Archive for March, 2008

In The News: Corn-utopia

The Wall Street Journal reports that the ever increasing prices of corn farming have led farmers to project this year’s planting estimates at 86 million acres — eight percent less than last year’s figure.

Corn prices have skyrocketed in recent years, helped by the burgeoning ethanol industry, which turns the crop into fuel, and rising world-wide demand for food. The higher prices have hurt poultry, beef and pork companies, who use corn to feed their animals.

Here’s a thought — how about feeding these animals the foods they are meant to eat?

In the case of cows, not only is a corn diet detrimental to their digestive systems, it also results in meat higher in saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids than that of cows subsisting exclusively on a grass diet.

The repercussions also affect our wallets.

Corn already is trading near its record-high price of $5.70 a bushel, more than double the price of two years ago.

Meat and dairy prices will continue to rise.

Additionally, since a large portion of this country’s food supply is based around corn oil and corn-based syrups, expect bread and convenience snacks to also take a hit.

For more information on this very complex topic, I direct you to a highly informative 2002 interview with corn guru Michael Pollan.

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Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing: Pasta Sauce

There you are on a weekday night, prepping what appears to be a very healthy — and quick — dinner: whole wheat fussili topped with half a cup of marinara sauce and a medley of steamed broccoli, spinach, and sauteed onions and peppers.

Fiber? Check.

Protein? Check.

Lycopene? Check.

Vitamin C? Check.

Four teaspoons of sugar? Check.

A third of a day’s maximum sodium recommendation? Check.

(Insert sound of record coming to a screeching halt here).

Tomato-based pasta sauces are, in theory, nutritionally superior to cream-based ones.

Unfortunately, many popular brands provide as much sugar as half a can of Coke — and as much salt as four strips of bacon — in a mere half cup serving.

Some of the worst offenders are listed below (remember, these values are for just a half cup)!

Ragu Old World Style Marinara Sauce: 780 milligrams of sodium
Ragu Old World Style Traditional sauce: 780 milligrams of sodium

Prego “With meat” Sauce: 12 grams (1 tablespoon) of added sugar

Ragu Chunky Garden Style sauce: 13 grams (1 tablespoon) of added sugar

Prego Traditional Sauce: 15 grams (1.3 tablespoons) of added sugar

Did I mention they all contain high fructose corn syrup?

To make sure your healthy pasta dishes aren’t tainted by sauces, take a look at the label.

Choose ones offering no more than 4 grams of sugar and 350 milligrams of sodium per half cup serving.

Some recommendations? Colavita, Rao’s, and Muir Glen Organic.

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You Ask, I Answer: Low Calorie Diets

What would you say is the minimum substantial amount of total calories you should eat to lose weight?

Are 800 calorie diets really that bad?

I was told that if you eat below 600 calories, your body goes into starvation mode.

But if you stay from 600-1000, then you’re guaranteed weight loss?

I just want to figure out what I’m doing wrong and fix it.

I recall you saying that’s the wrong way to go but then why do so many dietitians and weight management centers recommend this ?

– Janie (last name unknown)

New York, NY

Low calorie diets (those going below the minimum daily recommended intake of 1,200 calories) are a terrible idea.

I take issue with the entire concept of a “diet.”

If you go on one, you will inevitably go off it. And then what?

Most likely, old habits return — along with the weight you initially set out to lose.

What I recommend is a metamorphosis towards improved dietary patterns and relationships with food.

I want to point out that this should always be looked at as a work in progress, and a process that isn’t consistently moving in one direction.

An emotional setback or particularly stressful time, for instance, might have you reverting to old dietary patterns or seeking out high-calorie, sugar-laden comfort foods.

Not surprisingly, in a society where we are basically told that if we do not get what we want in 7 days or less we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that we are failures, this thinking doesn’t exactly dominate the mainstream media.

Instead, people are told that in order to lose weight, they must:

Believe that food does not make them fat (The Secret)
Not eat brown rice and chicken in the same meal (Suzanne Somers)
Get a colonic every 2 days (Kevin Trudeau)
Drink a hideous mix of maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper (Hollywood fast).

And so on and so forth.

If any dietitian, weight center, or book recommends that you eat less than 1,200 calories a day, RUN – do not walk – away.

