Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The Glycemic Index/Load: What is the Difference?

The glycemic response is defined as the rate, magnitude and duration of the rise in blood glucose that occurs after a particular food or meal is consumed. It is affected by the amount of carbohydrate amount and type and the fat and protein in the food. Refined sugars and starches generally cause a greater glycemic response than unrefined carbohydrates that contain fiber. The presence of fat and protein also slows stomach emptying. For example, ice cream is high in sugar, but also contains fat and protein, so it causes a smaller rise in blood glucose than sorbet high in sugar but with less fat or protein.

This response can be quantified by its glycemic index (GI) defined as a ranking of the effect on blood glucose of a food of a certain carbohydrate content relative to an equal amount of carbohydrate from a reference food such as white bread or glucose.

The glycemic load (GL)  is a method of assessing the glycemic response that takes into account both the glycemic index of the food and the amount of carbohydrate in a typical portion. To calculate the GL, the grams of carbohydrate in a serving of food are multiplied by that food’s GI expressed as a percentage. For example, watermelon has a high GI of 70, but a much lower GL of 4.  The use of the glycemic load gives us a more true measure of its impact on the glycemic response. This tool is not very practical to use daily; however,  the concept is useful to understand  the impact of carbohydrate foods on blood glucose levels.

A glycemic load of:

  • 20 or more is high,
  • 11 to 19 is medium
  • 10 or under is low


Source: Smolin and Grosvenor, Nutrtiion, Science and Applications, Third Edition.

For a list of the GI and GL of 100 foods, CLICK HERE.





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Here’s to Health?

Everyone wants to eat “healthier.”  The hype is often promoted by the food industry with heath claims on all their products they can possibly get away with. But what is the truth? No one knows for sure, but there are some foods that have gained this reputation with some degree of respect. Here they are.


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FDA Health Claims: Are They Carved in Stone?

Food and supplement labels are permitted by the FDA to include a number of health claims if they are relevant to the product. They are designed to help consumers choose products that that may have a relationship to reducing a risk for a particular disease or health related condition. These statements or claims must meet one of the following requirements:

  1. The first is the most stringent. These are called Authorized Health Claims: Based on Significant Scientific Agreement. An example: Calcium intake and calcium and vitamin D and the risk of osteoporosis.
  2. The claim should be based on a statement of support from an appropriate scientific body, e.g. the National Academy  of Sciences, and called Authorized Health Claims: Based on Authoritative Statement  Example: Whole grain foods and the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
  3. When there is emerging but not well-established evidence for a reduced risk of a disease, they are called Qualified Health Claims. These must be accompanied by a statement explaining this so they do not mislead the consumer.

Source: Smolin and Grosvenor, Nutrition: Science and Application, Third Edition

However, these claims are not carved in stone. Recently the FDA is re-examining the once established claim about soy protein.

FDA may revoke soy protein/heart disease health claim

The FDA is proposing to revoke the currently authorized claim that consuming soy protein reduces the risk of heart disease. FDA-authorized health claims are intended to reflect well-established relationships based on the most robust level of scientific evidence. To date, 12 such claims have been authorized. The soy-protein claim has been permitted on packaged foods since 1999. In 2000, the American Heart Association Nutrition Advisory Committee concluded that is was prudent to include soy protein in a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. However, subsequent AHA reviews concluded that although very large amounts of soy protein (more than half the daily protein intake) may lower LDL cholesterol, (a) the experimental data were from individuals with very high cholesterol levels, (b) the reduction is small, (c) there was no improvement in other blood lipid levels or blood pressure, and (d) any direct benefit on cardiovascular health is minimal at best. [Jones DW. Letter to FDA Division of Dockets Management, Feb 19, 2008] A statement released with FDA’s recent announcement appears to agree with the AHA position. [Statement from Susan Mayne, Ph.D., on proposal to revoke health claim that soy protein reduces risk of heart disease. FDA news release, Oct 30, 2017] This is the first time the FDA has proposed to revoke an authorized claim.

Source: Stephen Barrett, M.D. Consumer Health Digest, Nov. 12, 2027

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Does the SAD Diet Encourage Heart Disease?

A new study concludes with some interesting and compelling reasons to avoid a typical Western diet (aka the SAD) early in life and attempt to practice healthy lifestyles including diet for a lifetime.

It also suggests the fact that future doctors should be taught more meaningful  nutrition education in medical schools, a goal that has not yet been accomplished.


Check out a previous post with several links on this topic HERE.


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Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?


It is too bad that prevention is not emphasized more often to the younger population in order to possibly prevent the ravages of chronic diseases later in life. Research suggest that cognitive decline can at least be delayed by “healthy” lifestyle choices earlier in life rather than after the offending damage has occurred.


The younger population appears to be less healthy than previous generations of the same age group affecting retirement age and health care costs. For more, CLICK HERE.

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Carbs, Fiber, Food Processing and Diabetes



A comprehensive, simple explanation about how carbs with their inherent fiber content are affected by food processing and thus encourages the development of diabetes, type 2.

First, some definitions and background may help (unless you just took a nutrition course.)

Glycemic response: The rate, magnitude, and duration of the rise in blood glucose that occurs after a particular food or meal is consumed.It is affected by both the amount of carbohydrate and type eaten and the amount of fat and protein in that food or meal. Refined sugars and starches generally cause a greater glycemic response than unrefined carbohydrates that contain fiber.

Glycemic index: A ranking of  the effect on blood glucose of a food of a certain carbohydrate content relative to an equal amount of carbohydrate from a reference food such as white bread or glucose. The reference food is assigned a value of 100 and the values of other foods are expressed relative to this. Foods that have a glycemic index of 70 or more compared to glucose are considered high-glycemic foods; those with an index of less than 55 are considered low-glycemic-index foods.

Glycemic load: An index of the glycemic response that occurs after eating specific foods. It is calculated by multiplying a food’s glycemic index by the amount of available carbohydrate in a serving of the food.To calculate glycemic load, the grams of carbohydrate in a serving of food are multiplied by that food’s glycemic index expressed as a percentage. A glycemic load of 20 or more is considered high, whereas as value of less than 11 is considered low.

A shortcoming of both the glycemic index and load is that they are determined for individual foods, but we typically eat meals containing mixtures of foods. For example, a bowl of white rice has a high glycemic index and load, but if rice is part of a meal that contains chicken and broccoli, the rise in blood glucose is much less. Source: Smolin and Grosvenor, Nutrition: Science and Applications. 2013.

Insulin: A hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows the uptake of glucose by body cells and has other metabolic effects such as stimulating protein and fat synthesis and the synthesis of glycogen in liver and muscle. Glycogen is a storage form of carbohydrate in animals.




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Cancer Prevention Diet: What We Think We Know


There is much discussion about the merits of plant-based diets. The basis of cancer prevention involves not only a diet full of vitamins and minerals but also loaded with phytochemicals (plant chemicals with chemoprevention properties).

For example, it has been hypothesized that a diet rich in flax seed, cruciferous vegetables, and fruits and vegetables in general could significantly reduce the risk of breast, colon, prostate, lung and other cancers. Nutrition and Cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition Journal 3:19-30, 2004.

A few easy ways to increase phytochemicals in your diet is to:

  • Double your typical serving of vegetables.
  • Sprinkle flax seed on your oatmeal or cereal.
  • Try a new fruit or vegetable each week.