Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: nutrition

Tell the FDA how you want the bad news delivered on your fave restaurant food

July 7, 2010 |  7:27 pm

It's been just over three months since the landmark healthcare reform bill was signed into law, and the federal government is now drafting the regulations that will bring some of the law's key anti-obesity initiatives to a restaurant or fast-food counter near you.

Specifically, the bill made it the law of the land that restaurants that are part of a chain of more than 20 stores must post for consumers the calorie content of their offerings. Consumers must be able to get, in writing and on the spot, a lot of additional details about the nutritional content of the food served, including its total fat, saturated fat, sodium, fiber, total carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and total protein.

Now, several states and local jurisdictions beat the federal government to the punch on this. But the federal law will impose greater consistency on what is a patchwork of nutritional-posting requirements. 

For patients with diabetes, those who tote their points with Weight Watchers, or watch their carbs on one of the many low-carb diets, for consumers concerned about sodium's impact on their blood pressure or seeking to banish saturated fat from their plate, the way in which of all this information is presented can make it easier or harder to follow an eating plan. So here's your chance to tell the FDA how you would have restaurants, delicatessens, fast-food-joints, shops brewing coffee or scooping ice cream -- even movie theaters -- organize and provide nutritional information for consumers like you.

Here's the link to give the FDA a piece of your mind. (After choosing "submit a comment," you'll need to supply the following "Docket number": FDA-2010-N-0298 and hit "search.")

The site for comments opened midday Thursday and will stay open for 60 days.

Still wondering how healthcare reform will affect you? Here's the government's comprehensive site.

--Melissa Healy

TV and children: Ads for fast food are up, ads for sweets and cookies are down

July 5, 2010 |  1:30 pm

Children television TV isn’t the same as it used to be, especially when it comes to children’s shows.

Though friendly faces such as Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur used to be popular among kids, hyper-active animated samurais and brightly colored creatures from the Gabba gang now rule the small screen.

The same can be said about television food advertisements. Something has definitely changed…

Using television rating data from Nielsen Media Research for 2003, 2005 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed trends in exposure to food advertising by age and race for children and adolescents, and came up with some interesting findings.

Whereas in 2003, cereal was the most frequently seen food product in kids' food advertisements, by 2007 fast food ads were the most frequently seen ads for children of all ages.

Why is this not shocking?

On a more optimistic note, however, the study found that the overall number of food ads seen daily fell rather drastically from 2003 to 2007, especially among audiences aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 11 years old. (The number of candy bar and cookie ads also fell in all age categories, a statistic that is sure to make mothers happy.)

The study, which placed viewers into one of three categories by age — 2 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 15 --  also looked at their exposure to food ads by race. African American children in all age categories in all three years of ratings saw more food ads per day than their white counterparts, the scientists found.

Further troubling was the seesaw change in food advertising trends, in which a victory in one area signaled a defeat in another.  For example, although the greatest percentage increase in beverage ad exposure was for bottled water (Yay for health!), exposure to diet soft drink ads also increased significantly, just not as much.

“It’s a little disturbing,” said Lisa Powell, lead author of the study and associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “On the one hand, the number of advertisements selling sweets and soft drinks to kids has decreased quite substantially -- but on the other hand, you see that the number of ads for diet soda drinks, and racial targeting has also increased.”

Planning to take the study further, Powell said that she will now add 2009’s ratings into the mix. And she  wants to start monitoring the nutritional contents of products advertised to children.

The study is published online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: By 2007, fast food ads were the most seen ads for children of all ages. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Feeling hungry? Here are the 50 fattiest foods in the country

June 30, 2010 |  5:07 pm

What a couple of weeks it's been. The United States government released its Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, which acknowledges that people are too heavy and should eat a more plant-based diet. Then a report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation let us know that residents of 28 states are still gaining weight.

Ksps9jnc So it makes sense that would come out with its list of the "50 Fattiest Foods Across the Nation," a state-by-state rundown of the worst fat and sugar-laden offerings. Let's start with California, where the venerable In-N-Out Double-Double comes in at 670 calories and 18 grams of saturated fat. Although some people think this hamburger is the stuff dreams are made of, others see it as an artery-clogging nightmare.