Going below this figure poses several problems.

From a weight loss perspective, metabolism slows down (especially since the thyroid gland slows down production of thyroxine, a hormone that plays a major role in metabolism), lean mass is lost, and muscle tissue is broken down in order to create glucose.

So, when you return to your normal caloric intake, you will undoubtedly gain weight because your body is no longer as efficient at burning calories.

Going below 1,200 calories is also problematic from a health perspective.

With such low caloric intakes, it is extremely difficult to obtain necessary nutrients from food, including fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium.

Sure, there are always supplements, but healthy compounds like polyphenols, lignans, and certain antioxidants are exclusively found in foods, not pills.

What always strikes me as odd is that many times I see people who normally consume 2,500 calories start a 1,200 calorie diet overnight.

Completely unnecessary.

If that person were to simply slash 500 calories each day, they can enjoy 2,000 calories on a daily basis and kick-start weight loss.

You mention not knowing “what you are doing wrong.”

I am assuming you are having a difficult time losing weight.

I do not know your individual circumstances, but by reducing your caloric intake (say, by 300 calories each day) and increasing your physical activity, you should begin seeing slow, steady results.

If this is not the case, I recommend having your thyroid checked by an endocrinologist.

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You Ask, I Answer: Low Calorie Diets

What would you say is the minimum substantial amount of total calories you should eat to lose weight?

Are 800 calorie diets really that bad?

I was told that if you eat below 600 calories, your body goes into starvation mode.

But if you stay from 600-1000, then you’re guaranteed weight loss?

I just want to figure out what I’m doing wrong and fix it.

I recall you saying that’s the wrong way to go but then why do so many dietitians and weight management centers recommend this ?

– Janie (last name unknown)

New York, NY

Low calorie diets (those going below the minimum daily recommended intake of 1,200 calories) are a terrible idea.

I take issue with the entire concept of a “diet.”

If you go on one, you will inevitably go off it. And then what?

Most likely, old habits return — along with the weight you initially set out to lose.

What I recommend is a metamorphosis towards improved dietary patterns and relationships with food.

I want to point out that this should always be looked at as a work in progress, and a process that isn’t consistently moving in one direction.

An emotional setback or particularly stressful time, for instance, might have you reverting to old dietary patterns or seeking out high-calorie, sugar-laden comfort foods.

Not surprisingly, in a society where we are basically told that if we do not get what we want in 7 days or less we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that we are failures, this thinking doesn’t exactly dominate the mainstream media.

Instead, people are told that in order to lose weight, they must:

Believe that food does not make them fat (The Secret)
Not eat brown rice and chicken in the same meal (Suzanne Somers)
Get a colonic every 2 days (Kevin Trudeau)
Drink a hideous mix of maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper (Hollywood fast).

And so on and so forth.

If any dietitian, weight center, or book recommends that you eat less than 1,200 calories a day, RUN – do not walk – away.

Going below this figure poses several problems.

From a weight loss perspective, metabolism slows down (especially since the thyroid gland slows down production of thyroxine, a hormone that plays a major role in metabolism), lean mass is lost, and muscle tissue is broken down in order to create glucose.

So, when you return to your normal caloric intake, you will undoubtedly gain weight because your body is no longer as efficient at burning calories.

Going below 1,200 calories is also problematic from a health perspective.

With such low caloric intakes, it is extremely difficult to obtain necessary nutrients from food, including fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium.

Sure, there are always supplements, but healthy compounds like polyphenols, lignans, and certain antioxidants are exclusively found in foods, not pills.

What always strikes me as odd is that many times I see people who normally consume 2,500 calories start a 1,200 calorie diet overnight.

Completely unnecessary.

If that person were to simply slash 500 calories each day, they can enjoy 2,000 calories on a daily basis and kick-start weight loss.

You mention not knowing “what you are doing wrong.”

I am assuming you are having a difficult time losing weight.

I do not know your individual circumstances, but by reducing your caloric intake (say, by 300 calories each day) and increasing your physical activity, you should begin seeing slow, steady results.

If this is not the case, I recommend having your thyroid checked by an endocrinologist.

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You Ask, I Answer: Basal Metabolic Rate/Daily Caloric Intake

How can one correctly find their BMR and the calories intake needed for the day?

