Monthly Archives: February 2015

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how saunas might promote health, addictive foods, fats or carbs for athletes, big breakfast/light supper best for diabetics, avoiding muscle soreness, is 45 the new 35 for athletes? 5 nutrition rules for athletes, strength training for runners, emulsifiers and health, and more.

The Strange Connection Between Saunas and Longevity

640px-Highgrove_SaunaA study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that frequent sauna use is linked to a reduced risk of several heart conditions.  Finnish researchers followed 2,300 Finnish male sauna users from 1984  to 2011.  Men who used the sauna more often (> 4/wk) seemed to be the most protected from heart disease and early death.  (Time reports on JAMA, February 23, 2015).

Researchers speculate that a sauna’s benefit is because it is similar to light or moderate exercise (increased heart rate and increased sweating), or the relaxed state the sauna promotes.

Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs?

Fresh Vegetables, Fruits and other foodstuffs.Gretchen Reynolds explores a fringe trend among some athletes to focus on fats rather than carbohydrates to fuel their workouts. Decades of research show that carbohydrates are an athlete’s fuel of choice.  The “ideal” diet recommended by proponent Dr. Volek is close to 85% fat, which  leads to a condition known as ketosis (for reference, an elite endurance athlete’s diet would be 55-75% carbohydrates, a percentage that they often adjust to meet their activity needs). The article might convince some athletes to adopt a high fat diet, as it focuses on the rationale behind the diet, interviewing low-carb/high fat promoter Jeff Volek, and some research (which is quite limited), but  doesn’t present the overwhelming evidence showing how important carbohydrates are for endurance Cooked bacon stripsathletes. Some balance is provided by expert Louise Burke. (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times)

There is little science to support very high-fat/low-carbohydrate diets for exercise, and no studies have shown that such a diet can improve performance. Low-carb training might be effective periodically, but not as an everyday diet for athletes.  For example, low carb/fasted “low glycogen” workouts can be used as a training strategy (the Canadian marathoners did this  – a kind of nutrition periodization). The research on the benefits of this training isn’t solid, and experts recommend being careful about when/how you implement these workouts (best during baseline training/not high intensity).

Regularly consuming such a high-fat diet could compromise overall health, as pure fats contain few other nutrients or food components that promote health and prevent chronic disease. And consider that the majority of world class endurance champions consume a high carbohydrate diet, as do East African distance runners (the best endurance runners in the world), and this world record marathon performance fueled by an extremely high carbohydrate intake (80g/hour).

More reading on low carb diets for athletes here.

What Foods Are
the Most Addictive?

Pizza tops list as "most addictive"
Pizza tops list as “most addictive”

In a series of two studies, researchers from the University of Michigan had participants rate the “addictiveness” of foods based on questions from the Yale Food Addiction Scale.  In general, foods rated most addictive foods were highly processed, contained added fats, and refined carbohydrates. Pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, and ice cream to top the list. Researchers conclude that “highly processed foods, which may share characteristics with drugs of abuse (e.g. high dose, rapid rate of absorption) appear to be particularly associated with food addiction.”

Can’t stop at a couple of pieces of pizza?
  • Try buying or making a healthier version with these tips.
  • See other tips to control eating not related to hunger here.

Here are the ratings:

AddictiveFoodsSource: PLoS ONE 10(2): Feb 18, 2015; e0117959. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117959

More Links of Interest this Week

Big breakfast, light dinner helps control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.  This small study found that type 2 diabetics who consumed a high calorie breakfast and a low calorie dinner had better blood sugar control over the entire day compared to those eating a low calorie breakfast and a high calorie dinner. Total calorie intake in both groups was the same.  (Diabetologia).

There may be something to Adelle Davis’ saying “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” Earlier research conducted by the same research group showed that timing calorie intake influenced weight loss.  As in the study with diabetics, those who consumed their high calorie meal in the morning lost more weight than those consuming their high calorie meal at night.  Researchers believe that the difference is because of the body’s circadian rhythms, which influence biological processes and metabolism.

