Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stop the Pop! Part ll

Previously, Big Sister Marsha, RN, MSN, talked about the health hazards of drinking sugary drinks, and not just soda pop, either. Juice, and sports drinks, as she noted, are also full of sugar. Too often, we assume that these are healthy alternatives to soft drinks. In a recent study, which I read about here, Harvard researchers found links between consumption of sugary drinks and various health issues for young girls. Like BSM, the study didn't differentiate between these beverage options, and its findings ranged from the obvious result of too much sugar consumption (obesity) and the not so obvious:
Among nearly 5,600 girls aged 9 to 14 who were followed between 1996 and 2001, the researchers found that those who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks a day had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who drank two or fewer of these drinks a week.
Starting your period two to three months earlier than average doesn't sound like that big a deal, does it? However, study author Jenny Carwile, a postdoctoral associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, goes on to say:
"Starting periods early is a risk factor for depression during adolescence and breast cancer during adulthood. Thus, our findings have implications beyond just starting menstruation early." 
I highly recommend reading the whole article, but in case you are pressed for time, it closes with excellent observations and solid advice (emphasis mine):

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, said, "Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as sodas, have no nutritional value. One may wonder what nutrients -- such as vitamins, minerals and protein -- are being replaced by these drinks that can lead to this metabolic problem," she added.
"Whatever the reasons for the earlier start of periods, there is no good reason for anyone to be drinking sugar-sweetened drinks or sodas regularly, at any age," Heller said.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

This Just In...

Earlier in this blog we talked about how American chocolate had won a fight to keep British chocolate, made with more natural ingredients, out of this country. Today, Hershey's has announced its pulling some GMOs out of their most popular products:

from The Daily Mail:
The company is also dropping emulsifier polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR) and artificial vanillin, the Confectionery News reported. PGPR reduces the viscosity of chocolate and is used by companies as a replacement for expensive raw ingredient cocoa butter...The decision comes amid a growing backlash against 'Frankenfoods'. Critics of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) foods consider them environmentally suspect and a possible health threat.
This new direction was caused, it turns out, by a vocal backlash against the use of GMOs on Hershey's Facebook page, but also a lean, as the article mentions, of its competitors away from GMOs and other items of offense, such as high fructose corn syrup. Anyway, this is a step in the right direction for Hershey and American foods in general. As the Aussies would say, "Good on ya, Hershey Facebook followers!"

As consumers, and as citizens, we need to keep up the pressure on not just food producers, but legislators, too, for healthy, natural, or at the very least, in my view, clearly labeled products to help us make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. Even on stuff we shouldn't be eating anyway, like candy bars.

A whole new world--now with fewer mystery ingredients!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reduce, Recycle--Do NOT Re-use!

I'm a cheapskate, I admit it. I hate to buy stuff. When I do have to buy stuff, I try to make it last. I'm also concerned about the environment. So when It comes to "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle", I'm in my comfort zone. I regularly wash out plastic water and soda bottles and re-fill them, using them during exercise or just around the house. Now it may not be a surprise to anyone but me, but this is actually a REALLY BAD IDEA:

from "What You Need to Know Before You Reuse that Water Bottle," Huffington Post:

...experts pointed out that commercial bottled water manufacturers don't recommend that consumers reuse their disposable bottles. That's because "everyday wear and tear from repeated washings and reuse can lead to physical breakdown of the plastic, such as visible thinning or cracks. Bacteria can harbor in the cracks, posing a health risk," they wrote.
It seems unfair that something that does not otherwise degrade, hence the Reducing, Re-using and Recycling, is susceptible to damage that will make me sick. Even if I wash it like crazy. And, as long as we're at it, let's say hello to our old friend, BPA:
Surely your inner germaphobe is thinking, "No problem, I'll just pop all my water bottles in the dishwasher and that'll take care of that." While the "impact of dishwashing or washing in hot (say 120-degree household hot water) should be minor on the chemical structure of most plastics intended as being 'dishwasher safe,'" disposable bottles "are intended to be used [one] time and then disposed, not reused," says Scott Belcher, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati, who has conducted research on the release of endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) from different kinds of water bottles. "Heating will certainly increase the rate at which chemicals can migrate from the plastic," he says.
I don't know about you, but there's no way I'm going to buy new bottles of water every time I want to go to the gym. So what are my choices?

Those numbers on plastic? They all mean something. Follow this link to learn more.
Safer choices include bottles crafted from safer HDPE (plastic #2), low-density polyethylene (LDPE, AKA plastic #4) or polypropylene (PP, or plastic #5). Aluminum bottles, such as those made by SIGG and sold in many natural food and natural product markets, and stainless steel water bottles are also safe choices and can be reused repeatedly and eventually recycled.

All good, right? thought I. I'll just go out and buy a reusable bottle, marked with a 2, a 4 or a 5. Or maybe I'll just look into what one of those SIGG bottles cost....whoa Nelly! 24.99 and up?! Jeez! 