I have messed up my BMR with my undereating and am in almost malnourished state.

I want to increase my BMR and lose some fat.

From what I understand, maintenance and weight loss is figuring out the equation between calories intake and daily activity.

I just want to know how to estimate a calorie range I should go for and amount of exercise I need to do daily.

I am small – medium frame woman, 130 pounds, and 5′ 4″, with almost no muscle tone.

– Mandy (last name unknown)
Halifax, Canada

I’m confused.

You claim to have messed up your basal metabolic rate due to undereating to the point where you are in a “malnourished state”, yet are looking to lose fat?

In any case, to answer your question – yes, weight loss and maintenance comes down to figuring out the net result of calories in (food) minus calories out (metabolism).

Our basal metabolic rate — the amount of calories we burn off simply by existing – is ultimately determined by a variety of factors, among them age, genetics, physical activity, dietary paterns, body composition, and hormonal activity.

This last point is especially important. Thyroxin, produced by the thyroid gland, plays a crucial role in metabolism.

In hypothyroidism, very little thyroxin in produced, and BMR is significantly lowered.

If you are cutting calories appropriately and upping physical activity for several weeks and see absolutely no changes, pay a visit to an endocrinologist and have your thyroid gland checked.

Thyroid issues apart, many people appear to forget that some of these factors change with time, age being the most obvious.

This is one reason why, as people age, they find that weight “creeps up on them.”

The 2,500 calories once needed to maintain weight can be too many — and cause weight gain — ten years later.

This is where knowing TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) also comes in handy.

TDEE lets you know how many calories you approximately burn each day on top of what your body uses up as a result of standard bodily processes.

So how do you determine all these numbers?

First, calculate your BMR.

You can easily find that out by plugging some basic numbers into Discovery Health’s BMR Calculator.

If you want to get slightly more technical, you can also use the Mifflin-St Jeor formula, developed in 1990, which goes something like this:

Male BMR = 10* (weight in kg) + 6.25* (height in cm) – 5* (Age)+ 5
Female BMR = 10* (weight in kg)+ 6.25* (height in cm) – 5* (Age) -161

NOTE: To convert pounds to kilograms, divide by 2.2 To convert inches to centimeters, multiply times 2.54.

Prior to this, the Harris-Benedict formula (created in 1919) was used. While useful, Mifflin-St.Jeor results in more accurate numbers.

Ok, now: to calculate TDEE multiply your BMR by:

  • 1.2 if you perform little to no physical activity
  • 1.38 if you perform light physical activity a few times a week
  • 1.55 if you perform moderate physical activity at least 3 times a week
  • 1.725 if you perform intense physical activity on a daily basis
  • 1.9 if you perform intense physical activity several times a day or have a very physically demanding job.

Whatever number you get is how many calories you need to maintain your desired body weight.

If you wish to lose — or gain — weight, simply subtract – or add – fifteen percent to that figure.

By consuming fifteen percent less calories and increasing your physical activity, you will certainly shed weight.

The fact that you mention having “no muscle tone” is significant, since increasing lean muscle mass is a sure-fire way to speed up metabolism.

This is why weight-bearing exercises are highly recommended — they help with bone density and metabolism.

Alas, weight loss comes back to the tried and true advice of “eat less, move more.”

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In The News: The Health Police

Newly elected Chicago Police Department superintendent Jody P. Weis literally wants the force to shape up!

Mr. Weis, an exercise enthusiast, has shocked more than a few people with talk of mandatory fitness tests and maximum body-fat allowances (only after a year’s physical education and with exceptions, of course).

There is even talk of installing kitchens in station houses, so as to lower officers’ reliance on doughnuts, pizza, hot dogs, and fries.

I think that without proper nutrition education, though, installing a kitchen is virtually useless.

An officer may not frequent fast food restaurants, but could very well still eat just as poorly (think Hungry Man frozen dinners, frozen pizzas, and Ramen noodles).

I support Mr. Weis’ intentions, but focusing solely on exercise — and apparently leaving nutrition out of the equation — leaves a vital piece out of this puzzle.

My advice? Add on a few free of charge mandatory nutrition 101 sessions for the squad.

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Numbers Game: Answer

According to 2006 figures released by food service juggernaut Aramark, the average adult in the United States has a Body Mass Index of 29.