We'll move on to Colorado, which typically gets good marks for having lower obesity rates compared with the rest of the country. They must be doing something right, and it probably isn't eating Jack-N-Grill's grande breakfast burrito that weighs in at -- what? -- five pounds. We're not even going to mention calories and fat because it would probably make us weep.

New York (or Manhattan, really) is known as foodie heaven, but the state's contribution to the list of fattiest foods doesn't exactly fall under the category of "gourmet." This one is called the "Garbage Plate," and it consists of a starchy base such as home fries, macaroni salad or baked beans topped with some type of meat (cheeseburger, fried ham, sausage) and covered with a boatload of condiments. There's even a veggie burger version! Considering the countless variations possible, it's no wonder there's no official nutritional information for this dish, which allegedly was born at a Rochester restaurant called Nick Tahou Hots in 1918. But estimates put it at anywhere from 93 to 203 grams of fat per plate. Mmmmmm.

Feeling queasy yet? No? Good, because there's lots more. Hey, Mississippi, we hear your obesity rates are through the roof! That's too bad, because your Mud Pie is one of our guilty pleasures. This sweet treat can be made a number of different ways, but basically relies on chocolate, cream, butter and sugar. There's a commercial version of the pie that has 35 grams of fat per serving. But who's counting?

Let's head north to Vermont, that pretty state that gave the world Ben and Jerry, as in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Yes, there are sugar-free and lower-fat frozen desserts, but beware the Vermonster, which has 20 scoops of ice cream, plus hot fudge, bananas, cookies, brownies and other toppings. Wait -- you're supposed to share this? With other people? Oh.

In Washington the big offender is a salad. Not just any salad, but a Crab Louis. And Louis apparently knows how to ratchet up the calories and fat. Blame it on the mayonnaise-based dressing, which probably accounts for most of the 15 to 25 grams of fat. But at least there's some lettuce and tomatoes in there.

And finally, give some props to Arizona, which hasn't been feeling the love so much these days. There you can indulge in a Quadruple Bypass Burger at the Heart Attack Grill. This puppy is guesstimated to have 8,000 calories and at least 60 grams of fat. We'll take ours with a side of irony, please.

-- Jeannine Stein

The In-N-Out Double-Double burger ranks as one of the fattiest foods in America. Photo credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

A low-carb guru weighs in on the dietary guidelines

June 29, 2010 |  5:59 pm

Experts buzzing about the scientific report of the dietary guidelines advisory committee released in mid-June certainly had a qualm here and there about the panel's tentative recommendations. But on the whole, a roundup of expert opinion gathered by The Times' Health section suggested there are some points of consensus about how -- and what -- to eat to get and stay healthy.

Proponents of a very low-carbohydrate diet such as that championed by Dr. Robert Atkins, however, found a lot to be steamed about as they read the report. The panel seemed to diss the low-carb lifestyle and its prospects for helping American adults shed excess weight.

Dr. Stephen Phinney, co-author of "The New Atkins for a New You," predictably took issue with the scientific advisory panel's assertion that "there is some evidence that [diets less than 45% of calories from carbohydrate] may be less safe."

That claim only works, says Dr. Phinney, if one is highly selective in the data one chooses to consider.

"Yes, in some -- but certainly not all -- studies, the Atkins diet raises total and maybe LDL cholesterol levels," Phinney acknowledges. But over the past two decades, thinking on cholesterol has changed. "That might have been worrisome" back when cholesterol was just a blunt instrument, a single number, says Dr. Phinney. "But now we know that the Atkins diet raises HDL (i.e., "good') cholesterol, which helps explain why the total cholesterol can go up without increasing risk."

Add to this what Phinney calls "the excellent evidence that carbohydrate restriction changes LDL cholesterol from the bad 'small dense' form to the lower-risk larger particles" -- a shift that represents a major reduction in risk, says Phinney. "But that is completely missed if one just uses the old way of measuring total LDL cholesterol." Finally, Phinney says, in most studies where it was measured, when people actually follow the Atkins diet, their level of inflammation -- which many believe is a predictor of heart disease risk -- goes down.

 "A great deal of recent data that the Atkins diet may actually be more safe," says Phinney.

