Posted by on March 19, 2015 - 9:39am

It is generally accepted that it is a good idea to include fish, such as salmon and flounder, that are high in omega-3, in one's diet.   But what about shellfish (lobster, crab, mussels, clams, calamari, oysters, scallops etc)?   While they contain less omega-3 than fin fish, shellfish are a good source of protein (especially octopus), and if you avoid breading and frying, are low in calories.  

Other benefits of specific shellfish:   Oysters are an excellent source of zinc, clams have iron and Vitamin B-12, and crustaceans are a good source of choline, a nutritient that may be good for memory and muscle control.

But, there are some negatives that shellfish lovers need to consider.   Shrimp are high in cholesterol and if you are a 'cholesterol responder' (the cholesterol you eat overly impacts blood cholesterol) you might want to limit your shrimp intake.  While we know that large fin fish like sword fish contain mercury, shellfish more readily absorb toxins often associates with the "red tide".   Red tide is a bloom of plankton, especially dinoflagellates, that causes an usually reddish discoloration of coastal ocean waters. Certain dinoflagellates produce toxins that contaminate shellfish, making them unsafe to eat, and can kill fish. If you eat shellfish from waters with high concentrations of red tide present, you may risk a case of shellfish poisoning.  Symptoms could range from numbness, tingling, headache, dizziness, amenesia, etc.  depending on the specific type of toxin ingested.   Coastal towns often monitor the presence of red tide and post warnings when the levels are too high for swimming or eating local shellfish and fin fish.   This type of tide is more prevalent in warmer, more shallow waters than in cold, deep ocean areas. 

Allergies are another concern more prevalent in shellfish.  Some people are only allergic to one type of shellfish (crustacean vs. molluscan) or even just one specific shellfish.  My mother could not eat oysters and I cannot eat lobster but we both could eat other  seafood.  Go figure!

Overall, seafood is a good source of many nutrients and a good alternative to more fatty red meats. 


Posted by on October 8, 2014 - 10:55am

Who doesn't like something sweet like a cupcake?   But how much is too much?  Our bodies need one type of sugar:   glucose!  It's an important source of fuel for the body.

You don't have to add glucose to your diet because your body can make it by breaking down food molecules from carbohydrates, proteins and fat.  Most of the sugars we consume are not just those that occur naturally in food (e.g., fruits, vegetable, and milk).   That would be okay.   Unfortunately, about 15% of the calories we eat come from sugars added during the processing or preparation of food. Added sugars can make your diet high in calories without any health benefits---adding weight but not essential nutrients.  The leading sources of unhealthy sugars are from soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks.

Over time, excess sweeteners can lead to poorer health especially in the form of obesity and cardiovascular problems.

So, are artificial sweeteners a healthy substitute?  To date, researchers have found no clear evidence that any approved sweeteners in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious problems.  The evidence on whether or not they help with weight loss is mixed.  While some people lose weight when substituting sweeteners for real sugar, the effect is usually short term, with weight creeping back on over time.

Researchers are exploring whether artificial sweeteners can affect healthy microbes in the gut and whether they alter the body's ability to use glucose.   Other researchers are studying the effect of sweeteners on the brain's reward circuitry which may lead to the intensity of a sweet which leads to a higher craving for sweets.  More to come on these studies!

Most experts agree that the key to good health is a well-balanced diet with a variety of natural foods and plenty of exercise.  Some suggestions for cutting unneeded sugar:

  • Drink water, fat free milk, unsweetened tea/coffee instead of sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks.
  • Reduce sugar in recipes (add 2/3 c instead of 1 c sugar)
  • Enhance flavor by using vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.
  • Eat fresh, canned, frozen and dried fruit without added sugar.
  • Use fruit to top cereal, pancakes, and toast instead of syrup, jam or sweet toppings
  • Pick foods with no or low sugar  (read labels)

Source:  NIH News in Health


Posted by on August 22, 2014 - 10:28am

Reasons to try the Mediterranean Diet:

  • Includes most food groups including fats, carbs, etc.
  • Can swap out bad fats for healthy ones (e.g., olive oil instead of butter, fish/poultry instead of red meat)
  • Lots of fresh veggies
  • Includes bread
  • Wide range of ethnic foods to keep it interesting (Italian, Greek, Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish, etc)
  • Lots of spices so you can lower salt
  • Includes wine
  • Good for the heart, brain

To learn more, view the WebMD slide show

Posted by on June 10, 2014 - 2:41pm

The FDA and the EPA are revising their joint fish consumption Advice and Questions & Answers to encourage pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers, and young children to eat more fish and to eat a variety of fish from choices that are lower in mercury. This is a DRAFT for which you may provide comment. Once finalized, it will replace the current advice which was issued in 2004.