Avoiding Muscle Soreness. A new study suggests that specific training might reduce muscle soreness after strenuous events like marathons. (Alex Hutchinson, reporting on European Journal of Applied Physiology, Feb 2015).

questioncolordressThe Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress.  Social media was abuzz this week with people debating whether this dress (pictured) is blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe.  Wired has a nice piece explaining how our eyes and brains have evolved to perceive color when the sun is shining. (

Science Friday also covered the dress issue, you can read the explanation by Bryan Jones, a retinal neuroscientist here.

Faster, Older, Younger?  Micheal Joyner questions “Is 45 the new 35?” and looks at some impressive middle & long distance running results. (Micheal Joyner).

Vitamin B.S. How people came to believe the myth that nutritional supplements promote health. (The Atlantic)

5 Nutrition Rules Every Athlete Should Know.  These rules are excellent. (Bradley Stulberg, Outside Magazine)

broccoliWe’re Fat, Sick & The Broccoli Did It!  Dr. David Katz responds to Nina Teicholzl’s criticism of the dietary guidelines committee report. Excellent article: here is an excerpt:

“We need to get sick and tired of pseudo-expertise; of iconoclasts only showing the citations that support the position they held at the beginning, a dangerous variety of legerdemain for public health. We need to get especially sick and tired of iconoclasts who aren’t even that, but rather copycats, reheating decade-old revelations of the “been there, done that” variety. We need to get sick and tired of exploring the innumerable ways there are to eat badly, so we might actually try eating well.”

School Lunches from around the world in pictures. Healthier meals more colorful! (FastCompany)

Strength training for runners led to faster times & less fatigue during last 3km of 10-km race. (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Feb 20)

Keep calm: Study links high levels of anger to an increased risk for heart attack.  (Time, reporting on The European Heart Journal Acute Cardiovascular Care, Feb 2015).

Neuroscientists discover why exercise reduces stress. A neuropeptide (galanin), increased during exercise, protects neurons from stress-induced degeneration  (Neuropharmacology, Feb 2015).

Is Your Empty Stomach Fueling Your Shopping Spree?   A new study suggests that hunger’s influence goes beyond food consumption, prompting the purchase of nonfood items (Science Friday, reporting on PNAS)

Ask the Expert: Coffee and health. Harvard’s Dr. Rob van Dam summarizes the recent research on coffee drinking. (Harvard Nutrition Source)

Why Food Companies Remind Me of “Toy Story” Dan Taber looks at clever industry PR responding to dietary guidelines.

Try a manual emulsifier for homemade salad dressings.

Emulsifiers linked to obesity and gut disease. Emulsifiers are chemicals that prevent water and fat from separating, found commonly in processed meats, ice creams, cream cheese, pastries, mayonnaise, and salad dressings.  A study published this week showed that mice fed common synthetic emulsifiers were at increased risk for weight gain and inflammatory bowel disease.   Although more research is needed to determine the effects of synthetic emulsifiers on human health, reducing synthetic emulsifiers in your diet will likely reduce your intake of processed foods. (Nature,  25 February 2015)

Refrigerators of the World. This week, people around the world tweeted pictures of their leftovers to @sweden. (The Atlantic)

Cold, Dark, and Happy: Lessons From Alaska, the New Leader in Well-Being.
New state rankings from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows which states are the healthiest places to live. (The Atlantic, reporting on the Gallup Well-Being Index)

8 Things You Don’t Know About Supplements. Things you should know if you take vitamins or supplements, from Vitamania author Catherine Price. (Time)

IMG_4315NEW RECIPE: Move over pesto, chimichurri is the new sauce in town! I love to cook with fresh herbs, and use them generously, since they dramatically enhance the flavour of almost any dish, perking up the taste of foods without relying on unnecessary fat or salt.  Like most leafy greens, fresh herbs also have tremendous nutritional benefits.  Having versatile chimichurri on hand makes adding fresh herbs to meals pretty easy.


Image Credits:

“Highgrove Sauna” by Todtanis – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Move over pesto, chimichurri is the new sauce in town!

