The “Glycemic Index” may not be so cut-and-dry. What’s healthy for other people may not be healthy for you!
We all have friends who, no matter what they eat, stay skinny. But the opposite is more common: most of us are incredibly frustrated because, it seems, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot lose weight. Now we may understand at least one reason why.
A study published in the journal, Cell, in November, analyzed people’s glycemic (blood glucose) response, or blood sugar’s rise and fall after a meal. Controlling blood sugar is important for preventing and controlling diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight, and general all-around health. What you eat affects your blood sugar, insulin, and health levels, so a healthy diet containing mostly low glycemic index foods has been thought to be one way to control your health.
Some of the study’s results were typical and expected; glucose levels correlated with weight and age. The more overweight or older we are, the higher our blood sugar rises after meals – that is, we become more diabetic-like.
But the scientists also found important differences between individuals. First, and this was predictable: if the same person ate the same meal at different times, their blood sugar level responses remained relatively the same. But – and this was the unpredictable result of the study – different people eating the same meal at the same time produced highly variable results.
Researchers believe the differences might be explained by the quality of the gut microbiome, the understanding of which may revolutionize nutrition and health. It turns out that the bacterial organisms in the digestive tract — about 100 million of them (10 times the number of human cells), collectively called the microbiome — are akin to a fully functioning organ, and can have a positive or negative effect on human health. For instance, a healthy microbiome improves insulin sensitivity – reducing your chances of getting diabetes – and enhances your ability to lose body fat.
This – the quality of your microbiome, for instance – calls into question things like the glycemic index (GI), which assigns a food’s value based on peoples’ average glycemic response to a food. That’s because, if each person’s blood sugar responds differently at different times with different foods, then the GI index would be incorrect for people with different-than-average blood sugar responses, even for foods generally believed to be healthy.
There is some good news, though! The researchers used the data to create an algorithm that predicted the glycemic response of the participants. When they used this data to tailor diets for people, they saw improved blood sugar responses. These findings could be used to develop personalized and individual diets that don’t rely on averages. This just may crack the case for those having difficulty getting fit.
This is why I find it so important to PERSONALIZE your diet. One size doesn’t fit all!
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Yogurt has long been considered a healthy option, as it’s packed with protein, calcium, potassium and other nutrients. It’s a great way to get probiotics, which are important for improving digestive health; but also a vast array of health conditions.
Yogurt consumption has been shown to improve bone health (eating yogurt lead to better bone mineral density) and cardiovascular health (yogurt-eaters were 31% less likely to develop high blood pressure), lower one’s risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, and be a useful tool in weight management.
Many of these benefits come from the probiotics found in yogurt, which are associated with a myriad health improvements. Evidence shows that probiotics could help prevent Type 2 diabetes by preventing insulin resistance and allowing your body to more readily burn body fat. But probiotic benefits may go beyond that. Some studies have even shown that probiotics led to improvements in immune functions in HIV-infected patients.
The research is clear: yogurt is a great addition to any diet, particularly if you want to improve your immune response and powers of healing, bone, heart, gastrointestinal health or improve your weight. Pick some up today! I believe any type will do… as long as you eat at least one or two cups per day.
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People trying to lose weight look for any way to cut calories. We tend to consume a lot of calories in liquid form, so people often think diet beverages are a great way to help them lose weight. But researchers have a better (and cheaper!) solution: good old fashioned water.
In a recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, participants on a weight-loss plan were asked to cut out diet drinks in favor of water after lunch over 24 weeks. Compared to those who stuck with diet soda, those who drank H2O saw greater weight loss and better insulin resistance.
Water is cheaper than diet beverages and is great for digestion. So if you’re looking to improve your health and slim down, skip the can and head for the tap! Your stomach will thank you.
Reason? This study I’ve written about shows artificial sweeteners may reduce your ability to burn body fat, but there may be other reasons, too…
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A new study confirmed what I’ve suspected for the twenty (or more) years I’ve been a diet counselor. Eating hearty meals earlier in the day instead of in the evening leads to weight loss and better health, even when the same foods and same calories are eaten.
A recent study published in the scientific journal, “Diabetologia,” found people with Type 2 Diabetes eating a large breakfast and lunch – and no dinner, as compared with those eating six small meals with the same calories – lost more body fat, liver fat, and improved insulin sensitivity.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be eating dinner, as scientists often exaggerate conditions to get measurable results in their studies. But you can likely use the study’s conclusions to make positive changes for your health and weight, as did my client, Mark Indre.
“I lost more than 35 pounds and have kept it off for more than two years,” said Mark Indre.