(Note: A healthy BMI ranges from 18.5 to 25. ‘Overweight’ is characterized as 25 – 30, and obese is marked by a BMI of 30 or more).

As I have mentioned in the past, BMI (essentially a weight: height ratio) is not the most accurate measurement of weight status when dealing with individuals.

One limitation to this formula is that it does not differentiate between muscle and fat.

Therefore, a bodybuilder will misleadingly have a BMI in the “obese” category.

When looking at large populations, though, I find BMI to be an accurate barometer, particularly when we are talking about the average adult in this country being on the verge of clinical obesity.

It is also worth pointing out that there is a clear upward trend.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average adult in the United States had a BMI of 25 in 1960.

I very, very highly doubt that the latest figure of 29 is due to more muscle mass, especially since this perfectly corelates to the increasing amount of calories consumed per capita in the past forty years.

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Shame On You: Oscar Mayer Lunch-a-BLEGHs

On its Oscar Mayer Lunchables page, Kraft Foods states their mission is to create “foods that help provide the fuel and energy needed to tackle whatever it is [your children] happen to dream up that day.”

A young smiling girl is shown front and center, and Kraft acknowledges that, quelle surprise, “children who eat their lunch do better in school”.

I truly don’t understand how Oscar Mayer Lunchables fit into this wholesome “we have your child’s best interests at heart” theme, though.

For example, the Ultimate Nachos (bundled with a Capri Sun drink and some cookies) contain:

580 calories
8 grams saturated fat (40 percent of a day’s maximum)
1290 sodium (that’s half a day’s worth!)
2 grams of fiber.

The turkey and American cheese cracker stackers, also bundled with a Capri Sun, add up to:

350 calories
6 grams of saturated fat (30 percent of a day’s maximum)

770 milligrams of sodium

0 grams of fiber

The crackers, apart from being made entirely of refined carbohydrates, contain partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.

Then there’s the deep dish extra-cheesy pizza pack. It comes with crispy M&M’s and a Capri Sun drink (sounds so healthy, doesn’t it?) and provides:

700 calories
9 grams of saturated fat (45 percent of a day’s maximum)
1,240 milligrams of sodium
4 grams of fiber
61 grams (15 teaspoons) of added sugar.

That is on par with wolfing down a Big Mac and medium soda at McDonald’s.

It’s one thing to have these products on the shelf along with cookies and potato chips, where they are surrounded by other nutritionally empty foods.

It’s shameful, though, to sell these products and stand behind a message of nutrition, healthy eating, and child welfare.

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Argentina: The Whole Grain Trap

Despite being on the other side of the Equator, Argentina shares some nutrition similarities with the United States.

I took this photo at supermarket chain Disco because, if anything, it shows that marketing to children — and their parents — is a global phenomenon.

The box you see on your right is for Nesquik cereal — in essence, chocolate flavored corn puffs.

But wait, what does that huge sign at the bottom say? Translated to English:

“All Nestlé breakfast cereals now made with whole grains.”

Note the “made with” whole grains (although whole wheat flour and oats are included, so is standard white flour).

Sugar is the second ingredient, by the way.

The nutrition label reveals that a 1-ounce (1 cup) serving provides:

114 calories
1.1 gram of fat
200 milligrams of sodium

1.5 grams of fiber

10.5 grams (2.5 teaspoons) of sugar

3 grams of protein

Is it absolute junk food? I wouldn’t be so harsh.

What is very frustrating, though, is that the big hoopla about whole grains is nothing but a desperate marketing strategy aimed at parents.

You would think a food so boastful of its whole grain content would at least offer 3 grams of fiber per serving.

To put this into context, a cup of this cereal contains as much fiber as a mere half banana or half an orange.

By the way, the standard calculation for children’s fiber needs is: child’s age plus five.

So, a 10 year needs approximately 15 grams of fiber a day.

Starting the morning off with a cup of Nesquik cereal and half a cup of milk (regardless of its fat content) represents a mere ten percent of that child’s daily requirement!

I am not calling for parents to ban these kinds of cereals from their cupboards.

I do, however, want them to recognize these as sweet treats, NOT healthy sources of fiber.

