Obesity, Michelle Obama, & Community-Empowered Change

April 05, 2011 7:08 AM by ariyahd

Ariyah DeSouza, Associate Recruitment Marketing Manager:


The CDC reports that today nearly one in three American children ages 6 to 19 are overweight, while one in five are obese. The childhood obesity rate tripled between 1980 and 1999, creating an epidemic and a generation of people with shorter life spans than their parents.

Michelle Obama has called childhood obesity both a health and an economic issue for communities that “can drastically alter the economic landscape of our cities and towns for generations to come." She believes everyone must work together to abolish this epidemic. If we’ve learned something from her husband’s term, it’s that a leader can’t drag whole communities into change unless they’re up for it. You cannot empower others; people empower themselves.

You can, however, through your leadership provide people the support they need. The National League of Cities (NLC) has been working with the first lady in supporting municipal officials’ adoption of a holistic solution to childhood obesity. Obama’s Let’s Move! program aims to reduce our nation’s childhood obesity rates within a generation through the reform of behavioral and environmental factors.

Cities and towns electing to participate in the initiative must choose at least one action to take in the following 12 months in each of these four areas:

1. helping parents make healthy family choices
2. creating healthy schools
3. providing access to healthy and affordable food
4. promoting physical activity

Participating officials will submit an end-of-year report describing their city’s or town’s actions. These communities will be recognized on the Let’s Move! website, and mayors may participate in conference calls and events with federal staff to share ideas and challenges.

The Let’s Move! website includes a blog, facts for raising healthier kids, recommendations for eating healthy and getting active, and steps to taking action. Officials can visit the US Department of Health & Human Services website to sign up.

As a collective, we need long-term, strategic solutions to resolve a problem of this scope and endurance. I appreciate the education and tools the White House is giving businesses, communities, schools and parents to address childhood obesity.

The investments recommended by this campaign might seem too simple or minor – but not if you understand their long-term necessity. For example, as Obama puts it, “By building more sidewalks, you could help kids get healthier today and reduce health costs and budget strain tomorrow. By investing in more nutritious school lunches or more P.E. time, you can take steps that will lead to a healthier, more productive workforce in the future.”

The first lady cited statistics. In the ten cities with the nation’s highest obesity rates, the direct costs connected with obesity and related diseases are $50 million per 100,000 residents. If these ten cities reduced their obesity rates to the national average, they together would save $500 million in healthcare costs every year.

Fortunately, more than 500 cities have decided to take charge and have signed up as Let’s Move Cities and Towns.

Their investments today should pasy off for US employers tomorrow. Obese children are likely to turn into obese adults. Overweight and obese adult workers today miss 39 million work days and cost employers $13 billion in healthcare annually. And today’s obese children affect today’s workforces. Studies show that obese children are less healthy and miss far more days of school on average. For the parents of those kids, that can mean more tardiness, more early departures from work and higher absenteeism to stay home to care for these kids.

Some employers might prefer to operate in locations where citizens are healthier, given higher worker productivity and lower health costs. The California Department of Health Services reported nearly $25 billion in private and public medical services, lost productivity, and workers' compensation in one year alone, attributing these costs to the 59% of California adults who are obese or overweight. In a 2004 article in the Los Angeles Times, Susan Foerster, chief of cancer prevention and nutrition for the California Department of Health Services, cited “car-dominated or unsafe neighborhoods and limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables” as possible sources of the state's surge in obesity. She also stated that “it's not a matter of simply pushing away from the table or getting up off the couch—the increase in rates over time has been a function of changed lifestyles and changed environment.”

No one disputes that Let's Move! addresses some key issues with long-term strategies. A major concern that many obesity experts and medical groups have raised, however, is that the initiative doesn't treat kids who are already obese – a staggering 20% of American children ages 6 to 19. Current treatment options are rarely reimbursed through insurance and few people have access to them, especially minority and lower-income families whose children are more likely to be impacted by obesity.  Ideally, our government would advance solutions for both treatment and prevention.

If you want to engage in the movement on a fun level, check out the Let’s Move! Facebook page.