Key Message
Eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish (includes fish and shellfish)  each week from choices that are lower in mercury. The nutritional value of fish is important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood. 

Who should know
Women who are pregnant (or might become pregnant) or breastfeeding.
Anyone who feeds young children/

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are issuing this advice to encourage women to eat recommended amounts and types of fish. Recent reports show many pregnant women in the United States are not consuming fish in amounts recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. This advice is being issued now to encourage women who are pregnant (or may become pregnant) or breastfeeding and young children to eat more fish and to eat a variety of fish from choices that are lower in mercury. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, the federal government’s evidence-based nutritional guidance to promote healthy eating, now recommends that “women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week, from choices lower in methyl mercury.”

There is longstanding evidence of the nutritional value of fish in the diet. Fish contain high quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, are mostly low in saturated fat, and some fish even contain vitamin D. The nutritional value of fish is especially important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood.

Download in PDF (276KB) to learn details such as what fish is safer.

Posted by on June 24, 2013 - 2:58pm


The connection between what we eat and mortality rates come as no surprise, but does changing our diet really give us a better chance of survival? According to a study by JAMA International Medicine, there is a correlation between a vegetarian diet and a longer life. However, the study also showed a difference between men and women (25-older). The study took place  in the US and Canada over a period of 6 years where the diets of 73,000 participants were observed. This community had even amounts of vegetarians and non-vegetarians. After the span of the 6 years there were a total of 2,570 deaths and the results then provided that participants with a vegetarian diet were 12% less likely to die. The study went in further to this particular statistic and found that the mortality rate was still higher for women despite the fact that they were vegetarian.

This is not to say that a vegetarian diet does not impact or influence women's health. It is always suggested to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter what your age or gender may be. Being aware of your diet, communicating with your doctor about your health and staying active still remain for a healthier and longer life.

To read the entire study results, click here.

Posted by on January 1, 2013 - 11:09am

Using a mobile app that tracks eating and activity helped people lose an average of 15 pounds and keep it off for at least a year, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.  But the technology only aided weight loss when its users also attended regular classes about nutrition and exercise. The app alone didn’t help.

“The app is important because it helps people regulate their behavior, which is really hard to do,” said Bonnie Spring, lead investigator of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Most of us have no idea how many calories we consume and how much physical activity we get. The app gives you feedback on this and helps you make smart decisions in the moment.”

“The ‘widget’ is critical but it is not magical by itself,” Spring added. “People need all the tools at their disposal.”   The study was published Dec. 10 in Archives of Internal Medicine.

This is the first study to show that technology added to an existing program of weight loss classes can produce sustained weight loss. Spring believes the weight loss app is the first proven to be effective in a published randomized clinical trial. Commercially available apps are not usually evidence based or tested for effectiveness in rigorously designed research, she noted.

In addition, the Northwestern technology is based on validated behavior change techniques including self-monitoring, goal setting, feedback and social support.

The study included 69 overweight and obese adults who were an average age of 58 and primarily men. All participants were offered health education classes on nutrition, exercise and behavior change twice monthly during the first six months and once monthly for the remainder of the year. (EDITOR'S NOTE:   We will encourage the researcher to expand the study to more women to see is there are gender differences in access to social media tools).

Each participant received weekly calorie goals based on his current weight and weekly activity goals based on his current level of activity. Participants receiving treatment as usual recorded their eating and activity on paper. Those in the experimental treatment used the mobile device to transmit their data to a behavioral coach, who monitored their information and provided scheduled telephone coaching for 10 to 15 minutes about twice monthly.

People who used the mobile phone technology and attended 80 percent of the health education sessions lost 15 pounds and maintained the loss for one year. The average weight loss for the mobile phone group -- including those who did not attend the education sessions -- was 8.6 pounds. The control group -- which received the education sessions but no mobile app -- did not lose weight.

The time people spent interacting with the remote coaches was minimal.

“The coaches’ most important role was being in the wings,” Spring said. “The patients know the coaches are hovering and supportively holding them accountable. They know somebody is watching and caring and that’s what makes a difference.”

The participants, who were older, did not have prior experience with mobile phone technology and easily mastered the technology. “Some people think older people won’t use technology interventions, but that isn’t so,” Spring said.