Some points to consider…
Does this sound familiar? You get home from work, stressed and ravenous. You head straight for the kitchen, grab a bowl of nuts or a plate of cheese and crackers. You nibble as you’re preparing dinner. After dinner, you settle on the couch, most likely in front of the television, and zone out with some favorite snacks, such as popcorn, chips, nuts, ice cream, peanut butter or sweets—whatever is tasty and easy to grab.
Welcome to the typical American evening! For many people, it’s an endless graze that doesn’t stop until they go to bed.
Evening overeating is an issue that contributes to many peoples’ weight problems. I’ve been surprised at just how many people struggle with this. I used to myself. Even disciplined people who carefully watch their intake during the day break down at night. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these refrains: “I’m fine during the day, my problem’s at night,” or “If I could control my eating at night, my weight problem would probably disappear…. ”
This is important because more and more research is confirming the importance of eating lighter at night and heavier during the day – for health, not just weight. A recent study published in “Diabetologia” found people who at a large breakfast and lunch – and no dinner, as compared with people with type 2 diabetes who ate 6 small meals – lost body fat and improved insulin sensitivity. This occurred while eating the same calories, just distributed differently.
It’s become clear to me that evening overeating is not just an isolated problem but the convergence of a host of lifestyle issues—stress, exhaustion, loneliness, disorganized eating and hunger.
In today’s fast-paced world, many people are constantly hopping from meeting to meeting or from chore to chore during the day and don’t have time to sit down and eat a decent meal. So we become ravenous. In the evening, there’s more time for eating, so we not only eat larger meals, but continuous ones. Those who are tired or stressed find that food is an easy way to reward themselves at the end of the day. Food can provide a little companionship for the lonely or depressed. Researchers who have identified “night eating syndrome,” the most severe form of evening overeating that affects about five percent of obese people seeking treatment, say it is stress-related.
“We believe it’s a stress disorder which causes people to eat more than one-third of their calories after the evening meal,” says obesity researcher Albert J. Stunkard, who has studied nighttime overeaters since the 1950s and recently co-authored “Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome: A Step-by-Step Guide to Breaking the Cycle” (New Harbinger Publications, 2004).
Evening overeating is an important problem to solve because Americans who eat most of their daily intake of food at night eat more overall calories, according to a study reported in the Journal of Nutrition. And that makes them more susceptible to weight problems.
“The late-night period was when the highest-density foods were eaten. Eating a high proportion of daily intake in the late evening, compared to earlier in the day, was associated with higher overall intake,” researcher John M. de Castro concluded in the study, which analyzed food diaries of about 900 men and women.
De Castro, professor and chair of the department of psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso, also found that evening eating was less satisfying for people, which may help explain why they eat more.
“In the evening, you get lower satiety. People tend to eat very large meals but then eat again shortly afterward,” said de Castro.
For those who succumb to nighttime overeating, I recommend you attack this problem by assessing why this may be happening to you and then devising specific personalized strategies for eating lighter at night. Some points to consider:
Breakfast: De Castro’s study found that a “high proportional intake in the morning is associated with low overall daily intake.” This finding confirms my experience of 25+ years: Eating a bigger breakfast is the single most effective way of curbing evening overeating. Other studies have confirmed the importance of breakfast for maintaining weight loss.
I advise my clients to eat one-third of their daily calories in the morning. For most people, that’s at least 600 calories, much more than they’re used to consuming.
While solving other issues such as end-of-day stress, exhaustion and emotional issues are important, too, I’ve found that nothing works unless morning eating is beefed up first. Eating more in the morning is a scary proposition for many people who fear that they’ll continue their evening overeating on top of the bigger breakfast. But my clients who bite the bullet and give it a try are amazed to find that it reduces cravings and gives them a sense of control, so that it is easier to eat more moderately later in the day.
Interestingly, de Castro found that people are more sated with the food they eat in the morning. “If they eat a large breakfast, they’ll wait a long time before eating again. They get a lot of bang for the buck,” says de Castro.
Organized eating: Researchers have found that most people with the more severe “night-eating syndrome” don’t have regular meal and snack times. I have also found this is true for evening overeaters. Most overeating is due simply to undereating throughout the day and poor planning. I hear so many people say “I have no will power,” or “I hate myself because I have no discipline.” But they somehow regain their “discipline” and “will power” by simply planning and eating regular daytime meals and snacks.
That’s why I advocate cooking in large batches and regular grocery shopping so that you have healthy and delicious foods at your fingertips when you get home from work in the evenings.