National Nutrition Month: Color Guide and Tips to Eat Right with Color

March 14, 2011 5:04 PM by janec

Jane Connell, MS, RD, Nutrition Coach:


Each March, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) celebrates National Nutrition Month®, and this year's theme, "Eat Right with Color," encourages parents to take time to make sure their children are getting all of the nutrients they need to feel well and be well - emotionally, mentally, and physically. One of the biggest challenges for us as parents is to meet their (and our) nutritional needs by preparing tasty, healthy, real food for our families in the small amounts of time we have available to us each day.  We need a get-real game plan.  The good news is that shopping, cooking and eating healthfully have just gotten easier with assistance from www.kidseatright.org, a new website from ADA and its Foundation.  Here are a few tips to help us with a get-real game plan to “eat right with color”. 

Get real.  First and foremost, get your color from real foods, not artificially colored foods. If you’re feeling powerless to control what you eat, there’s good reason according to David Kessler, MD, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.  “When food is highly processed and loaded and layered with sugar, salt, and fat, it becomes so stimulating that it hijacks the brain – and our behavior.”

Get variety. At the produce store/section, experiment by adding one fruit or vegetable that’s different than your usual pick.  Not sure what to do with it?  www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov provides tips on how to select, store, and prepare fruits & veggies, including recipes and tips for stretching your food budget.

Get cooking.  It’s easier to find recipes for your ingredients than the other way around.  If you go to the store, and the recipe ingredients on your shopping list are not available, don’t look good, or are over-priced, at that point you’re in a pickle.  On the other hand, if you go to the market and buy whatever fresh ingredients look best at a decent price, then figure out how to cook them, you’re actually going to end up with less stress-  and a much better meal.  Mark Bittman, cookbook author and New York Times columnist sometimes jokes that there are only nine recipes in the world, but he says there’s a lot of truth to that.  “The same patterns crop up over and over again.  If you cook a piece of chicken with ginger, garlic, and scallions, you get a Chinese flavor.  Use lime and cilantro, you have Mexican.  Parmesan and oregano?  Italian.  You can apply these flavor patterns to almost everything – fish, broccoli, tofu, whatever.  Healthy cooking is often just a matter of riffing on well-worn little flavor combos.  It’s like multiplication: not hard at all once you learn it.”

Get color.  Challenge your child (or yourself) to put one item of each color in the cart: white cauliflower, blue blueberries, orange carrots, green spinach, etc.  Go to www.epicurious.com and use the interactive map to see what's in season in your area, plus find ingredient descriptions, shopping guides, recipes, and tips.  Brighten up your plate with the quick color guide below.


Color Guide

Green produce indicates antioxidant potential and may help promote healthy vision and reduce cancer risks.

Fruits: avocado, apples, grapes, honeydew, kiwi and lime
Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, green peppers and leafy greens such as spinach

Orange and deep yellow fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that promote healthy vision and immunity, and reduce the risk of some cancers.

Fruits: apricot, cantaloupe, grapefruit, mango, papaya, peach and pineapple
Vegetables: carrots, yellow pepper, yellow corn and sweet potatoes

Purple and blue options may have antioxidant and anti-aging benefits and may help with memory, urinary tract health and reduced cancer risks.

Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, plums, raisins
Vegetables: eggplant, purple cabbage, purple-fleshed potato

Red indicates produce that may help maintain a healthy heart, vision, immunity and may reduce cancer risks.

Fruits: cherries, cranberries, pomegranate, red/pink grape fruit, red grapes and watermelon
Vegetables: beets, red onions, red peppers, red potatoes, rhubarb and tomatoes

White, tan and brown foods sometimes contain nutrients that may promote heart health and reduce cancer risks.

Fruits: banana, brown pear, dates and white peaches
Vegetables: cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, turnips, white-fleshed potato and white corn

For more information on how to "Eat Right with Color," visit ADA's National Nutrition Month website for a variety of helpful tips, fun games, promotional tools and nutrition education resources.

