu choices with less sodium, fat, and sugar and still taste good.  Quite an order, but there is hope?



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The Diet Mentality


What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French have had one of the lowest obesity rates in the world and when their eating habits are studied, one of the major ones that stands out is that the French don’t traditionally diet, at least with the vengeance that Americans do when attacking weight gain. However, this is changing unfortunately due to a lack of adherence to their traditional diets. Currently about 1 in 10 French people are obese and almost 40% are overweight (including the obese)

According to Will Clower, PhD and author of The French Don’t Diet Plan:10 Simple Steps to Stay Thin for Life, “the French love their food, but not the way Americans do. In America, we confuse enjoyment of food with over-consumption.” The result: only 39% of Americans claim to greatly enjoy eating, compared to 90% in France.

The current diet mentality of Americans is:

It is impossible to be fit and fat at the same time.
All large people must lose weight in order to be healthy and fit.
All large people are in poor health.
Everyone can lose weight if they just follow the proper diet and regular exercise program.
The main reason people regain weight is their failure to comply with prescribed diets or make long-term commitments to weight loss.

All of the above are false.

Dieting makes you fat”. This was a title of a book written in the UK in 1983. It was dedicated to “the scores of millions of people in the West who are fatter than they want to be, who have tried dieting, who have found that dieting does not work, and who want to know why”. This was among the first books written on non-dieting weight control.

The legacy of the book is not its content; it presented a new way of looking at body weight and its accompanying paradox by suggesting that a behavior (diet) intended to facilitate weight loss actually has the opposite effect. Subsequent research has shown that dieting is associated with negative outcomes such as increases in anxiety and depression, cognitive performance deficits, increased risk of eating disorders, and even increased morbidity and mortality,

The size of the diet industry has grown commensurate with the rise in obesity. Most of the products produced by this industry are viewed as being ineffective and to be truthful, a company that marketed products that are safe and effective would commit financial suicide eventually from a business standpoint – no more customers. The diet industry is one of the several major and global concerns, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and the food industry itself, that make a profit out of obesity, according to Marion Nestle, author of “Food Politics”.

There is such as thing as a “diet mentality paradox” in that in a recent study in the Journal of Obesity, normal weight teenagers were more likely to be overweight 10 years later if they thought of themselves as overweight to begin with. Another earlier study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that kids who feel fat are more likely to be fat years later. Dieting creates a perfect storm of restrictive eating patterns that cannot be maintained, along with feelings of shame and guilt. This leads eventually to “fall off the wagon” leading to weight gain.

There may be several reasons why this occurs. Often stress hormones are blamed. These hormones can wreak havoc when we are stressed or anxious with “feeling fat”. Another culprit is dieting itself in that the act is basically a self-destructive pattern of thinking and behaving.

More recently, “Health At Every Size” (HAES) is a non-diet program to managing weight using a mindful-based eating approach. It promotes self-esteem and body acceptance and supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being, rather than weight control. Using some common sense, maybe we ought to try to break this dieting pattern that has become so prevalent in our society or maybe we ought to decide to re-think this whole diet mentality thing and substitute a healthy mentality instead

This topic is further discussed in a previous post. 

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In some countries, milk and cereal grains are ...

In some countries, milk and cereal grains are fortified with vitamin D. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How much do you know about vitamins and minerals?  Do you know how to find them in foods and how much you need.  A recent report says that fortified foods may pose some health risks by providing too many of them at toxic levels especially in children.  Take the quiz below and check the answers below.


1.  Which of the following vitamins is water-soluble?  Circle all that apply.

a. vitamin A

b. vitamin C

c. vitamin B6

d. vitamin K

e. folic acid


2. Vitamin D is:

a. a hormone

b. made in your body with the help of sunight

c. found in fortified milk

d. all of the above

e. a and b only

3. You are enjoying a salad bar lunch.  You want to top your greens with vitamin-E rich foods.  You could choose:

a. olive and vinegar

b. chopped nuts

c.  avocado slices

d. all of the above

e. none of the above

4.  Beta-carotene is converted to which vitamin in the body?

a.  niacin

b.  riboflavin

c.  vitamin A

d.  vitamin K

e.  none of the above

5. A deficiency of niacin can cause:

a. rickets

b. beriberi

c. pellagra

d. scurvy

e. osteomalacia

6.  Which of the following are considered antioxidants?

a.  vitamin E

b.  vitamin K

c.  beta-carotene

d.  all of the above

e.  a and c only

7.  You are 55 years old (hypothetically) Which of the following would you might have trouble absorbing?

a.  The vitamin B12 in a piece of steak .

b. The vitamin B6 in liver.

c. The folate in spinach.

d.  The riboflavin in milk.

e.  The thiamin in bread.

