CDC Report On Physical Activity: Some Good News (& Some Bad)

The good news?  We’re actually moving more!  This recent report from the CDC found that 23% of Americans are meeting physical activity recommendations established back in 2008. That’s even better than the goal set by Healthy People 2020 to have at least 1 in 5 Americans be “physically active”. We’ve exceeded the goal of 20% two years early, and since the CDC report is based on 2010-2015 data, probably even more Americans are active now.

The Bad News

If 23% are active, that means more than 3 in 4 Americans are sedentary. Even in Colorado, the most active state, only 1 in 3 adults met the activity guidelines, so 2 in 3 did not. A few other notables from the report:

• Women were less active than men in almost every state. Fewer than one in five (18.7%) women met the activity guidelines, but more than one in four men (27.2%) did.

• Working matters. If you’re unemployed, you’re less likely to be active. Nearly 29% of working men met the activity guidelines, for instance, but only 21% of non-working men did. Among working women, almost 21% met the guidelines, but only 14.6% of non-working women did. (Physical impairment to activity was not assessed.)

The Real Goal: We ALL need to be active

It’s easier than you think. Let’s be clear: you don’t have to join a gym, play a team sport, or be a competitive athlete. Please, I grew up totally incompetent at every sport that involved a ball. It’s about being more fit and staying fit, regardless of your age and weight, and there are many ways to get there.

Yes, your physical health will benefit, but the mood improvements may be even more motivating. Exercise gives you a mental lift, owing to the endorphins produced with moderate exercise. You don’t have to be a runner to get a “runner’s high”.

What constitutes being “physically active”?

The fed’s 2008 guidelines defined being “physically active” as follows:

• 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity AND

• Doing muscle-strengthening activities at least twice weekly.

What’s “moderate intensity” activity?

• Brisk walking is a perfect example of moderate intensity. Brisk walking of moderate intensity was found in this review to be about 100 steps per minute. Easy enough for anyone to measure. (Tip: kids love using the stopwatch on their phones for tracking stuff like this!)

• Try the “talk-sing” test. If you can talk during the activity, it’s probably moderate intensity. If you can sing, it’s pretty light. That’s your sign to pick up the pace.

The Cut-To-The-Chase-Nutrition Philosophy: 

JUST DO WHAT YOU CAN  DO

That 150 minutes a week (30-minutes a day for five days) may sound daunting, so break it up into 10-minute parcels. The best time to be active? When you WILL be active. No obsessions needed her, just move as often as you can, whenever you’re able.

Do it during your lunch hour for 10 minutes, then have lunch. Work up to a 30-minute walk on your lunch hour, then enjoy a healthy meal. Walking is the easiest and simplest, but it’s also effective.

Check with your doctor to make sure your body is ready to match your motivation. Safety first: don’t be a “weekend warrior” and do the whole 150 minutes in one day.

I always advocate being more active because I think I’m lucky to have the ability to do so. I’ve worked with people with physical disabilities for decades. They’d give anything to be active. I’m not wasting my physical abilities – and I still can’t catch a ball. Start SOMEWHERE, but start now, 10 minutes at a time.

Is the Med Diet a Dead Diet? No – Despite Retractions

But the Mediterranean diet did get a kick in the keester. The New England Journal of Medicine just published a retraction of the 2013 PREDIMED study because of flaws discovered in the randomization methodology. Basically, it found that about a fifth of the 7447 trial subjects weren’t randomized properly, which could have allowed bias to creep into the data.

PREDIMED was a study on the Mediterranean diet and its impact on cardiovascular disease, specifically heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular-related death. The study was intended to go on for 7 years but was stopped after about 4 years because the results were so dramatic that it was considered unethical to prevent the participants on the control diet from benefitting from the Med diet.

Subjects were supposed to have been randomly assigned to one of three groups:

• Instruction on the Med diet and provided free extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO);

• Instruction on the Med diet and provided free nuts (about 30 grams daily of a mix of almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts);

• General advice on a low-fat diet. After 3 years, this group would also have additional dietary instruction.

Where did things go awry?

For about a fifth of the 7447 participants, randomization didn’t happen. They point out several ways the randomization failed for these participants, and these failures didn’t seem intentional or malicious. Probably due to site technicians who were poorly trained, poorly supervised, or sites that just weren’t run efficiently.