New Study: Whole Grains and Belly Fat

October 22, 2010 8:57 AM by jenniferl

Jennifer Lovejoy, PhD, Vice President, Clinical Development & Support:


It is well-documented that eating whole grains has a host of health benefits. Eating more whole grains like brown rice, 100% whole wheat breads and cereals, oatmeal, and buckwheat has repeatedly been shown to lower risk for heart disease, Type 2 (adult) diabetes, stroke and obesity. Whole grains have also been found to reduce risk of asthma, improve the health of your blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and reduce risk for colorectal cancer.

What has been less clear, however, how important it is to eat exclusively whole grain products and to minimize or avoid intake of refined grains. In fact, the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines only recommend that “at least half” the daily grain servings should come from whole grains. I believe this is largely because, at the time the Dietary Guidelines were written in 2005, there was little research evidence documenting specific harm from refined grains (products like pasta and bread made from white flour, white rice, etc). Of course we knew in 2005 that refined grains cause a greater spike in blood sugar than do whole grains, and that the refining process caused loss of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds. But most epidemiological, or population-based, studies of grains and health had not looked hard at the question of whether whole grains and refined grains have different health effects, or they had looked but not found any significant differences in outcomes.

In the November 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, however, researchers report for the first time that whole grain intake reduces belly fat (measured either as waist circumference or intra-abdominal, visceral fat by CT scan), while refined grain intake actually increases belly fat. The study included 2834 men and women aged 32-83 years from the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term study that looks at various factors that influence risk for heart disease. The results showed that people who eat 3 or more servings of whole grains per day have 10% less belly fat than those who eat less than one serving a day of whole grains. However, among people who ate 3 servings/day of whole grains but also ate 4 or more servings per day of refined grains, there was no benefit of the whole grains on belly fat. And, even after accounting for other lifestyle factors, higher refined grain intake was associated with bigger waist circumference.

This study is very noteworthy because it’s the first time research has demonstrated a specific effect of refined grains on increasing fatness, as well as reduction in the beneficial effect of whole grains when refined grains are consumed in the diet as well. The study’s authors conclude that “emphasis needs to be placed on the substitution of refined grains with whole grains rather than addition of whole grains to a diet already high in refined grains.” A good reminder to all of us on the importance of eating whole foods as nature intended!

Genetically Engineered Salmon on the Menu

October 06, 2010 5:21 AM by sandik

Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:

Genetically engineered food is not new on American menus. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 93% of US soy, 95% of US sugar beets, 86% of US corn and 90% of US canola is genetically modified. So when you see ingredients on a food label like corn meal, food starch, soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein, chances are you are eating genetically modified organisms (GMO). In fact, it has been estimated that 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves contains GMOs.

Now a company called AquAdvantage wants to do it in salmon. If the FDA allows this project to move forward, it will be the first genetically engineered animal sold as food.

The Atlantic salmon that AquAdvantage would produce are exactly the same as other farmed Atlantic salmon except for one thing. They carry a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from a fish called the ocean pout that freezes a growth-hormone gene in the "on" position. This causes overproduction of growth hormone which means that fish grow to marketable size about twice as fast as conventional fish.

Typically, salmon only produce the growth hormone in warm weather but this genetic change allows them to produce the growth hormone in cold weather too.

It is also interesting to note that the AquaAdvantage fish will mainly be female and will have three sets of chromosomes which will make them sterile. However, a small percentage of them will be engineered to be able to breed.

There is lots of debate about whether or not these genetically engineered salmon are safe. The two issues are whether it is safe for humans to eat these fish, and whether the fish could harm the environment if they escape out of their farm settings.

There is considerable concern from scientists and consumer groups that not enough testing has been done and the studies that have been done are in small numbers of fish. Also, there is no evidence of how healthy or unhealthy the fish will be after many years of breeding.  Critics also claim that the FDA process of approval is inadequate because it allows AquaAdvantage to keep some proprietary information private.
In addition, critics are concerned that the fish will escape and intermingle with the wild salmon population, which is already endangered. They would grow fast and consume more food which could be very detrimental to wild salmon.

There is some evidence to show that the genetic changes in the fish may make them more prone to causing allergies in people who eat them. There is also a concern that people who are already allergic to fish may have an even more severe reaction if they eat the genetically modified version.

