Can the Internet Really Supply You With Healthy Meals?

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You’ve probably heard about one or more of the new meal delivery services on the market. Popular services include Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh. If you’re not familiar with any meal delivery service providers, check out this in-depth review of the various choices currently available.

There’s no question having pre-portioned ingredients with recipes and directions delivered directly to your door is convenient. However, convenience comes with a price. Most of the meals cost between $9 and $13 per serving.

So, do these meals live up to the hype? Can the internet really supply you with healthy meals?

What is a “Healthy” Meal?

To review and compare the available options for getting healthy meals online, we’re going to use the following criteria (which are fit for the vast majority of healthy people). A healthy meal is one that:

  • Includes a lean protein, a high ratio of fruits and/or veggies, a whole grain, a serving of dairy and a healthy fat
  • Doesn’t include excess fat or added sugar
  • Is between 500 and 700 calories per serving (very active individuals and athletes may need more calories per meal)

Comparison

Blue Apron – Meal #1: Spaghetti Bolognese with Butter Lettuce Salad & Creamy Italian Dressing

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 770
Saturated fat: 11 g
Trans fat: No

Blue Apron – Meal #2: Za’atar-Spiced Chicken with Pink Lemon Pan Sauce & Pearl Couscous

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 750
Saturated fat: 9 g
Trans fat: No

The Results
Both of the meals from Blue Apron come in over the 700 calories per serving mark, though both are less than 800 calories. If you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, though, that’s still almost 40 percent of your calories in one meal. These meals are also relatively high in saturated fats, clocking in at 11 g and 9 g per serving, which is more than half of the recommended allowance of 16 g per day on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Blue Apron includes video tutorials with each of their recipes to demonstrate proper cooking techniques. All of the video lessons are available on YouTube. If you have trouble accessing any of the videos, you might be getting blocked by a content filter on your internet connection. Using a virtual private network can help you bypass the content filter so that you can access the videos no matter where you’re preparing to cook.

Hello Fresh – Meal #1: Wasabi Lime Salmon over Soy-Simmered Rice with Baby Bok Choy

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: Yes
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 660
Saturated fat: 4.5 g
Trans fat: unknown

Hello Fresh – Meal #2: Dukkah-Crusted Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 510
Saturated fat: 4 g
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
In this review, Hello Fresh’s offerings both came in under 700 calories per serving and all of the meal options included a lean protein, a serving of vegetables and a healthy fat. Hello Fresh does not document the amount of trans fat in their recipes, so that information was not available for comparison. Also, at less than five grams per serving, both of their recipes also included a relatively low amount of saturated fat, at less than 5 grams per serving. If you want to try Hello Fresh’s recipes for yourself – they include them on their website (see Recipes at the top of the navigation screen).

Plated – Meal #1: Soy-Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with Coconut Rice and Greens

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: Yes
Calories per serving: 840
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

Plated – Meal #2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 870
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
Of the three services we reviewed, Plated fared the worst. Their meals were both over 800 calories per serving, and the site doesn’t offer information regarding trans or saturated fats for their recipes. Also, there was very little focus on healthy ingredients, such as whole grains and vegetables. While the meals looked delicious, they probably can’t be called healthy.

In this limited review, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh both fared well in their offerings of healthy options. Their meals were low in calories, relative to the other options, and included many of the other markers of health, such as lean proteins and a high ratio of vegetables.

Meal delivery services claim they can deliver all the ingredients, recipes and cooking instructions you need to create healthy meals in your home. A closer look, though, indicates you might need to supplement some of these meals with other ingredients so that they can give you all the nutrients you need.

This is where you come in. Everyone has a different diet and everyone’s body processes food differently. So while healthy meals are available through the internet, you need to do a little homework to make sure these services’ meal options live up to their promises and offer the kind of food that will support your lifestyle.
About the Author: Cassie is a fitness professional and writer. She loves helping people learn about health and fitness and teaching them how to make the healthiest choices for their body’s individual needs.

Fuel Your Child for Learning More this School Year

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Kids learning potential skyrockets when they are healthy from head to toe. This school year, support your child’s growth, development and learning by following these 3 tips each day:

Bank on Dairy

From celebrity websites and diet books to popular Instagram feeds and “clean eating” blogs, its trendy to ditch dairy. Yet experts say going dairy-free has multiple downfalls – and it may be downright dangerous – especially for kids and young adults. Kids and teens have a limited time period to build bones. A dairy-free diet during these critical growing years could mean a child doesn’t reach Dairy for growth and learningtheir full height potential, they may have an increase in stress fractures during adolescence, and a greater chance of developing the brittle bone disease osteoporosis as an adult. In addition to 9 essential nutrients, including bone-building calcium and vitamin D, the combination of protein and carbohydrate in dairy will help build and fuel active muscles and minds.

Make Fruits and Veggies Fun

Introducing kids to new foods can be both fun and easy. In addition to offering a food multiple times and modeling healthy eating (eating a wide variety of foods in front of your kids), try pairing less familiar foods with ones that are more familiar. Many kids love getting in the kitchen and helping prepare food, especially when it comes to baking. Why not make muffins, bread or even a cake with vegetables in it. Carrot cake, zucchini muffins and avocado cupcakes taste great and  make a child more familiar with these vegetables. Once kids see them again, sautéed at dinner time, baked into a lasagna or  sliced on top of a sandwich, they will be more likely to eat them.

Pack better Snacks for better Learning

As a kid I played hard then lost steam quickly. Luckily my parents let us snack whenever we felt the need to eat. Frequent snacking can help keep children alert and attentive. Pack snacks that please their taste buds while fueling their bodies with nutrients they need for good health. Naturally sweet fresh or dried fruit, trail mix, yogurt, string cheese and nut butter with whole grain crackers are all excellent options that will satisfy your child’s taste buds while providing the nutrients they need for good health.

