Monthly Archives: July 2014

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about cooking-related pollutants, how ginger fights inflammation in runners, the clean-plate club, getting kids to eat veggies, and more.

Cooking-Related Pollutants: Should You Worry?

Did you know that cooking can dramatically affect your indoor air quality?  Berkeley Wellness reviewed a recent Environmental Health Perspectives article “Take Care in the Kitchen: Avoiding Cooking-Related Pollutants.” Cooking, especially on gas stoves, exposes many homeowners to levels of pollutants at levels that would be illegal by outdoor air quality standards. The problem is worse in winter and in energy-efficient/airtight houses.

What are these pollutants, and where do they come from? The main  pollutants are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ultrafine particles.  Cooking burners (especially gas) and the cooking process itself produce pollutants, which, at high levels, can contribute to respiratory problems, and can be problematic for those suffering from cardiovascular disease. (Environ Health Perspect 122:A154–A159; June 2014).

One of the best ways to protect yourself from these pollutants is to use a good range hood/exhaust fan (that vents to the outdoors) whenever you use your burners or oven (gas or electric).  Range hoods should reduce the tiny airborne particles, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other byproducts of cooking. Cooking on back burners also reduces exposure.

The Berkeley Lab has an excellent resource for indoor air quality here, and the short video below will help you understand and reduce cooking pollutants.

Are You Part of the Clean Plate Club?

Once you’ve served yourself a plate of delicious-looking food, do you think you will stop eating when you are full? Or will you finish the entire plate of food regardless of your feelings of fullness. . .

Most of us don’t eat solely to satisfy our hunger (if we did, most nations wouldn’t be suffering an obesity epidemics). Figuring out why we eat is an area of research that provides insight into our overconsumption and could help reduce the obesity trend.  Brian Wansink, professor of Marketing and Director of the University of Illinois’ Food and Brand Lab, is the guru in this field, having spent much of his career investigating eating behavior.  His work has revealed fascinating information about how environmental cues influence what we eat.

In this new research, Wansink reviewed 14 studies on eating behavior conducted in 8 developed countries. He found that adults tended to consume almost all ( 92%)  of the food they served themselves. Not surprisingly, the same didn’t hold true for children, who consumed only 59% of their self-served food.

This study is important because distinguishing between the amount served vs amount eaten is relevant for other research investigating eating behavior.  Also,  consumers can use these findings to improve their own eating habits – you will likely eat what you put on your plate – so serve yourself healthy foods, and stick to appropriate portion sizes. (International Journal of Obesity,  advanced online pub 22 July 2014)

the clean plate club: about 92% of self served food is eaten, international journal of obesity, brian wansink, katherine abowd johnson, cornell university, food and brand lab

ginger_msGinger Lowers Post-Workout Inflammation 

Some news to vindicate my ginger consumption (ginger jam and/or ginger granola at breakfast, dark-molasses gingerbread in the afternoon, and ginger with stir-fry for supper is not uncommon).

In a study of well-trained runners, researchers measured levels of cytokines (markers of inflammation) after a strenuous treadmill test at the end of an intense 6-week training block. Runners who had consumed ginger 3 times a day for 6 weeks had much lower levels of cytokines than runners who consumed a placebo (and lower levels than when they did the same test without regularly consuming ginger).  High cytokines signal that the immune system is challenged, which could increase risk of upper respiratory tract infections or other illnesses.

Although researchers did not assess illness, these findings suggest that regular ginger consumption can strengthen the immune function during intense training. (Central European Journal of Immunology, 2014; 39 (2): 174–180).

While we need more research to confirm these benefits, it’s certain that using this fiery fresh spice will boost the flavor of many meals. Try  these recipes: Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger,  Sesame Noodles with Asparagus, or Cranberry Salsa Dip, and be sure to check out my cooking tips for ginger.

Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables: Study Suggests Most Parents’ Efforts Aren’t Helping

Adopting healthy eating habits at an early age is important for good health, but for many parents, this is a struggle.  Considering that obesity in youth is reaching alarming proportions (in Canada, obesity rates in children and youth have trippled in the last 25 years), research into this area is critical.

A new study suggest that even well-meaning parents may be tackling this issue the wrong way.  Researchers found that preschoolers were less likely to eat vegetables when told about their health benefits. The best approach seems to be to serve kids vegetables often, and without comments about health.  (Journal of Consumer Research, July 2014).

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how your environment can influence physical activity levels, a comparison of protein bars vs whole foods, the training of Olympic and world champion endurance athletes, a great muesli recipe, and more.