“I’m using this sauce on everything!” my cookbook co-author Vicky Newman said,
we have to put it in our book!

clearbowlchimichurri (427x640)I gave Vicky’s chimichurri a try, and, like Vicky, was using it on a surprisingly wide variety of foods: eggs, grilled fish, lentils, vegetables, brown rice, as a sandwich spread . . .
I was recently reminded of chimichurri when my brother returned from a fly-fishing trip in Argentina. He arrived with special spice packets provided by a chef who was making a chimichurri that guests loved . . . and put on just about everything.

garlicThere are countless versions of the traditional Argentinean sauce, which is typically served over meat. Parsley (mostly fresh, sometimes dried), garlic, olive oil, hot peppers, and vinegar are common in most recipes. Some chimichurri “purists”  don’t use cilantro – so if you’re not a cilantro fan, or don’t have any on hand, just double the parsley in this recipe.  This version contains less olive oil than most recipes, so it is lighter and has fewer calories.

I love to cook with fresh herbs, and use them generously, since they dramatically enhance the flavour of almost any dish, perking up the taste of foods without relying on unnecessary fat or salt.  Like most leafy greens, fresh herbs also have tremendous nutritional benefits.  Having versatile chimichurri on hand makes adding fresh herbs to meals pretty easy.


  • 2      garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1      cup firmly packed fresh Italian parsley (flat leaf)*
  • 1      cup firmly packed fresh cilantro
  • 1/3   cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3   cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • ¾     tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  • ½     tsp. ground cumin
  • ½     tsp. salt

* look for flat leaf or Italian parsley, which has a richer and more satisfying flavor than curly parsley


  1. Process garlic cloves in a food processor.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients, and process until ingredients are well chopped and combined.

Makes ONE CUP (or EIGHT 2-TBSP Servings)

Variations and Tips

  • You’ll find great tips for preparing and storing fresh herbs here.
  • Exact measurements aren’t necessary. If you want a sauce that is more pourable, add more olive oil or vinegar (olive oil will make it richer but also higher in calories; vinegar more acidic).  Use more herbs for a thicker condiment that you can spread on sandwiches. You can tame or increase the spiciness by adding more or less red pepper flakes.
  • Preparing parley and cilantro. There’s no need to meticulously tear the leaves from their stems since these stems are relatively tender and won’t be noticed once minced in the food processor. (For cilantro, I simply cut off the roots; remove thick stems from parsley or cilantro, but use the rest. I make a few rough cuts to the herbs, but let the food processor do everything else).
  • Try lemon or lime juice instead of vinegar; and consider adding some zest from the citrus.
  • Add other herbs – oregano is a popular chimichurri ingredient.
  • If you prefer a chunkier sauce, chop the herbs by hand, or pulse in food processor instead of pureeing.

Nutrition Notes

Herb Series Sampler with clipping pathsHealth Benefits of Fresh Herbs.
In addition to their seasoning qualities, fresh herbs offer health benefits. Researchers have identified a host of phytochemicals in culinary herbs that can help protect against disease.

Many fresh herbs are a concentrated source of antioxidants, compounds that help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals.  Preliminary research has revealed potential disease-protective properties of garlic no backgroundfresh herbs. For example, studies in laboratory animals have shown that compounds found in basil helped prevent cancerous changes; the volatile oil myristicin in parsley, inhibited tumor formation; and limonene, which is present in dill, helped shrink mammary tumors.  Parsley and cilantro and rich sources of dietary nitrates, which might benefit blood pressure, heart health, and endurance performance.

Garlic contains many protective compounds that are being studied for their disease-fighting effects.

 Nutrition Per 2 Tbsp. Serving

  •  90 calories
  • <1 g protein
  • 1 g carbohydrate
  • 9 g fat (1 g sat)
  •  0 mg cholesterol
  •  <1 g fiber
  • 150 mg sodium
  • 65 mg potassium
  • 15 mg calcium
  • 6 mg magnesium

Recipe adapted from Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor, by Sheila Kealey and Vicky Newman with Susan Faerber. California: Regents of the University of California, 2012.





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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about why diets shouldn’t be restrictive, a great sports science/nutrition site, US Dietary Guidelines report, exercise and depression, skeptics and acupuncture, maximalist shoes, benefits of walking vs running, another reason to cut back on soda, emotional eating, and more.