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In The News: Dieting Off The Runway

Vogue magazine asked Kate and Laura Mulleavy — the sisters behind the highly successful Rodarte fashion line — if they were interested in dieting and working out with a trainer for a feature piece.

The two women, interested in shaping up and getting healthier, agreed to four months of personal training, home delivered meals, and diary entries to later be published in the fashionista’s Bible.

After sixteen weeks of training six days a week and consuming approximately 1,300 calories a day, Kate lost thirty pounds; her sister, twenty.

Needless to say, controversy has erupted.

“They are perpetuating unrealistic body images,” some claim.

Others think Vogue is sending out the wrong message that in order to be succesful, one must be thin.

Now look, I am by no means a fashion guru and am often horrified at the gaunt, clearly underweight bodies that march down runways at fashion shows.

In this case, though, I don’t see what the problem is.

It is worth noting that in one of her diaries, Kate writes:

Funnily enough, just before we received the call from Vogue about this story, Laura and I went to see our doctor for a physical.

Our mother was worried about out workload and lack of exercise; we wanted to be healthier and balance our stress levels.“

These were not size 4 models dining on coffee and cigarrettes being told they were “too fat” to walk down a runway (you can see a photo of Kate and Laura prior to their makeover by clicking on their names at the start of this post).

The Mullavys were also never given the message that if they “wanted to make it” as designers, then they better lose weight.

They are already accomplished and successful.

The magazine featured their work — and complimented their designs — several times before this weight loss article was conceived.

Their present weight is a healthy one — they are not emaciated or displaying unhealthy bodies.

I also appreciated that their plan consisted of pre-set meals (to ensure that they were nutritionally balanced, rather than just letting the two women figure out how to eat correctly on a 1,300 calorie diet) and implemented exercise under the supervision of a trained professional.

Another interesting tidbit from their diary entries:

““We’ll have wine when we feel like it and cheat on holidays.”

In short, these are two adult women who chose to participate in something they saw as a way to improve their health.

In the same way that someone has the right to feel completely content and self-assured with fifteen extra pounds on them, it is also reasonable to expect that there are overweight people who truly want to improve their health and, why not, look better too.

This was not a challenge the sisters had to complete successfully in order to launch their clothing line.

At no point do the Mullavys mention doing this to “look hot”, land significant others, or fit into a dream bikini. And, they currently report feeling healthier and more energetic than before.

I realize they went on a strict eating plan and exercise regimen, but they were not taking diet pills, cutting out food groups, or doing senseless things like subsisting on liquids concoctions made of cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and honey for a week (I’m looking at you, Beyoncé).

The New York Times article quotes Dr. Cynthia Bulik, eating disorders professor at The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, who makes a very good point:

““I saw more of an emphasis on healthy eating and healthy fitness than an order, ‘You’ve got to lose weight.”

I do, however, absolutely side with the feminist-thinking folks at Radar magazine, who can’t help but wonder that if Vogue editors are so concerned about people’s health, why don’t they ask a dietitian to have a chat with fashion guru Andre Leon Talley?

What are your thoughts?

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In The News: Lopez Says…

People magazine happily plunked down $6 million to feature Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s twins on its cover.

As ridiculous as that may sound, Jennifer’s comments on breastfeeding left me even more puzzled:

My mom didn’t breast feed and I think that was the thing for me. You read and figure out what’s the best thing for them.

Can a baby be healthy and grow adequately without breastfeeding? Absolutely. I certainly do not side with breastfeeding fanatics who equate bottle feeding with bad parenting or negligence.

I also understand that not every woman can — or wants to — breastfeed. Women have every right to choose, and I find it obnoxious when people criticize this very personal choice.

What I have a problem with is Jennifer Lopez’s notion that she chose bottle feeding based on “what is best for her babies.” While bottle feeding is certainly not detrimental to a growing baby, it is inaccurate to claim it is identical to breastfeeding.

Some studies have concluded that breastfed babies have stronger immune systems, decreased risks of developing ear infections and diarrhea, lower infant mortality rates, enhanced neurological development, better oral health (due to a different suckling motion than drinking from a bottle).

Breast milk is not only tailored to fully meet a baby’s nutritional needs for the first six months, it also contains naturally tranquilizing hormones.

Some studies are less enthusiastic about health benefits from breastfeeding, but that does not take away that breastmilk is always clean and at the right temperature.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official position is that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for all babies.