 

 

 

Ketogenic Diets: Fat-Filled Lies Won’t Make You Slim (or a Better Athlete)

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How do you turn your body into a fat burning machine, run faster than Usain Bolt, recover from exercise immediately and wake up each day bursting with energy? According to some people, the ketogenic diet is your answer (learn the basics of this diet here). This high-fat, moderate protein diet that is practically void of carbohydrates forces your body to use fat for energy. LeBron James supposedly tried it and offensive lineman decided to give it a shot after an ex-NFL center and O-line coach LeCharles Bentley recommended it. However, the offensive lineman and LeBron weren’t actually following a ketogenic diet. Though these athletes didn’t really know what they were following (no worries LeCharles, I’m sure your nutrition advice is on par with me coaching the O-line), people who actually follow it swear by it. Could this be an unconventional path to weight loss and better health? Unfortunately, the ketogenic diet craze has been fattened with misinformation.

Here is what I am covering in this post:

  • Eat Fat, Lose Fat? Does the ketogenic diet make you lose weight?
  • How does this diet impact muscle?
  • The ketogenic diet and athletic performance.
  • The issue with ketogenic research studies.

I am not covering “training low” or low carbohydrate  / non-ketogenic diets in this article.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat?

During the first several days on a ketogenic diet your weight will take a nosedive. Carbohydrate is stored in the form of glycogen in liver and muscle. Each gram of carbohydrate is stored with 3 – 4 grams of water. Decrease your carbohydrate intake, use glycogen and you’ll lose water weight very quickly. Weight loss, even if from water, can motivate people driven by the number on the scale. Given that adherence is the number one predictor of weight loss when on a diet, we can’t discount psychological effect of the number on the scale going down.

What happens if you stay on the diet? A group of NIH researchers admitted seventeen overweight or obese men to a metabolic ward and placed them on a high carbohydrate baseline diet for four weeks followed by four weeks on an isocaloric ketogenic diet (this diet contained the same amount of calories as the high carbohydrate baseline diet). The men lost weight and body fat on both diets. The ketogenic diet did not lead to greater fat loss as compared to the high carbohydrate diet and in fact body fat loss slowed during the ketogenic diet and subjects lost muscle (1). Time to chuck the “carbohydrates make you fat” books in the recycling bin.

What about other studies showing ketogenic diets help athletes lose body fat and maintain performance? These studies were not actually using a ketogenic diet protocol but instead were high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diets. Also, none of the studies measured if the study subjects were actually in nutritional ketosis (2, 3, 4).  See the section on The Issue with Ketogenic Research Studies for more information on this topic.

Ketogenic diet and weight

Regardless of the studies indicating the ketogenic diet will not lead to greater weight loss as compared to a diet composed of the same amount of calories, some may lose weight because they will end up cutting down on their favorite foods. Fewer food choices often means fewer calories consumed.

Muscle Up with the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet isn’t high enough in protein for maximal muscle gains. Using the lower end of fat intake on a classic ketogenic diet (80% of calories), one could consume 15% of calories from protein (112 grams) on a 3,000-calorie diet. Protein requirements are at least 1.2 – 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight (or 0.55 – 0.82 grams per lb. bodyweight) per day if training and eating a diet with enough calories to maintain weight. Protein needs go up if you are cutting calories to spare the breakdown of muscle tissue when dieting. On this diet, 112 grams of protein equals just under 1.3 grams of protein per kg bodyweight for a 200 lb. person and even less for anyone who weighs more.

In addition to inadequate protein intake, “the ketogenic diet reduces many of the signaling molecules involved in muscle hypertrophy (growth),” states Dr. Antonio Paoli, M.D., B.Sc., Associate Professor and Vice Dean of the School of Human Movement Sciences, University of Padova. Without getting too technical, even with sufficient calorie intake, the ketogenic diet suppresses the IGF-1 / AKT / mTOR pathway (5). Using ketones for energy slows muscle breakdown. However it doesn’t stop this process (5).

The Ketogenic Diet and Athletic Performance

Once fully adapted to a ketogenic diet, athletes can supposedly rely on a seemingly endless supply of body fat for energy. No need for carbohydrate gels, beans, gummies and sports drinks every 15-30 minutes during long runs, rides or triathlons to sustain energy levels. Fewer calories consumed may make it easier for some people to stay within their total daily calorie needs (though if you are training that much staying within your calorie requirements shouldn’t be difficult).

Trading carbs for fat seems like a huge benefit for athletes, particularly endurance athletes who train and compete for several hours at a time (6). In addition to utilizing body fat, fat actually produces more energy (ATP) (5). However, fat is a slow source of fuel (see graphic below), the human body cannot access it quickly enough to sustain high-intensity exercise and therefore, this diet is really only (potentially) applicable to ultra-runners and triathletes competing at a relatively moderate to slow pace.

In a ketogenic diet study examining athletic endurance, researchers had subjects cycle at a snails pace (equivalent to a heart rate of about 120 beats per minute for anyone 20-30 years old or 115 for a 40 year old) until they became exhausted before and after 4-weeks on a ketogenic diet. There were no differences in the amount of time they were able to cycle before getting tired prior to or after the four-week ketogenic diet (7). In studies examining high fat diets (not ketogenic and ketones weren’t measured) and endurance performance, study subjects relied on more fat as opposed to carbohydrate during low intensity exercise, yet there was no clear performance advantage on the higher fat diet (8). A recently published study examined 20 elite ultra-marathoners and Ironman distance triathletes. Some were habitually consuming a traditional high carbohydrate diet while the other group was following a ketogenic diet (slightly adjusted macronutrient ratios yet they were in ketosis as measured by blood ketone levels). As expected, those following a higher fat diet used a greater percentage of fat for energy while the higher carbohydrate diet group used more carbohydrate for energy during a 180 minute submaximal running test (I’d call that leisure running intensity). There was no difference in calories burned over the course of the run. Both groups had the same level of perceived exertion and there was no test to determine performance differences between groups (9).