Okay, so I started looking around in local stores. I noticed a whole top-to-bottom shelf of "BPA-free" bottles in Joann's Fabrics, each costing 8.99 a pop. Better, but still too much. Next stop, grocery store. They had the same stuff for the exact same price in the bottled water aisle. I felt I could still do better, so I kept looking, and I was right:

I found this 2-pack for 9.99 in the plastic container aisle (ziploc bags and Tupperware-type stuff). At 5.49 a piece, I could feel good about it. Go me. 

UPDATE: I've been using them for a couple of weeks, and I must say I am more than pleased. They are sturdy, haven't leaked so far, and water tastes fresh and not like plastic. I especially enjoy the opening you drink from; it's rounded and comfortable, much better that the often sharp edge of a disposable drinking bottle. And the wide neck makes it easy to clean. If you are looking for something that can do hot or cold, then obviously these babies aren't for you. But if you just want a bottle you can re-use without fear of dangerous chemicals, and you're on a budget, then I highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Stop the Pop!

When not using her powers to keep me from death's door, my Big Sister Marsha, RN, MSN, works to improve the health of kids who are lucky enough to have her as their school nurse. One of the ways she does this is to write small articles for her school's newsletter, and I've asked her to share some of these with us. Below is her January article, and it features great advice for starting a new year off right.  I'll be adding my two cents as well (natch), but first, take it away, Marsha:
It's the New Year and we all make resolutions, many of which have to do with improving our health.  Even one change for the better can make a big difference.  For example, we can all benefit from reducing the sugar in our diets.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to remove sugared beverages from your house: soda, juice, sports drinks, all of it!  
BUT, I only drink diet pop, you say? Unfortunately, there's still a lot that is unknown regarding how the artificial sweeteners in diet soda affect the body and metabolism, and the safety of them is continuously debated. Something that isn't up for debate? That diet drinks are basically water with a whole lot of chemicals added.  What could be good for you in that? It's important to stay hydrated, so do it efficiently, by drinking only plain water and low-fat milk. Make 2015 your healthiest year yet! Stop the pop!
Thanks, Marsha! So much truth in there. Whether it's the sugar in regular pop or the questionable chemicals in diet versions, soft drinks aren't something your body derives any benefit from. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The High Cost of Eating Cheap

Eating healthy on a tight budget is one of the most challenging things you can try to do. The good news (I guess) is that you're not alone.

This fantastic article from Dr. Mark Hyman explains in detail why it's so hard, and offers tips to help. He also highlights the importance of a healthy diet, not just for long-term consequences, but also for  more immediate concerns. I have bolded the optimal sentences:
...(w)hen you eat unhealthy foods [fast food and/or processed, packaged food], the costs of medical visits, co-pays, prescription medications, and other health services skyrocket. There are other non-economic costs of eating poorly as well. You reduce your ability to enjoy life in the moment due to increased fatigue, low-grade health complaints, obesity, depression, and more.

Just looking at this is depressing me

Dr. Hyman goes on to say that: 
The biggest advantage of eating well now is not just preventing disease and costs later, but simply enjoying each day to its fullest. You can make that happen. Eating well doesn’t have to cost more.
I highly recommend following the link and reading the article in its entirety. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Meatless Monday

Eating less meat is a healthy choice, in more ways than one:

click on the picture to enlarge

Predictably, this perfectly reasonable idea has received a certain amount of push-back from meat producers and their supporters, as well as those who have a problem with reasonable ideas in general.

For the rest of us, being vegetarian one day a week will probably not make us head for an ashram any time soon. In fact, depriving ourselves for just that one day might actually make us appreciate meat that much more. That's the sort of "mindfulness" about what we put into our bodies that's worth having. Questions like: What is this? Where did it come from? Do I really need it? are a great way to learn about food and health, not to mention all of the factors, political, environmental, mental, and even spiritual, that influence our eating decisions every day.

The official Meatless Monday website offers a lot of great suggestions on how to go meatless today, as well as offering a lot of good info on healthy eating in general. Go take a look!

My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

February is Cancer Prevention Month

President's Day and St. Valentine's Day. The shortest month with the worst weather. Being hard to spell. February.

Turns out, February is also Cancer Prevention Month, and February 4th was World Cancer Day. The most common cause of cancer after smoking, the latest research shows, is obesity. A handy info-graphic (which doesn't get real big for some reason) spells it out:

click on the picture to enlarge

The American Institute for Cancer Research has created a page at this link, complete with a video, to learn more about how to loose weight and protect yourself from the Big C.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


The world is full of dieting advice, and it's hard to know which is right. Low-fat or low-carb? Paleo or vegan? Sinatra or Atkins?

Nope, not that one

Logically, advice based on solid scientific research should get the most credence. However, when the curtain is lifted on the funding of that research, or the motives behind the research, some ugly truths can be revealed.

