Category Archives: nutrition

A new book you may want to know about

There’s one thing we can all agree on:  Trying to stay healthy.

That’s why you may want to know about a new book, Killer diseases, modern-day epidemics:  Keys to stopping heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity in their tracks, by Swarna Moldanado, PhD, MPH, and Alex Moldanado, MD.

In this extraordinary book, the authors have pulled together an invaluable compendium of both evidence and advice on how to stop the “killer diseases” they call “modern-day epidemics.”

First, using their accumulated wisdom and experience in public health, nursing science, and family medical practice, Swarna and Alex Moldanado offer the reader a wide array of scientific evidence.  Next, they present their well-thought-out conclusions on how this evidence supports their theories of how to combat the killer diseases that plague us today.

Their most compelling conclusion:  Lifestyle choices have an overwhelming impact on our health.  So although some individuals may suffer from diseases that are unavoidable, evidence points to the tremendous importance of lifestyle choices.

Specifically, the authors note that evidence “points to the fact that some of the most lethal cancers are attributable to lifestyle choices.”  Choosing to smoke tobacco or consume alcohol in excess are examples of the sort of risky lifestyle choices that can lead to this killer disease.

Similarly, cardiovascular diseases–diseases of the heart and blood vessels–share many common risk factors.  Clear evidence demonstrates that eating an unhealthy diet, a diet that includes too many saturated fats—fatty meats, baked goods, and certain dairy products—is a critical factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. The increasing size of food portions in our diet is another risk factor many people may not be aware of.

On the other hand, most of us are aware of the dangers of physical inactivity.  But knowledge of these dangers is not enough.  Many of us must change our lifestyle choices.  Those of us in sedentary careers, for example, must become much more physically active than our lifestyles lend themselves to.

Yes, the basics of this information appear frequently in the media.  But the Moldanados reveal a great deal of scientific evidence you might not know about.

Even more importantly, in Chapter 8, “Making and Keeping the Right Lifestyle Choices,” the authors step up to the plate in a big way.  Here they clearly and forcefully state their specific recommendations for succeeding in the fight against killer diseases.

Following these recommendations could lead all of us to a healthier and brighter outcome.

Kudos to the authors for collecting an enormous volume of evidence, clearly presenting it to us, and concluding with their invaluable recommendations.

No more excuses!  Let’s resolve to follow their advice and move in the right direction to help ensure our good health.

 

 

 

 

Of Mice and Chocolate (with apologies to John Steinbeck)

Have you ever struggled with your weight?  If you have, here’s another question:  How’s your sense of smell?

Get ready for some startling news.  A study by researchers at UC Berkeley recently found that one’s sense of smell can influence an important decision by the brain:  whether to burn fat or to store it.

In other words, just smelling food could cause you to gain weight.

But hold on.  The researchers didn’t study humans.  They studied mice.

The researchers, Andrew Dillin and Celine Riera, studied three groups of mice.  They categorized the mice as “normal” mice, “super-smellers,” and those without any sense of smell.  Dillin and Riera found a direct correlation between the ability to smell and how much weight the mice gained from a high-fat diet.

Each mouse ate the same amount of food, but the super-smellers gained the most weight.

The normal mice gained some weight, too.  But the mice who couldn’t smell anything gained very little.

The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism in July 2017 was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.  It concluded that outside influences, like smell, can affect the brain’s functions that relate to appetite and metabolism.

According to the researchers, extrapolating their results to humans is possible.  People who are obese could have their sense of smell wiped out or temporarily reduced to help them control cravings and burn calories and fat faster.  But Dillin and Riera warned about risks.

People who lose their sense of smell “can get depressed” because they lose the pleasure of eating, Riera said.  Even the mice who lost their sense of smell had a stress response that could lead to a heart attack.  So eliminating a human’s sense of smell would be a radical step, said Dillin.  But for those who are considering surgery to deal with obesity, it might be an option.

Here comes another mighty mouse study to save the day.  Maybe it offers an even better way to deal with being overweight.