If there’s no performance benefit and we know carbohydrates work, why follow this diet? If your primary goal is weight loss, it doesn’t matter if you use more fat than carbohydrate while exercising (SN: can we please stop talking about the fat burning zone) as long as you’re burning more total calories over the course of the day. Plus, in the interest of (if you are not an ultra endurance athlete) jack up the intensity and burn as many calories in a short period of time as possible. Unfortunately, a ketogenic diet won’t help you do that – when relying on fat for fuel, the intensity of your exercise will drop – the body simply can’t access fat (a slow source of energy) quickly enough to sustain high-intensity exercise. Instead, carbohydrates are necessary for high intensity activity.
ketogenic diet and sports

The Issue with Ketogenic Research Studies

Here’s the issue with many ketogenic research studies and media reports based on them: in most cases, the study subjects were not actually following a ketogenic diet – they were following a higher fat, high-protein low carbohydrate diet (10, 11, 12). Each person’s carbohydrate and protein limits needed to stay in ketosis vary and therefore, measuring ketones through blood or urine is the only definitive way to determine if you are in ketosis. Complicating matters more, low carbohydrate diets (including ketogenic diets) lead to a substantial drop in carbohydrate content, and associated water stored with it, in muscle. This change overestimates the drop in lean body mass as measured by DEXA.

ketogenic and low carbohydrate diets

There are no modifications, higher protein intakes or “on again, off again” (where you go on it one day and off it the next) to this diet. You must be in a state of nutritional ketosis or you will need to decrease carbohydrate and protein intake even further to get into nutritional ketosis and rely on ketones for energy.

Is There Any Benefit?

Ketogenic diets help decrease incidence and severity of seizures in epileptic patients (this is what the diet is intended for). Also, ketogenic diets may be beneficial when implemented soon after a traumatic brain injury (including concussion) (13). In addition, scientists are examining if this diet is beneficial for diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s.

If you want to lose weight, the ketogenic diet is not superior to a reduced calorie diet. Also, unless you are an ultra endurance athlete who just loves dietary fat, hates eating at social occasions and can put up with the potential side effects from this diet it isn’t for you.
Now where is the O-line? I’ve got some coaching to do…

References

1 Hall KD, Chen KY, Guo J, Lam YY, Leibel RL, Mayer LE, Reitman ML, Rosenbaum M, Smith SR, Walsh BT, Ravussin E. Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jul 6. [Epub ahead of print]

2 Zajac A, Poprzecki S, Maszczyk A, Czuba M, Michalczyk M, Zydek G. The effects of a ketogenic diet on exercise metabolism and physical performance in off-road cyclists. Nutrients 2014;6(7):2493-508.

3 Rhyu HS, Cho SY. The effect of weight loss by ketogenic diet on the body composition, performance-related physical fitness factors and cytokines of Taekwondo athletes. J Exerc Rehabil 2014;10(5):326-31.

4 Paoli A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D et al. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. JISSN 2012;9:34.

5 Paoli A, Bianco A, Grimaldi KA. The ketogenic diet and sport: a possible marriage? Ex Sports Sci Reviews 2015.

6 Volek J, Noakes T, Phinney SD. Rethinking fat as a fuel for endurance exercise. Eur J Sport Sci 2014;2:1-8.

7 Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Evans WJ, Gervino E, Blackburn GL. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism 1983;32(8):769-76.

8 Burke LM, Kiens B. “Fat adaptation” for athletic performance: the nail in the coffin? J Appl Physiol 2006;100(1):7-8.

9 Volek J, Freidenreich DJ, Saenz C, Kunces LJ, Creighton BC, Bartley JM, Davitt pm, Munoz CX, Anderson JM, Maresh CM, Lee EC, Schuenke MD, Aerni G, Kraemer WJ, Phinney SD. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metab Clin Exp 2016;65(3):100-110.

10 Tinsley GM, Willoughby DS. Fat-Free mass changes during ketogenic diets and the potential role of resistance training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Aug 12. [Epub ahead of print]2 Rouillier MA, Riel D, Brazeau AS, St. Pierre DH, Karelis AD. Effect of an Acute High Carbohydrate Diet on Body Composition Using DXA in Young Men. Ann Nutr Metab 2015;66:233-236

11  Paoli A. The ketogenic diet and sport: a possible marriage? Ex Sci Sports Sciences Rev 2015;43(3):153-62.

12  Johnstone AM, Horgan GW, Murison SD, Bremner DM, Lobley GE. Effects of a high-protein ketogenic diet on hunger, appetite, and weight loss in obese men feeding ad libitum. Am Society Clin Nutr 2008;87(1):44-55.

13 Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel (2011). The National Academies Press, Institute of Medicine. Washington DC. 2011 http://www.nap.edu/read/13121/chapter/15

 

The Ketogenic Diet Craze: Fat-Filled Lies, Part 1

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ketogenic diPicture this: a thick, juicy, tender eventeak grilled to perfection with melted butter glazed on top, gently dripping down the sides. Lying next to the steak there’s a side of dark green asparagus sautéed in coconut oil and dusted with a sprinkle of sea salt. Could a diet loaded with fat help you lose diet-resistant body fat that’s been taunting the seams of your dress pants and poking through buttons on your shirt? Will eating fat turn you into an all-star athlete? This is part 1 of a 2 part series on the ketogenic diet.

Here is what I will cover in this blog post:

  • What is the ketogenic diet?
  • Adverse health effects.

Here is what I will cover in tomorrow’s blog on this topic:

  • The issue with ketogenic research studies.
  • Is the ketogenic diet superior for losing fat?
  • How will the ketogenic diet affect muscle?
  • How will the ketogenic diet impact athletic performance?

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

For nearly a century, epileptic patients have used ketogenic diets to control seizures when common medications provide no relief. Scientists aren’t sure why following a ketogenic diet decreases the incidence and severity of seizures but it works.

The ketogenic diet contains – 80-90% of calories from fat, 15% from protein and 5% from carbohydrate (1, 2). Food choices may include heavy cream, bacon, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, mayonnaise and sausage while fruits, starchy vegetables, breads, pasta, cereal and other carbohydrate-rich foods are not allowed.

During the first several days on a ketogenic diet, your body’s limited supply of carbohydrate stored in liver and muscle tissue decreases dramatically. As a result, you will feel like you have mono – exhausted, with headaches and easy exercise will feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest (3). Once your stored carbohydrate has dwindled, ketones, formed from the breakdown of dietary fat, become the primary source of energy for brain and body. Ketogenic means “ketone forming.” It takes at least seven days to reach nutritional ketosis and several weeks to fully adapt to the diet (12). If you aren’t in nutritional ketosis (as measured by blood, urine or breath ketones; ketone levels > 0.5 mmol/L), then you aren’t following a ketogenic diet, you are on a low carbohydrate diet.