Phinney also objected to what he called the "continued demonization of saturated fats by the committee."  He cites a recent journal article that makes the case there is no evidence to support the widespread belief that the consumption of saturated fat negatively affects heart health or overall mortality.

For people who follow the Atkins diet -- even those who eat more dietary saturated fat when they do -- blood levels of saturated fats go down, says Phinney. This apparent paradox, he adds, is due to a combination of the body adapting to a low-carb diet by rapidly burning saturated fats as fuel, plus a sharp reduction in the liver's production of saturated fats from dietary carbohydrates.

The dietary guidelines advisory committee, however, may have discounted evidence for these effects because published studies providing such data are relatively new. 

"Frankly, I agree there might be concerns about combining a heavy intake of saturated fats along with lots of sugar and refined carbohydrate," Phinney says. "This combination (think double bacon cheeseburger plus supersized soda) is a diabolical combination designed to dramatically raise the saturated fat levels in your blood triglycerides.

"But when one removes the refined carbs and sugars, eats the 'foundation vegetables,' moderate protein, and healthy fats as described in our book, blood levels of saturated fats plummet, particularly in people with high risk conditions associated with insulin resistance (such as metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes)."

-- Melissa Healy

Wow! Can raw cane juice really do all that? Science suggests, 'No.'

June 25, 2010 |  4:07 pm

Sugarcane With a stereotypical population of thin, fit and nutrition-obsessed people, Los Angeles is by many counts a mecca for healthful living and eating – a city where nonfat frozen yogurt shops pop up overnight and where at least one yoga studio per block seems mandatory. And Angelenos themselves are hungry for anything that will give them energy, keep them looking young or reverse the side effects of their younger, more self-destructive days.

If you tell an Angeleno that sticking a sprig of rosemary up one’s nose will reduce hair loss or improve complexion, be prepared to see someone with a sprig of rosemary up his or her nose. People here, it seems, will do anything, try anything, drink anything, for the sake of health.

Which is why this new raw cane juice trend -- and the health claims about it -- are perhaps to be expected ...

Popping up at farmers' markets throughout the city, raw cane juice -- the sweet liquid squeezed from sugar cane -- is the latest food fad. Aside from its "raw" appeal, cane juice is reputed, depending on your source, to: soothe sore throats, cure jaundice, prevent cold and flu, fight breast and prostate cancer, maintain normal kidney function and provide strength to the heart, eyes and brain.

"Wow," you may be thinking, "what a miracle drink! I must head to the nearest farmers' market immediately to pick myself up a bottle!"

Not so fast. Lest we get caught up in hearsay, we decided to get a health expert’s opinion on the juice.

(Now would be a good time to remove your keys from the ignition.)

When questioned about the purported miracle properties of raw cane juice, Roger Clemens, adjunct professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the USC, replied, quite firmly: “No studies have proven these health benefits.”

When asked whether raw cane juice could help soothe a sore throat or energize the body, he replied: “I’ve been working in this field for 40 years, and I’ve never seen any evidence for any of this.”

What about so-called alkalizing properties that can help fight breast and prostate cancer? “Nothing in science backs it up.”

How about raw cane juice as an energy drink – maybe it could, at the very least, serve as a pick-me-up to get you through the 4 o’clock slump at work? 

“There’s a difference between nutritionally rich and calorically rich,” Clemens said. “The bottom line is there isn’t any scientific evidence to support these purported claims.”

So there you have it, folks. Drink raw cane juice if you like the taste – but don’t expect miracles. Or much at all.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: A man chops sugar cane, from which an L.A. food fad is derived, in Cuba.

Credit: Associated Press

Get health info, meet Mario Lopez at the Alive and Well L.A. health expo

June 22, 2010 | 12:44 pm

What's more fun and less stressful than going to the doctor, but still good for you? Attending the Alive and Well L.A. health expo this weekend, where health screenings, information on disease prevention and exercise programs will be available to the public.

L3kg2knc The free, two-day expo, to take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature a number of health-centric celebs such as trainer Bob Harper from "The Biggest Loser," Dr. Robert Rey, aka "Dr. 90210," and "Extra" host and uber-workout guy Mario Lopez.

If you're feeling ultra-fit, you can see how you measure up to Lopez on Saturday afternoon at the Celsius Fitness Age Challenge, where cardio, strength and endurance tests will determine your fitness age. Our money's on Lopez, but heck, give it a shot.