One big challenge in treating obesity is the need to provide intensive behavioral treatment in a health care system where physicians don’t have the time and training to do it.

“This approach empowers patients to help themselves on a day-to-day basis,” Spring said. “We can help people lose meaningful amounts of weight and keep it off.  To do that we need to engage them in tracking their own eating and activity, learn how that governs weight, and take advantage of social support.”

The study was supported by grants from VA Rehabilitation Research and Development and grant HL 075451 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Posted by on July 3, 2012 - 12:15pm

 Consuming a low carbohydrate-high protein diet -- like the Atkins diet -- may be associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease in women.   Decreases in carbohydrate intake and increases in protein intake  were all associated with significantly greater risks of incident cardiovascular disease events in young Swedish women, according to Pagona Lagiou, MD, PhD, of the University of Athens in Greece, and colleagues.

The findings, which were reported online in BMJ, "do not answer questions concerning possible beneficial short-term effects of low carbohydrate or high protein diets in the control of body weight or insulin resistance," the authors wrote.   "Instead, they draw attention to the potential for considerable adverse effects on cardiovascular health of these diets when they are used on a regular basis," they wrote.

Low carb-high protein diets have become popular because of the short-term effects on weight control, but concerns have been raised about the potential cardiovascular effects over the long term. Studies exploring the issue have given mixed results, with a U.S. study showing no relationship between such a diet and rates of ischemic heart disease.   But three European studies showed a greater risk of cardiovascular mortality with such a diet.

The current analysis included 43,396 women, ages 30 to 49 at baseline, who completed a comprehensive questionnaire on lifestyle and dietary factors, as well as medical history. They were followed for an average of 15.7 years.   During follow-up, there were 1,270 incident cardiovascular events, which included ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage, and peripheral arterial disease.

After adjustment for energy intake, saturated and unsaturated fat intake, and numerous cardiovascular risk factors, each one-point decrease in carb intake was associated with a relative 4% increase in cardiovascular events (95% CI 0% to 8%). There was a suggestion that the associations were stronger for women whose protein came mostly from animal sources, but the test for interaction did not reach statistical significance for nearly all of the individual outcomes.

"Although these results are based on an observational study, their biological plausibility seems self evident," according to Anna Floegel, MPH, of the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke, and Tobias Pischon, MD, MPH, of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch.

"A low carbohydrate diet implies low consumption of whole-grain foods, fruits, and starchy vegetables and consequently reduced intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A high protein diet may indicate higher intake of red and processed meat and thus higher intake of iron, cholesterol, and saturated fat," they explained in an accompanying editorial.

"These single factors have previously been linked to a higher risk of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, in observational studies, so it is not surprising that this combination of risk factors is linked to a higher incidence of disease and mortality," they said.

For more informations about preventing heart disease, visit:   2011 Guidelines for CVD Prevention in Women

Primary source: BMJ
Lagiou P, et al "Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: prospective cohort study" BMJ 2012; DOI:10.1136/bmj.e4026.


Posted by on May 10, 2012 - 12:56pm

In May 2012, an HBO Documentary Films series on obesity, “The Weight of the Nation,” premieres.  Make sure you view the trailer, it's explosive!  The four-part series—Consequences, Choices, Children in Crisis, and Challenges—highlights several NIH research advances and addresses the factors contributing to the country’s obesity problem. The films are the centerpiece to a public awareness campaign, which also includes a three-part HBO Family series for kids, 12 short films, a website and social media, and a nationwide community-based outreach effort using free film discussion guides and other tools. To visit the website and see the trailer click HERE.


The network, in consultation with NIH and other major health organizations, developed four documentaries focused on obesity. The project also includes a three-part HBO Family series for kids, 12 short features, a social media campaign, and a nationwide community-based campaign to mobilize action to move the country to a healthier weight.

“If we don't take the obesity epidemic seriously as individuals and as a nation, we will pay a serious price,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who appears in all of the main documentaries in the series. “It's going to take diverse and rigorous research to understand the causes of obesity and to identify interventions that work in the real world. The results from federally funded research, as seen in these documentaries, can help to prevent and treat obesity and its complications.”

More than one-third of adults in the United States and nearly 17 percent of the nation's children are obese, which increases their chances of developing many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, fatty liver disease, and some cancers. In 2008, the nation's obesity-related medical costs were an estimated $147 billion.