The authors completely re-analyzed the results of the study and published them here.

Did the corrected analysis change the results?

Yes. The results are still good, but not as dramatic. The Med Diet with either nuts or EVOO showed benefits only for reducing the risk of stroke, but not heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

We shouldn’t dismiss the Med diet though.  Although the PREDIMED study had flaws, other Med diet studies have shown positive results.

What holds true about the Med diet

• It’s simple and sustainable.

• It uses easily obtainable foods.

• It doesn’t require major dietary changes, yet still has at least some cardiovascular benefits.

As a clinician who has spent years helping people change their eating behaviors, a diet with these attributes hits the tri-fecta.

Where the Med diet could improve

A 14-item questionnaire was used in the PREDIMED study to determine a “MedDiet Score” of adherence to the diet. Some of the questions are a bit odd, if not troubling:

• Why are homemade pastries OK but “commercial bakery” items discouraged?

• Why are “red and processed meats” grouped together? More to the point, why is lean red meat in the same category as fatty, salty sausage?

• There is absolutely no mention at all of dairy foods, milk, yogurt, or cheese, either low-fat or regular? Yogurt and cheese are nutrient-rich and present in a Med Diet, even if not adequately so.

Solution: A “MediterDASHean Diet”

It combines the best of the Med Diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Both emphasize lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, but DASH makes up for what’s missing from the Med Diet and the diets of most people: dairy nutrition.

The Med Diet, for all it’s advantages, is low in calcium. Even the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which praises the Med Diet, acknowledges the likely lack of adequate calcium in the Med Diet.

A calcium supplement alone cannot replace the nutrition-rich package in dairy foods.  With a MediterDASHean Diet, you just do the Med diet but include at least 2 servings of dairy foods daily – full-fat, low-fat, or non-fat, whatever your calorie needs allow. Personally, I get three servings and happily so.

The Med diet discourages “red and processed meat” but it’s not clear why. It’s even less clear with a new dynamite study that looks at what happens when a Med Diet swaps out lean poultry for lean beef and pork. It’s my next post, so watch this space!

Photo credits: Penne: Petar Milošević – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59899700  Caprese salad: Jessica Rossi, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jesswebb/3797226962

You Can’t Get “Energy” From an “Energy Drink”

Kids and teens seem to want more “energy,” especially in this world where multi-tasking is expected and their desire for non-stop involvement with social media and all things “screen-based”.  Indeed, constant engagement is the new normal, to the point that kids (and let’s face it, adults, too) can fear disconnecting from it, even if that means cutting into sleep time. Indeed, Sleep can start to seem like a waste of time.

Enter: “Energy drinks”

Different from “sports drinks,” energy drinks are marketed for their ability to help with focus, concentration (although real evidence is sketchy at best), and overall vigor. The reality: anything called an “energy drink” is really just a liquid stimulant – something to give you a buzz. That buzz usually comes from the added caffeine, but these drinks often have potentially harmful herbs or other compounds as well, including:

• St. John’s wort,
• Yerba mate,
• Methylxanthines,
• Taurine, and more

These ingredients supposedly help improve “focus and concentration” (real evidence for this is sketchy at best) but can also interact negatively with medications kids might be taking.

Sure, coffee and tea have caffeine as well, but their caffeine content is proportional to their volume and even then, kids don’t need the caffeine in them either. If they like the taste of coffee (I do), there are certainly caffeine-free versions they can drink (count me in there as well). On the other hand, a 2-oz. “shot” of an energy drink can have the equivalent of 3 large cups of coffee – and anyone can slam that back in a gulp or two. The makers often throw in some vitamins and minerals to foster the illusion that it’s almost nutritious, but that’s window dressing and don’t be fooled for a minute.

Energy ≠ Vitality

What concerns me about these drinks is their potential for misuse by teens. One “energy shot” in the evening and they’ll be up until all hours, only to crash the next day when they should be – and need to be – rested and alert.

Some kids use the stimulants as a study aid or because they think the extra focus will help them on a test. Caffeine may or may not, but it’s certainly no substitute for studying and it inevitably has diminishing returns. Once started however, it can be a hard habit to break.

If you need more convincing that “energy drinks” are bad news, the American Academy of Family Physicians opposes even the sale of these drinks to persons under the age of 18 years.