Trigger foods: Many people who overeat in the evenings have “trigger” foods, specific foods they crave and are more likely to overeat, such as chips, chocolate or peanut butter. The experts find the avoidance of trigger foods can reduce evening overeating.
Assessing hunger: Your body lets you know what it needs. One key to lasting weight management is being in touch with your body and its signals. In the evening, before eating, get rid of distractions, take a few deep breaths and stop to think if you’re physically hungry. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, or if you’re not sure, you shouldn’t eat.
Stress management: Many people overeat in the evenings as a way to cope with the stress and exhaustion they may feel or to reward themselves at the end of a hard day. But this is a self-defeating response to stress or rewards. When you come home, never head straight for the kitchen. Instead, hop in the shower or tub to decompress, take a walk or stretch. Once relaxed, then decide what you’d like for dinner. Better yet, hopefully you’ve already planned your dinner.
Of course, these actions are only possible if you’ve fed yourself properly during the day and you’re not ravenous.
Reducing behavioral associations: Like Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov’s famous dogs, we can train ourselves to salivate and crave food in connection with just about any activity. Playing cards, eat. Watching a movie, eat. Going to the mall, eat. Talking on the phone, eat. Reading in bed, eat. Watching TV, eat. The experts recommend you eat only when seated at your dining or kitchen table, without distractions, so that you don’t develop an association between eating and any activity, place or person. The only stimulus for eating should be hunger. Distractions tend to reduce inhibitions to overeating.
When to eat: There is no hard-and-fast rule governing the timing of your last meal in the evening. I recommend that evening calories don’t exceed lunch or breakfast calories and that you eat at least two-thirds of your day’s calories before dinner. It’s important to go to bed feeling light, not full. This way, you awake hungry for a big breakfast.
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Featured on CNN’s Health Minute
Read it to find out why this article went VIRAL!
Recently published in LiveScience.com, published in “The Washington Post,” and broadcast on WOR Radio New York City…
Eating healthy can be harder than you think, thanks to an enterprising food industry that wants us to consume more than we need. That’s because our country’s agricultural system produces twice what most people require – 3,900 calories per person per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. This encourages creative marketing to unload the excess, much of it made with cheap ingredients, having long shelf-lives, and minimal nutritional value – the kinds of “food” with the highest profit margins.
As a nutrition consultant, I know that words such as “low fat,” “high fiber,” “multigrain,” gluten free,” and “natural” can confuse even the most sophisticated customers into believing what they’re buying is healthful. In fact, market research proves it.
What can you do? First, make a habit of reading the ingredients list, not just the Nutrition Facts panel. And remember the following products worth resisting…
Reduced-fat peanut butter
The oil is the healthiest part of a peanut* or a tree nut, containing most of the nutrients, so there’s no advantage to taking it out. In fact, it’s worse because it robs the peanut butter of its health benefits. “Reduced-fat peanut butter has as many calories and more sugar than the regular,” says Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Instead: Buy regular peanut butter. Eating one or two ounces of nuts daily is associated with reductions in heart disease and cancer risk. A recent Harvard study showed that eating nuts is associated with lower body weights.
Sports drinks, diluted soft drinks with salt, are only needed during intense exercise exceeding one hour or in extreme heat. Drinks such as Vitaminwater (c) are essentially sugary drinks with a vitamin pill. They are “unequivocally harmful to health,” says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Whether vitamins dissolved in water have any benefit will depend on who you are and whether you are already getting enough. . . . Some people may be getting too much of some vitamins and minerals if they add vitamin water on top of fortified foods and other supplements.” A recent Iowa Women’s Health Study found an association between certain commonly used vitamin and mineral supplements and increased death rates. But the worst offenders in this category are energy drinks such as Red Bull, Sobe Life Water, or Monster Drinks. They’re not only high in sugar, but most contain stimulants which may be harmful, especially with medical conditions like high blood pressure.
Instead: Drink water, ideally from the tap (“Eau du Potomac,” as it’s known locally). It’s the best drink for hydrating your body, is naturally calorie-free and contains fluoride to prevent tooth decay. No supplement matches the nutrients in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
The reputation of these bars, also known as meal replacement bars, is that they are healthy, aid in weight loss or help build muscle. In fact, they are calorie bombs: candy bars with vitamins, protein or fiber added. For most of them, sugar is either the first (predominant) or second ingredient.
Instead: Snack on fruit or veggies for weight loss and yogurt for muscle gain. If you’re hiking a long distance and want a healthful, nonperishable calorie bomb, try nuts and dried fruit.
