Tag Archives: research

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about keeping the elderly moving, how looking at nature helps your brain work better, how sleeping affects your food intake, new recommendations for standing at work, how much fluids athletes need, and a powerful cyclist.

Keep moving!  This runner is competing in the 80-85 age group.
Keep moving! This runner is competing in the 80-85 age group.

Aging and inactivity: Stop killing the elderly with kindness.  This is a terrific article by Travis Saunders,  a sedentary behavior expert and Assistant Professor in Applied Human Science at the University of PEI. He explains the importance of physical activity for all ages, and describes how many of the ailments we typically associate with aging are lack of activity.

“Aging is associated with reduced fitness, weaker bones, reduced insulin sensitivity, reduced muscle strength, and reduced balance.  Lack of physical activity is also associated with all of those things. This isn’t a coincidence – many (probably most) of the health impacts of aging are not really due to aging at all.”

He encourages us to promote physical activity in elders by considering first if our good intentions are needlessly encouraging sedentary behavior.  Let them do cleaning and chores and don’t worry about them walking up and down stairs, it’s good for them to move! (Obesity Panacea)

Children who garden eat more greens Schools that offer gardening and cooking classes are helping promote good health habits: students are eating more fruits and vegetables than their peers.  Classes also contributed to students’ involvement in meal preparation at home. This is a great idea for a school-based health program, and likely has more far-reaching effects that telling children what to eat for good health. (Tulane University Prevention Research Center).

Map of food cravings across the United States:  from breakfast tacos in Texas to maple syrup in Vermont – a fun map!  (grist.org)

Green_Forest_Carpet_Wikimedia Att
Stare at this picture for 40 seconds and you might improve your sustained attention!

Just looking at nature can help your brain work better.  Bringing trees, grass, and parkland into cities has many benefits.  Another “greening” strategy is “green roofs” (also called living roof) which are becoming increasingly popular. These roofs help cool buildings, absorb rainwater, provide insulation, and are aesthetically pleasing.   New research suggests that viewing these green roofs might help busy office workers and others by improving sustained attention.

Researchers had study subjects view 2 different city scenes for 40 seconds:  either a flowering meadow green roof or a bare concrete roof. Participants who briefly viewed the green roof scored better on sustained attention tasks than those who viewed the concrete roof.  These results add to the growing body of research showing on the benefits of nature: greening cities with more parks and trees can be important for the health of cities and workplaces.  (Washington Post, reporting on Journal of Environmental Psychology, May 2015).

New recommendations for standing at work.  A new paper by public health experts in the UK puts an hourly figure on how much we should stand during working hours. The authors recommended breaking up sitting bouts, and initially aiming to stand for 2 hours/day, and eventually increasing standing time to 4 hours/day (everything counts – bathroom breaks, etc.).  The evidence that sitting for extended periods is harmful for health is mounting, showing sitting increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. (Time, reporting on British Journal of Sports Medicine, June 2015).

How Ikea uses food to trick you into spending.  A look at the clever marketing and mind tricks that affect our purchasing behavior. (news.com.au)

The less you sleep, the more you eat.  Many factors beyond hunger influence how much we eat. As research on the benefits of sleep continues to grow,  studies have shown that sleep affects appetite regulation: the less you sleep, the more you eat.  This article reviews the literature on biological,  cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors may lead to poor sleep and affect food intake.    (Journal of Health Psychology, June 2015)

sleep food intake

You Asked: Can I Scrape Mold Off of Food and Eat It? In most cases, you shouldn’t, because the “threads” of the mold may have penetrated your food. Hard cheeses are an exception.   (Time)

5 celebrity-endorsed health tips that aren’t backed by science.  Tim Caulfield,  professor of law and health policy at the University of Alberta, and author of “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?” looks at the evidence behind these popular tips. (money.com)

  1. Vitamin supplements
  2. Detoxes and cleanses
  3. Spot reduction
  4. 8 cups water/day
  5. Gluten-free diets

How much fluids do athletes really need? Research is changing what we know about our fluid needs. The most recent studies in the lab show a little dehydration is o.k., and winning performances in the field show that top athletes do finish events a bit dehydrated. Although previous guidelines were to avoid sweating out more than 2% of your body mass, new information suggests that 3 to 6 % dehydration makes more sense. (Alex Hutchinson, Globe and Mail).

Why Do We Experience Awe? Fascinating research – seek out what gives you goosebumps! (New York Times summarizing Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, June 2015).

A powerful cyclist! Olympic Cyclist Vs. Toaster: Can He Power It?


Last Week in Food, Health, and Fitness


Green Forest Carpet photo by Harald Hoyer from Schwerin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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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).

