Could rebates on healthy foods boost sales?

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I wonder if dark chocolate would be on the "healthy foods" list. A gal can dream...
I wonder if dark chocolate would be on the “healthy foods” list. A gal can dream…

A conversation I feel like I have all the time usually involves one of us saying at some point, “It’s not that healthy foods are too expensive, it’s that crappy food is too cheap!” And then we talk about farm subsidies and wax on about how nice it would be if fruits & veggies were subsidized by the government or if consumers were offered some sort of incentive to buy more good-for-you stuff, since potential prevention of chronic disease doesn’t exactly seem to be selling, like, apples.

A South African study where members of Discovery Health, the country’s largest private health insurance company, are provided rebates of 10% or 25% on healthful foods has shown some promise.  The program involves 800 supermarkets and 260,000 households. Researchers are finding that lowering the cost on items such as produce, whole grains, nonfat dairy items (a ~6,000-item list drawn up by nutritionists, doctors and others), purchase of these nutrient-dense foods increased. These foods are marked in grocery stores so consumers can locate them.

Roland Sturm, a study co-author and a senior economist at the nonprofit research organization Rand, noted that changes were proportional to the price changes, but said in a statement. “When there is a large gap between people’s actual eating behaviors and what nutritionists recommend, even a 25% price change closes just a small fraction of that gap.”

Cheers to that. While there’s no evidence that participating in the program reduces incidence of obesity, it’s still encouraging. While I’d encourage anyone to work toward a healthy body weight for their height and frame, it’s still better to be well-nourished than not.

Man, I wish my insurance company offered me rebates on produce. I realize this is the second post in, like, 3 days in which I wistfully mention something I’d like my insurance to help out with. I know I should be thankful I have it at all, but sometimes I feel like some suit in an office somewhere is laughing at me.

Do you think rebates on healthy food would be effective here? If you have it, what do you wish your health insurance covered? 

Say something once, why say it again?

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Because it’s important! Naturally, I’m talking about breakfast. And yes, I may have just referenced the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Why not?

one of my favorite breakfasts—oatmeal in an almost-empty peanut butter jar

As a dietitian-in-training, it’s basically my (unpaid) job to tell people to eat some f***ing breakfast, but it’s for good reason. Studies have repeatedly shown that eating a morning meal helps rev the metabolism and boost work and school performance. It’s also been shown that eating breakfast can help prevent overeating later in the day.

A new study using MRI brain scans showed that when participants skipped breakfast, they had a variation in the pattern of activity in their orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain linked to the reward value and pleasantness of food. Pictures of high-calorie foods were shown to trigger that area, suggesting that those who wait until later in the day to eat may be more susceptible to cravings for unhealthy items.

Nothing new, but still interesting, no?

Do you eat breakfast? Why or why not? If you do, what are some of your favorite breakfast foods? 

Does (plate) size matter?

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courtesy of Dietitians-Online

Health professionals often recommend smaller plates to people looking to eat less. While a lot of research has shown visual cues to be a major aspect of satiety, a recent study published in the recent issues of Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics suggested that eating off of a smaller plate may not necessarily lead people to eat less.

10 overweight or obese women and 10 women with a normal BMI were randomly assigned to have lunch using either a small (8.5-inch) or large (10.8-inch) plate and to serve themselves, eating until they were satisfied. This was done on two different days, using a different sized plate each time. Results showed no difference in energy intake due to plate size, weight status or plate size by weight status. Subjects ate the same amount regardless.

According to senior researcher Meena Shah, a professor of kinesiology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, the overweight and obese women “reported lower levels of hunger and prospective consumptions before the meals and felt less full after the meals compared to normal weight subjects despite no difference in energy consumption between two groups. This suggests that overweight/obese individuals may have a lower ability to sense hunger and fullness than normal weight adults.”

However, it’s worth noting that this was a very small study, and the subjects were told to eat until satisfied. Had they been given a one-plate rule or  at least not known which size plate they were using, it might have shown more directly whether the , uh, size mattered.

Sorry, I just giggled a little.

What do you think—does plate size matter?

