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    Archive for the ‘survey results’ Category

    Survey Results: In The Zone

    55855281-fastfoods71 percent of readers who cast their vote in the latest Small Bites survey support zoning laws that regulate fast food chains’ proximity to schools.

    As do I!

    Studies are beginning to highlight the negative health consequences that stem from a lack of zoning laws.  One recent study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, found that students who attend schools located within a one tenth mile radius of a fast food establishment are 5.2 percent more likely to be obese than students who attend schools located further away from these restaurants.

    A 2004 study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition concluded that adolescents who consume fast food on a daily basis eat an average of 187 more calories a day than those who eat fast food less frequently.  These additional 187 calories can amount to weight gain nearing 19 pounds in just one year.

    Additionally, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study concluded that consumers who eat fast food two or more times a week had a one-hundred percent increase in their insulin resistance compared to consumers who ate at fast food establishments less than once a week.

    In large US cities, the proximity of fast food establishments to schools is undeniable.  Eighty percent of Chicago’s elementary and high schools have at least one fast food restaurant within a half mile, and 18 schools in New York’s East Harlem are located within 500 feet of a fast food restaurant.

    I do not consider these zoning laws a “solution to a problem” as much as a necessary step to solve the REAL issue — improving the moribund National School Lunch Program.

    How can we expect healthier school lunch policies — and, no, that does not mean steamed peas and paltry salad bars with wilted lettuce — to be effective if students, particularly those allowed off-campus during lunch hours, have fast food available to them a few blocks away?

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    Survey Results: Calcium Education

    calcium-richThe latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they perceived mainstream advice on calcium-rich foods to be too focused on dairy products.  Ninety-two percent of the sixty-seven respondents said “yes.”

    I certainly think consumer knowledge and awareness of non-dairy sources of calcium in the United States — and other Western nations — is practically non-existent.

    Although dairy products certainly offer calcium, so do some leafy green vegetables (bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens), canned fish (salmon with bones, sardines), chickpeas, tempeh, and almonds.

    Part of the “problem” is that the majority of educational materials on calcium are paid for — and distributed — by the National Dairy Council, which not only plunks down $100 million annually in advertising, but also doles out as much money in the way of research grants.

    I recently conducted a small-scale research project which, among other things, examined calcium awareness among vegans and non-vegans.

    One part of the questionnaire respondents were asked to fill out included a food frequency questionnaire which included 41 foods that were high, moderate, or low sources of calcium.

    A subsequent question asked respondents to list any foods in that list they were not aware contained calcium.  Almost two thirds of those surveyed were surprised to see broccoli, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, chickpeas, and tempeh make the list.

    Hey, PETA, how about giving the silly publicity gimmicks a break (you know, like your campaigns to have breast milk in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or change the name of the Pet Shop Boys to The Rescue Shelter Boys?) and investing a significant amount of money in educational materials for the general population on non-dairy sources of calcium?

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    Survey Results: Make Room For Spongebob

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they supported the use of popular cartoon characters to advertise fruit and vegetable products like “baby carrots” and frozen spinach to children.

    Sixty-three percent of respondents supported that form of advertising, eight percent did not, and the remaining twenty-seven percent did not have a strong opinion either way.

    I strongly favor that sort of advertising.

    Many nutrition advocates do not, claiming it confuses children to see Spongebob on baby carrots as well as a box of sugary fruit snacks.

    My main concern with that argument is that it attempts to view the world through the eyes of a child who has the marketing awareness of an adult.

    Six-year-olds are not aware of nutrition. They don’t understand the difference in nutrients between a fruit snack and a real fruit. Seeing their favorite cartoon character on different products doesn’t confuse them — it simply draws their eyes and attention to them!

    In my opinion, too many nutrition advocates make the crucial mistake of forgetting that they, too, can implement the same tactics used by food companies.

    Getting children interested in eating healthier food by simply branding it with cartoon characters is certainly far from utopian, but it’s a significant step forward we need to pursue.

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    Survey Results: The Farm Bill

    I can’t say I was surprised to learn that 70 percent of Small Bites’ latest poll respondents classify themselves as being “not at all” familiar with the Farm Bill and an additional 22 percent as “having heard of it, but not knowing any details.”