There is also debate about whether or not this fish will be labeled as GMO if it is approved for human consumption.  It is possible that if the modified salmon is approved, consumers would not even know they were eating it. Current FDA regulations require modified foods to be labeled as such only if the food is substantially different from the conventional version, and AquaAdvantage and the FDA have said that the modified salmon is essentially the same as Atlantic salmon. If approval happens, the fish could be in grocery stores within two years.

The FDA has said there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of this fish and that there is little chance that the fish can escape because they will be bred in confined pools. “Reasonable certainty” and “little chance” are not good enough for me. They don’t seem to be good enough for European nations either who are skeptical of this technology.

AquaAdvantage claims that the fish would be bred in better conditions than many of the world's farmed salmon and could help to feed more people. They also say that having more engineered salmon will mean that the endangered wild salmon can be eaten less and their population can recover. They are also arguing that labeling the fish as genetically modified is misleading because it implies that there is a difference in this fish which they believe is not true.

Here are my thoughts in a nutshell – let’s eat fewer animal products so the animals who share our planet are not endangered and so more of the world’s population can be fed. Let’s move towards more “real food” and less processed, genetically modified, artificially farmed food. And let’s push for food labeling that is accurate and transparent. I reserve the right to know what I am eating so I can choose whether or not to eat it. That’s the message I want the FDA and AquaAdvantage to hear loudly and clearly.

Salads that Weigh You Down

October 01, 2010 11:30 AM by sandik

Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:


I have counseled patients for years on their nutrition habits, and the following scenario has come up in slightly different forms over and over again. John would like to lose ten pounds. He exercises each day even though he travels a lot for work. He eats out for over half of his meals but tells me that he works hard on making healthy choices. In John’s words, “I would never eat a burger and fries. I always choose a salad.” And there’s the problem. When John and I discussed the details, we realized that he was routinely eating 750-1,200 calorie salads.

How is it that restaurants are able to make huge, high-calorie salads and sell them to the kind of customer who wouldn’t even dream of eating a pepperoni pizza? Well, people assume salads are healthy—or at least that they’re healthier than burgers and pizza. However, the sad fact is that that assumption is often not true.

So how do we start with a bowl of healthy veggies and end up with a meal that is high in calories, saturated-fat, and sodium? The answer is in the dressing and the toppings. High-fat dressings add a ton of calories and saturated fat, as do bacon bits, processed meats and full-fat cheese. Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses in small quantities but half a cup or more added to your salad pushes the calories even higher. The result is that a restaurant chopped salad can cost you between 1,000 and 1,800 calories.

I was recently with a colleague at a salad and hot foods bar across the street from our office. It’s one of our favorite places to grab a healthy lunch…or a not-so-healthy lunch, as we found out. My colleague was heaping her plate with fresh veggies, small scoops of brown rice, chickpeas and kidney beans, and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds. She chose the balsamic vinegar as her dressing and made her way to the checkout. I was watching the person behind her as he helped himself to about half a cup of veggies, full fat cheese, bacon bits and ranch dressing. He then wandered over to the hot food section and chose small servings of several of the deep fried dishes.

Both of them ended up at adjoining cash registers at the same time and the checkout folks were giggling at the coincidence because their bowls weighed exactly the same amount. But here was the difference – my colleague ended up with a large volume of high fiber, nutritious food for lunch. The other man ended up with a small volume of food that was low in fiber, high in saturated fat, and which was two or three times the calories of the healthy salad.

So when you choose the salad on the menu, try to design it yourself. Ask for extra veggies and choose lean protein (like chicken breast, grilled shrimp or beans). Skip the deep fried tortilla, the high-fat cheese and the full-fat dressings. Ask for condiments like nuts on the side so you can add small quantities yourself. Even most fast food restaurants will allow you to customize your own salad. And in chain restaurants, check the nutritional information that is provided. You may be surprised at what the healthiest choice on the menu actually is.