Why Diets Shouldn’t Tell You What to Restrict

This is an excellent article, by Dr. Sherry Pagoto, co-author of a new study published this week in the  Annals of Internal Medicine.  The study compared two diet strategies: (1) focus on simple food component (eating 30 g fiber/day), (2) follow the American Heart Association diet (guidelines focus heavily on what not to eat).

Experts have long recognized the health benefits of a high fiber diet, which include appetite control, digestive health, and reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Only plant foods provide fiber: high fiber foods includes beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Why Would Focusing of Fiber Help Weight Loss?

Nutrition. Most high-fiber diets are based on plant foods (vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, and whole grains), which are naturally rich in nutrients, protective phytochemicals, and low in fat and sugar. Eating more of these high-fiber foods will fill you up more, and replace some high-fat and sugary foods, which may help you be satisfied with fewer calories. Fewer calories means less weight over time.

Behavior. Focusing on just one dietary component is simple. Also, it means you focus on what you can eat, instead of what you can’t eat, which is a winning strategy. 

This study aimed for 30 grams of fiber a day. For the best all-round diet, focus on WHOLE foods, and not foods supplemented with fiber, or very high fiber breakfast cereals.  Here is how you can achieve this:

how much fiber NEW

New Sports Science
& Sports Nutrition Site

AskerAsker Jeukendrup is a leading exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist.  His new website aims to provide unbiased and objective view of a wide range of sports science topics, using an evidence based approach. Asker has an impressive list of publications in the field, and is good at providing practical information. This should be a great resource for coaches and athletes!

What’s in the
US Dietary Guidelines Report?

People love to complain about the dietary guidelines and blame them for many of the nation’s health problems. These criticisms are generally unfounded (since most people don’t follow the guidelines!).

This week, a panel of nutrition experts has released a report to craft the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  A goal of the guidelines is to provide evidence-based nutrition recommendations, and this report certainly seems to be on the right track.

I think the best part of the guidelines is an emphasis on dietary patterns.  Here’s a quick graphic I put together to summarize the recommendations. You can read more of my thoughts on the dietary guideline recommendations here.


More Links of Interest This Week:

Forget Barefoot; New Trendsetter in Running Shoes Is Cushioning. Chunky and heavily cushioned “maximalist” shoes  are the new shoe trend. (New York Times)

Healthy Lifestyles in Cancer Survivors. Two papers published this week emphasize the importance of healthy lifestyles (diet, physical activity, and weight control) after a cancer diagnosis. In this paper, authors emphasized the importance of expanding treatments to include promoting long-term health, emphasizing weight control, diet, and physical activity. This paper shows that the ideal time for cancer patients and their entire household to jumpstart a healthy lifestyle is the period between the final cancer treatment and first post-treatment checkup. (CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, February 2015; Oncology Nursing Forum, 2015; 42 (1): 54).

Women who keep exercising into midlife can prevent depression. A good body of research shows that exercise can help symptoms of depression. A new study in women 42 to 52 years suggests that exercise might also help prevent depression in aging women. (Time, reporting on Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Feb 2015).

At Chipotle, how many calories do people really eat? Most meals have more than 1,000 calories and almost a full day’s worth of sodium. Most meat burritos with standard toppings have more than  >1000 calories! (New York Times)

To lessen the calorie load of your favourite Mexican meals, try smaller portions, skip the sour cream, and go easy on the guacamole.

Can skeptics ease their pain with acupuncture?  People with low expectations of acupuncture before treatment for back pain get less relief than those people who believe acupuncture will work. The power of placebo on the brain! (Futurity, reporting on Clinical Journal of Pain, March 2015).

womanwalkingWalk Hard. Walk Easy. Repeat. High intensity interval training is commonly used by athletes, and recently has been recommended as a way to improve the health of sedentary people in a time effective way.  But do people who aren’t used to exercise really want to ride/run all out? Researchers showed that a walking plan (hard/easy) can also be effective, and might be more popular with many. (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, reporting on J Applied Physiol, Dec 2014)

Vitamin D Research and Clinical Practice at a Crossroads.  Many physicians now routinely screen for vitamin D, and some are recommending high doses for nonskeletal benefits (cancer prevention, heart disease, diabetes, etc.).  This paper questions whether the current evidence warrants this clinical enthusiasm for supplemental vitamin D.  (JAMA, Feb 19, 2015).