The Bigger Issue: More “Energy” Isn’t the Problem

If kids — or adults — feel they need more energy, they don’t need a drink, they need more sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 7 hours of sleep per night is the bare minimum acceptable amount for school-aged children and teens. Most need between 8 and 10 hours, and aren’t getting it.

Sleep is a big deal. It’s like oxygen – it has no substitute. When you’re well-rested, thinking is clearer, decision-making is more rational, less impulsive. Some hazards of not getting enough sleep:

• Eating impulsively – it’s the body’s futile attempt to get more energy
• Weight gain – see this recent study pointing to a lack of sleep as a risk factor for obesity in kids.
• Poor concentration, cloudy thinking
• Lethargy – you don’t want to be active when you’re already exhausted

What to do for more sleep

If you suspect your kids are using energy drinks, it’s crucial that they stop. Instead of being critical with them, just factual.  Make getting sleep a family priority. Here are some tips for creating a home environment that supports a great night’s sleep:

Shut it down. That means all technology — at least an hour before bedtime, preferably 2 hours. The world will spin, I promise. Cuts down on mindless snacking, too.
Remove screens from bedrooms.
Close the kitchen 2 hours before bedtime. GI tracts need time to wind down.
Bath time. A hot bath or shower relaxes everyone.
Warm milk. Don’t laugh. Warm drinks are relaxing, but the tryptophan in milk may even help produce some serotonin – the brain’s own sleep aid.  Plus, most kids — and adults — aren’t getting the calcium they need.  This helps close the gap — and maybe their eyes — a little more.

IS “SOCIAL JET LAG” MAKING KIDS (& US) FAT?

That’s what a just-published study suggests, and whether it’s actually true or not, it bears a closer look.

“Social jet lag”?

This is just the difference in our sleep schedules between workdays (for kids that means school days) and non-workdays. Usually it means we sleep later on weekends.

How could social jet lag make people fat?

This latest study, involved 3412 children ages 8-10 years, and found that those having a different sleep schedule on weekends (or non-work/school days) also are more likely to be obese and have metabolic differences associated with obesity, like a higher waist-to-hip ratio and higher body fat percentage.

Interestingly, the kids didn’t get any less sleep on weekends, they just went to bed later — about an hour later – and awakened that much later as well. Average delayed bedtime was about 43 minutes later than during the week, but most of the kids still slept their usual 9 hours (for adults, this is like a fantasy!).

This study can’t determine just WHY these results occurred because it wasn’t longitudinal, just cross-sectional. It’s possible that the higher weight of the late-sleepers is a lifestyle marker: kids who stay up later on weekends might also do more nighttime snacking.

It’s not just kids though. In this study of social jet lag in adults, the authors concluded, “misalignment of sleep timing is associated with metabolic risk factors that predispose to diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.” Even if we still manage to slog through the next day, but in the long run this practice may be doing more harm to our bodies and our weight than what we put into our mouths.

Re-setting our circadian clocks is totally doable

You or your kids may not be “morning people” but so much of their – and our – days, at least during the week, requires us to be awake and at our best in the morning.  Give yourself and the family some time to get this all done, but the steps are totally worth it, for better sleep, better functioning during the day, and maybe even better weight and health.

Here’s how to start:

Shut it down early. Even if you and your kids swear you’re not tired, cut the noise from TV, videos, and screens at least an hour before bedtime. Music is fine, but not stuff that makes you want to get up and dance.
• Lose the “blues” – blue light, from devices like cell phone and computer screens, but also from the TV and even the power lights from the routers and such, really interfere with sleep because they prevent you from winding down.
• No power napping in the afternoon. If your kids often need naps after school, they need more sleep at night, period.
Decaffeinate after noontime. The kids, too.  That means skipping colas, iced tea, and any of those sweet (and too caloric) coffee drinks that many teens (and adults) like.
Move more, sleep better. Daily, regular physical activity really helps re-set your sleep cycle. You’re more likely to want to wind down if you’ve been active during the day. It’s just healthy lifestyle practice anyway, and better sleep is another benefit.
CLOSE THE KITCHEN! Your digestive system has to wind down, too, and it needs to do so a good two hours before bedtime. You’ll get deeper, more satisfying sleep.