This study, published in the journal Cell Reports in September 2017, also focused on creating more effective treatments for obesity and diabetes.  A team of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found a way to convert bad white fact into good brown fat—in mice.

Researcher Irfan J. Lodhi noted that by targeting a protein in white fat, we can convert bad fat into a type of fat (beige fat) that fights obesity.  Beige fat (yes, beige fat) was discovered in adult humans in 2015.  It functions more like brown fat, which burns calories, and can therefore protect against obesity.

When Lodhi’s team blocked a protein called PexRAP, the mice were able to convert white fat into beige fat.  If this protein could be blocked safely in white fat cells in humans, people might have an easier time losing weight.

Just when we learned about these new efforts to fight obesity, the high-fat world came out with some news of its own.  A Swiss chocolate manufacturer, Barry Callebaut, unveiled a new kind of chocolate it calls “ruby chocolate.”  The company said its new product offers “a totally new taste experience…a tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.”

The “ruby bean,” grown in countries like Ecuador, Brazil, and Ivory Coast, apparently comes from the same species of cacao plant found in other chocolates.  But the Swiss company claims that ruby chocolate has a special mix of compounds that lend it a distinctive pink hue and fruity taste.

A company officer told The New York Times that “hedonistic indulgence” is a consumer need and that ruby chocolate addresses that need, more than any other kind of chocolate, because it’s so flavorful and exciting.

So let’s sum up:  Medical researchers are exploring whether the scent of chocolate or any other high-fat food might cause weight-gain (at least for those of us who are “super-smellers”), and whether high-fat food like chocolate could possibly lead to white fat cells “going beige.”

In light of these efforts by medical researchers, shouldn’t we ask ourselves this question:  Do we really need another kind of chocolate?

Munching on Meatloaf

Meatloaf, that old standby, has just acquired a new cachet.  Or has it?

A recent column by Frank Bruni in The New York Times focused on food snobs, in particular their ridicule of Donald Trump’s love of meatloaf.  Weeks earlier, Trump had “forced Chris Christie to follow his lead at a White House lunch and eat meatloaf, which the president praised as his favorite item on the menu.”

According to Bruni, a former restaurant critic, news coverage of the lunch “hinted that Trump wasn’t merely a bully but also a rube.  What grown-up could possibly be so fond of this retro, frumpy dish?”

Bruni’s answer:  “Um, me.  I serve meatloaf at dinner parties.  I devoted a whole cookbook to it.”

Allow me to join forces with Frank Bruni.  Putting aside my general negativity towards all things Trump, I have to admit I’m fond of meatloaf, too.

My recollections of eating meatloaf go back to the dining-room table in our West Rogers Park apartment in the 1950s.  My mother was never an enthusiastic cook.  She prepared meals for us with a minimal degree of joy, no doubt wishing she could spend her time on other pursuits.  It was simply expected of her, as the wife and mother in our mid-century American family, to come up with some sort of breakfast, lunch, and dinner nearly every day.

Breakfasts rarely featured much more than packaged cereal and milk.  I remember putting a dusting of sugar on corn flakes—something I haven’t done since childhood.  Did we add fresh fruit to our cereal?  Not very often.  We might have added raisins.   But fresh fruit, like the abundant blueberries and strawberries we can now purchase all year long, wasn’t available in Chicago grocery stores during our long cold ‘50s winters.  At least not in our income bracket.

Daddy occasionally made breakfast on the weekends.  I remember watching him standing in front of our ‘30s-style mint green enamel-covered stove, whipping up his specialty, onions and eggs, with aplomb.  But those highly-anticipated breakfasts were rare.

[I recently discovered that stoves like that one are still available.  They’re advertised online by a “retro décor lover’s dream resource” in Burbank, as well as on eBay, where an updated model is currently listed for $4,495.]

As for lunch, my public grade school compelled us to walk home for lunch every day.  Only a handful of sub-zero days broke that mold.  Our school had no cafeteria, or even a lunchroom, where kids could eat in frigid weather.  Only on alarmingly cold days were we permitted to bring a lunch from home and eat it in the school auditorium.  If we pleaded convincingly enough, our parents might let us buy greasy hamburgers at Miller’s School Store.