Adverse Health Effects from the Ketogenic Diet

Much of the research on adverse effects comes from studies in epileptic children since they have been on the diet for long periods of time. These studies show soon after starting a ketogenic diet, blood cholesterol levels and artery stiffness increase (4, 5). High total and LDL cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels). When arteries are stiff, they cannot expand as well in response to changes in blood pressure. Think of this like a garden hose when you turn up the water pressure, your hose either expands or the water bursts out of the space between the faucet and the hose. When arteries cannot open widely to accommodate increases in blood flow, blood pressure increases leading to microscopic tears on artery walls, development of scar tissue and the perfect surface for plaque buildup (6). Blood cholesterol levels returned to normal in patients who went off the diet and in those who stayed on it, they returned to normal after 6 to 12 months. Artery stiffness returned to normal after 24 months on a ketogenic diet.5 Studies in obese patients suggest ketogenic diets improve blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels over time, either due to the diet, weight loss from the diet, a combination of the two or carbohydrate restriction (7, 8). Lose weight, regardless of what you eat and blood cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar and many other disease risk factors will improve.

Ketogenic diets are typically low in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, folic acid and fiber. There are several potential consequences associated with consistently low intake of each of these micronutrients including softening of the bones, decreased bone density, muscle damage, muscle weakness or spasms, and abnormal heart rhythm. However, with careful planning, a fiber supplement, multivitamin and under the guidance of a physician who may prescribe potassium and sodium supplements (blood sodium could drop to dangerously low levels while on this diet), nutrient needs can be met. Also, to prevent constipation when on a ketogenic diet, a fiber supplement may be necessary along with more water / fluid intake then you are used to.

Here are some other potentially bad side effects from following a high fat diet:

  • Harm to your Brain. Studies in mice show a high fat diet, even when followed for as little as two months leads to chronic inflammation, sedentary immune cells in the brain – these cells typically act like janitors picking up trash and infectious compounds but when they become sedentary they stop doing their job, leading to cognitive impairment (9). Does this happen in humans and resolve over time? We don’t know.
  • Mad Bacteria in Your Gut. A diet with no probiotics (healthy bacteria) and low in prebiotics (certain types of fiber that the healthy bacteria much on for food keeping them happy) will likely change the composition of bacteria in your gut so you have more harmful and less beneficial bacteria.
  • Leaky Gut. High saturated fat meals increase bacterial toxins (endotoxins) in the intestines and intestinal permeability. In other words: leaky gut (10, 11). If you are on this diet, consider opting for foods lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats (liquid oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives).
  • Free radicals in overdrive? If you can’t eat a number of colorful foods including blueberries, beets, corn, oranges, and more, chances are you won’t get a wide array of antioxidant compounds to quench free radicals (compounds that are important for good health but can wreck your body when they aren’t tamed by antioxidants) as well as other plant-based compounds that keep your arteries, muscles and other parts of your body healthy. Will your body adapt? We don’t know at this time.

Are the side effects and potential negative side effects worth it if you can lose weight on this diet? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how the ketogenic diet impacts body fat and athletic performance.

References

1 Freeman JM, Freeman JB, Kelly MT. The ketogenic diet: a treatment for epilepsy. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Demos Health; 2000.

2 Paoli A, Bianco A, Damiani E, Bosco G. Ketogenic Diet in Neuromuscular and Neurodegenerative Diseases. BioMed Research International 2014, Article ID 474296, 10 pages, 2014.

3 White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD et al. Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(10):1792-6.

4 Tanakis M, Liuba P, Odermarsky M, Lundgren J, Hallböök T. Effects of ketogenic diet on vascular function. Eur J Paediatr Neurol 2014;18(4):489-94.

5 Coppola G, Natale F, Torino A et al. The impact of the ketogenic diet on arterial morphology and endothelial function in children and young adults with epilepsy: a case-control study. Seizure 2014;23(4):260-5.

6 Cecelja M, Chowienczyk P. Role of arterial stiffness in cardiovascular disease. JRSM Cardiovascular Disease 2012;1(4):1-10.

7 Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, Asfar SK, Behbahani A, Khoursheed MA, Al-Sayer HM, Bo-Abbas YY, Al-Zaid NS. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol 2004; 9(3): 200–205.

8 Volek JS, Feinman RD. Carbohydrate restriction improves the features of Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome may be defined by the response to carbohydrate restriction. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2005;2:31.

9 Hao S, Dey A, Yu X, Stranahan AM. Dietary obesity reversibly induces synaptic stripping by microglia and impairs hippocampal plasticity. Brain Behav Immun 2016 Jan;51:230-9.

10 Mani V, Hollis JH, Gabler NK. Dietary oil composition differentially modulates intestinal endotoxin transport and postprandial endotoxemia. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2013; 10: 6.

11 Lam YY, Ha CW, Campbell CR, Mitchell AJ, Dinudom A, Oscarsson J, Cook DI, Hunt NH, Caterson ID, Holmes AJ, Storlien LH. Increased gut permeability and microbiota change associate with mesenteric fat inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in diet-induced obese mice. PLoS One 2012;7(3):e34233.

12 Paoli, A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D, Cenci L, Moro T, Bianco A, Palma A. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012;9:34.

Is Saturated Fat Good for You?

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Though largely driven by misinterpretation of the science and cherry-picked population studies, the “Butter is Back” movement comes with very persuasive sound bites followed by arrogant punctuation marks. No wonder so many people hopped on board the bandwagon while looking back, pointing fingers and shouting “health professionals have been misleading us for decades!” Yet the flawed reasoning behind the pro-saturated fat movement comes with a hefty price tag – you could be making food choices that, over time, will increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

  • Why is there so much confusion about saturated fat?;
  • The science behind saturated fats, cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart & blood vessels) and type 2 diabetes;
  • Best food choices for heart health.

Why is there so Much Confusion about Saturated Fat?