Multigrain breads, crackers and cereals are often the most confusing foods. People see “multigrain” and think “whole grain.” That’s not necessarily so. This is an important distinction because people who eat whole grains have a lower incidence of diabetes, heart disease and cancers, and are less likely to be overweight compared with those who eat refined grains. Note that when “enriched wheat flour” is listed in the ingredients, that’s refined flour.
Instead: Be sure a whole grain, such as whole wheat, whole rye, whole oats or brown rice, is the first and preferably the only grain in the ingredient list. A great example is a cereal listing whole rolled oats as the only grain or a bread listing whole wheat as the only wheat. Alternatively, consider an egg for breakfast. “The huge amounts of refined starch and sugar that many people eat for breakfast, often thinking that this is the healthy choice, does far more damage to their well-being than an egg,” says Harvard’s Willett.
Non-fried chips and crackers
It’s easy to believe these foods are healthful because of labels such as “baked,” “low fat” or “gluten free.” But most are made with refined grain or starch, which provide plenty of calories and few nutrients. Popchips, for example, are a new product marketed as healthful. But the ingredients are highly refined potato flakes, starch, oil, salt and about 14 additional things. Pita chips, made with white flour, oil, salt and several more ingredients, are no better. To boot, research shows that too much refined grains and starches increases the risk for heart disease, cancers, diabetes and weight gain.
Instead: Try Wasa or Finn Crisp Original Rye crackers. They’re 100 percent whole grain and have little sodium. If you’d like a chip, try Terra Chips, made with sliced vegetables, or even a 100 percent whole grain chip fried in a healthy oil, such as olive or canola. Tortilla chips and SunChips are two examples. “Now that trans fats have been removed from most cooking oils, the healthiest part of potato chips is the fat,” Willett says. “And chips made of whole grains rather than potatoes, like Frito-Lay’s SunChips, can legitimately be considered a health food,” so long as you keep to the one-ounce serving size.
*Peanuts are technically a legume, but we call them nuts nutritionally because their nutritional characteristics and health benefits closely match those of tree nuts.
Find this article originally printed in The Washington Post February 28, 2012
Listen to me discuss “Health Foods You Should Avoid” on WOR 710 Talk Radio NYC “The Joan Hamburg Show”
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Individual foods are more important than calories when it comes to long term weight gains or losses, according to the study. Specifically, potatoes are associated with weight gain, along with sugar-sweetened beverages and meats, while foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and yogurt, are associated with weight loss, according to the study.
“Modest changes in specific foods and beverages, physical activity, TV-watching, and sleep duration were strongly linked with long-term weight gain. Changes in diet, in particular, had the strongest associations with differences in weight gain… The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked,” said a researcher in a press release. The study appears in the June 23, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
When I was contacted by USA Today reporter, Oliver St. John, to comment on the Harvard Study, this gave me an opportunity to look over the study so that I could offer an analysis which would help not only “USA Today” readers, but me and my clients better understand it.
I found some of the claims made regarding the study incomplete.
While this is an interesting study and confirms much of what we know about healthy and unhealthy foods, I’m concerned about the sweeping conclusions for the following reasons:
The Harvard study is epidemiological, the kind of study which analyzes large populations and their health outcomes. Because the facts cannot be precisely measured, as it would be in a clinical study -nobody is weighing and measuring the foods people are eating, their body weights, or their lifestyle patterns – the conclusions which can be made are limited. This is true for many reasons. First, there are no “controls” in the study; making it difficult to tease out confounding variables having an effect beyond the particular foods being studied. What I mean is: eating certain foods is associated with specific behavior patterns, so it’s impossible to determine if the effect (weight loss/gain) is due to the food or the behavior pattern. For instance, studies of whole-grain eating find it is a “marker” for engaging in many healthy behaviors. People who eat whole grains are more likely to exercise and eat more vegetables. SO when epidemiological studies find whole grain- eaters are healthier, one must ask: is the effect due to eating whole grains or the lifestyle associated with eating whole grains? The only way to answer this question is, once the epidemiological data is observed, to take the observations into a lab and do a controlled clinical study. The clinical study would need to control for everything – exercise, diet, body weight, etc – and change only whether people are eating refined or whole grains, to determine if the health effect is due to the whole grain eating or the lifestyle.
The Harvard study found potato-eating associated with weight gain. The researchers warned against eating potatoes, attributing the weight gain to the rise in blood sugar caused by potatoes.
I am not quite convinced. Why?
First, many foods cause rises in blood sugar – including whole wheat bread and whole grain cold cereals. But they aren’t associated with weight gain, in fact, quite the opposite.
Second, in America, most potatoes are eaten as french fries or potato chips, and these are very fattening versions of potatoes. So, the way potatoes are cooked – not the potato itself – may be why Harvard’s epidemiological study found potato-eating is associated with weight gain. This argument points to excess calories as a factor.