    The Farm Bill is, at its most basic, a document that dictates farm and food policy in the United States (ranging from food stamps to farm subsidies to conservation programs to the School Lunch Program).

    Of course, “basic” is an understatement when you consider that the latest Farm Bill spans almost 1,500 pages and is infamously verbose and convoluted.

    If you are interested in a “Farm Bill 101” lesson, I highly recommend this article.

    Up for review every five years, its latest revision took place in 2008.

    Although the entire Farm Bill affects food production, trade, and policy, the two most relevant sections to nutrition are title IV (Nutrition) and title X (Horticulture).

    Click here to see what has changed in title IV as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill
    , and check out this page to see what is new in title X.

    Lastly, this page succinctly highlights a variety of “good news” emerging from the 2008 Farm Bill as far as local foods and consumer benefits are concerned.

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    Survey Results: What Happens In The Bedroom…

    According to the latest Small Bites survey, eighty-three percent of respondents believe a lack of sleep affects their eating habits.

    They are certainly not imagining things!

    A fair number of research studies have found that sleep deprivation (usually defined as less than five hours of sleep a night) can affect hunger levels and, in some instances, even food choices.

    The majority of studies focus on two hormones — leptin and ghrelin.

    Leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, decreases hunger levels.

    Ghrelin performs the opposite function. The higher your ghrelin levels, the hungrier you feel.

    When sleep deprivation occurs — particularly when it happens on a consistent basis — leptin production decreases and ghrelin product increases.

    End result? You are hungrier than normal.

    One mystery that has baffled researchers is why sleep deprivation is often linked to a stronger desire for starchy, sweet, high-carbohydrate foods.

    The answer appears to be found with orexins, neurotransmitters in the hypothalamus that have been linked to increased cravings.

    It is theorized that increased ghrelin production also raises levels of orexins.

    It should also be pointed out that sleep deprivation not only gets in the way of performing physical activity, but also makes routine tasks — like cooking a 15 minute meal — seem daunting.

    Lower physical activity and increase your intake of takeout or fast foods over a consistent amount of time and you can see how sleep and eating habits are closely linked.

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    Survey Results: Label Detectives

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors to identify particular ingredients they consciously try to avoid when purchasing food.

    Partially hydrogenated oil (44%) and high fructose corn syrup (43%) led the pack, while artificial dyes seemed troublesome to less visitors (9%).

    MSG, meanwhile, received 24% of votes.

    Three percent of respondents weren’t fazed by any of those ingredients, while 38% do not feel comfortable consuming any of them.

    The #1 enemy on that list is certainly partially hydrogenated oil.

    There is clear evidence showing the harmful effects it has on lipid profiles and, consequently, heart disease risk.

    The high fructose corn syrup situation goes beyond nutrition. Although it contributes as many calories to food as sugar (16 calories per teaspoon), its environmental effects are far worse.

    Additionally, because it is such a cheap ingredient, companies liberally include it in a variety of processed foods, in turn increasing total calories.

    It also doesn’t help that it is in everything from bread to Gatorade to pasta sauce.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the more of these ingredients you see on a nutrition label, the more processed — and less nutritious — a given product is.

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    Survey Results: Seasons of Change

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they tend to put on weight in the winter (or during colder months.)

    60% of respondents clicked “yes,” while the remaining 40% answered “no.”

    If you find that weight management is more challenging in the winter months, you are not imagining things!

    Many people who do not enjoy the gym environment take advantage of the outdoors for physical activity in the Summer months, whether it be jogging, swimming, walking, or rollerblading.

    Once winter comes along, though, these activities are often completely stopped.

    Meanwhile, caloric intake remains steady. The end result? Not surprisingly, a few extra pounds.

    One of the best strategies (other than moving down to Venezuela during cold months) is to attempt to develop long-term habits, rather than short-term solutions.

    Strictly cutting calories and denying yourself your favorite junky foods for two months in order to look good in a swimsuit may be effective, but once beach season is over, you’re back to old habits — and your old figure.

    Rather than compartmentalizing your eating plan by season, make it a point to keep similar eating habits throughout the year.

    After all, going through overly regimented dietary patterns makes it that much more likely that you will eventually “give in” and binge.