Corn Sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup? A New Name Doesn't Make it Natural

September 21, 2010 1:14 PM by sandik

Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:


There is tremendous marketing power in how our foods are labeled and the Corn Refiners Association knows that only too well. Recently, this industry group applied to the federal government for permission to use a new name for high fructose corn syrup on food labels: "corn sugar."

Most Americans eat a large amount of high fructose corn syrup. According to the Agriculture Department, the average American ate 35.7 pounds of high fructose corn syrup last year. That is not hard to do as it is used as a sweetener in a myriad of products including soda, ketchup, yogurts, breads, crackers, sauces and frozen foods.

High fructose corn syrup is very popular in food production because it is less expensive than regular sugar and it is produced in a liquid form which is easy to use. It is also significantly sweeter than sugar so less of it can be used which means even more cost savings for the food manufacturers. It also increases the shelf life of foods. Noticeably, in the past five years, more and more consumers have been shying away from high fructose corn syrup because of its potential health damaging properties.

There is a strong research base that links table sugar as well as high fructose corn syrup to weight gain, high triglyceride levels and higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.

However, there is evidence to suggest that high fructose corn syrup has some negative health effects that regular table sugar may not have. High fructose corn syrup is a synthetic, manufactured product. Its chemical structure does not exist in nature. Our bodies have no evolutionary history of metabolizing this structure and yet many of us ask our bodies to deal with large quantities of it each day.

Table sugar (sucrose) does exist in nature. Our bodies are not designed to metabolize sucrose in large quantities but small quantities do not seem to have adverse health effects for most people.
High fructose corn syrup has also been shown to contain mercury which can have toxic effects on our body systems. It is also, as mentioned previously, much sweeter than sugar and there is research to support that high fructose corn syrup stimulates appetite in many people. It may also cause stress to the kidneys although more research is needed in that regard.

Some large companies, like Sara Lee, Snapple and Gatorade, are scared of losing customers and so are pulling high fructose corn syrup from their ingredient lists. Thus the response of the Corn Refiners Association is to change the name. They claim that corn sugar is a more accurate name for high fructose corn syrup. When I hear the term “corn sugar,” it makes me think that the corn on the cob has been squeezed to produce a natural sugar. When it comes to the production of high fructose corn syrup, there is nothing natural about it.

I would like to see the term "high fructose corn syrup" remain in use. And I would like to see this ingredient removed from the food supply. Americans all need to be eating far less sugar even if it comes from natural sources. There is no space in our diets for chemically produced sweeteners which may damage our health even more profoundly.

Commercial Break: Mute Unhealthy Messages and Get Active

June 09, 2010 7:49 AM by sandik

Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:


An interesting study published in this month’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association caught my eye. Researchers taped 28 days of prime-time television as well as Saturday-morning programming on the four major broadcast networks. They identified 800 foods promoted in 3,000 ads and used a nutritional software program to analyze the content of the items.

If you were to eat 2,000 calories per day of the foods most prominently advertised, you would be consuming too much salt, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugar. Your diet would also be low in fiber as well as in a number of important vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, and vitamins A, D, and E. Considering the appeal of these advertised foods, it would be easy to eat much more than 2,000 calories worth in a given day, meaning these unhealthy elements of your diet could potentially be even higher.

According to a recent article, if Americans ate only foods advertised on TV they would consume 25 times the recommended amount of sugar and 20 times the amount of fat they need, but less than half the dairy, fiber and fruits and vegetables.

Why did this study hit home for me personally? Well, we are a big baseball family and that means that our TV watching time goes up significantly during baseball season. My husband and I can easily sit more than we need to at this time of year. I am not concerned about the kids’ physical activity going down due to their TV watching. They typically are out playing baseball for longer than they are watching. And our five-year-old likes to use a bottle brush as his “baseball bat” while he stands in front of the TV and helps the MLB players with their batting and pitching!

However, there are so many unhealthy food commercials during the games. The research shows that we are more likely to want to eat the foods we see on commercials and I have noticed the kids asking for chips or French fries more often.

Imagine if we could have as many fruit and vegetable commercials as we do fast food commercials. I think it would be extremely powerful for our public health if TV was used as a way to increase cravings for healthy foods by making them look as delicious as the greasy burgers are made to look. It’s certainly easier to make fresh strawberries, peaches, or a yummy stir fry look delectable!