Why buddies beat celebrities for diet advice. If a friend finds success with a new diet or exercise program, you might try it too. (Futurity, reporting on Journal of Healthcare Engineering, Sept 2014).

treadmillWorkout of The Week: Steep Uphill Treadmill Walking. Steep uphill walking is good cross training for running.  I do this when I’m getting back into running after ski season (fit body, but legs not ready for pounding!). (Matt Fitzgerald,

New study helps explain links between sleep loss and diabetes.  Curtailed sleep disrupts fatty acid metabolism in ways that could predispose individuals for diabetes.  This is another in a long list of studies showing how depriving ourselves of sleep has far-reaching effects. (Diabetologia February 19, 2015)

FitbitFlex (178x178)No, there’s nothing wrong with your Fitbit. A critical look at last week’s JAMA study questioning the accuracy of activity monitors, and the news reporting that ensued. (Mashable).

Another reason to cut back on soda. Some sodas are brown because of  a caramel color that contains a potential carcinogen (4-Mel). A study published this week  suggests many people are drinking enough soda to put their health at risk. (Consumer Reports; PLOS One February 18, 2015).

Emotional Eating. Do you eat when your not hungry? Maybe your stressed, bored, or down, or something triggers you to eat food? Don’t worry – many people do this! It can become a problem though if it’s something you do frequently.  Fooducate takes a look at emotional eating, which they defined as “an increase in food intake in response to negative emotions.” Part 1 (What Is It?), 2 (Catching It Just In Time), and 3 (Practical Steps to Reduce). (

healthyhypealmondmilkIs almond milk a fad, healthy, hype, or just slick marketing?

Curious about just how many almonds make it into 1 cup of almond milk? You may be surprised . . .



See More Issues of This Week in Food,
Health, and Fitness





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What’s in the US Dietary Guidelines Report?

A panel of nutrition experts has released a report to craft the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  A goal of the guidelines is to provide evidence-based nutrition recommendations, and this report certainly seems to be on the right track.

There will likely be complaints about the new guidelines,  probably following the theme of criticisms of earlier guidelines. As I’ve written about previously, critics claim that guidelines are outdated and are making people fat or sick.  These anti-guideline statements aren’t backed by scientific evidence. A critical piece that is ignored in these claims is that most people weren’t following dietary guidelines.

In reality, here is how Americans are eating . . .

Dietary Guidelines Consumption Gap

  • Guidelines can’t be blamed for current health problems, as few people have adhered to them
  • Guidelines haven’t recommended refined carbohydrates, low fiber grains and cereals, or high sugar items – foods that are widely overconsumed and likely contributors to obesity and chronic disease
  • Data show that an increase in calories better explains the obesity epidemic than recommendations to reduce fat intake (and contrary to popular belief, Americans did not reduce their fat intake, but they did increase their calorie intake)
  • Most people consume refined grains, or grains as part of desserts – which affects health much differently than whole grains, though critics tend to lump all carbs or grains in one category (somewhat like equating candy to unprocessed oats)
  • Currently, the most disease-protective dietary patterns are Mediterranean, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), or patterns assigned by studies as “Prudent” “High Quality” or “Healthy Eating” – they all contain whole grains and are relatively high in carbohydrates, often demonized by dietary guidelines critics.

What is Proposed for
the New Guidelines?

I think the best part of the guidelines is an emphasis on dietary patterns, rather than nutrients or specific foods.  Although much of nutrition research focuses on investigating the influence of intakes of specific nutrients or foods on health, at the end of the day, it’s our overall diet that counts.  Also, this emphasis reflects a growing appreciation of the complex interaction among nutrients and other food components.

You can view the full report here, or have a look at the articles listed below, which do a nice job of summarizing the report.

And here’s a quick graphic I put together to summarize the current guidelines.


 More Reading:



Updated “More Reading” March 03, 2015

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