Posted by on March 24, 2012 - 4:45pm


Eating more white rice may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, especially for Asian populations, Qi Sun, PhD, of Harvard and colleagues reported in the British Medical Journal.  Patients who ate the greatest amounts of the grain had a 27% greater risk of developing the disease than those who ate the least, and the relative risk was higher among Asian patients.

"Although rice has been a staple food in Asian populations for thousands of years, this transition [to more sedentary lifestyles and greater availability of food] may render Asian populations more susceptible to the adverse effects of high intakes of white rice, as well as other sources of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, white bread, and sugar sweetened beverages," they wrote.

The glycemic index of white rice is higher than that of other whole grains, largely due to processing. It's also the primary contributor to dietary glycemic load for populations that consume rice as a staple food, such as Asians.   Sun and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of four prospective cohort analyses in Asian and Western populations, totaling 352,384 patients with follow-up ranging from 4 to 22 years.

Overall, Sun and colleagues found a positive association between white rice intake and type 2 diabetes, which was stronger in Asian populations.   Asians with the highest intake had a 55% greater risk of diabetes than Asian patients who ate the least rice.   The risk was also heightened in Western populations, but the confidence interval was not significant..

In secondary analyses, the association appeared to be more pronounced in women than in men, they added.

They cautioned, however, that the meta-analysis was limited by the observational nature of the included studies and by their reliance on food frequency questionnaires to assess dietary intake. Also, they did not analyze consumption of brown rice, since only one of the four studies examined this food.

In an accompanying editorial, Bruce Neal, MD, of the University of Sydney in Australia, cautioned that the "interpretation of the observed association, and, in particular, determination of the likelihood of causality, are problematic."   Neal warned that the highest and lowest levels of rice intake varied greatly between studies, and that what's really needed is a "more sophisticated analysis based on primary rather than summary data."    Hopefully, we will have better research tools in the future to better assess dietary factors.


Hu EA, et al "White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic review" BMJ 2012; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e1454.
Neal B "White rice and risk of type 2 diabetes" BMJ 2012; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e2021.

Posted by on September 9, 2011 - 7:07am

A new simulation model predicts weight changes with varying diets and exercise plans.  Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have created a mathematical model — and an accompanying online weight simulation tool — of what happens when people of varying weights, diets and exercise habits try to change their weight. The findings challenge the commonly held belief that eating 3,500 fewer calories — or burning them off exercising — will always result in a pound of weight loss.

Instead, the researchers’ computer simulations indicate that this assumption overestimates weight loss because it fails to account for how metabolism changes. The computer simulations show how these metabolic changes can significantly differ among people. Findings are published Aug. 26 in a Lancet issue devoted to obesity.

However, the computer simulation of metabolism is meant as a research tool and not as a weight-loss guide for the public. The computer program can run simulations for changes in calories or exercise that would never be recommended for healthy weight loss. The researchers hope to use the knowledge gained from developing the model and from clinical trials in people to refine the tool for everyone.

“This research helps us understand why one person may lose weight faster or slower than another, even when they eat the same diet and do the same exercise,” said Kevin Hall, Ph.D., an obesity researcher and physicist at the NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK)  and the paper’s first author. “Our computer simulations can then be used to help design personalized weight management programs to address individual needs and goals.”

The online simulation tool based on the model enables researchers to accurately predict how body weight will change and how long it will likely take to reach weight goals based on a starting weight and estimated physical activity. The tool simulates how factors such as diet and exercise can alter metabolism over time and thereby lead to changes of weight and body fat.

To test the model, the researchers compared predicted weight changes to actual changes in people. For example, the team found that people’s bodies adapt slowly to changes in dietary intake. They also found heavier people can expect greater weight change with the same change in diet, though reaching a stable body weight will take them longer than people with less fat.

The model also points to a potential simplified method to approximate weight loss in an average overweight person. An adult who has a body mass index (a measure of a person’s weight in relation to his or her height) between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. One example: For every pound you want to lose, permanently cut 10 calories from your current intake per day. At that rate, it will take about one year to achieve half of the total weight loss, and almost all of the weight loss will have occurred by three years. This calculation shows how long it takes to achieve a weight-loss goal for a single permanent change of diet or exercise. Researchers can use the web simulation tool to plan for a phase of more-rapid weight loss followed by a weight maintenance phase. People should consult with their physician prior to embarking on a diet plan.

“This research illustrates how the interdisciplinary skills of NIH scientists, like a physicist doing obesity research, can help lead to innovative ways to test, understand and treat a major public health epidemic,” said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D. “Advancing research from the laboratory to the bedside enables us to make the discoveries that can better people’s lives.”