Being Close to Traffic-Free Routes Encourages Physical Activity 

bike pathIf you build it, will they come? Many studies have suggested that an individual’s environment influences their level of physical activity. For example, residents of neighborhoods with poor access to parks engage in less physical activity.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge studied this environment-activity link in a community that built new traffic-free cycling and walking routes. They found that the new routes encouraged local people to become more active:  residents  living 1 km from the new routes increased their time spent walking and cycling by an average of 45 minutes/wk more than those living 4 km away.  (American Journal of Public  Health, July 2014)

Although some might think the relationship between environment and increased activity is obvious, studies like these provide the necessary data for community groups, policy makers, and local governments to make decisions, allocate funds, and provide more insight into the issue. For example, in this study, researchers found that it took 2 years for residents to increase their activity levels, showing that  the benefits of this sort of investment may not be immediate.

Smoothie made with strawberries and bananasProtein Bars vs Whole Foods

Tanya Haliday (RD, PhD Student in sports science) has a great post comparing protein bars to real food. She includes pictures, nutrient information, and advice that should be enough to convince you that real food is often the winner. Protein bars and energy bars are convenient and can play a role in an athlete’s diet: for example, traveling, training camps, and races are often times for the convenience of energy bars, since it can be more difficult to have a supply of fresh food close by to refuel your working muscles.

If you want to read more about energy bars and good options for real-food alternatives, read my column here.

JOHAUG_Therese_Tour_de_Ski_2010_4_wikimediaHow do Olympic Endurance Athletes Train?

It’s rare to find out the details of the training and peaking of champion athletes. But a recent study by Norwegian researchers provides much insight into the day-to-day training of Olympic or World Championship medal-winning Norwegian cross country skiers and biathletes.

In their article “The Road to Gold: Training and Peaking Characteristics in the Year Prior to a Gold Medal Endurance Performance” the authors present  training data for Olympic and World champion XC skiers and biathletes in the year before their most successful competition.  They analyzed information from the athlete’s training diaries, where athletes recorded details on total training time distributed across training form (strength, endurance, sprint), activity (skiing, roller-skiing, running, cycling, etc.), and intensity zone, as well as specific comments regarding session details (you’ll find a similar diary on Sportlog, popular with Canadian XC skiers).  (PlosOne July 2014).

The paper is impressive in its detail, and includes many informative figures. Here is an example.



iStock_000019059980_ExtraSmallMuesli for Breakfast . . .  

Here’s a simple and nutritious way to serve oats. It’s a variation of the traditional Swiss breakfast food developed around 1900 by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital (the Bircher-Benner Clinic).

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Traditional Swiss Oat Muesli

Here’s a simple and nutritious way to serve oats. This healthy muesli recipe is a variation of the traditional Swiss breakfast food developed around 1900 by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital (the Bircher-Benner Clinic).  This is Vicky Newman’s version (my cookbook’s co-author).

This muesli is wonderful with the addition of unsweetened applesauce or grated fresh apples, or other seasonal fresh fruit. Mix up your favorite combination at night to have a hearty and nutritious breakfast on hand in the morning!


  • 1 cup rolled oats, uncooked
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 4 cups plain lowfat yogurt

Makes SIX 1/2-Cup Servings


  1. Mix together in a glass bowl the uncooked oats, almonds, raisins, and yogurt.
  2. Cover the bowl tightly and store the muesli in the refrigerator overnight.


  • This basic recipe is versatile and works well with other dried fruit, nuts, or seeds, and is wonderful topped with seasonal fresh fruit.

Nutrition NotesBowl of yogurt

  • Yogurt is a good source protein and calcium, and a great addition to any breakfast (most people don’t eat enough protein in the morning).  High yogurt consumption (> 7 servings/week) is linked to lower weight (especially in people who eat more fruit), and lower risk of diabetes.Oats (with Path)
  • Oats are well-know for their cholesterol lowering properties, and recent research shows that they contain antioxidant compounds called avenanthramides that help decrease chronic inflammation that can lead to disease.
  • Almonds are a great source of healthy monounsaturated and polyunaturated fats, fiber, Vitamin E and important minerals (notably magnesium). Like other nuts, they can lowers LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and increase HDL (“good” cholesterol), and help lower blood pressure. A recent study suggests eating nuts daily might help you live almond_fotolialonger and improve your health. Regular almond consumption can improve blood flow, increase blood levels of antioxidants, and lower blood pressure. Like other nuts, almonds are high in calories (50 g of almonds have about 290 calories), but that might not be a great concern for those who don’t need the extra calories: another just-published study  showed that eating almonds as snacks for 1 month suppressed hunger and desire to eat sensations and didn’t affect body weight.  Read about the latest studies on almonds and health (Experimental Biology, April 2014here.
Nutrition Per Serving
  • 360 calories
  • 13 g protein
  • 9 g fat (2 g sat)
  • 10 mg cholesterol
  • 33 g carbohydrate
  • 3 g fiber
  • 115 mg sodium
  • 610 mg potassium
  • 340 mg calcium
  • 80 mg magnesium