Also, and this may be an important factor explaining why potatoes are associated with weight gain. When people eat french fries, they are usually eating hamburgers and hot dogs alongside. Not only that, the beverage they’re drinking is SODA (a known contributor to obesity in adults and children). Therefore, instead of the potatoes causing the problem, could it be the meal pattern or high calorie lifestyle associated with people who eat french fried potatoes? In the United States, french fries are eaten together with fattening, unhealthy foods, known to be correlated with increased weight, diabetes, heart disease, you name it. Same with potato chips. People who regularly eat french fries, potato chips, and sodas also eat other fattening and unhealthy foods. In fact, studies show soda-drinking, for instance, is another “marker” but this time, for engaging in unhealthy behaviors like smoking and being sedentary. These confounding variables could influence the study’s results.
This brings me to the last piece of evidence – and what convinces me the most – that potatoes do not a cause weight gain: SWEDEN
In Sweden, people are no fatter than Americans, in fact, they’re slimmer. But, they eat potatoes every day, and often more than once a day. But when Swedes eat potatoes (and I’m sure of this as I am a Swede and visit often), they eat them in small portions, they’re boiled, topped with a little butter (oops), alongside FISH. Not burgers, not fried fish, just grilled, steamed, cured, smoked, or sauteed FISH.
So, if eating potatoes in Sweden is not associated with weight gain, could it be because the potatoes are cooked in a healthier way than in the United States and the meal pattern is a healthier one? 1) the potatoes are boiled, not fried, 2) the potatoes are eaten in smaller, more reasonable portions, and 3) the potatoes are more often eaten together with other healthy foods, such as fish – not burgers and sodas.
And, how do you explain all those poor, skinny Irish and Russians – heck, anyone living in the northern parts of the world – people who subsisted on and depended on potatoes as their only vegetable for centuries. Why didn’t the potatoes make them fat?
Do I believe potatoes are a wonder food? No. But I also do not believe potatoes are “POISON,” as some commentators have stated.
Should you be eating larger portions of watery vegetables and smaller portions of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes? Yes.
Do I occasionally enjoy French Fries and Potato Chips, known to be fattening, unhealthy foods? Yes I do.
Do I eat French Fries and Potato Chips on a regular basis? No, I do not. Do I wish I could?
Yes I do, but I’d rather be healthy and slim.
People eating nuts were more likely to have lower body weights, according to the Harvard Study. Their explanation is that nuts are satiating; they make us feel full, inferring that they lead to eating fewer calories overall. Clinical studies have found years ago that adding nuts to meals, especially breakfast, decreased overall calorie intake, making weight loss easier. This is one reason why I have been encouraging nut-eating for many years. Also, we’ve known for quite a while that nut-eaters around the world have fewer heart attacks and are healthier in other ways.
Does this mean you cannot gain weight eating too many nuts? No. Plenty of people eat too many nuts and can become overweight because of it. Nuts are healthy, but fattening little morsels. One ounce, or a small handful, contains about 180 calories. This is why I recommend most people eat one ounce per day. But if weight is not an issue, two ounces a day – or more, if you can afford the calories, is fine – and is even heart healthy. When I work with people wanting to gain weight healthfully, I advise snacking on nuts!
Are certain nuts better than others? I’m not convinced of this. Every time a new study comes out about a nut – any nut – it’s positive news. Certain nuts, though, are more commonly eaten, have a bigger consumer base, and more money to fund scientific studies. This may be why you hear about some nuts over others. It is also a very expensive and time-consuming process for a food to be approved for a health claim on a food label. So, only certain nut growers can afford to put health claims on their labels, and educate you about their health benefits.
While you already know each nut has a different look and flavor, each nut also has its own unique nutritional characteristics. For instance, almonds are the highest in protein and Vitamin E, and the lowest in artery-clogging saturated fat. Walnuts are the only nut with omega-3-fatty acids. Pecans have the highest antioxidant content. Pistachios contain lutein, a compound which may significantly improve eye health.
Bottom Line: Eat nuts every day.
They’re good for you and may help you eat fewer overall calories because they’re so satiating!
Yes, calories matter: So, stick with just one or two ounces, if weight is an issue. If not, eat more.
The study found yogurt-eating associated with lower body weights. Whole civilizations have known about yogurt’s health benefits for thousands of years.
When my mother was recovering from hip replacement surgery I advised her to live on yogurt, fruits and vegetables for healing AND to prevent weight gain from being immobile. It worked. She healed very quickly and lost a little weight at the same time. She was thrilled. I’ve repeated the same advice to my clients, when appropriate, and they’ve been thrilled with the results, too.