There are a few reasons for the confusion about saturated fat (fat that is solid at room temperature such as butter, shortening, coconut oil and the fat on meat) and misinterpretation of the science. First off, some people group all saturated fatty acids (saturated fatty acids make up saturated fat) together as a team. However, there are several types of saturated fatty acids. Some raise LDL cholesterol (the kind that contributes to clogged arteries and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) as well as HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol, the kind that removes bad cholesterol; SN: drugs that increase HDL do not lower risk of heart disease so there is some considerable debate regarding the role of HDL), others don’t raise LDL cholesterol and some we aren’t quite sure about. Secondly, using population-based studies alone to draw conclusions about saturated fat intake and heart disease is misguided.  These studies are not designed to determine cause and effect (that’s the job of well-designed clinical trials) plus, there are inherent issues with the methods used in many of these studies.  Nutrition research is not easy, especially in humans living their life (those not in a metabolic ward where all factors are controlled and measured including diet and physical activity).

Lastly, some research studies (and the media) take the results way out of context. So, here’s the lowdown based on sound science:

The Science Behind Saturated Fat, Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

  • There is no dietary requirement for saturated fat. Your body can make all of the saturated fatty acids it needs.
  • Foods high in saturated fat typically increase total, HDL and LDL cholesterol. However, the impact dietary saturated fat has on increasing LDL-cholesterol (the kind that contributes to clogged arteries and an inflammatory cascade in arteries) may depend on the amount of polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs) in your diet (as well as the type of saturated fatty acids consumed).
  • In general, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (and monounsaturated fat though there is less evidence for monounsaturated fat) reduces LDL and total cholesterol, both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • saturated fat and cholesterolOverweight, obesity and insulin resistance may reduce the beneficial effects (lowered LDL cholesterol) generally noticed from a reduction in saturated fat intake. *If obese or overweight, losing excess body fat (regardless of the type of diet used to lose the weight) has powerful effects on lowering risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and type II diabetes.
  • Food contains a complex mixture of compounds that may affect cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk (it is not just the fat). The food “matrix” matters.
  • Many factors impact how a food affects cholesterol and blood lipids (fats) including fats eaten at the same time, overall diet, and carbohydrate intake (and type of carbohydrates consumed – high fiber vs. foods high in added sugar with few other nutrients).
  • There are individual, genetic differences in response to saturated fat intake – your cholesterol might shoot up after eating a diet containing a diet high in the type of saturated fatty acids that raise LDL cholesterol and I might be able to get away with this diet without a problem (blame your genetics or consider it an opportunity to open your taste buds to foods containing less saturated fat; particularly the kind that is artery clogging).
  • Certain saturated fatty acids, or a diet high in saturated fat, may increase risk for type 2 diabetes.

Best Choices for Heart Health

If you are overweight, focus on losing excess body fat. Even small amounts of fat loss will improve health and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you have high total and LDL cholesterol, swap foods high in saturated fat for foods high in polyunsaturated fat (liquid oils, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados). Minimize your intake of foods high in added sugars and refined, white flour, carbohydrates. Instead, choose higher fiber carbohydrates as often as possible.

Don’t get sucked into the media headlines written by journalists who could sell ice to an eskimo. Butter isn’t back (for good health anyway). The bulk of your fat intake should still come from foods that are higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. However, food is a complex matrix of compounds and therefore, some foods higher in saturated fat may have little to no impact on cholesterol and therefore fit into your diet while contributing to your vitamin and mineral needs and providing plant-based compounds important for good health.

References

Tholstrup T, Hoy CE, Andersen LN, Christensen RD, Sandstrom B. Does fat in milk, butter and cheese affect blood lipids and cholesterol differently? J Am Coll Nutr 2004;23:169–76.

Nestel P. Effects of Dairy Fats within Different Foods on Plasma Lipids. J Am Coll Clin Nutr 2008, 27(6): 735S–740S.

Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Chisholm WA. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in free-living young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001; 55(10):908-15

Soerensen KV et al. Effect of dairy calcium from cheese and milk on fecal fat excretion, blood lipids, and appetite in young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99(5):984-91.

 

Are Low Carbohydrate Diets Best for Weight Loss?

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If you haven’t been bombarded with advertising for low carbohydrate foods, diets, plans and crazed anti-carbohydrate friends and coworkers in the past few years, you must be living on a remote island somewhere (taking any visitors?). The anti-carbohydrate, pro-fat crowd (including keto, Paleo, and Whole 30 – aka Paleo reinvented) devotees might be onto something. But that “something” isn’t a miraculous cure for obesity. Should you trade your low fat, higher carbohydrate diet for full fat foods and “bread” made from cauliflower and mozzarella cheese? It’s time to look past the media headlines to the latest research on low fat vs. low carbohydrate diets.

In this article I’ll cover:

  • the latest research on lower carbohydrate diets;
  • what this research means for you; and
  • a sidenote on the insulin hypothesis.

Should you switch to low carbohydrate vs. high carbohydrate foods?

The Latest Research on Low Carbohydrate Diets

In an attempt to determine which diet is best for weight loss, one of the latest studies collected and analyzed studies on low fat and low carbohydrate diets. A systematic review and meta-analysis, which combines the results of several studies, compared intervention studies > 1 year in length where participants were placed on low fat diets, low carbohydrate diets, other high fat dietary interventions or they continued eating whatever they wanted (their typical diet). Low fat diets ranged from  < 10% of calories from fat to < 30% of calories from fat. The diet interventions used ranged from providing instructions at the start of the study and expecting participants to follow the diet plan to regular counseling sessions with dietitians, food diaries and cooking lessons to actual feeding studies where participants were given most of their overall food intake (with the last approach the most well-controlled). Some studies coached participants to cut calories while others, including those put on low-carbohydrate Atkins-style diets, were told to eat until they were full without worrying about calories.