They recommend it as the sole source of food for the first six months of a baby’s life, and as a complementary source from six to twelve months of age.

They are not alone.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are just some of the organizations that hold the same position.

Formula is okay, but undoubtedly second best.

Part of the problem is that most hospitals in the United States do not really support breastfeeding.

Many do not have lactation specialists on staff, and they immediately bombard mothers with baskets of formula.

Once a woman feeds her baby formula, it is very hard to get her to commence breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a technique and skill that needs to be learned. It is not innate.

This is why it is crucial to have trained specialists on staff who can teach new mothers the right positions for breastfeeding and how to handle common problems like mastitis (inflammation of the breast) and sore nipples.

In 1991, WHO and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

The ten steps hospitals must follow to be an official baby-friendly one can be viewed here.

Here’s a shockingly low figure – of the 5,810 hospitals in the United States, only 63 are baby-friendly.

The full list can be viewed here. I was very shocked to discover that New York City doesn’t have any!

Another huge barrier to low breastfeeding rates in the country? The ridiculous and undeserved taboo!

Last April, ABC News reported that an astounding 57 percent of people in this country believe women do not have a right to breastfeed in public.

What is so wrong about a woman feeding her baby in a natural and healthy way?

Has our culture’s common practice of hypersexualizing women’s bodies completely screwed with our heads?

Here’s an even more astounding figure – 72 percent of people surveyed believe it is “inappropriate” to show a woman nursing on television!

So Jerry Springer (well, now his former security chief Steve Wilkos, who took over the show) can show people verbally and physically attacking each other before noon, and it’s considered perfectly okay to see someone get shot or stabbed on primetime television, but people choose to tear their hair in some ridiculous “moral” outrage over something as harmless as breastfeeding?

Color me confused — and pretty disgusted.

If anything, breastfeeding needs to stop being relegated to the “naughty” corner. It needs to be talked about, discussed, and out in the open.

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Celebrity Diet Secrets: Padma Lakshmi

Supermodel and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi tells Us Weekly that one of her beauty secrets is drinking three liters of water every day to maintain her perfect skin.

“I pee a lot,” she comments.

That’s an understatement!

The “drink lots of water for your skin” myth is just as prevalent as the “drink eight glasses of water every day” one.

For some reason, celebrity and beauty magazines fully embrace it.

I suppose it provides Hollywood’s glitterati a “beauty tip” to always fall back on when the question comes up.

Because, really, saying “kickass genes, expensive chemical peels, killer airbrushing, and a stylist at my beckon call” wouldn’t sit well with readers.

Anyhow, allow me to explain why chugging water all day will not do much for your skin.

Hydration levels of our skin are largely determined by the sebaceous glands, located on the dermis (the layer of skin right underneath the one visible to the eye).

These glands are responsible for producing sebum, an oily, waxy-ish substance that helps protect water in our skin from evaporating.

Not surprisingly, insufficient natural lubrication is one of the main causes of dry skin.

External factors — harsh temperatures, air conditioning, heat (especially in winter months when we are cooped up indoors), exposure to the sun, showering too often, and soaps made with strong chemicals — decrease sebum production, as does aging.

From a nutritional standpoint, significant deficiencies in Vitamin A are associated with dry skin.

Drinking excessive amounts of water, however, is useless, as it will not penetrate the epidermis (the topmost layer of the skin), which is in need of excess hydration.

Let me be clear here. Getting enough hydration is definitely important, but this can be from variety of fluids as well as water naturally found in foods.

There is no need to chug down three extra liters of water every day.

The best thing you can do for you skin is apply moisturizer on a daily basis, especially right after a shower (this helps lock in moisture).

During winter months, humidifiers are also helpful in preventing overly dry indoor environment.

Although a great beverage — and essential nutrient — water is not a drinkable skin miracle potion.

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In The News: Franken-Corn? No, Merci

Two thumbs up to the French.

On March 20,”the top court upheld, at least for the time being, a ban on a corn variety produced by the American seed company Monsanto.”

Said variety is genetically modified, leading to fears by environmentalists and farmers that “the corn, which confers resistance to pests, could pollute other crops and pose a threat to the environment and human health.

One prominent threat is gene transfer, also known as outcrossing.