8.  You are having raisin bran cereal with skim milk and a glass of orange juice for breakfast. The vitamin C in the orange juice will enhance the absorption of:

a.  the  calcium in milk

b. the vitamin D in fortified milk

c.  the iron in the cereal

d.  none of the above

e.  a and b only

9.  Folic acid can help reduce the risk of:

a.  acne

b.  neural tube defects

c.  night blindness

d. osteoporosis

e.  none of the above

10.  The USP seal on a supplement label means that it has been tested and show to:

a.  be free of contaminants .

b.  be manufactured using safe and sanitary procedures.

c.  contain the amount of the substance that is stated on the label.

d. all of the above.

e. a and b only.


1.  (b, c, e) Vitamins A and K are fat-soluble.

2.  (d)

3.  (d) Go for all of them.

4.  (c)  Beta-carotene is a provitamin found in yellow-red pigments in fruits and vegetables.

5.  (c)

6.  (e)  Vitamin K helps blood to clot.

7.  (a)  Some people over 50 have  reduced stomach acid required for B12 absorption.

8.  (c)  Vitamin D can help calcium absorption

9.  (b)  Need to consume prior to and first few weeks of pregnancy.

10. (d)









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Mediterranean Diet For Kids?

Mediterranean diet

Mediterranean diet (Photo credit: Fabio Trifoni)

The Mediterranean Diet to the rescue of our overweight kids.    Too bad the people of the Mediterranean countries are drifting away from their traditional healthy foods.  Check out a previous post here.


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Fish Oil Supplements?

Another problem for the diet supplement industry is in the news.  Apparently, studies are continuing to demonstrate that fish oil supplements do not help heart health or prevent heart disease.  In other research news, the original hypothesis that a diet high in omega-3 fats in the Inuit Eskimos was based on misinformation about the heart disease rates in this population. even though their diets consisted of high omega-3 content from whale blubber.    The original conclusion from studies by two Danish researchers, Bang and Dyberberg originally stated that the Inuit Eskimo population had low rates of cardiac disease when it appears after revisiting the data, they had higher rates of heart disease when compared to non-Inuit Greenlanders.  For that report, CLICK HERE.

Diet supplement - omega 3 fish oil-based

Diet supplement – omega 3 fish oil-based (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the 1980′s, it was proposed that fish oil was also cancer protective, namely breast cancer.  However, my own research casts doubt on this hypothesis.  We found that  when female rats were fed a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids (as menhaden oil)  compared to a high percentage of omega-6 fatty acids (as corn oil), there was no significant differences in breast tumor formation between the two groups.  We were surprised at this finding  after reading previous research studies claiming otherwise.  The study was repeated and the same results occurred – no differences.

These reports do not address the effects of eating fish in the diet but only target fish oil supplements.  Omega-3 fatty acids ( alpha linolenic acid) and  omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid are considered essential nutrients.  That means we cannot make these nutrients in the body and we must obtain them from dietary sources.  They are necessary for forming cell membranes, immune system function and vision, and produce hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids.  Still, we need to consume only about 1-2% of our total energy intake from essential fatty acids.  On a 2500 calorie diet, that corresponds to 1 tablespoon of  plant oil each day.  It is often suggested  we consume omega-6/omega 3 fats in a 2:1 ratio.  Generally,  a lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies.,

We also need to consume a regular intake of  alpha-linolenic  acid from flax seeds and walnuts to help make eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanenoic acid (DHA), two related omega-3 compounds.  To obtain EPA and DHA pre-formed we need a regular fish consumption of salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, white fish, wild trout, or halibut twice a week.  Mussels, crab, and shrimp are lesser but additional sources.

Studies have suggested that eating omega-3 fatty acids from fish a couple of times a week can lower blood triglycerides in people with high concentrations. They are also suspected to help in managing the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis and may help with some behavioral disorders and depression.

So, bottom line:  Get your omega-3 fatty acids from food, not supplements for now.




Artificial Sweetener Dangers?

diet coke, diet soda, diet pepsi, diet drinks

English: Diet Coke Products

English: Diet Coke Products (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to think that a diet drink was harmless but no more.  I must admit to consuming one for breakfast (shameful for a nutritionist), but that habit stopped years ago.  Now I am extra glad I did.  No one knows just how many of these drinks contribute to metabolic derangement including diabetes type 2 discussed in the article below.  I just received a research briefing from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network with the following news:  “Up to two-thirds of pancreatic cancer patients experience the onset of diabetes in the three years prior to their cancer diagnosis.” Therefore, it may be prudent to check your intake and limit them considerably, i.e., moderation, moderation, moderation!



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