They analyzed results from 13 trials that examined weight maintenance as well as studies that didn’t include weight loss as a primary goal. In these studies low-fat and high-fat diets lead to a similar amount of weight loss. Low-fat diets were superior only when compared to the subjects’ normal diet – in other words actually going on a diet led to greater weight loss than not dieting (no surprise there). The tiebreaker came from an analysis of 35 weight loss trials, 29 of which were conducted using adults who were overweight, obese, or had type II diabetes. Overall, there was no difference between low-fat and high-fat diet interventions. Low-fat diets led to greater weight loss compared to groups who didn’t diet. However, higher fat diets were the clear winner (according to the headlines), leading to significantly greater weight loss after a year than low fat diets. Before tossing out your steel cut oatmeal, whole-grain bread and fresh Summer fruit, let’s take a closer look at this data. It was pulled from a comparison between low-fat diets and high-fat diets that varied by more than 5% of calories. So did low carbohydrate, higher fat diets really win or was it because subjects cut calories? Is it easier to cut calories on low carbohydrate, high fat diets? Participants on low carbohydrate diets lost about 2.2 pounds more weight after one year versus those on a low-fat diet. A 2.2-pound difference in weight loss after one year on a diet isn’t very impressive, especially considering many of the subjects were overweight or obese to begin with.

The End of Higher Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diets?

Based on these results the authors suggest low-fat diets shouldn’t be the go-to recommendation for weight loss. However, the results of this study are mainly applicable to overweight, obese and type II diabetics – the primary populations examined in these studies. We can’t take the authors conclusion that low carbohydrate, higher fat diets are better if you are looking to lose a few pounds for a beach ready body. What works for an obese adult or type II diabetic will not necessarily work for an active adult who wants to get a 6-pack. Secondly, previous research shows low carbohydrate diets tend to produce greater weight loss, initially, than low fat diets (some of this is water weight since carbohydrates store 3-4 times their weight in water in the form of glycogen in muscles and the liver and your glycogen stores will start dropping when you drastically lower your carbohydrate intake) yet after a year, weight loss is equivalent between both diets. Other research shows weight loss over the first six months on a diet is the main predictor of both weight loss success and sticking to a diet over the long-term. Greater weight loss initially = better adherence = better success over time.

Long-term Success

What’s more disappointing than the paltry 2.2-pound difference between the low-fat and high-fat diets after one year is the total average weight loss in the studies designed for weight loss – a mere 8.25 lbs. after 1 year. Instead of declaring low carbohydrate, higher fat diets a clear winner over low fat, higher carbohydrate diets (especially considering the 2.2 pound difference), we should be asking why it’s tough to stay on a diet, any diet? Why aren’t study participants losing more weight? I don’t have the answer to these questions and leading weight loss researchers don’t seem to have a complete picture right now either.

If you want to lose weight, choose a lower calorie diet primarily based on high quality foods or create your own plan that fits into your lifestyle and is one you can stick with it. There are many diets that could, potentially, work for you. If you want to try a low carbohydrate diet for a while, by all means go for it (especially if you need to see that number on the scale move pretty quickly)! If cutting carbs sounds like being in detention, then skip that approach! I’m giving you permission to alter your plan as often as you need to based on changes in your lifestyle (some research papers actually suggest doing this and I am a huge fan of this approach), motivation, and results.

Conceptually, low carbohydrate diets are very easy. You don’t have to worry about portion sizes, log calories, count points or determine if you have to eat less at dinner to make up for a lunchtime splurge. Decision-making is boiled down to: it contains carbs and therefore off my diet or it is low in carbs and the carbs it does contain are high in fiber so I can eat it. Just don’t buy into the hype that low fat, higher carbohydrate diets are the only way to lose weight or that these diets are better, over the long term, than other dietary approaches that also cut calories.

References

Tobias DK, Chen M, Manson JE, Ludwig DS, Willett W, Hu FB. Effect of low-fat diet interventions versus other diet interventions on long-term weight change in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Epub before print. 29 October 2015.

Greenberg I, Stampfer MJ, Schwarzfuchs D, Shai I; DIRECT Group. Adherence and success in long-term weight loss diets: the dietary intervention randomized controlled trial (DIRECT). J Am Coll Nutr 2009;28(2):159-68.

Franz MJ, VanWormer JJ, Crain AL, Boucher JL, Histon T, Caplan W, Bowman JD, Pronk NP. Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(10):1755-67.

Hall KD. Predicting metabolic adaptation, body weight change, and energy intake in humans. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2010;298(3):E449-66.

Hall KD, Sacks G, Chandramohan D, Chow CC, Wang YC, Gortmaker SL, Swinburn BA. Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight. Lancet 2011; 378(9793).

Rosqvist F, Iggman D, Kullberg J, Cedernaes J, Johansson HE, Larsson A, Johansson L6, Ahlström H, Arner P, Dahlman I, Risérus U. Overfeeding polyunsaturated and saturated fat causes distinct effects on liver and visceral fat accumulation in humans. Diabetes 2014;63(7):2356-68.

 

 

 

Should Endurance Athletes Switch to a Low Carbohydrate Diet?

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High carbohydrate pasta with tomatoes
Pasta – a typical meal for endurance athletes.

Should endurance athletes trade in their high carbohydrate gels, gummies, and pasta for fatty steak and butter?  A recent study found elite ultra-marathoners and iron distance triathletes on a low carbohydrate diet  burned significantly more fat while running than  their counterparts on a typical higher carbohydrate diet. There was no difference in the level of glycogen depletion between groups after a 3-hour run.

Why Carbohydrates Matter

For several decades endurance athletes have relied on a carbohydrate rich diet to fuel their training and performance. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy used during activity. They’re also a fast fuel – your body can use gels, gummies and sports drinks very quickly while also accessing the carbohydrates stored in your muscle when your energy needs outpace how quickly you can squirt more gel in your mouth. Regular intake of carbohydrates during  prolonged activity provides an important source of energy for working muscles and helps spare dipping into your reserves in muscle tissue (in the form of glycogen). Once glycogen levels start getting too low, your performance will subsequently decline.

If carbohydrates are important for performance why would anyone go on a low carbohydrate diet?