AND THE AWARD FOR WORST DIET GOES TO….

My last post was on the three best diets, according to US News. Now for the three worst:

• Keto Diet
• Dukan Diet
• Whole30 Diet

Keto has a certain “ick” factor here. You’re sent into ketosis – where the body burns fat for calories instead of the preferred glucose. You burn fat because that’s most of what you’re eating – about 70% of your calories are from fat (the saturated coconut oil at left is fine on this diet).

Of course, ketosis is NEVER a desirable state for the body. It’s what your body does to adapt to long-term starvation mode. This diet isn’t adequate, it shuns most carbs and the amount of carbs it allows is pitifully small.  Nutrient-loaded foods like fruit, grains, beans – all banned. Don’t even consider a sweet potato. I know of no health professional who would recommend this diet.

Dukan hooks you with its all-you-can-eat of lean protein foods – very alluring. It’s also complicated with its five stages and it’s still no nutritionally adequate. Uh, and there’s no independent research on it either. Just claims.

Whole30 is a big seller – it’s been # 1 on Amazon at times. It seems to imply that the majority of your health issues, everything from mood to infertility, is a result of diet. Evidence is based on “science and experience.” Note: any diet that is only 30 days long is telling you it’s not designed for forever. Forget it.

These diets bug me because they have several things in common that are horrible for dieters:
They’re sensational and gimmicky: Foods, even food groups, are forbidden and demonized. There’s always a fear factor because fear is motivating. Sorry, this doesn’t work in the long run. No one argues that it’s best to minimize
Magic bullet factor: Fast and furious results are promised: Fast weight loss doesn’t mean fast fat loss. Never does.
Promises, promises: Eat this way and you’ll be cured of what ails you. You’ve been victimized by your eating habits. Eating our way will rid your body of toxins.
They’re not balanced! A diet – even for weight loss, should be balanced, because an unbalanced diet can’t be a healthy diet.  Any diet that says, or implies, you should never eat a particular food is out of touch with real life. This IS language that sells books however.
Interesting: The above are also the types of factors that hook people on anything: extreme changes, big promises, fast results. These diets all claim that people are “hooked” by certain foods like sweets or refined carbs. To fix it all, they require you to follow rigid limits, not deviate, and they make ridiculous promises about your health.

Bottom line:
• Keto? KeNO.
• Dukan? DuNOT.
• Whole30? WholeZERO.

Sensationalism sells. Inducing “food-fear” sells. Demonizing food sells. But you’ll never balance your diet with an unbalanced diet.

There’s no quick-fix out there, but there are GOOD diets: DASH, Mediterranean, Flexitarian have some great attributes:

• All are balanced, reasonable, affordable.
• These are eating styles you can keep forever, whether you’re trying to lose weight or just eat better.
• They’re family-friendly, a huge plus.
• They have good science behind them.

They’re not sensational, they’re the best, so go for the BEST, not the worst. And be patient. Slow and steady beats fast and furious.

Restaurant Meals: Delicious, Healthy, & Only $225 per meal! Who knew?

That’s not a typo.  It’s a New York Times story on famed chef David Bouley’s new project restaurant that espouses his new food philosophy: that eating should have three components: it should be delicious, be healthy, and be eaten communally.  Great, Chef David, but probably only 0.001% of the community can afford your food.  No wonder the restaurant’s capacity is only 24 seats.

That tab doesn’t include tax, tip, wine, or even waiters.  Drop your fork and get another one yourself in the drawer below your place setting.

 

Another healthy, delicious meal option…for $325

The day before the Times article appeared, the New York Post profiled another chef, Joel Robuchon.  He’d been diagnosed with high blood pressure and a blood test revealed elevated levels of blood glucose and cholesterol. Not healthy.  Indeed, the opposite of healthy.  So, he went on a diet, cut out butter and oil, and ate less bread, dessert, meat, and sugar.  He lost 44 pounds after four months and now he’s down 60 pounds, despite admittedly being “too lazy to work out.”  He added, “My headaches are gone.”

Now that these chefs have attained the nutrition nirvana, they want to tell the world.  The also have new restaurants to promote, both of which will be serving healthier dishes that reflect their new nutrition enlightenment.  Chef Joel must think his dishes are healthier than Chef David’s, as his 9-course tasting menu costs a whopping $325 per person, although if you go vegetarian, it’s a mere $145 per person.  “My menu is full of antioxidants and nutrients now.”  Great, but at $325 a head it should also come with a parade in the customer’s honor.  At least it comes with waiters.