This entails genetically modified seeds “cross-breeding” with non-genetically-modified crops as a result of something as simple as pollen spreading due to wind or animals.

Apart from the impact this has on the stability of flora in any given environment, unfortunate financial repercussions are felt by farmers.

There are cases of farmers in Canada being sued by — and losing to — Monsanto after the company’s patented genetically modified rapeseed seeds blew over onto their property.

The most famous case — Monsanto Canada v. Schmeiser — is excellently summarized by Wikipedia.

Remember, Monsanto is the same agricultural biotechnology company that produces recombivant bovine growth hormone.

Europe is generally less tolerant of genetically modified foods than the United States. In fact, milk containing rBGH is banned in the Old Continent.

Let’s finish off this post with some humor.

Here is a funny — but true! — tidbit from 2000 about a Monsanto cafeteria in British Columbia proudly advertising the absence of genetically modified soy and corn in their food.

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Argentina: No Gluten? No Problem!

I took this photo last December at popular Buenos Aires supermarket chain Disco.

In case the resolution isn’t clear enough, the sign up top reads “Productos Celíacos” (“Products for Celiacs”).

Like many other conventional supermarkets in the city, they delineate approximately half an aisle exclusively to gluten-free products, enabling consumers living with celiac disease to have a much easier shopping experience.

In Argentina, the province of Buenos Aires analyzes products and stamps a gluten-free seal on them if they fall below 1 parts per million of gliadin (a protein in gluten).

Following this inspection, the Argentine Celiac Association reviews laboratory results from the Ministry of Health and must give its approval before a product can officially be sold as “gluten free.”

It’s not just supermarkets that provide gluten information.

Persicco, a renowned gelateria with various branches in Buenos Aires, places a gluten-free icon next to the flavors that are celiac-friendly.

Although the United States offers thousands of gluten-free products to the approximately three million people diagnosed with celiac disease (as of 2007, the market was valued at $700 million!), these are mostly available exclusively online or specific health food stores.

I have not, at least in New York City, seen standard supermarkets devote as much as one shelf to gluten-free products.

Part of the problem, I think, is the lack of regulation. Although you may see “gluten free” advertised on many products, no official standards for this claim have been set.

Last January, the Food and Drug Administration attempted to tackle this problem.

Currently, there is no Federal regulation that defines the term “gluten-free” used in the labeling of foods.

Based upon comments FDA received during its public meeting on “gluten-free” food labeling held in August 2005 and other information available to the Agency, there is no universal understanding among U.S. food manufacturers or consumers about the meaning of a food labeled as “gluten-free.”

You can view the PDF file of the full (and by full I mean “very long”) gluten-free labeling proposal here.

The 90-day comment period concluded last April, but I haven’t heard anything since.

I do believe, though, that the original plan was to have something sorted out no later than December of this year.

I’m interested in hearing from readers who are gluten intolerant.

Do you find it difficult to know what products to buy and stay away from due to a lack of federal standards?

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You "Ask", I Answer: Gary Taubes/Low-Carb

It is hardly radical for Gary Taubes to recommend staying away from foods rich in simple carbohydrates.

Based upon the extensive and meticulously detailed evidence, I decided that avoiding sugar at all costs would provide the most benefit to my health.

I also decided to avoid products with refined grains and simple carbohydrates. This included for me bread, pasta, beer, and vegetables stripped of their nutrients (skinless mashed potatoes being a good example).

long and short of it is this: if you are a non-smoker the single-most important thing you can do for your health is: AVOID SUGAR.

Andy claims this is oversimplifying things, but Gary shows over and over in his book what a toxic substance sugar is and how the rise in obesity over the last 20 years is directly related to the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup into the American diet.

By 1999 we ate 30%more sugar than in 1983 – how could sugar NOT be causing the obesity epidemic?

I just noticed that Andy did not respond to a question posed to him about Michael Pollan, because he had not read the book.

I think in the future you should follow that rule with Gary. His book is 450 pages long – his articles and speeches are just a small summary of the vast and nuanced argument he provides in the book, so to me your responses have been inadequate and short on content.

Keep in mind that I found this blog, because I am actively seeking refutations of the science presented in Gary’s book.

So far everything I have read is high on rhetoric and low on science.