So I have been trying a little experiment. I have been muting the commercials and the family jumps up to do something fun instead. We bounce on the bed (all right, that might not go over well in your house but we do allow bed bouncing!), we do a team cheer (Go Mariners!) or we see who can do the most jumping jacks before the game comes back on.

It’s only been a few days but the experiment is working. We are moving, laughing and ignoring the commercials. Until the healthy stuff is featured on TV, we are going to work on not modeling our diets on what we see on the screen. Give it a try – we can be in this together!

Why the Standard American Diet is S.A.D.

May 20, 2010 10:39 AM by jenniferl

Jennifer Lovejoy, PhD, Vice President, Clinical Development & Support:


I never knew whether the nutrition experts who coined the term “Standard American Diet,” with its abbreviation “S.A.D.,” were deliberately being tongue-in-cheek or not.  Regardless, all evidence is that our diets overall in the U.S. are indeed pretty sad and have only gotten sadder in recent years.

According to a study published by Briefel and Johnson in the Annual Review of Nutrition, since the 1970s our total calorie intake has increased by about 150-200 calories per day.  This increase is attributed mainly to the fact that more of us are eating outside the home and that portion sizes have increased dramatically (think “Super-Size Me”).  While this may not seem like much, this increase in calories can lead to a 5-10 pound weight gain in a year!

The percentage of carbohydrate in our diets has also increased in recent decades, largely due to increases in sugars.  The added sweetener story itself is particularly alarming – since 1960 total added sweeteners have increased by 33% but cane and beet sugar use has actually decreased by 33% while corn-based sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup have increased by a whopping 1060%.  Along with the increase in sugars there has been an increase in added fats, which have gone up 86% in the past 30 years according to the USDA.

But, apart from changes in various nutrients, what really makes the American diet “SAD” is our over-reliance on processed foods.  According to a recent New York Times article, “Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods.” Because processed food is so high in sugar, fat and salt, it is a major contributor to our obesity epidemic and the related epidemics of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

I often wonder how it happened that we as Americans have lost sight of the fact that healthy food is fresh food.  I recently heard a presentation by a nutrition researcher who works with immigrant populations in the U.S.  He described how, to these populations who moved here from other countries, “nutritious food” by definition means “fresh, local food”.  They don’t trust “American food” (i.e. supermarket food) because they don’t know where it came from, who grew it or raised it, or how long ago it was picked.  My guess is that 50 years ago, almost all Americans would have defined nutritious food as fresh food.  Somehow in recent decades, we have been duped by the processed food industry to believe that buying food in packages, especially if it has a shelf-life of many years and has designer additives, is “healthy” for us.

A few weeks ago I was visiting Whidbey Island, one of our beautiful islands in the Puget Sound area, and I stopped by a local farm that sold fresh produce, honey, and cheese.  I talked to the cheese shop owner, who had all sorts of wonderful local and artisan cheeses available, and she shared a sad story.  She told me that she was thinking of changing her stock because, during summer tourist season, almost everyone who came to her shop was looking for processed cheese – Velveeta and “Cheez-Whiz” – for their picnics.  The freshly made local cheese didn’t sell as well as it seemed “non-food” processed cheese would and she worried about her bottom line.  I encouraged her to resist giving in to the current epidemic of bad taste but to help those who came to her shop to remember their roots.  There was a time when, if you were eating cheese, you probably knew whose cow the milk came from.  And that really wasn’t all that long ago!

So, come on America, let’s give up our “SAD” diet habits and remember who we are and how healthy and happy we were before “Big Food” came along to convince us that packaged food was the best choice.  With all the farmers’ markets and fresh food options available to us (including, ironically, online options), we can get back to our “food roots” and reclaim our health.

Portion Distortion

May 18, 2010 8:10 AM by sandik

Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:


The sun is shining in Seattle and spring is finally in the air. And my spring capri pants feel just a little snugger than this time last year. About 4 or 5 times snugger actually. This prompted me to do a couple of things recently:

a) dig my pedometer out of my drawer, buy a new battery for it and attach it to my pants
b) start tracking my food again

I somehow stopped doing both of those things during the winter months and I know those particular tools are invaluable for keeping me on track in terms of my weight and health goals.