Yogurt has many positive qualities. I’m convinced: Yogurt is a Superfood; it may be one of the best overall foods you can eat. Yogurt creates a natural way to boost your immune system by providing probiotics which increase the healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, according to my friend and colleague, Jo Ann Hattner, MPH, RD, in her book, “Gut Insight.”
Probiotics are live bacteria that promote digestive health. As we age, it is thought that bacterial populations in our gut change – resulting in increased harmful, disease-causing bacteria and fewer protective bacteria. When you add probiotics you repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria that protect against infection-causing toxins.
You also improve colon health by lowering pH of the colon, so it’s receptive to the beneficial bacteria and detrimental to the disease-causing bacteria, you protect the intestinal lining, and strengthen immunity. Exciting research is evolving on the health benefits of probiotics.
But correlating yogurt with lower body weights is complicated. Do you believe people who regularly eat french fries, potato chips, burgers and sodas eat much yogurt? I don’t think so. This is another case where lifestyle probably plays a huge role and why Harvard’s epidemiological study found yogurt was associated with lower body weights.
While it may be true that yogurt has health benefits causing leanness, this hasn’t been proven conclusively in clinical studies yet. There have been studies showing dairy foods are very satiating… That is, when you eat yogurt, you feel full in relation to the calories. And when you feel extra satiated by something, such as yogurt or nuts, it helps you eat fewer overall calories for the day. There is some evidence that the protein in yogurt may be especially high quality, spare lean muscle (and bone), and increase metabolism, thereby making weight loss a little easier. Diary products may also contain other bioactive compounds contributing to leanness. The Harvard researchers speculated the probiotics in yogurt may be responsible for the weight benefit. All of these reasons could be significant. But, the most significant factor probably is: Yogurt-eaters are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and eat other healthy foods.
My clients, family and friends have known this for years. Why? I love keeping up with the science and keep myself and them informed.
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Original Content, The Washington Post
Lose weight! Feel great! Live longer!
Every diet guru makes the same claims. But can so many different plans get the same results? Can you achieve the same positive responses from the low-carb, high-saturated-fat Atkins regimen as you do from the abstemiously low-fat, almost vegetarian approach at the other extreme?
This may come as a surprise, but the answer is probably yes. While these regimens seem very different, they share a significant common theme: They restrict your calories and cause weight loss.
Scientists are finding there may be a more straightforward way to not only lose weight, but to avoid heart disease, cancer, diabetes and to even live longer. The secret is to focus sharply on reducing calories.
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that any time you restrict calories you will receive significant health benefits that may not only help you lose weight, but effect a series of biological mechanisms that may prolong your life. (It is important to note that once you go off these diets and if you gain weight, all of the positive benefits are lost.)
It works in animals. Rats fed calorie-restricted diets live 50 percent longer than their normally fed counterparts. Their quality of life is superior, too. They’re healthier, more active, their hormones are at more youthful levels and their immune function is superior. The same is true with fish, flies and worms. There have been preliminary positive results with rhesus monkeys and even humans.
The results of the first human study on calorie restriction, performed at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, are interesting.
“People on severe calorie restriction have a reduced risk of developing stroke, heart attack, arteriosclerosis and diabetes,” said Luigi Fontana, instructor of medicine at the university’s division of geriatrics and nutritional science and lead author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published last month.
“Since 40 percent of Americans die of these causes, these health improvements would increase many peoples’ life expectancy,” said Fontana. “Calorie restriction would also help reduce the 300,000 cases of preventable death due to obesity.”
The kind of calorie restriction being studied shouldn’t be confused with malnutrition (which occurs with starvation or semi-starvation when food is scarce) or in disordered eating. The important difference is while the calorie restrictors cut calories by 25 percent, they eat dietitian-designed, doctor-supervised diets containing all of their essential nutrients. They eat about 20 percent to 26 percent of their calories from protein, 28 percent from fat and the rest from high-volume, low-calorie, nutrient-dense carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
As pure science, calorie restriction makes a compelling case. Anecdotally, we’ve all seen how reducing calories restores health, energy and well-being in our friends and colleagues who are on diets and losing weight. But most don’t continue on those regimens, and, therefore, the benefits don’t last. As a practical matter, long-term severe calorie restriction is probably unworkable for most Americans, and it still hasn’t been proven that it’s healthy or safe for humans in the long run.
“Calorie restriction studies are provocative; but you may end up with deficiencies dangerous for your health,” says Fontana. “Chronic calorie restrictors are taking risks.”