– Hugh (last name unknown)
Location Unknown

Alright, let’s take this e-mail piece by piece.

First, you are absolutely right, it is not radical of Mr. Taubes to advocate a low-carbohydrate diet.

Robert Atkins brought this idea to the masses in the early 1970s.  As radical as Mr. Taubes might like to think he is, he is mainly dishing out Atkins 2.0.

Millions bought the hype and ate steak, butter, and cheese to their heart’s content.

That clearly didn’t work, since this country’s weight problem only worsened.

In 2002, low carb was back with a vengeance.

Supermarkets offered low-carb everything: ice cream, cookies, pizza, crackers, yogurt, you name it. Talk about easy and convenient!

Again, millions of people shunned rice, bread, and pasta. And obesity rates did not decrease.

So, yes, Taubes isn’t exactly breaking new ground.

I think it’s wonderful that you have cut down the refined carbohydrates in your diet.

If you take a look at this blog’s archives, you will see that I am constantly recommending high-fiber, nutritious carbohydrates.

I constantly suggest people consume whole grains and aim for a largely unprocessed diet.

I again want to make it clear that my position is not, has never been, and never will be, “refined carbohydrates and added sugar are the best things to eat if are looking to lose weight.”

My position is that if we’re talking about weight management, it’s ridiculously naive to leave calories out of the conversation.

Gary Taubes makes it very clear that, in his opinion, “obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.

As I have said in previous posts, then please show me someone who, for an entire month, consumes 1,000 extra calories a day — without burning them off — solely from fat and protein and does not gain a pound.

We come back to the issue of faulty logic.

The reason why low carb diets “work” is because protein and fat are very filling.

As I have said before, 500 calories of pure protein and fat will leave someone satiated for much longer than 500 calories of refined carbohydrates.

In turn, the person eating mostly protein and fat will end up consuming less total calories during the day than the person consuming the refined carbohydrates.

As far as your recommendation to avoid sugar, I’m assuming you are referring to added, and not naturally-occurring, sugars.

The issue once there is that sugar is not new. It was not launched in the early 1980s before the obesity boom.

Sugar has been around for thousands of years.

It is true that we are eating more of it.

The emphasis there is on “eating more of it” — AKA consuming more total calories.

If sugar in and of itself, regardless of how much was consumed, is the cause of obesity, why have rates in the United States skyrocketed only over the past twenty years?

The thirty percent increase in sugar consumption you mention is significant because it points to excess CALORIES being consumed.

Keep in mind that between 1970 and 2,000, the average caloric intake for United States citizens increased by 24.5 percent (that’s, on average, an excess 530 calories, per person, per day).

Pointing to one food, or ingredients, is completely irrelevant.

For example, total meat consumption per person in the United States in 2000 was 195 pounds. In the 1950s, this figure was much lower — 130 pounds.

So, why are you singling out only an increase in sugar as the sole culprit for weight gain? People in this country are eating more of everything.

Calories have increased, and, logically, so has people’s weight.

Now, if caloric intake over the past twenty years had NOT increased, and obesity rates had, then, yes, maybe this idea that calories are irrelevant would hold some weight.

By the way, Gina Kolata of The New York Times made an excellent point in her review of Good Calories, Bad Calories:

[Gary Taubes] ignores definitive studies done in the 1950s and ’60s by Jules Hirsch of Rockefeller University and Rudolph Leibel of Columbia, which tested whether calories from different sources have different effects.

The investigators hospitalized their subjects and gav
e them controlled diets in which the carbohydrate content varied from zero to 85 percent, and the fat content varied inversely from 85 percent to zero. Protein was held steady at 15 percent.

They asked how many calories of what kind were needed to maintain the subjects’ weight. As it turned out, the composition of the diet made no difference.

By the way, Mr. Taubes’ talk at New York University laid out the main arguments of his book very explicitly.

His basic theory is that weight loss has nothing to do with overeating. I don’t need to read his book in its entirety to counter that particular argument.

I also want to note that my post also specifically responsed to things he said during the question and answer session.

I am not assuming or guessing what his thoughts are; they were made perfectly clear in his presentation.

Is a diet high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars unhealthy? Of course it is.

But, as far as I’m concerned, telling people that calories don’t matter as long as carbohydrates aren’t being eaten is a giant disservice.

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