While reviewing my food record, I noticed that my portion sizes were larger than my body needed them to be. So I got excited when I read about a Portion Distortion Profile on a website called PEERtrainer.

According to PEERtrainer, there are four basic categories of Portion Distortion. Read the questions below and see where you belong. Then I’ll share what resonated with me.

1. You distort what a portion size is because you never knew. You didn't pay attention, and have no idea what size your portions are.
2. Life has changed on you (you've just had a baby or you've started a new job and your hours have changed): you have moved to a new stage of your life.
3. You got rid of the processed foods and moved to real food, whole grains, vegetables and fruits but are having a hard time losing weight (or are gaining weight).
4. You work out all the time and look at portions in relation to your workouts, without really knowing whether calories burned equal calories eaten.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

I realized that categories 2 and 3 apply to me.

My work hours increased a year ago and thus my grocery shopping and meal preparation routines changed too. With less time to cook, I was buying lunch out way more than I had before. And we all know that restaurant servings are typically bigger than what we serve ourselves at home.

Added to this change, I had unconsciously been telling myself that because I was ordering whole foods like brown rice, tofu and veggies at the Thai restaurant, that portion size did not matter. Unfortunately, many healthy whole foods are high in calories, too, and so large portion sizes can start to increase the pounds.

What a relief to figure out why some weight had crept back on! The information that comes from self assessment enables us to make changes – to our thoughts, our beliefs and our behaviors.

If you are taking a closer look at your health behavior this spring, see if portion sizes may be part of the issue. Once you recognize some of your reasons for portion distortion, join me on my quest for continued healthier lifestyle changes!

Are Organics Better than Conventionally Grown Foods?

August 05, 2009 10:14 AM by sandik
Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, Associate Director, Clinical Development and Support:


The organic food debate was back in the news this week when a study carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was released. The review study was commissioned by The Food Standards Agency (FSA) to discover whether Britain's organic industry could claim more health benefits for its products.

Although the study concluded that there was no important nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce, these conclusions have been widely criticized by both respected researchers and organic farmers.  And thank goodness for that, because there are plenty of reasons to mistrust the study’s findings.

Firstly, the study only included 55 out of 162 studies because of particular criteria determined (and not universally agreed upon) by the researchers. When you look at all 162 studies, organic foods were frequently higher in nutrients than conventional produce. For instance, beta carotenes were 53 percent higher and flavanoids 38 percent higher in organic food than non-organic food. Both of those substances are antioxidants which have many health benefits, and these are nutrients that were not even included in the analysis done in the review. A number of other key nutrients were also ignored in the review and, importantly, toxic minerals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic (which can be found in conventional fertilizers) were also not reported.

Also, this FSA review did not look at 15 very recent studies (completed since February 2008) that focus on organic versus conventional foods. An example of a recent study that was not included was published last year in the Journal of Science, Agriculture and Food. This study is part of a large European Union (EU) funded study which was completed in April 2009. It found that organic milk contained around 60 per cent more antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids than normal milk.

Provisional results from another part of the same EU funded study, which has not yet been published, suggests that organic wheat, tomatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce also had between 10 and 20 percent more vitamins. These results were also not included in the FSA review.

The summary statement from the EU funded study will be released later this year. This study is actual research (rather than a review) and involves 31 research and university institutes.  The results released thus far show that food grown by organic methods contains more vitamins, minerals and beneficial fats and fewer heavy metals, toxins and pesticide residues.

It’s worth noting that many bigwigs at the FSA, the funders of the London group’s review, are former employees of agribusinesses.  Similarly, many of the previously published studies that find a lack of difference between organic and conventional foods were funded by Monsanto or other large agribusinesses with a vested interest in proving that conventionally-grown foods are not inferior.

So personally, I plan to continue to buy and feed my family organic foods as much as possible. And I suspect the bulk of research will continue to support that decision.

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