Or, check out GE's Healthymagination Tour to see a 3-D model of your muscular, cardiovascular, nervous, and skeletal systems -- and upload to them to your Facebook page. Of course, if your physique leans more toward Homer Simpson than Lance Armstrong, you may want to keep that information to yourself.

Other attractions will help get you moving, such as the soccer challenge booth and the rock climbing wall. Plus, you can bone up on information about kidney health and nutrition and cancer treatment, and meet Dr. Peter H. Grossman of the Grossman Burn Centers. A number of NBC4 on-air personalities will be in attendance as well.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Meet Mario Lopez during Saturday's Celsius Fitness Age Challenge at this weekend's Alive and Well L.A. health expo. Credit: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images for Celsius

Book Review: 'Gold Medal Fitness' by Dara Torres

June 19, 2010 |  3:31 pm

GoldMedalFitnessFINAL JACKET

Dara Torres was 41 when she won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, beating women years her junior and becoming the oldest swimming medalist in the history of the Games. Her wins were a victory for older athletes everywhere. 

In "Gold Medal Fitness," written with Billie Fitzpatrick, Torres answers the question many have asked her since: How did she do it?

Her new book -- a follow-up to her memoir, "Age Is Just a Number"  -- outlines the fitness program that she says remade her body and helped her win races long past the age at which most competitive swimmers hang up their goggles.

"Gold Medal Fitness" shows readers how to replicate her type of workouts and perhaps experience greater success in their own athletic endeavors. It describes the swimmer's approaches to goal-setting, diet and exercise; offers 35 days of simple menu plans; features pictures and descriptions of the kinds of exercises and stretches that are a mainstay of her workout; and gives tips on cardio and recovery.

Torres says she has become stronger, leaner and more efficient through a type of strength training she learned from Andy O'Brien that works on three planes of movement to strengthen core muscles. She says most exercise equipment is designed to strengthen one or two muscle groups at a time on a singular plane, whereas most life activities and sports work on multiple planes: up and down, forward and back, side to side and rotating top and bottom.

Though she says the "deceptively simple" exercises shown in her book can be done by people at any level of fitness, they do require equipment and a commitment to learning the proper form. Access to a gym -- as well as a workout partner or trainer -- is probably a given, since exercises call for a BOSU trainer, a Swiss ball, a medicine ball, dumbbells, a cable machine and an incline bench. 

Torres has attained her flexibility, she says, from a resistance stretching program called Ki-Hara that she learned from Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney. Ki-Hara incorporates eccentric training, which contracts and lengthens muscles at the same time. Torres says this type of training builds more muscle power, helps create fast-twitch muscles and speeds recovery. She says Ki-Hara has "literally changed" her body so that she's become faster in the pool and more in balance. These exercises don't require equipment, though a yoga mat, towel and Swiss ball can be used.

Continue reading »

Eating more brown rice may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, study finds

June 14, 2010 |  1:01 pm

Brown rice has long been perceived as more healthful when compared to the white variety. Now a study backs up those claims, finding that those who eat more brown rice could be at lower risk for type 2 diabetes.

Ijy9eqnc The study, released Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine, examined data from three prospective cohort studies involving 39,765 men and 157,463 women. Study participants were asked about lifestyle habits and chronic diseases throughout the years of the studies. Overall, eating more white rice -- five or more servings per week -- was associated with a 17% increased risk of developing diabetes, compared with those who ate less than one serving per month. Eating two or more servings of brown rice per week was linked with an 11% decreased risk of developing the disease, compared with eating less than one serving a month.

The brown rice advantage was seen after researchers adjusted for age, plus lifestyle and dietary risk factors. Because some cultures have diets heavy on rice, the study authors also looked at data on white study participants only, and found similar associations.

White rice, when it goes through a refining process, loses most of its bran and germ, the greatest sources of fiber and nutrients. Brown rice, considered a whole grain, leaves the bran and germ intact.

Men and women who ate more white rice were also less likely to have European ancestry, and more apt to have a family history of diabetes. This group was also associated with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, but low in whole grains and cereal fiber.