But the research is finding that there are certain aspects of aging that we can change. There are several theories as to why and how calorie restriction prolongs your life. The reasons it reduces disease risk factors and prolongs life are probably varied:
• It lowers your metabolic rate. “The higher your metabolism, the more oxygen your body burns,” says Eric Ravussin, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. “This produces ‘reactive oxygen species,’ which are byproducts of metabolism and are harmful.”
ROS damage the building blocks of life, including protein, lipids and genetic material, DNA. This leads to abnormal genetic signals, causing cancers and disregulation of cells, leading to organ damage, skin deterioration, and maybe even gray hair — all signs of aging.
• Calorie restriction reduces inflammation, which is one cause of many diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis. Also, calorie restriction reduces some “growth factor” hormones.
“When you eat extra calories, your body gets a signal that you’re growing and growth factor hormones promote cell proliferation, which may increase the risk of cancers, among other dangers,” says Fontana.
• Calorie restrictors also have lower hormone levels, body temperatures, plasma insulin levels, and higher levels of the hormone, DHEA. The same is also true about people who live longer, according to the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
• Calorie restriction reduces body fat, which research shows has many benefits.
“We used to think body fat was inert, But it isn’t,” says Fontana. “Fat tissue produces hormones, pro-inflammatory chemicals, which regulate metabolism, the immune system, inflammation and the progression of artery hardening, so that when you have less body fat, you get many biological benefits.”
There are many advantages to calorie restriction. But there are downsides to severe calorie restriction, too. In fact, scientists are not recommending it as a key way to stay healthy, since the research is not complete. Abnormally low metabolism can cause irritability or depression in some people or may backfire and lead to an eating disorder. If you eat too few calories and hormone levels lower too much, this may lead to infertility problems or increase chances of osteoporosis in women.
I believe that one of the real benefits of the low-calorie approach is that it places important emphasis on the central issue: reducing calories, rather than getting diverted into seemingly important, but in fact, peripheral matters, such as carb and fat counting.
Katherine Tallmadge is a Washington nutritionist and author of “Diet Simple” (Lifeline Press, 2004). Send e-mails to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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Physicians frequently prescribe medications to help individual’s lose weight. More often than not, few other lifestyle modification changes are recommended, or resources provided. Researchers sought to compare methods of delivering lifestyle modification programs to patients receiving sibutramine, a prescribed weight loss medication.
This study once again shows that the more frequently a person interacts with a dietitian to help in their weight loss endeavors, the greater the weight loss – even if weight loss medication is involved. The HF-TEL contact with a dietitian was similar to HF-F2F in promoting weight loss. Even the email counseling resulted in a weight loss that, sustained over time can have a considerable impact on a person’s risk of developing disease. In real-world situations, it may be difficult to conduct face-to-face sessions with a provider over the long haul, but when other methods are used together, they can work synergistically to help a person achieve their desired weight loss.
Resource: Digenio AG, Mancuso JP, et al. Comparison of methods for delivering a lifestyle modification program for obese patients: a randomized trial.Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(4):255-62
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Revised from original Content, The Washington Post, Wednesday, June 30, 2004; Page F01
Is it possible that one of my favorite food groups-milk and milk products-not only provides crucial nutrients but can also help people maintain and lose weight? The answer, while not yet conclusive, looks encouraging. New studies are finding that calcium, particularly when in milk products, may help shed unwanted pounds and body fat.
This is doubly important news because many people slash milk products from their diets to lose weight. The research is showing that move is not only a mistake for your bones, blood pressure and overall health (which nutrition experts have been saying for years), it may also make weight loss more difficult.
Uncovering the calcium-weight loss connection was, like many scientific discoveries, a case of serendipity. In the 1980s, scientists researching the positive effects of calcium on blood pressure found that people on higher-calcium diets not only lowered their blood pressure but also lost weight. The connection wasn’t taken seriously at the time. But when large government-funded studies found links between calcium intake and body weight, researchers decided it was worth looking into.
Since 2000, observational and clinical studies of men, women and children have consistently shown that people eating diets containing calcium’s recommended dietary allowance of 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams per day have lower body weights and lower body fat. In fact, it’s been calculated that with 300 more milligrams of calcium daily, adults will weigh about seven pounds lighter than they would without the calcium.
All of the biological mechanisms aren’t completely understood. But, after many years of animal studies, the scientists, led by Michael Zemel, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, have formulated the primary reason for this weight loss. When there isn’t enough calcium in the diet, the body responds by releasing hormones to help conserve as much calcium as possible for critical bodily functions (heartbeat, for one). One of these hormones, calcitriol, tells arterial muscle to contract, which increases blood pressure. But calcitriol also acts on fat cells.