    If “weather appropriate” substitutions must take place, always keep your goals in mind.

    For example, starting off dinner with a cool and crisp side salad may work in the sweltering August heat, but not when it’s 25 degrees out.

    Soup can be an excellent replacement, as long as you choose wisely.

    Avoid cream-based concoctions — as well as watery ones!

    While a cream-centered soup can pack a significant amount of calories, I find watery broths to be useless, as they are are rarely filling and do not offer much nutrition.

    Instead, opt for bean soups. Half a cup of black bean or lentil soup is low in calories and high in fiber, helping you feel fuller faster.

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    Survey Results: Hunger & Satiety

    The latest Small Bites survey dealt with the issues of physical vs. emotional hunger as well as recognizing satiety (a healthy feeling of fullness.)

    The results were pretty evenly spread out:

    Very well, always: 5%
    Very well, most of the time: 35%
    Somewhat well: 34%
    Not well at all: 24%

    I find this to usually be the most difficult hurdle for many people to jump over in their quest to achieve their healthy eating goals.

    After all, you can have the healthiest diet in the world (meaning, full of nutritious foods) but if your hunger and satiety recognition mechanisms are off, you can still end up overconsuming calories and gaining weight.

    These behaviors — and, in many cases, patterns — can be very frustrating to change largely because they stem from years of conditioning.

    I think a variety of factors can make it challenging for people to recognize their hunger level.

    For one, too many people assign themselves strict eating times.

    They may be hungry at 11 AM (say, two and a half hours after breakfast) but if they are meeting a friend for lunch at noon, they think, “Ah, might as well hold out. Don’t want to ruin my appetite!”

    WRONG! Part of being an active participant the hunger game is listening to your body’s cues.

    If your body is demanding a few nibbles at 11 AM, go ahead and provide them.

    This is not to say you now have a pass to eat two Entenmann’s donuts or half a stack of Pringles.

    However, if your next meal is in an hour, keep hunger at bay by snacking on an ounce of nuts (remember, an ounce is approximately 24 almonds – quite a bit!)

    Those 140 calories will keep you satisfied until lunch, making it easier to have one roll, rather than three, from the bread basket.

    What if the snack fills you up more than you think, and by the time you meet your friend you are only hungry enough for an appetizer? Then simply order an appetizer.

    Don’t order an entree just because your friend does and, well, you don’t want to “make her look bad” or “insult him.”

    Sharing lunch with a friend is about communication, catching up, and enjoying yourself. THAT should be your focus. Not second guessing yourself or putting your needs aside just to “look” good.

    The worst thing you can do is ignore your hunger. The trick is to feed your body foods that are filling and satisfying without breaking the caloric bank.

    A srerving of whole grain crackers, for instance, is a great way to give your body a little something in a 120 calorie package.

    Similarly, a piece of fruit or some baby carrots with hummus can help keep hunger at bay so you don’t have that insatiable need to devour something — ANYTHING! — on your way home from work later that afternoon.

    It is quite a simple formula. The more you ignore your hunger, the more likely you are to overeat and go past your satiety point.

    You can’t expect yourself to recognize a healthy feeling of fullness if you are absolutely starving!

    Another trap for many people? The idea that in certain locations — and situations — you must eat.

    Answer the following:

    How many of you eat a slice of cake at someone’s birthday party at your place of work simply because cake slices are being passed around, regardless of your hunger level?

    I know I have done it before. I distinctly remember a time when I had just finished a very filling lunch and stopped by a co-worker’s going away party.

    Whoever organized the food had gone all out. Cake, cookies, brownies, chips and salsa… it was all there.

    Sure enough, about five minutes after I arrived, the cake was cut, someone handed me a piece, and I dug right in.

    It was actually a little dry, and the frosting tasted like chemicals. After the third or fourth bite, I felt uncomfortably full — and dissatisfied!

    It suddenly hit me. I wasn’t having cake because I truly wanted some, or because I enjoyed the taste. I was having it because somewhere in my mind I thought I was “supposed” to.

    I still remember that event pretty vividly to this day because it truly gave me a different perspective on my relationship with food.