My cut-to-the-chase take

  • I’m very glad Chef Joel lost the 60 pounds. Bravo, Chef, and please maintain the lower weight.
  • Elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose?
    • Probably due to his weight as much as his diet. If he’d gotten obese eating a Med diet, he may have suffered the same blood profile.
    • Losing 60 pounds on ANY diet will improve your blood profile.
    • he headaches probably disappeared because of his weight loss, not the butter, Joel.
    • He attributes this to what he’s eating. I’d attribute it to what he’s NOT eating.  He’s not eating TO EXCESS
  • Chef Joel, you’re eating better, but move a little more, too, in a focused way. It’s the next step in your healthier lifestyle and do it.  We’d like you around, even if we can’t eat at your restaurant.

Meals for the other 99.99% of us

I’m sure the tasting menus at these restaurants are delicious.  I’m also sure most of us will never be able to afford them and we need to get over it. Fear not, there are plenty of ways to have a healthy diet that don’t involve fancy restaurants and kitchens with tweezers.   And yes, you can even include red meat, and pretty regularly if you like.  See my “Off the Record” post for a great (and great looking) steak dinner that I cooked on a weeknight in less than 30 minutes and. You don’t need a pro chef, just a few tips.  It’s delicious, healthy, eaten together, and just as enjoyable. It’s for the other 99.99% of us who will NEVER eat there.    No one should EVER think they can’t make a really delicious and healthy meal that is still is budget-friendly.

Cut-to-the-chase tips:

  • Forget the fancy frillery, all the research that shows the benefits of a diet with lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats, that was all done with regular supermarket produce.
  • Forget Chef Joel’s credo about “only organic avocados.” The best avocados are the ones you can afford and that you’ll eat.  No food is nutritious until you eat it.
  • It’s ALWAYS more economical when you make it yourself. Splurging on strip steak for the whole family is more affordable than eating steak for one at a restaurant.  (And as long as you’re getting your own silverware, it’s fork on the left, knife on the right, unlike the photo above.)

One great comment from Chef Joel: Once you establish a diet, you can make exceptions.  Once you’re able to balance it out.”  Chef Joel, now you’re sitting at OUR table!

Halloween’s Over, Holidays Are Coming: Need to Curb Sugar Cravings?

Sugar seems to have become the new trans fat: the thing everyone feels entitled to bash.  Not just added sugar, but even sugar naturally present in food is suspect.  See my previous column on “Paleo-inspired baby food”, made without any grains, dairy, even fruit, to avoid babies having a “sugar crash”.  Seriously?

Surprisingly, we’re eating LESS sugar now, with intake going from 109 grams/day in 2000 to 92 grams/day in 2016, according to USDA data. Still, people still get too much sugar and many say they crave it.

Cook County, that includes Chicago, recently defeated a referendum that would have levied a “soda tax”.  Get my take on this issue here.

What is a sugar craving?

A craving is an intense desire for any food that that goes above and beyond biological need.  It’s not the same as hunger, which is more physiologically based (think hunger “pangs” and stomach growling).  And a craving doesn’t necessarily indicate a dietary deficiency of something.

You were born liking sugar

Mother Nature didn’t set you up, we all evolved to prefer the taste of sweet things.  Infants only days old will suckle more strongly on liquids that are sweeter.  Indeed, breast milk actually has more natural sugar (lactose) than cow’s milk – if it didn’t, infants may not be as motivated to suckle, putting their very survival at risk.  Since sugar also helps stimulate fat synthesis in the body, eating more of it than you need when it’s available would help you out during periods of food scarcity.  Throughout nature, most naturally sweet foods, such as fruit and honey, are also safe to eat, so sweetness of a food may have also been our clue about its safety.

Do you want sugar when you’re stressed?

Anything stressful: family matters, time crunches at work or home, relationship issues, can all increase sugar cravings.  Indeed, holidays bring up all of the above, along with the pressure to be “happy” when indeed, you just aren’t feeling it.  Add in a lack of sleep because of all the increased demands on time and you have a perfect storm for stress-eating whatever your comfort food is.