This recipe is from the cookbook and food guide Food For Thought: Healing Foods to Savor by Sheila Kealey, Vicky Newman, with Susan Faerber. 

More recipes featuring oats:

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about  resources for masters athletes, avoiding gluten without reason, boring TV shows and food consumption, why exercise is the best medicine, and more.

Resources for Masters Athletes

ORK_3113Exercise is critical to healthy aging, and competing in sport  is a great way for all ages to keep motivated and stay fit.  Once you’re over age 35, should you be changing things to get the most out of your exercise routine? What about if you’re 60 or 70 and still want to be at your best?  You certainly aren’t alone, and there are some excellent resources available. Be sure to check out July’s Sport Information Resource (SIRC) Newsletter,  which is devoted to articles that deal with many aspects of being a masters athlete.

Also, be sure to check out my newly updated page devoted to Masters Athletes. Whether you’re a coach, masters athlete, or someone any number of years over age 35 who’s thinking of becoming active, there is plenty of information and inspiration here.

Are Athletes (& Others) Avoiding Gluten Without Good Reason?

Foods high in carbohydrateThe gluten-free trend is a popular one, and many athletes have hopped on the bandwagon thinking it might improve their health, digestion, and athletic performance. People with celiac disease (about 1% of the population) need to absolutely avoid gluten because it damages their intestines; others believe they are “gluten sensitive,” which is a debatable condition that recent studies have called into question. A new study reported in Runners World reveals that about 40% of of athletes without celiac disease have diagnosed themselves as “gluten sensitive” and try to follow a gluten-free diet.  Although many people report feeling better without gluten, evidence shows this is likely the result of people paying more attention to their overall diet, a strong placebo effect, or choosing healthier options (for example, eating an orange instead of a bagel provides many more nutrients and fewer calories – a healthful substitution for many, but that doesn’t mean you need to avoid bagels altogether . . . ).

Are you avoiding gluten because of gastrointestinal concerns? It’s important to recognize that GI issues can be very complex. Consider my advice on what to eat before working out, and consult this recent review with recommendations for gastrointestinal complaints during exercise. There is little evidence that avoiding gluten or wheat will improve your health. In fact, whole grains have many health benefits and gluten-containing grains are an integral component of some of the best-studied and healthiest diets in the World.

More reading about gluten-free diets and health:

Boring TV Shows Make You Eat 50% More

Two girls looks TVMany of us eat for reasons other than hunger.  Grazing mindlessly on food while watching TV is a common phenomena that increases the daily caloric intake of many people, and researchers from Sweden’s Uppsala University  wanted to learn more about this behavior. They tracked the snacking of women  watching “engaging” vs “boring” TV shows, and found that women who watched the boring TV shows ate a lot more (52%) than women watching an engaging comedy show.  Other research has also shown that boredom motivates food intake. (PLOS One July 1, 2014)

You may not have control over boring activities, but you can control what you eat: if you don’t need the excess calories, your best option is to have healthy low-calorie snacks on hand.  See my article What is Controlling Your Eating for more insight into how cues not related to hunger influence what we eat, and how we can turn this into a health advantage.

older woman swimExercise Is the
Best Medicine

Physical activity is one of the most cost-effective and promising strategies for healthy aging, with good evidence showing that exercise helps keep your brain sharp, increase quality of life, and prevent premature death. Australian researchers reviewed the published literature from 2009-2013 that investigated exercise in postmenopausal women to see how it influenced their health: they found overwhelming evidence that being active was linked to lower rates of cognitive and physical decline typically associated with aging. Exercise programs that included higher intensity exercise showed the best improvements for fitness and had the greatest impact on health. The authors recommend that physicians should prescribe physical activity to women, and consider encouraging higher intensity exercise and activities that women can easily incorporate into everyday activities.  (Anderson et al. Maturitas, June 2014).

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