The longer you run, bike, swim or exercise in general, the more carbohydrates you need to keep up with energy demands. There are three main reasons athletes (particularly ultra endurance athletes) want an approach that doesn’t require carbohydrate during long bouts of exercise are:

  1. Your taste buds get tired –  Eat any food over and over again and you will get sick of it eventually. Now imagine running 30, 50 or 100 miles and eating a gel every 30 minutes. The consistency, sweetness and flavors will make your taste buds revolt.
  2. Your stomach might get upset. Exercise + eating (even seemingly easy to digest carbohydrate products) can cause stomach upset in some people.
  3. You are trying to lose body fat. If you are exercising for long periods of time it may sound counterintuitive to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (or 90+ depending on the type of carbohydrate, your stomach’s tolerance and the type of exercise you’re doing) each hour while training.

If any of these apply to you, a diet that doesn’t force your body to rely on carbohydrates for energy may sound very appealing.

The Study & the Low Carb Diets for Endurance Athletes

The body has amazing ability to adapt to changes in the macronutrient composition of your diet.  In other words, if you eat more fat you’ll burn more fat. If you are adapted to a low carbohydrate diet, you will rely on your body fat for fuel and will not need to consume gels, gummies or any other carbohydrates while running, biking or swimming. However, there is an adaptation period.  It takes time for your body to switch over from relying on carbohydrate to fuel activity to using primarily fat. The study subjects included elite male ultra-endurance athletes who habitually consumed a high carbohydrate diet (> 55% of calories from carbohydrate) and a separate group of those habitually consuming  a low carbohydrate diet (< 20% of calories from carbohydrate and > 60% from fat though the average was 70% from fat) for at least 9 months. Both groups slept, reported to the lab fasted and then drank a 343 calorie shake (the shake contained 4.3 grams of carbohydrate for the low carbohydrate group and  42.7 g of carbohydrate for the high carbohydrate group). Ninety minutes later they ran on a treadmill.

Results

As expected, the low carbohydrate high-fat diet group used a lot more fat when jogging then the high carbohydrate group (88% of calories from fat vs. 56% in the high carbohydrate group). They also used more fat at a higher intensity than the high carbohydrate diet group. They were able to use fat at a good rate – fat is typically a slow source of energy but the rate of fat use in this fat-adapted group was pretty compatible to the typical rate (but not the maximum) at which an athlete can use carbohydrates. Glycogen levels at rest, glycogen breakdown during exercise and re-synthesis after exercise was the same in both groups. * There was no difference in the amount of calories burned between the two groups.

Is This Diet Right for You?

Ultra endurance athletes can adapt to and train on a higher fat diet.  They can also do this without glycogen depletion – glycogen depletion can come with other negative consequences including potential suppression of immune system functioning.  At this time, we do not know if regularly following a lower carbohydrate diet = better endurance performance.

What you need to consider:

  • According to this study you will not burn more calories during exercise when on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet. ** See note below.
  • Your body needs at least 1 month to adjust. The first week will probably suck (you’ll feel terrible and have low energy).
  • You might not improve performance (we don’t know).
  • Can you stay on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet? Do milkshakes made of  heavy cream, olive oil, walnut oil and whey protein sound yummy? Is this diet practical for your lifestyle? If you answer yes to those 2 questions,  then it might be worth a shot. Work with a nutrition expert to ensure you are getting all of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for performance and health.

* Keep in mind the results from this study are specific to endurance athletes.

** If weight loss is your goal, it makes no difference if you burn more fat during exercise if you aren’t burning more total calories in that exercise session. The only caveat here is if a low carb diet means you consume few to no calories during exercise. In this scenario, a low-carb diet may help you consume fewer total daily calories.

Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Meal Ideas

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You’ve seen them. The people who faithfully go to the gym day after day and spend quality time on the cardio equipment and in the weight room. Yet their bodies never seem to make any visible changes. They are training. But they aren’t training smart with a plan that is specifically designed to meet their goals, lifestyle and current state of conditioning. A plan that helps them progress and not just maintain. But, even with the best training program, a person’s progress will be limited if they don’t eat a diet that provides the energy they need while also facilitating training adaptations and helping improve recovery. And though eating well means choosing nutrient-dense foods 90 – 95% of the time, the most important meals for an athlete are pre- and post-workout:

Pre-workout:

In order to sustain your energy levels through your workouts, your body needs food. If you have just 2 hours before you hit the gym, track or field, opt for a lighter snack. Four hours beforehand, opt for meal that is higher in carbohydrate, contains some protein for staying power and is low in fiber and fat (both slow digestion and who wants their stomach busy digesting food when they are about to run sprints?). Lastly, don’t try something new before workouts that may make you a little queasy. For example, spicy food can give you heartburn and greasy food may make you sick to your stomach. Think familiar and easy-to-digest.

Half a cantaloupe with cottage cheese

Snack examples:

  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Banana spread lightly with almond butter or peanut butter
  • Yogurt
  • Granola bar
  • Pancakes or waffles

Post-workout:

The main purpose of eating after you workout is to turn a catabolic environment into an anabolic one. In other words – your post-workout meal will facilitate the processes underlying muscle growth, re-hydrate, help curb excess inflammation and restore muscle glycogen. In addition to improving recovery, your post workout meal will help you make training gains.

Post-workout meal ideas:

  • Protein pancakes (Simply pancake mix with added protein powder.)
  • Protein shake
  • Low fat chocolate milk (you’ll need more protein than this if you are lifting weights)
  • Bagel, bread or pita with melted cheese
  • Tunafish or turkey sandwich

Eat so you can train well, don’t hit the gym or run a few extra miles as an excuse to eat more food that doesn’t fit in your training program.

Written by: Rachel Rosenthal & Marie Spano

Four Fast Breakfast Ideas

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Fruit and yogurt by Celeste Lindell

Breakfast may be one of the most important meals of the day because it provides energy for your morning and spikes muscle protein synthesis (when you wake up after an overnight fast your body is breaking down muscle tissue until you eat a protein-rich meal).

Include at Each Breakfast Meal:

High Quality Protein. Choose a breakfast that contains at least 30 grams of protein if you are over about 25 years of age or want to lose weight. Research shows that consuming protein at breakfast is especially important for keeping us satiated (full) for a longer period of time.

