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American Obesity Rates Hit Plateau

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According to data released on Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American obesity rates have remained constant for at least 5 years for men and about 10 years for rates of obese women and children.

That’s not to say the numbers aren’t high, though. An estimated 34 percent of American adults are obese, which is more than double the percent thirty years ago. Perhaps scarier, during the past thirty years, the percent of obese children tripled to 17 percent.

Though Dr. William H Dietz of CDC calls the data “promising” and credited the plateau to increased awareness of obesity, he is careful to note that we can’t congratulate ourselves jut yet. In a New York Times article, he says, “I don’t think we have in place the kind of policy or environmental changes needed to reverse the epidemic just yet.”

Dr. Ludwig, the director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston also stresses that a leveling off is not a free pass to drop the ball on working to prevent obesity. “Until we see numbers improving, not just staying the same, we can’t have any confidence that our lifestyle has improved.” He even goes so far as to suggest we may have reached a “biological limit” for obesity.

Hm…

I just find it amazing that for a country so obsessed with thinness, we have such high rates of overweight and obesity. I wish my program offered more opportunities to study the psychological aspect. I guess that would be a whole separate degree though. Sometimes I think if it weren’t for being so interested in clinical nutrition, I’d focus more on public health and/or food studies. Time for everything, I suppose.

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Calorie Counts are Frequently Off

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Overall, as I’ve said many times, I tend to be a fan of calorie labeling in restaurants and other eating establishments because I think they motivate people to think a little more closely about what they want to “spend” their calories on the way we also consider what to spend our dollars on. I’ve also expressed that I worry that some people could become a little obsessed (who likely would look up calorie content online even if it weren’t posted on a menu), and unfortunately, this bit from Time isn’t going to help anyone chill out.

Susan Roberts, professor at Tufts, along with Jean Mayer of Tufts’ USDA Nutrition Research Center on Aging decided to analyze an array of restaurant and frozen food items, taking care to select the ones dieters might be most likely to reach for. Sure enough, the calorie counts posted on labels and menus were off by as much as 18% for restaurant foods and 8% for frozen foods.

I think the main thing I would take away from the article is that even when an item is said to contain a certain number of calories, your best bet is really to listen to the cues your body sends you. Eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, for most people (myself included), sounds simpler than it is in practice, but mindful eating is something to work towards.

For a laugh, you could try practicing on a raisin. The Center for Mindful Eating is a really interesting organization, and their website is worth checking out. You might also want to read this post I wrote last summer for Five Seasons Healing, an acupuncture practice in Union Square.

Takeout or Frozen Meal?

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When it comes to lunch at your desk or dinner on a busy or late night, what’s a better choice—takeout or a frozen “diet” meal? I don’t know about you, but when I was first living on my own at 20, I subsisted mainly on Amy’s organic meals and other heat-and-eat dishes. I was so clueless in the kitchen…

In their February 2010 issue, Consumer Reports takes a look at frozen entrees from companies such as Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, Kashi, and Healthy Choice.

What they mainly found was that these meals taste pretty good but tend to be too small—many clock in at 300 calories or less. However the magazine points out that this provides a good opportunity for consumers to add vegetables and fruits to balance out the dish. Another downside was that a lot of these frozen items pack a lot of sodium, with 800 mg being a pretty typical amount, though 600 mg is considered a reasonable amount for someone taking in the recommended 2,300 mg or less per day.

Still, Consumer Report considers a frozen entree a much better option than takeout because of their automatic portion control—especially a plus for people trying to monitor their weight in a healthy manner.

Lucky Foods for New Years

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Hope you’ve got some great New Years plans lined up. Since I live way too close to Times Square, I am chilling in for the evening and instead going out tomorrow night. Chris and I are cooking up a nice dinner using recipes from the cookbooks we got for Christmas alongside some old favorites.

On the menu:

*Mixed greens with roasted beets, sliced pear, toasted walnuts, and maybe blue cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette
*Roasted garlic, served with roasted peppers, hummus, and whole wheat flatbread
*Vegetable antipasto—lots of roasted and grilled vegetables, served with olives and feta
*Sesame soy slaw, made with brussel sprouts, sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce and red onion
*Lentil-stuffed peppers

Jury’s still out on dessert. We have a lot of sweets we were given over the holiday, so we’ll probably use those in some capacity. I also have diet gingerale and Prosecco on hand.