Other Links of Interest This Week:

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about inactivity in kids, why sugar is not the enemy, how wearable tech is changing exercise research, why saturated fat matters, and more.

kids_videogamesPhysical Activity in Canadian Kids is Alarmingly Low. The 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released this week. This year’s report looked at how Canadian youth compared to 14 other countries  and revealed that although Canada has a well-developed physical activity infrastructure and programs, Canadian kids are at the back of the global pack for overall physical activity levels.  Physical activity in youth is alarming low, with only 5% of 5- to 17-year-olds meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (being active for 60 minutes a day). New Zealand and Mozambique were the most active countries, with kids reporting 78 minutes/day of physical activity.

Although some blame parents, a solution likely lies in a combination of efforts at all levels – individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and public policy. More info:  Report Highlights;  Tips to increase your kids’ physical activity levels2014 Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth.

Is it the Electronics? On the same theme this week, Finnish researchers linked low levels of physical activity combined with heavy use of electronic media and sedentary behaviour to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and vascular diseases in 6- to 8-year-old children (yikes!). Another study in the journal noted significant correlations between parent and child screen time.  Time for kids (and adults) to get away from the screens and play. (International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, May 2014). 

sugarsSugar is Not the Enemy (especially for active people).  Most people eat too much added sugar, and recent guidelines highlight the health effects of this habit. Some wonder if this overemphasis on one nutrient is overshadowing the large problem of inactivity.  In fact, bodies that move are much better equipped to handle sugars: when diabetics exercise, they require less insulin to control their blood sugar; endurance athletes rely on sugar to fuel fast performances (here’s an example of the sugars a world record marathoner would ingest during an event). Although most of us aren’t running marathons (certainly not at that speed), exercise might mitigate the undesirable effects of sugar (David Despain, Outside Magazine).

Wearable tech is changing exercise research. Much of physical activity research has relied on questionnaires and self-report to monitor exercise.  A trend to using more objective measures (e.g., accelerometers) will certainly help provide better information and more accurate results (unfortunately, by necessity, most nutrition science still relies on self-report). (Live Science).

Saturated or not: Does type of fat matter?  Experts in the field are worried that recent media coverage sensationalizing results of a study on saturated fats could be detrimental to public health.  Check out this link to view the interpretation of a  panel of nutrition experts (Harvard School of Public Health).

Healthy or Hype? Coconut Oil.  Find out if coconut oil lives up to the health claims and hype in my new series.

Olive Oil Does Your Salad Good.  We are learning more and more about why nitrate-rich vegetables are good for us, and how they  might improve athletic performance.  This new study highlights benefits of the perfect culinary combo – olive oil and leafy greens! (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Roasted Potato Salad with Vegetables.  Perfect for a weekend BBQ – nutritious, with plenty of flavor. (would be good with arugula->nitrate-rich veggie).

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Healthy or Hype? Coconut Oil

Why is coconut oil in so many recipes nowadays? It used to be hard to find, but consumer demand now means that it has a prominent spot in most supermarkets. What’s behind the craze?

The Claims

Coconut oil is becoming increasingly popular. Health claims include burning fat, helping memory, reducing blood cholesterol, stimulating metabolism, improving immune function, helping with sugar cravings, and of course, the ubiquitous promoting weight loss claim. Should we all rush out and buy this wonder food?

The Evidence

Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat (about 90% of its fat is saturated), and years of research have associated saturated fat with heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes.  But recent studies suggest that some types of saturated fats, such as the lauric acid in coconut oil, may not be as harmful. The chemical structure of these fats classifies them as “medium chain triglycerides” (MCTs): the body digests and handles MCTs differently, and they might increase “good” HDL cholesterol, but the evidence isn’t clear cut, and the influence on heart disease is unclear. Much of the research on coconut oil has included animal studies and small short-term studies in humans, mostly focused on cholesterol levels.

Overall, the research doesn’t support the many health claims, and there is limited evidence on long-term health effects.  Because of the lack of research, we don’t know how coconut oil affects heart disease, stroke risk, or other diseases.

READ  Fats vs Carbs: Clarifying Conspiracies, Controversies, and Confusion

Bottom Line

There’s not enough good data to support the use of coconut oil for health benefits. If you like the flavor and texture of coconut oil in your cooking, it might be a better option than butter and other animal fats, used sparingly.

Current research shows that the healthiest oil to include in your diet is olive oil. Generally, it’s a good idea to get your fats from whole foods, especially plant sources (like nuts, seeds, avocados) and small fish, which contain other health-promoting compounds. You’ll find good information on the best fats for health here.

Finally, remember, all fats are calorie-dense (1/4 cup olive oil has 480 calories), so no matter how healthy, they should fit into your calorie budget, or you may end up carrying excess fat, which is a well-known contributor to many chronic diseases.

More Reading:

Coconut Oil Warning

Reviewed and Updated June 21, 2017

>>You can view other foods in the Healthy or Hype? series here

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