Brown rice eaters were more likely to be physically active, leaner, and less likely to smoke or have a family history of diabetes. They also ate a lot of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, but less red meat and trans fats.

Researchers speculate that based on the study findings, eating 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces, or a third of a serving) of brown rice a day instead of white rice could be associated with a 16% decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Similarly, replacing white rice with whole grains in general could up that risk reduction to 36%.

The study was supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health. Lead author Dr. Qi Sun of the Harvard School of Public Health is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from Unilever Corporate Research.

-- Jeannine Stein

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Photo: Eating more white rice may be associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Photo credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

Book Review: 'Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat' by Nancy L. Snyderman

June 12, 2010 |  8:15 am


The Information Age has not been kind to the dieter. The sheer volume of nutritional data available today can be overwhelming. And dietary advice seems to change with the season -- eat more carbs, don't eat carbs, count calories, don't count calories, cut back on fats, eat all the fats you want. Who can keep up?

NBC News chief medical editor, physician and author Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman attempts to bring some sanity to the table with her book "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat," now out in paperback.

In it, she examines the many diet and nutrition beliefs floating around today -- some that she says are true and others that are anything but. She looks at popular weight-loss strategies and describes their origins, how they work, whether they're effective and how they stack up medically and nutritionally. 

Snyderman's perspective is both personal and professional. She writes about gaining the typical "freshman 15" when she started college -- and how she kept gaining until she eventually tipped the scales at 200 pounds. She experimented with fad diets to lose weight and spent years going up and down in weight. She writes, "I've starved myself, and I've pigged out; I've binged, dieted, skipped meals, and lived to tell about it."

She eventually saw a therapist and gained insight into her overeating. "Although I still consider myself a work in progress, I learned to lay the foundation for a healthier life, in much the same way I was laying a foundation for my medical career," she writes. Today she looks at food as fuel, eating foods she likes in moderation and letting herself indulge in treats now and then. She exercises regularly with activities that are convenient for her and that she enjoys. For her, this is an effective and healthy way to keep off the extra pounds.

It's this relaxed approach to eating and exercise that she brings to "Diet Myths." Written in a conversational style, the book is engaging even as it's discussing the glycemic index, the pros and cons of diet drugs and surgeries and how hormones can influence your hunger and weight.

One of Snyderman's major points is that calories do count. (High-protein, low-carb diets, she says, work primarily by restricting calories.) She offers easy ways to think about calories and keep track of them without feeling as if you're doing so. She does the same thing with carbs -- and emphasizes that because our bodies need them to function properly they shouldn't be eliminated from our diets.

Continue reading »

Consumer Reports tests find traces of heavy metals in some protein supplements

June 1, 2010 |  1:40 pm

Walk into almost any health store or large gym and you can't help but notice the enormous tubs of protein supplements. Popular with bodybuilders and other athletes, the products are often marketed as a safe way to get extra protein in your diet. Consumer Reports would respectfully like to disagree.

L1jue0nc The online site released a report Tuesday in which outside lab tests were run on 15 different protein drinks (ready-to-drink liquids and powder mixes) and found that some contained contaminants such as cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury — most in the low to moderate range. But the authors of the investigation point out that levels were high enough in three of the supplements that if three servings were consumed daily, levels could surpass the maximum recommended limits for one or two of the contaminants.

The report found that three daily servings of EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake have an average 16.9 micrograms of arsenic, which is over the suggested U.S. Pharmacopeia limit of 15 micrograms per day. Three servings also contain an average of 5.1 micrograms of cadmium, just over the USP limit of 5 micrograms. Three daily servings of some types of Muscle Milk products also exceeded suggested limits for certain heavy metals. The report points out that shellfish and some organ meats, such as liver, can be high in cadmium, as can plants that absorb phosphate fertilizers. According to the Food and Drug Administration, milk, yogurt, eggs, red meat and poultry can be good sources of heavy metal-free protein.

Consuming too much protein, which can be done if some supplements are overused, can lead to health problems, according to Consumer Reports. Most women need about 46 grams of protein per day and most men need about 56 grams, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report will also be available in the July issue of the magazine Consumer Reports.

— Jeannine Stein

Photo: Some athletes, such as body builders, consume protein supplements. Photo credit: Tara Todras-Whitehill / Associated Press.


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