Carbohydrate. After an overnight fast your body craves carbohydrate, your primary source of energy to fuel brain and body. Choose slower digesting, nutrient-rich, high fiber carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables and old fashioned oatmeal are all great options. If you plan on working out right away, eat a small lower fiber (fiber makes food take longer to digest so it will sit in your stomach) snack or breakfast. Toast, a banana or a few pancakes are light and easy to digest options.

Water. Your body hasn’t had anything to drink in hours. Drink a full glass of water before you eat or with your meal.

Quick Breakfast Ideas

Looking for a little morning inspiration? Check out these four fast breakfast ideas from Rachel Rosenthal:

Tastes like Homemade Cinnamon Oatmeal: This meal is ready in about 3 minutes. Mix plain instant oatmeal with water, milk, or your favorite milk substitute. Once cooked, stir in walnuts and blueberries. Finish it off with a dash of cinnamon, which may help support healthy blood sugar levels. Now pop it in the microwave. All natural, no sugar added. If you can’t think of a protein-rich food that goes alongside this dish, cook your oatmeal in egg whites!

Not so Plain Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt and by adding a few ingredients you can have a super fast protein packed meal on the go. Add ground flaxseed for it’s omega-3 alpha linoleum acid (ALA) content and nutty flavor; mix in ½ cup of all bran cereal for texture and to satisfy your hunger for hours (fiber slows down digestion). If you like a little sweet taste without the calories, add stevia and raspberries.

On the go Smoothie: Smoothies make great, go-to meals. Mix unsweetened almond milk, unflavored protein powder of your choice, crushed ice, a banana, and a tablespoon of natural peanut butter in a blender. If you are feeling adventurous you can add some chia seeds for some extra omega-3 ALA and for a little staying power (chia seeds are loaded with fiber). Blend, pour and go!

California Toast To Go: Toast your favorite kind of whole wheat bread, then add a few slices of avocado, fresh sliced mozzarella and grape tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. If you want more protein, add scrambled eggs and make it a sandwich for the road.

There are tons of options out there for breakfast that do not take much time, but are packed with protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to start your day off on the right foot. All of these recipes can be tailored to your liking by switching out different fruits or nuts to make them your own. I hope these recipes inspire you to have more fun with breakfast and enjoy it even on the go.

 

Facing the Nutrition Facts

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Sara Shipley, Nutrition student at the University of Central Oklahoma

When you grocery shop, do you bother to read nutrition facts? When you scan the labels- what exactly are you looking to find? Total Calories? Grams of Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates or Sodium? The list of ingredients? Serving size?

Reading the Nutrition Fact panel on a package of food is a step in the right direction to mindful eating, and according to a study by Washington State University Economist Bidisha Mandal, reading food labels aids weight loss efforts. Mandal’s research shows that reading labels contributes to a greater chance of successful weight loss in those who do not exercise. However, reading the nutrition fact panel is only as valuable as understanding the information. And if you want to benefit from label reading, it is imperative that you know what to look for on a label. The percentage values, for instance, are not a ‘one-size fits all’ recommendation, and the order of nutrients are not necessarily listed in the greatest priority. In short- it’s no surprise that people glaze over when attempting to skim the labels. It’s basically a confusing cluster of numbers, unless you know what each value means to you.

Recently, a research study was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association investigating consumer’s behavior while grocery shopping. Previous research has been conducted on the subject, but this research was based on the subject’s perception of how thoroughly they read labels, rather than the actual amount they read. The researchers, D.J. Graham PhD and R.W. Jeffery PhD, from the University of Minnesota sought a more thorough approach with the use of eye-scanning devices strategically placed in the supermarket. They wanted to directly measure visual attention, and relate the data to perceived behavior reported from subjects. The results support the premise that although consumer’s reportedly read labels, only a fraction of people take the time to actually decipher the nutrition facts. According to the study, people only look at the first 4-5 lines. Well bad news folks- you’re missing out. Although serving size is relevant, there are so many additional, pertinent nutrients listed below. You might be thinking, ‘of course- why bother reading if you’re not going to actually pay attention to the entire panel?’ Well, how many times have you accidentally snagged the wrong flavored soup or yogurt by mistake? Though the name is usually plastered to the front of the can or carton, but habitually grabbing the familiar package is an honest mistake. So, what exactly are people missing at the very bottom, even below the fact panel? The entire list of ingredients. The problem with all of this is: if the average American is claiming to read the nutrition facts but too lazy to scan down 6-7 lines, their efforts are futile. Now, if at this point you’re thinking- ‘I don’t want to read that laundry list of items on every package I buy.’ You may want to reconsider consuming such processed foods.

Here’s why:

Reading the nutrition fact panel helps you make an educated decision about what you are eating. With the national average obesity rate at an alarming 33%, according to the CDC- people should be making more conscious choices.

Each person’s recommended dietary needs will vary, but this is my simple approach to reading nutrition fact panels:

  • Look at the Serving size and the number of servings in a package. Each ingredient value listed thereafter is according to a single serving.
  • Look at Saturated fat: eat minimally (<7% total daily calories, avg. 16 grams)
  • Look for Fiber: aim for 15-25 grams/day
  • Look for Protein: aim for 120-130 grams/day (depending on your weight, physical activity and health status – most adults should aim for 1.2 – 2.0 grams protein per kg bodyweight)
  • Look for Sodium: a healthy daily amount ranges from 1500-2300 mg
  • Look at Sugar: some very healthy foods are naturally high in sugar (fruit, dried fruit and dairy for instance) therefore, though you should be mindful of your sugar intake, it isn’t necessary or realistic to cut all sugar out of your diet (and for the athlete certain kinds of sugar, consumed at the right times can improve various aspects of athletic performance and recovery).

As you probably suspect- I read the labels. I want to know exactly what I am putting in my body. Likewise, if you’re training /regularly active, why absent-mindedly ruin your efforts with processed junk? You may not even realize the detriment to your diet because you thought all along that ‘multigrain’ crackers were the high-fiber choice. Reading the label should really be half of your efforts while grocery shopping. Try to ‘shop the perimeter’ where the produce, vegetables, fresh fish and meats are offered. These items usually do not have nutrition fact panels, because they are whole foods. Shop for whole foods that have a single ingredient and it takes all the confusion out of grocery shopping and reading nutrition fact panels.