Did you know that in some cultures, certain foods are considered lucky to eat on New Years Eve? For example, greens are supposedly an auspicious thing to chew on since they look like money and are said to attract the green stuff in the coming year. Legumes like beans, peas and lentils are also said to symbolize money. I guess it’s good that our New Years meal involves a lot of both.

Some other lucky eats? Pork and fish—but not lobster. According to this article, lobster is considered a decidedly unlucky thing to eat since lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks. Good to know.

Happy New Year!

And please, please, please—whatever resolutions you choose to make, remember to be kind to yourself!

Diet Drinks

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As I sit here typing this, I am sipping a tall glass of diet pepsi leftover from our party Friday night (I’m shocked it’s still fizzy, like, four days later). While I cut way back on diet soda about a year ago, it’s been hard for me to avoid it recently, thanks to finals and needing to stay awake through marathon group study sessions. Sure, it’s better than cocaine, but it makes me a little dizzy to think of all the weird chemicals I’ve taken in over the past three weeks.

This entry on Washington Post blog The Checkup reminded me of some of the reasons I am not such a fan of diet sodas. While so far, scientific studies have shown that artificial sweeteners don’t appear to pose cancer risks, there is some speculation that they mess with our perception and processing of real sugar.

David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston suggests that diet drinks, with their lack of nutrients and intensely sweet flavors may condition us to be less satisfied by naturally-sweet, nutrient-rich foods like fruits as well as the non-sweet flavors of vegetables, legumes, and the like. This could cause some people to make unhealthy choices, often replacing those calories absent from the drinks with other sources. Being able to associate sweetness with caloric intake is one of the internal cues that may be subdued by excess consumption of diet drinks. I guess only time and long-term studies of the effects of diet drinks will tell for sure.

A sundae is a beautiful thing once in a while, and with a balanced diet, you can easily work in the occasional treat, but it’s no substitute for a vitamin-packed piece of fruit—or a meal. I am totally talking to my 19-year-old self here, who was known to eat ice cream with cereal for dinner when the dining hall was having an off-night, which happened pretty often. Glad I learned how to cook.

Champagne is the New Red Wine

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Good news! According to a recent British Study, a glass of champagne delivers as many health benefits as red wine and chocolate.

Researcher Dr. Jeremy Spencer of Reading University found that it contains the same polyphenol antioxidants, which help promote heart health by slowing down the removal of nitric oxide from the blood, thus lowering blood pressure. Cheaper alternatives to champagne such as cava and Prosecco also contain these antioxidants.

Says Dr. Spencer, “We have found that a couple of glasses a day has a beneficial effect on the walls of blood vessels – which suggests champagne has the potential to reduce strokes and heart disease.”

I’m not sure if the guidelines are different in the UK, but here, women are advised to stick to one drink a day and men to two, but hey, I’m always happy to have a reason to drink champagne. I don’t drink very often, so when I do, I like it to be something really good!

Consumers Crave All-Day Breakfast

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Living in New York, I think I take it for granted that if I really want, I can get an egg-white omelet or a belgian waffle or oatmeal any time of day or night I want. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

There are, naturally, many people who would like to be able to get breakfast all the time. According to recent restaurant surveys, nearly half of US consumers report wanting full-service restaurants to offer breakfast fare all day and about a third would like limited-service restaurants to do the same.

As noted in Technomic’s “Breakfast Consumer Trend Report,” consumers in general find breakfast food comforting, but women are even more into the idea of being able to get breakfast at lunch and dinner. I guess I can see that.

Also interesting, apparently the purchase of breakfast sandwiches is on the rise. I don’t know why I find this so interesting or amusing exactly…maybe because I’ve always thought of, like, bacon-egg-and-cheese-type breakfasts as hangover food (at least for me, though it’s fortunately been a long, long time…).

Even though you could joke that a lot more people are probably drinking a lot because the economy sucks, I think it’s also true that a savory breakfast is very comforting and makes people feel like they’re getting a good, solid start to their day. I guess you could also say that in times like these, you need to feel like you’re getting off on the right foot in at least some respect.

It could also be, too, that breakfast tends to be cheaper than other meals.