    Now, in social situations, I don’t think about what I “should” be doing or even what everyone else is doing. I simply ask myself: would I be eating RIGHT NOW if I wasn’t in this situation?

    Sometimes the answer is “yes,” but a lot of other times it’s “no.” And if someone asks why I’m not having a slice of cake or one of the catered sandwiches, I reply with the truth, “I’m not hungry right now, thank you.”

    And then there’s the movie theater. Sometimes I’ll snack on some whole wheat crackers and some trail mix (yes, I sneak food in — so sue me!). Other times, though, all I need is a beverage to quench my thirst.

    A few years ago, though, my mind always equated movie watching with popcorn, pretzels, malt balls, and soda.

    This is not to say you can’t enjoy some popcorn or share a chocolate bar with your movie companion next time you hit the multiplex, but the key is in doing that out of actual physical hunger, rather than some ingrained mandate that advertisers have lodged into our minds.

    These check-ins with yourself might initially seem odd and different. In a society so obsessed with consumption, we generally don’t hear the “Ask yourself — why am I craving this right now?” message.

    Once you develop it into a daily habit, though, you have quite a powerful tool in your hand.

    PS: I’ll discuss emotional eating in a future post (later this week.)

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    Survey Results: Economical Eating

    The most recent Small Bites survey asked visitors to classify eating healthy on a budget as:

    “Possible and easy” (27%)
    “Challenging, but doable” (58%)

    “Very hard” (13%)

    “Impossible” (1%)

    I am very happy to see that a solid 85% of voters consider it to at least be “doable.”

    The truth is, healthy eating (which I defined as “balanced, nutritious, and meeting most nutrient daily values”) does not need to be a wallet-buster.

    Let’s clarify a few issues.

    1. Healthy eating does not need to be organic.

    If you can afford organic, go for it. If your budget doesn’t allow for it, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a perfectly healthy and balanced diet.

    Whole wheat pasta will always contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, organic or not, and both organic and conventional peanuts are a wonderful source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

    Besides, as far as our bodies are concerned, there is no difference between an organic and conventional 400-calorie chocolate chip cookie.

    2. Healthy eating does not need to be exotic.

    Every few months some new “miracle” fruit comes along.

    I am sure you are familiar with the process by now.

    It is usually from another continent and, after being profiled in the mass media, is quickly turned into a juice drink packed in a beautifully shaped glass bottle (displaying a brand name with an accented vowel) that retails for a ridiculous price.

    Here’s the thing: ALL fruits are healthy.

    Yes, some offer more nutrients than others, but there is no such thing as a fruit that is unhealthy or should be avoided.

    Similarly, I don’t like to label any food as a “miracle” or “superior” one.

    Besides, acai berries are exotic in the United States, but as run of the mill as apples are to us in their native Brazil.

    3. Nature is cheaper than major food companies.

    Instead of tortilla chips with flaxseeds (which aren’t even grounded up, meaning you aren’t absorbing any lignans,) buy ground flaxseed and sprinkle it onto different foods.

    A standard bag of ground flaxseed retails for $5 (almost as much as gourmet tortilla chips) and lasts for months if you only use up a tablespoon each day — which is plenty.

    Remember, what drives up food costs isn’t so much nutrition as it is convenience.

    A six-pack of single-serving applesauce containers may be convenient, but for that same amount of money you can buy enough apples to make five times that much applesauce.

    I specifically mention apples because they can sit in a fruit bowl for days before they start to rot.

    They are portable, delicious, and you don’t need any utensils to eat them. Talk about convenient!

    A Luna bar may be convenient, but so is packing a small Ziploc bag of peanuts and raisins to snack on later in the day (the latter is also significantly cheaper.)

    4. Sometimes a big name isn’t a good deal.

    Many foods (canned beans, plain oatmeal, raisins, and frozen vegetables) are equally nutritious whether they are made by a generic or well-known brand.

    5. Speaking of beans…

    … they are a wonderful and inexpensive way to get protein and fiber.

    Use them for vegetarian chilis, bean salads, or even to make your own hummus at home (it’s simple – just blend together chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt!).

    In conclusion…

    Junk food is very financially accessible, but so are many nutritious foods.

    PS: I’m interested in reading YOUR tips for eating healthy when money is tight. Post away!

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