When you’re stressed, your body screams for relief, and sweets are a quick fix.  Not the best one, just the quickest.  Sugar also stimulates the brain to make serotonin, which helps calm you down, at least temporarily.  And, like just about every other thing today, sweets are around everywhere, even more so during the holidays.  All those baked goods that aren’t around at any other time of year make us feel entitled to “get while the getting is good”.

Beating sugar cravings

Sugar isn’t angel food, but it’s not devil’s food either, so no need to avoid sugar, just make things manageable.  Here are easy action steps that keep sugar in the sweet spot – where it makes you happy AND still healthy:

  1. GO PRO EVERY MORNING: A nice protein load early in the day cuts those hunger pangs that can trigger sugar cravings later, but most people don’t get much protein in the morning.  Cereal and milk are a great start, but go further.  Have at least a 5-oz. cup of fat-free Greek yogurt or a hard-cooked egg (or two), some string cheese, or a piece of last night’s beef or chicken.
  2. SPEND SUGAR CALORIES WISELY: Sugary soft drinks are wasted calories, but low-fat chocolate milk or sweetened Greek yogurt (tip: a teaspoon of honey tastes like more) give you of something rich with flavor that fills some real dietary gaps at the same time.  That’s making sugar work harder for you.
  3. SUGAR SUBSTITUTES? Calm down about the prevailing culture. The science on their safety is solid as a rock.    Evidence shows they can actually be useful tools.  More about this in a FUTURE column, so watch this space.  For now, resist the mob mentality about these and use them as tools to help cut dietary sugar.
  4. PUSH YOUR SWEET BUTTON WITHOUT SETTING OFF ALARMS: When eating out with people, instead of dessert, order a cappuccino.  It’ll only be about 100 calories, even with whole milk and some sugar, and you’ll keep occupied while everyone else has dessert.  If they offer you a bite or two, take it.  You’ll visit your happy place but leave happy, too.
  5. SEE IF YOUR TASTE BUDS NEED A RE-SET: Is a fruit salad sweet enough without having to add sugar?  If not, your taste buds may have become “dumbed down” from eating too many sweets.  A few weeks where the sweetest thing in your diet is fresh fruit and flavored yogurt re-sensitizes exhausted taste buds so you can eat the occasional sweet but enjoy it even more.

MEAT AND TYPE 2 DIABETES? CALM DOWN — LET’S BOIL IT DOWN

Just when people are at feeling (justifiably) entitled to feel OK about eating meat again, out comes a study that “associates” consumption of meat with type 2 diabetes.  It was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and was part of the Singapore Chinese Health Study.  Here’s the gist:

Over 63,000 Chinese adults, ages 45-74 years

There were two interviews during follow-up of just under 11 years to determine type 2 diabetes

Dietary pattern determined only once – at the start, by a food-frequency questionnaire

The variables: intake of poultry, red meat, seafood and incidence of type 2 diabetes upon follow-up.

They divided the subjects into four groups based on intake of shellfish, poultry, and red meat.  Then they compared the groups with the lowest intake of meat/poultry/shellfish with groups that had the highest intakes.

Here’s where things get interesting, but first:

Iron 101

There are two ways iron exists in food.  Iron is either part of hemoglobin (called “heme iron”), as in the case of animals, or it’s bound to other compounds (called “non-heme iron”), as with plants.  Compounds like phytates in plants bind to iron to make it less absorbable.  Eating plant iron with an acid, like having spinach with a vinaigrette dressing, will help liberate some of the iron, but in general, heme iron is more available to the body.

How much iron do we need each day?  Adults need 12 mg/day and women of child-bearing age need 18 mg/day, because they lose iron each month they menstruate.

The study data are “noisy”

This means the study has limitations that prevent drawing strong conclusions. To be fair, he study’s authors were pretty responsible in pointing out some of the limitations of their study. Most notably:

  • Dietary pattern was taken at the beginning and never again. So, what you had for dinner on a  Tuesday night 11 years ago predicts your health now?  You might be able to get statistics from this data, but drawing any realistic conclusions is making a Grand Canyon leap.  People’s diets change over 11 years!
  • Activity patterns were also assessed only once, at the beginning of the study.
  • Those who ate the most red meat ate averaged only about 53 grams daily – less than two ounces! And they still ate more seafood than meat.
  • Those who ate the most seafood also averaged about 33 grams of red meat daily — a little over an ounce! So differences between the HIGHEST and LOWEST consumption of red meat was only 20 grams – about 2/3 of an ounce.
  • Different meat types were assessed (beef, pork, lamb, etc.), but not cuts of meat, or parts of poultry (legs have more heme iron than breast) or dietary fat.  Pork belly has lots more fat than pork loin, for instance.