Take the long standing idea that eating less fat is supposed to be the silver bullet to loosing weight. That's a no brainer, right? Eat less fat, BE less fat! Yet a recent revisiting of how that ball got rolling revealed that not only is that truism less than true, it may be dangerously false (read the entire article here).
Cutting back on saturated fat has had especially harmful consequences for women, who, due to hormonal differences, contract heart disease later in life and in a way that is distinct from men. If anything, high total cholesterol levels in women over 50 were found early on to be associated with longer life. This counterintuitive result was first discovered by the famous Framingham study on heart-disease risk factors in 1971 and has since been confirmed by other research.
That's just one example; be sure to read the entire article for more surprising and unsettling facts. This article from Business Insider also covers much of the same "fat not bad, lies were told" ground, but still worth a read.

Sweden Weighs In

Really running with the idea that a low-fat diet is flawed and possibly dangerous, a recent Swedish study suggests that it's not just okay to eat certain highly saturated fats, but positively heathy:
Butter, olive oil, heavy cream, and bacon are not harmful foods. Quite the opposite. Fat is the best thing for those who want to lose weight. And there are no connections between a high fat intake and cardiovascular disease.
Hm! Gotta believe those Swedes, right? All that cool furniture, those great fish snacks, those excellent meatballs, ABBA...but bacon? Seriously--bacon?

Okay, I had to know what that was about. So I went over to, a Swedish daily in English, and got the skinny on the fat:
Many of the studies to which Dahlqvist, and fellow LCHF advocates such as Andreas Eenfeldt, Ekot has found, are funded by food industry groups despite their insistence to the contrary ... Ekot's report indicates that among the financiers of some of the studies referred to by the pair include the US-based National Cattlemen's Association, dairy firm Swissmilk and other organisations linked to the now deceased Robert Atkins, who gave his name to a similar popular diet.
All right, so even Swedish dietitians can be a little shady. A researcher has to get their funding where they can find it, after all. But where does that leave us, the consumers? With all this confusing information from sources that should be reliable out there, how do we know who to believe?


In my view, to make sure you're not jumping aboard some fad diet bandwagon, first, use common sense, and second, ask yourself two questions:

1) Am I going to have to eat this way for the rest of my life to keep my weight under control?

If the answer is yes, and your diet has you eating nothing but Jello and sardines, you may be on a fad diet.

2) Did my grandparents ever eat this?

If your grandparents are in their '60's or younger, this question probably doesn't apply to you. Your grandparents ate the same highly processed, sugar- and chemical-filled crap you grew up eating. For you older folks, your grandparents prepared and ate food that was grown without chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, shot full of hormones and genetically modified. Try to eat more like them. And take big sweeping claims about weight loss and health with a grain of salt.

ABBA displaying amazing Swedish ice cream eating powers

Sunday, February 1, 2015

"One word, Benjamin..."


Earlier on this blog we've posted about the dangers of BPA, a chemical found in the styrofoam containers of instant noodle cups ("Stuff to Stop Eating Right Now", Jan. 26, 2015). Now this recently released study done by the University of Calgary suggests a definite link between this chemical, also found in plastic, and undesirable outcomes in zebrafish development:
The researchers exposed zebrafish embryos to concentrations of BPA and BPS [chemicals in plastics; Ed.] that regularly occur in major rivers in Alberta, Canada. They described zebrafish as "a widely accepted biomedical model for understanding embryonic brain development." ...[W]hat we show is that the zebrafish exposed to BPA or BPS were getting twice as many neurons born too soon and about half as many neurons born later, so that will lead to problems in how the neurons connect and form circuits."
The researcher goes onto say that she was very surprised by the results. After all:
"This was a very, very, very low dose, so I didn't think using a dose this low could have any effect."
The article explains that it's not just the brains of unborn zebrafish who are at risk here--it's unborn people, too. But don't despair. There is a solution:
Our data here, combined with over a dozen physiological and behavioral human studies that begin to point to the prenatal period as a BPA window of vulnerability, suggest that pregnant mothers limit exposure to plastics(.)
Got it, soon-to-be moms? Limit your exposure to plastic! It's just that easy! Now back away from that keyboard ...

But wait! It's not just those women and their babies who are at risk from chemicals found in plastics. This study, definitely worth a read, showed that premenopausal women are at risk, as well:
Women whose bodies contained high levels of certain chemicals found in plastics and cosmetics experienced menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower amounts in their systems, US researchers said Wednesday. "Chemicals linked to earlier menopause may lead to an early decline in ovarian function, and our results suggest we as a society should be concerned," said senior author Amber Cooper, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Ovarian function is important because without it, women are infertile and may be at risk for earlier development of heart disease, osteoporosis and other health problems.
"But we can educate ourselves about our day-to-day chemical exposures and become more aware of the plastics and other household products we use...[although] many of these chemical exposures are beyond our control because they are in the soil, water and air," Cooper said.
At least this scientist had some better advice than the crew above who just told gals to stay away from plastic:
She recommended people use glass or paper containers when microwaving food, and minimize their exposure to harmful chemicals in the cosmetics and personal care products they choose.
Children? Heart health? Strong bones? Who needs 'em!

Stay Weird, My Friends