“Calcitriol sends the fat cells a message to start making more fat and sends another message to slow down the process of fat breakdown and oxidation,” says Zemel, co-author of “The Calcium Key” (Wiley, 2004). Since high calcium levels have been the norm through evolution, the body assumes that food is scarce and conserves when calcium is low in the diet.
The result is that we become more efficient at storing calories as body fat, so when we cut calories to lose weight, a low-calcium diet makes it harder to break down body fat. Higher-calcium intakes (in which the body senses, rightly or wrongly, that there is plenty of food around) cause lower calcitriol levels and increased fat breakdown. So weight loss is harder for people who don’t consume enough calcium, which is the case for average Americans, most of whom consume one half the daily calcium requirement.
In the first human clinical study of the calcium and weight loss connection, Zemel and his colleagues found that the amount of calcium and its food source made a huge difference in weight loss results.
In the study published in Obesity Research in April, three groups of people ate low-calorie diets containing 35 percent fat, 49 percent carbohydrates and 16 percent protein. The first group, which ate 400 to 500 milligrams a day of calcium ( an amount of calcium typical for many Americans and less than the minimum requirement) lost an average of 15 pounds in six months. While eating the same diet with an additional 800 milligrams of calcium from a supplement, the second group lost 19 pounds. But while eating a diet high in milk products containing about 1,200 milligrams of dietary calcium per day (not from a supplement), the third group lost 24 pounds. Fat loss followed a similar pattern. The people on the high-dairy diet lost a higher percentage of body fat, maintained more lean muscle and (a finding that surprised the researchers) lost more belly fat, known as a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. In fact, the high-dairy group significantly improved its insulin sensitivity, but it isn’t known whether that was a dairy effect or the result of the weight loss, which alone improves insulin sensitivity.
Why milk products produced more weight and fat loss than calcium supplements isn’t completely understood. But there are some theories. One theory is that milk products are simply satiating – that is they provide a feeling of fullness for relatively few calories, and over time that can cause us to eat fewer overall calories. Another theory is that milk products have many biologically active compounds, similar to the phytochemicals in plants, which work synergistically to produce a more powerful effect than a single compound, like calcium alone. And milk products also contain unusually high levels of an amino acid (the building block of protein) called leucine.
“Leucine plays a unique role in stimulating protein synthesis and is very important for maintaining lean muscle mass, especially during weight loss,” says Donald Layman, protein researcher and professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “If you eat a higher-protein diet, with high levels of leucine coming from dairy products, during weight loss you’ll lose 80 percent body fat as opposed to the usual 60 percent body fat.”
Until more human clinical research can verify these findings, remember that calcium or milk products won’t cause you to lose weight alone. Calories still count. But while this research is being verified, it can only help to include three milk servings a day. Studies show people who consume more milk products have diets higher in many beneficial nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamins A and D, riboflavin, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium.
Calcium experts recommend three to four servings of high-calcium milk product, containing about 300 milligrams of calcium per serving, per day. About 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt or 1 – 1/2 (ounces of hard cheese are the best examples. Here are some sources provided in The Calcium Key (Wiley, 2004):
The High-Dairy Calcium Guide **
Food Amount Calories Calcium (g)
Buttermilk 8 oz 91 264
Nonfat Milk 8 oz 86 301
Alpine Lace Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese 1.5 oz 105 300
Brie Cheese 1.5 oz 142 78
Cheddar Cheese 1.5 oz 171 307
2% Cottage Cheese 1 cup 203 155
Hard Parmesan 1 oz 111 336
Plain, nonfat Yogurt 1 cup 127 451
Lowfat Fruit Yogurt 1 cup 225 313
**Excerpted from The Calcium Key (Wiley, 2004)
* Check the Nutrition Facts Panel on your food label. A good source of calcium contains at least 30 percent of your daily requirement. Also, check the calories and saturated fat: How many calories or saturated fat grams does it take to get more calcium from the food? For people watching their health or weight, the more nutrient-dense, calorie-poor and the lower in saturated fat, the better.
* If you’re lactose intolerant, remember that yogurt is usually tolerated and cheese contains virtually no lactose. You can also try lactose-reduced products or drink smaller amounts of regular milk products through the day.
* If you’re a vegan, protein expert Donald Layman says the equivalent of one cup of dairy milk would be 1-1/2 cups of calcium-fortified soy milk, in terms of its leucine content, though no studies have been published on the weight loss benefits of soy milk.
See also: How to Have Yours Each Day