Most days I’d walk home, trudging the six long blocks from school to home and back within an hour. Mom would have lunch waiting for me on our breakfast-room table, mostly sandwiches and the occasional soup.  Mom rarely made her own soup.  She generally opened cans of Campbell’s “vegetable vegetarian,” eschewing canned soups that included any possibility of unknown meat.

Mom’s dinner specialties included iceberg-lettuce salads, cooked veggies and/or potatoes, and a protein of some kind.  Because of her upbringing, she invariably chose fish, poultry, or cuts of meats like ground beef, beef brisket, and lamb chops.

Which brings us to meatloaf.

I must have liked Mom’s meatloaf because I don’t have a single negative memory associated with it.  And when I got married and began preparing meals for my own family, I never hesitated to make meatloaf myself.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to prepare dinner every night.  I was immensely lucky to marry a man who actually enjoyed cooking.  Although I inherited my mother’s reluctance to spend much time in the kitchen, Herb relished preparing elaborate gourmet dishes á la Julia Child—in fact, he often used her cookbook—and proudly presenting them to our daughters and me whenever his schedule allowed.

But when I was the cook, meatloaf was one of my favorite choices.  I’d buy lean ground beef, add breadcrumbs, ketchup, and assorted herbs and spices, mix it all together with my bare hands, and heat the finished product until it was just right.  Aware by then of warnings about high-fat red meat, I’d carefully remove my loaf pan from the oven and scrupulously drain as much fat from the pan as I could.  The result?  A tasty and relatively low-fat dish.  My family loved it.

At some point I discovered the glories of leftover meatloaf.  Chilled in the fridge overnight, it made a toothsome sandwich the next day.  It was especially good on rye bread and loaded with ketchup.  Wrapped in a plastic baggie, it would go from home to wherever I traveled to work, and I had to use my most stalwart powers of self-discipline to wait till lunchtime to bite into its deliciousness.

Those days are sadly over.  I rarely prepare dinner for my family anymore, and my consumption of meat products has gone way down.  Most days, when I reflect on what I’ve eaten, I realize that, more often than not, I’ve unknowingly eaten a wholly vegetarian diet.

I haven’t eaten meatloaf in years.  But hearing about Trump’s penchant for it has awakened my tastebuds.  If I could just get my hands on a tasty low-fat version like the one I used to make, my long meatloaf-drought might finally be over.

P.S. re Sugar

Sugar has been the focus of two of my previous posts, the October 2015 post on chewing sugar-free gum to avoid tooth decay (“Chew on This”) and a more general indictment of sugar in October 2014 (“Gimme a Little Sugar”).

I now have a P.S. to add to those.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the FDA has endorsed a proposed revision to the Nutrition Facts label that appears on about 700,000 packaged food items. The new label will give consumers more information about the sugar hidden in their food.

Here’s the proposed change: labels will specify the amount of “added sugars” in a product. In other words, it will highlight the sugar that doesn’t naturally occur in the product’s other ingredients. It will also include the percentage of an adult’s recommended daily intake of sugar this added sugar represents. Significantly, it will caution consumers to “AVOID TOO MUCH” of these added sugars.

The US calls this “a win for science” because it validates the strong scientific evidence that consuming too much sugar contributes to diseases affecting millions of Americans. It’s a major win because scientists were up against both the sugar lobby and the powerful packaged-food industry’s lobbyists, all of whom fought against the proposed change.

It’s also a win for public health because “Americans remain remarkably uninformed about the health dangers of excessive sugar intake” and even about how much sugar they’re already consuming. The average is more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day! And an estimated 74 percent of all packaged foods—including many presumably non-sweet products like soups, salad dressings, and crackers—contain added sugar.

The UCS will continue to fight for the proposed change in hopes that the new label is finalized soon.

This info appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Catalyst, a UCS publication.