With the difference between the highest fish-eaters and the highest meat eaters being only 20 grams of meat, the difference may be statistically significant but not clinically (“real life”) significant.  The “associations” these studies talk about don’t mean “cause-and-effect” but consumers don’t often understand that. and the headlines don’t help much. To get the facts you usually have to read beyond headlines.

My take-away from this study? Not a whole lot.    

And the authors pretty much agree with me, noting, “We do not perceive any reason for meat intake to be related to the likelihood of disease diagnosis in our study population.”  Simply put, this study failed to connect meat intake with type 2 diabetes.  Game over.

Seafood absolutely is great food, but meat and poultry are also nutrient-rich.  Some tips for eating meat and poultry well:

  • Go leaner whenever possible.
  • Keep portions real. Even 4 ounces of lean meat is going to be loaded with enough protein for your meal.
  • Keep half your plate veggies and fruits.
  • Include a whole grain or a starchy vegetable.
  • Keep added fat reasonable. Olive oil or canola are good choices, rather than butter or coconut oil.

 

IT’S HOT OUT THERE! ARE YOU EATING ENOUGH WATER?

 

It’s summer, the hottest time of year, and everywhere you turn you’re hearing about the importance of drinking enough water and fluids.

But how much should we be drinking?  The daily water intake recommendations by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Sciences are 13 cups (3.7 liters or about 125 ounces)daily for men, and 10 cups (2.7 liters or about 91 ounces) for women.  These are very general though, as a single recommendation is impossible.  A lot depends on factors like these:

Weight. If you weight more, you usually need to drink more, but it’s not a linear progression.  That is, a 200-lb. person doesn’t need twice the fluid of a 100-lb. person.  The smaller person is more vulnerable to dehydration and overheating because they have a high “surface-to-volume ratio,” the same reason a small child is more vulnerable to overheating.

Gender. Men tend to need more fluid than women.  They tend to weigh more but also have more muscle, which is metabolically active and requires more water to stay hydrated and function properly.

Activity level. But the more active you are in any season, the more you sweat and thus need to rehydrate.

It doesn’t all have to be water and the IOM is clear that all beverages , including coffee, tea, milk, and even juice, so getting those 9 to 13 cups is easier than you think. Liquids aren’t the only place to get water.  You can easily amp up your take from food if you include plenty of high-water fruits and veggies, and there are real advantages to doing this:

  • Flavor! Chilled summer fruits and vegetables are taste powerhouses.
  • Rehydration nutrition: high-water fruits and veggies are loaded with hydrating nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Count milk in here, too.

For highest water content, go for fresh versiuons.  Here’s a list of some of the most common high-water fruits and vegetables (by % weight):

FRUITS

% water

VEGETABLES % water
Watermelon

92

Cucumber, lettuce (iceberg)

96

Strawberries

92

Zucchini, radish, celery

95

Grapefruit

91

Tomato (red)

94

Cantaloupe

90

Tomato (green), cabbage (green)

93

Peach

88

Cabbage (red) cauliflower, eggplant peppers (sweet) spinach 92
Raspberries, pineapple, orange

87

Broccoli 91

Many are more than 90% water, so they really contribute to your total fluid intake for the day.  Plus, they do what a glass of water simply can’t: help you get enough fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet.

Personal fave: watermelon.  I love this stuff.  I have loved watermelon since I was a kid and waited for it to come into season so I could gorge myself on it.  Even now, when I come home on a steamy, sweltering day there is absolutely nothing better to cool me down and get my taste buds dancing than a huge chunk of ice-cold watermelon.  I’m hardcore, too.  I cut off only the outer skin because I love the white part of the rind as well.  It’s not as sweet but that’s OK and it’s still good, kind of like a semi-sweet cucumber.

MORE: Can you be a health-freak AND a smoker?  Get my take in this New York Post article here.