Low-fat dairy impacts kids’ health but maybe not weight

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Photo courtesy of FYI Living

Did you get milk in school? I did, at least in elementary school. At the beginning of the year, our parents would sign us up for either red milk (whole), blue milk (low-fat) or light blue milk (skim). There was also chocolate milk. Every day on the way into the multi-purpose room, I’d grab a blue milk off the tray and go sit at whichever table my grade was assigned to.

While I don’t remember if I actually drank this milk, the endearingly curmudgeonly lunch lady, Elsie, used to walk around instructing, “Drink ya milk!” For her sake, I hope I did.

Dairy products like milk have long been considered healthy options for growing kids, but whole milk products are the main source of saturated fat in kids’ diets. Too much saturated fat has been linked to elevated cholesterol levels and other health conditions rarely seen in children until the past generation.

A piece I wrote on a study of kids and low-fat dairy products is up on FYI Living. Researchers looked into whether switching kids from full-fat to low-fat dairy products would improve their health and/or weight. Take a look and see what they found out.

In my humble opinion, both full-fat and low-fat dairy products have their place in a healthy, balanced diet so long as parents keep overall calories in mind and offer a variety of healthy options. Kids with lactose intolerance may benefit from lactose-free products and milk alternatives like soy, almond, rice or coconut milk products.

Did you get milk in school? Do you drink milk now? 

Survey Shows Intake of Added Sugar Drops in US

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Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that sugar is evil, it has been shown to have negative effects when consumed in excess. It contributes calories, but no other nutrients our bodies can work with. When we consume too much added sugar, it can impact our waistlines, our blood sugar levels, our triglycerides, and even our immune function.

Unfortunately, the extra calories Americans have taken in over the past thirty years have mostly come from added sugars in products like sweetened beverages and snack foods. Sugar and other caloric sweeteners can also be found in places you normally wouldn’t think to look for them, like bread, crackers, non-dairy milk, and healthy-sounding non-fat and low-fat yogurts and other products that boast a low fat content.

However, surveys of over 40,000 people over the past few decades collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans have started to consume less added sugar. Researchers calculated how much extra sugar was added to food (naturally-occuring sugars such as fructose in fruit was not included) and deduced that between 1999 and 2000, there was about 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of added sugar in a typical person’s daily diet. By 2007 to 2008, the number was 77 grams, or 2.7 ounces.

That translates to a drop from 18 to 14.6 percent of calories coming from added sugars. Though that’s still pretty high, the decrease is significant. Researchers, found that about two-thirds of that reduction related to lower consumption of sweetened beverages. It was also worth noting that low-carb diets became more popular during the 2000s, potentially adding to lowered consumption of sugars in carbohydrate-rich foods.

Though it’s great that people are taking in less added sugar than they were, most people could still stand to cut back more. Continue to forgo soda and candy bars, but keep checking labels. Rather than hit your daily sugar-quota with your breakfast cereal and soy milk, reach for the unsweetened stuff so you can enjoy one real sweet treat that will be far more satisfying.

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2011

Is Caffeine Addiction Inherited?

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While sucking down a cup of coffee yesterday afternoon at the library, I came across a WebMD article about caffeine addiction. It turns out it may be genetic.Thanks, Mom!

The specific genes involved are CYP1A2, long known to play some role in caffeine metabolism, and there is another called AHR, which affects regulation of CYP1A2. All people have both genes, but the study, which  involved over 47,000 middle-aged Americans of European descent, revealed that people with the highest-consumption variant for either gene consumed about 40 milligrams more caffeine than people with the lowest-consumption gene varieties. 40 milligrams is equal to about 1/3 cup of caffeinated coffee or one can of soda. What this shows that our individual ability to metabolize caffeine may be inherited.

You can read more about it here.

Well, now that my massive cup of green tea is finished, I’m going to head out to hot yoga. I’m feeling pretty good after some deep sleep, a bowl of chocolate carrot cake oatmeal, and the news that I’m actually a lot closer to being done with my masters than I thought! I’m taking one class this summer and three this fall, and then I’ll only have two courses left! Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel does a lot for your outlook. your Friday.

Do You Live in the “Diabetes Belt?”

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Researchers recently identified the U.S. Southeast, already called the “Stroke Belt” as the region with the highest diabetes rate. While most states showed a diabetes rate of about 8.5 percent, close to 12 percent of people in parts of 15 states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas ,Virginia, West Virginia and the entire state of Mississippi had the disease. Read the rest of this entry »